Christian Pulisic calls out USMNT fans, but his real gripe should be with U.S. Soccer

·4-min read

CINCINNATI — Shortly after the U.S. men's national team roared to a 3-0 win over Morocco in its first pre-World Cup friendly, Christian Pulisic called out American fans who didn't show up.

“I'm not super happy with the amount of Americans here, however that works out, if I'm being completely honest," Pulisic told ESPN. "But thanks to the ones who did come."

There were 19,512 fans at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati on Wednesday, well short of the 26,000 capacity. Thousands of those fans bore Morocco flags and shirts. Many of the Morocco fans are Americans, but Pulisic likely meant to take exception with the lack of USMNT supporters in attendance.

His displeasure, though, would be bettered directed at the U.S. Soccer Federation, which priced most tickets in the $60-$160 range, before fees, for the USMNT's first of three June matches on home soil.

Many fans have long felt priced out by U.S. Soccer, the sport's national governing body and organizer of all USMNT home games. Some still pay three figures to attend World Cup qualifiers, the most consequential of those games, which consistently sell out.

But after seven high stakes qualifiers over seven months, this was an exhibition match against a non-big-name opponent on a weekday night in a moderately sized city in Middle America. Forecasts predicted rain. Nobody predicted drama. It was therefore entirely predictable that less than 20,000 fans would choose to pay close to $100.

In a normal World Cup year, this first World Cup warmup would have been accompanied by buzz and excitement. The tournament opener would be weeks away. But with this World Cup in November, Wednesday's game did not feel like the start of a send-off series.

"I don't think we're there yet in terms of the buildup," U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter acknowledged Tuesday. "I think that this is an important training camp for us as a group, but I don't think the world is saying, 'The World Cup's right around the corner.'"

Morocco fans showed up in part because this was their team's first stateside match against the U.S. in 16 years. They descended on Cincinnati this week, and flocked to nearby Washington Park hours before kickoff. They drowned out a local band with their own songs and chants. They kicked soccer balls about, and played small-sided friendly games of their own against USMNT fans. They danced and banged drums, savoring the chance to see their national team in the flesh, perhaps for the first time.

Morocco men's national team fans gather at Washington Park in Cincinnati, a few blocks away from TQL Stadium, before their team's friendly against the U.S. (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)
Morocco men's national team fans gather at Washington Park in Cincinnati, a few blocks away from TQL Stadium, before their team's friendly against the U.S. (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

U.S. fans in Ohio, meanwhile, have gotten the chance to see the USMNT four times in eight months. U.S. Soccer hosted two of its seven home qualifiers in Columbus, and a third here in Cincinnati. The national team chose to return a fourth time less to attract fans, more to take advantage of FC Cincinnati's facilities — which served them well when they came for the Mexico qualifier in November.

So, with tickets plus travel and other expenses costing upward of a hundred dollars per person, attendance suffered. (A U.S. Soccer spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.)

Still, Pulisic said, "it's nice to be back in America and playing again." And it was nice to win convincingly.

The USMNT next travels to Kansas City on Thursday for a Sunday friendly against Uruguay. Tickets for that match start at roughly $90, fees included.

Morocco fans cheer during the team's international friendly soccer match against the United States, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Morocco fans cheer during the team's international friendly soccer match against the United States, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
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