In 1990, though no one knew it then, a fearless group of players changed the sport of soccer in the United States forever. Young, bronzed, and mulleted, they were America’s finest athletes in a sport that America loved to hate. Even sportswriters rooted against them. Yet this team defied massive odds and qualified for the World Cup, making possible America’s current obsession with the world’s most popular game.
In this era, a U.S. Soccer Federation head coach had a better-paying day job as a black-tie restaurant waiter. Players earned $20 a day. The crowd at home games cheered for their opponent, and the fields were even mismarked. In Latin America the U.S. team bus had a machine gun turret mounted on the back, locals would sabotage their hotel, and in the stadiums spectators would rain coins, batteries, and plastic bags of urine down on the American players. The world considered the U.S. team to be total imposters—the Milli Vanilli of soccer. Yet on the biggest stage of all, in the 1990 World Cup, this undaunted American squad and their wise coach earned the adoration of Italy’s star players and their fans in a gladiator-like match in Rome’s deafening Stadio Olimpico.
From windswept soccer fields in the U.S. heartland to the CIA-infested cauldron of Central America and the Caribbean, behind the recently toppled Iron Curtain and into the great European soccer cathedrals, New Kids in the World Cup
is the origin story of modern American soccer in a time when power ballads were inescapable and mainstream America was discovering hip-hop. It’s the true adventure of America’s most important soccer team, which made possible everything that’s come since—including America finally falling in love with soccer.
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