While I was enjoying this weekend's soccer match between the U.S. and Poland (a 1-1 tie), I started thinking about what makes national team soccer so much better than other sports. This is what I came up with.
Country on board
Similar to the Olympics or the Tour de France, it's great fun when an entire country is able to get behind a team. Now, in this case, it is not nearly as simple as that sounds. First, the U.S. is such a diverse country that most nations have large groups of passionate fans within the country. Second, soccer is rarely more than a blip on the national radar. Nevertheless, as the 2002 World Cup showed, soccer can still provide great moments where people who normally have nothing in common can share an incredible run.
Money is no object
National soccer is one sport where money has almost no impact on the final result and championships cannot be bought. How else to explain the fact that the most consistently powerful soccer nations are Brazil, Italy and Argentina? National soccer doesn't suffer the growing problem of immensely wealthy organizations (New York Yankees, Real Madrid) essentially purchasing all-star teams in their respective sports, and then fielding them against teams with budgets 30-70% lower.
Players for keeps
In what other sport can you settle on your favorite players and know, with complete confidence, that they won't be going anywhere? In every sport (including league soccer) fans have the ongoing experience of watching their favorite players be sold or traded to the highest bidder. We've had the pleasure of watching Claudio Reyna for over ten years, with more to come, a privilege unheard of in other sports.
The short version? National team soccer is a sport where team and player loyalty is rewarded and the playing field is level.