The U.S. national team has long relied on soccer hotbeds like California and New Jersey for talent through the years, but its trip to Jacksonville for Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria happens to come at a time when the State of Florida has taken on a much larger role in developing talent and blossoming as a soccer hotbed of its own.
A total of four members of the U.S. World Cup team were born and/or raised in the Sunshine State, with as many as three of them potentially starting in the World Cup. Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi all grew up in Florida while Julian Green was born in Tampa before moving to Germany when he was two years old.
Florida soccer is enjoying a renaissance, not only of talent, but also of interest, with Major League Soccer awarding an expansion franchise to Orlando and Miami set to return to MLS as well. Jacksonville has also joined in on the pro soccer party, with the Jacksonville Armada launching in 2015.
The times weren’t always so great for Florida soccer, particularly after MLS was forced to shut down the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion after the 2001 season, but now with Orlando and Miami receiving MLS teams soon, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers soon to be joined by Jacksonville in the NASL, Florida soccer fans will have a wealth of options in the coming years.
Those same Florida fans will have plenty to cheer for this summer as well, with Boca Raton-raised Altidore, Miami-raised Bedoya and Orlando-raised Zusi all expected to play important roles on the U.S. World Cup team this summer.
That makes it all the more fitting that the U.S. national team is preparing for its World Cup send-off finale in what is fast becoming an American soccer hotbed.
Ives Galarcep is an American soccer journalist with 17 years experience covering the beautiful game. Originally a newspaper reporter and ESPN.com soccer columnist, Ives made the full-time jump to the internet age by launching his own soccer news website, www.soccerbyives.net, in 2008. His Twitter account, @soccerbyives, has been selected to Sports Illustrated’s Twitter 100 (the top Twitter accounts in American sports) for three straight years.