United States fans react while watching a World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium at a public viewing party, in Detroit, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
It's been a week since Belgium ejected the USA from the World Cup in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the tournament's knockout stage. But by now your tears have dried, dear bandwagon USMNT supporter.
Hopefully, however, your interest in the team has not.
The United States saw unprecedented interest in this summer's gritty, immensely likable edition of the USMNT; anecdotal evidence and viewership numbers alike back up the claim. The next World Cup is four long years away, but the USA's future looks quite bright, and it's easier than ever to follow the squad.
Here's how you can make USMNT fandom a full-time job instead of a once-every-four-years thing.
1. Follow these big summer tournaments
Barring any unforeseen glitches, the USMNT should participate in relatively major tournaments in each of the next three summers.
Next summer brings the Gold Cup, a tournament held every two years and open to teams in the USA's soccer confederation, CONCACAF, which consists of teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Yankees are the defending Gold Cup champs, but teams such as Mexico and Costa Rica will make repeating no sure thing.
Then the summer of 2016 offers a real treat for American soccer fans: The Copa América Centenario, which is open to teams from CONCACAF as well as CONMEBOL, South America's soccer confederation. Better yet, the U.S. is hosting the tournament, which means you can see the USMNT as well as powerhouse South American sides including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia right here Stateside. Celebrating CONMEBOL's 100th anniversary, it's the first Copa América to be held outside South America.
The following summer brings the Confederations Cup in Russia. This eight-team tournament is held every four years in the World Cup's host country one year prior to the World Cup itself. It's not a huge deal in terms of importance, but is seen as a World Cup warm-up of sorts and typically brings out some solid competition — including the champions of the previous World Cup. The U.S. is in a good position to qualify.
Each of these tournaments also mean mini-camps and roster speculation beforehand, letting us get a closer look at the next generation of USMNT talent. Then, on top of all that, expect the U.S. to begin its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign sometime in mid-to-late 2016.
The upshot here: You'll have plenty of chances — if you seek them out — to watch the USMNT in meaningful action before 2018 World Cup hype reaches its inevitable crescendo.
2. Follow Major League Soccer
MLS was once something of a laughing stock for "serious" soccer fans, but those days are over. Still far from a great league, MLS has worked its way up to respectability. Eleven of the USMNT's 23 players in Brazil this summer play professionally in MLS — compared to just four on the USA's 2006 World Cup team. In total, 22 MLS players played in the 2014 World Cup for one country or another.
This means that, more than ever, MLS is a place to watch players who will suit up for the red-white-and-blue. From lifelong MLS'ers (like Matt Besler), to big-names returning home after successful careers in Europe (such as Michael Bradley), to young guns who are starting out in MLS now but will likely move to Europe soon (hello, DeAndre Yedlin), following the USA's domestic league will make you a better fan of its national team.
3. Track the guys over in Europe
With all due respect to MLS, if coach Jurgen Klinsmann had his druthers, U.S. national team players would be plying their trade in Europe, where you'll find the world's best soccer leagues. Several players who figure to be key pieces in 2018 currently play club ball across the pond.
Brad Guzan, Tim Howard's likely heir as USMNT goalkeeper, starts for Aston Villa in the English Premier League. John Brooks, the 21-year-old who headed in the winning goal against Ghana in June, plays for Hertha Berlin in Germany's top-flight Bundesliga. Fabian Johnson, a great bet to be back on the team in 2018, also plays in the Bundesliga, for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Nineteen-year-old Julian Green, who came in late against Belgium to score a life-sustaining goal on his first career World Cup touch, spent last season playing for world power Bayern Munich's second team. Bayern is stacked with talent, so it's possible you'll see him loaned out to a smaller club to get more game experience if he's still deemed too young for a reserve role with Bayern's first team. And 20-year-old Yedlin, as we mentioned above, is drawing interest from European teams after his strong showing in Brazil.
Then there are the guys who didn't make the squad this year but still might be a part of its future. Terrence Boyd is a 23-year-old who just transferred to Germany's Red Bull Leipzig. Juan Agudelo is a 21-year-old who played last season for FC Utrecht while on loan from the Premier League's Stoke City. And here's one more name to remember: Gedion Zelalem, a 17-year-old star prospect at Arsenal who is speculated to be a possibility for the USMNT down the line if he secures American citizenship.
So there you have it, America: Between upcoming international tournaments, a rising MLS and the talented fellows scattered about European leagues, becoming a legitimate USMNT fan is easier than ever.
A successful international footballing future starts with you — yes, you — right here at home.
Tags: ENTERTAINMENT, SOCCER, SPORTS, USMNT, World Cup