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The Commanders’ international players are all about the World Cup

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Remark

In late November, when the US and England performed to a scoreless draw within the group stage of the World Cup, a number of Washington Commanders instantly appeared to care about soccer.

Regardless that the staff is made up of males between the ages of twenty-two and 32 — a part of a key demographic fueling the rise of soccer popularity in the US — solely a handful of gamers take care of the game. The televisions in Washington’s locker room not often present soccer video games, and most gamers aren’t following the World Cup. The few soccer followers on the Commanders watch video games on their telephones or within the gear room, the place the TVs at all times appear to be displaying a sport.

However that afternoon in November, some teammates celebrated the draw by teasing defensive finish Efe Obada, who was born in Nigeria and raised in England. Defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Casey Toohill have been reportedly among the many gamers who spent the day chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

“They’re like: ‘Oh, it’s our fifth sport! Think about if we cared about [soccer]!’ ” Obada stated.

“Similar to the People,” stated defensive sort out David Bada, who was born and raised in Germany. If the US had truly received, he joked, Allen and Toohill may need draped the entire constructing in American flags.

Regardless of the outdated joke — that soccer is America’s sport of the long run and at all times can be — a growing body of evidence suggests the game is gaining momentum right here. Knowledge factors embrace attendance, TV scores, U.S.-born gamers overseas and even the recognition of the TV present “Ted Lasso” and the podcast “Males in Blazers.” The USA was one of many main international locations in ticket gross sales for this 12 months’s World Cup, according to a FIFA official, and it’ll collectively host the following one in 2026 with Canada and Mexico. (Issues about FedEx Discipline helped torpedo Washington’s bid to be one of many 16 host cities. As a substitute, 11 different NFL stadiums will host the video games in the US.)

It’s a(nother) big moment for U.S. soccer. Men in Blazers are here for it.

The Commanders may appear positioned to be on the forefront of the NFL’s embrace of soccer. They play in one of many nation’s most avid soccer markets and have a world roster. Crew president Jason Wright is a Liverpool fan. And this season, the Commanders have leaned into the native soccer scene. In coaching camp, the Washington Spirit of the Nationwide Ladies’s Soccer League visited follow and had a subject purpose kicking competitors with kicker Joey Slye and punter Tress Manner. In October, the staff hosted D.C. United, together with Coach Wayne Rooney, a former star participant in England.

However Bada and Obada have been among the many few gamers on the staff who acknowledged Rooney, which Bada thought-about “mind-blowing.”

“I don’t know basketball so much, however I do know a pair gamers, like, not less than the large gamers: LeBron James, Michael Jordan,” he stated. “However they know nothing about soccer. It’s loopy.”

Throughout D.C. United’s go to, the staff gave star large receiver Terry McLaurin a jersey. He appreciated the gesture however hasn’t began following the game past sometimes taking part in FIFA, the soccer online game. He stated he hadn’t watched one sport of the World Cup and by no means performed soccer rising up.

“An excessive amount of operating,” McLaurin stated. “I actually don’t like operating an excessive amount of after I don’t need to.”

One of many solely U.S.-born gamers on the Commanders who loves soccer is offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles. As a child, he loved it as a result of, not like his youth soccer league, soccer didn’t have a weight restrict to the touch the ball. Charles performed ahead and goalie on a journey staff till highschool. However then his soccer prospects brightened, and his mom inspired him to give attention to the extra profitable possibility.

A reporter requested Charles whether or not he ever wished he caught with soccer. Charles gave an incredulous look. The 23-year-old, within the third 12 months of a four-year rookie contract, has a base wage ($895,000) that’s more than double the base salary for a senior Main League Soccer participant ($438,728).

Although Charles doesn’t watch soccer as a lot as he used to — he as soon as adopted the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga and the Champions League — he nonetheless performs FIFA and usually checks in on his favourite gamers, together with Kylian Mbappé and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has caught just a few World Cup video games, together with a scoreless draw between Mexico and Poland and a 1-1 draw between the US and Wales.

“USA ought to’ve clapped Wales,” he famous. “They suck.”

The closest factor to a soccer nerve heart within the locker room is a financial institution of stalls in a far nook, the place Slye, Obada and Bada have chatted this season. In September, Slye scoffed at Obada’s favourite participant (Ronaldo) and stated he most popular Brazilian legend Ronaldinho. Obada accused Slye of not supporting a participant solely as a result of everybody else does, and Slye countered that Ronaldo is egocentric — and that, with Manchester United, he was “doo-doo.”

Sooner or later, when Obada was explaining his soccer fandom — Nigeria first, England second — Slye piped up: “Who’s your favourite non-I-was-born-and-raised-there staff?”

“No matter soccer staff pays me,” Obada quipped.

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In the course of the early levels of the match, Bada principally watched the video games at residence or on his telephone within the facility. However for Germany’s second sport — a 1-1 draw with Spain — he went to a bar with some mates from the German army who’re stationed in the US.

Final Thursday, Bada was sitting at his locker, watching Germany wallop Costa Rica, when he turned over to the sport between Japan and Spain. He noticed Japan was forward, which might knock Germany out of the match, and yelled, “No manner!”

By the following week, Germany and the US each had been eradicated, and Obada was the one participant within the locker room whose staff had survived. When requested whether or not he would get after his teammates as that they had completed to him, he simply grinned.

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