A lot has been made about soccer’s momentum in America. The United States will face Belgium in surely what is one of the most important games ever for the USMNT, and if past television ratings are an indicator, this could be one of the most watched soccer games in U.S. history.
Brands would normally be flocking to sign the breakout stars of such a popular team, but this year’s USMNT, although successful on the pitch, hasn’t provided the next Landon Donovan (in terms of marketing power and Q score).
There are reasons that a marketable star hasn’t broken out from the USMNT. First, other than Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, the U.S. didn’t have a lot of name-brand players from the outset. Many felt Jozy Altidore could be the new breakout star, but he went down early with a hamstring injury in the first game and has not played since.
Second, many of the big moments for the USMNT in this year’s World Cup have come from foreign players. John Brooks’ header broke a late tie versus Ghana. It was an extremely important goal that helped put the U.S. through to the knockout round, but Brooks has never even lived in the United States. He plays for Hertha Berlin, a Bundesliga team, and as could be heard on ESPN’s “Inside U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil,” he has a thick German accent. These factors could make it difficult to turn his defining World Cup moment into U.S.-based endorsement deals.
Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson have played well for the USMNT. Both are also German. Jones, whose hometown is listed as Chicago, spends most of his time in Europe and plays for Besiktas (Turkey). He had a breakout moment (his beautiful goal against Portugal) and has been one of the more solid players for coach Klinsmann’s group. However, he probably won’t be around next World Cup because he’s already 32 years old. His age could be enough to stop brands from investing in him as their spokesperson. Johnson is young, fast and exciting, but hasn’t had a defining moment in Brazil.
Really, the man who has the biggest chance of cashing in on this World Cup is Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, goalie of the Mexican national team. Ochoa’s performance against Brazil made him the tournament darling. With his big hair and big personality, Ochoa should be able to turn his performance into an endorsement deal, especially with companies targeting the Mexican-American demographic in the U.S. Ochoa could also be one of the biggest winners in his contract negotiations. He’s a free agent and EPL powerhouses Liverpool and Arsenal could be competing for his services.
The good news is there’s still time to find the breakout star. Brands are probably hoping for a big game from Altidore if he returns against Belgium. He is a young, charismatic goal scorer and a homegrown U.S. product. He would be a great brand ambassador and will be a fixture on the USMNT for years to come. If no one steps up and the U.S. is knocked out, this could be seen as a missed opportunity for someone to become the face of soccer in America.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.