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How Has the Exodus of U.S. Players From the Premier League Affected America’s World Cup Hopes?

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  • Digital Team 

At the start of the 2022/2023 Premier League season, it felt like soccer was about to reach a new audience in the United States. Looking back, with Princeton University graduate Jesse Marsch as the manager of Leeds United and a host of American international players in his team, the country officially had a reason to watch soccer in England. As a result, millions duly adopted Leeds as their chosen club to support owing to the large representation of their fellow countrymen.

A short-lived revolution

It was a first and it was exciting but tellingly, it also ended quickly after Marsch was sacked less than a year into the job at Leeds. Marsch’s exit and Leeds subsequent relegation saw an exodus of American players from the Premier League. Now, the landscape looks dramatically different with no managers and only a handful of US stars plying their trade in the English top flight, still.

Most notably, there’s Antonee Robinson at Fulham and now New Jersey-born goalkeeper Matt Turner at Nottingham Forest. However, the caveat is that Forest’s Premier League betting odds for relegation are as low as +320, which essentially means that there could be more American players dropping out of the Premier League sooner rather than later; a trend that has become increasingly uncomfortable for US fans to watch.

The harsh reality is that it has been one high-profile exit after another from the Premier League over the last year. With Chelsea selling their US stars in the summer of 2023 and Weston McKennie unable to seal a permanent transfer to England following a disastrous Premier League audition (while on loan from Juventus), the truth is that the best American players are no longer on the biggest stage of domestic soccer in the world.

So, how much has this mass departure from the Premier League hurt the country’s hopes of fielding a competitive team at the 2026 World Cup, and has public interest cooled in the sport following a turbulent saga?

Less than ideal preparation 

It should be noted straight away that with three years to go before the World Cup, there’s still a chance for American players to earn transfers back to the Premier League. 

While that remains a possibility, there can be little doubt that as things stand, not having the bulk of his squad competing in the English top flight is a significant setback for coach Gregg Berhalter. The 50-year-old would have been hoping that his players would benefit from going head-to-head with the world’s best every week as the 2026 World Cup drew closer. Without a doubt, this is an unexpected development that has hurt in more ways than one.

The public fallout 

The manner of some of the departures from the Premier League has also left a sour taste in the mouths of American fans who feel that certain personnel weren’t given enough time to prove themselves. In particular, Marsch’s swift sacking from Leeds didn’t go down well and neither did McKennie’s perceived treatment in West Yorkshire with US fans at odds with the unflattering narrative around the midfielder’s time in England.

Whether any of these events have done enough to stunt the growth of the game in the US remains to be seen, but what is certain is that there are far fewer familiar faces to cheer on in the most-watched league in the world than there were 12 months ago. 

Admittedly, it feels like one step forward and two steps back as the country builds up to host the 2026 World Cup but with 34 months left before the opening ceremony, there is adequate enough time to ensure that the cream of the crop in America is playing at the highest level again. Should this happen, the public’s interest will soon be reignited. 

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