Opinion

Our Cup Runneth Over

Even fictional TV characters are cheering North Texan's play in the World Cup.
Even fictional TV characters are cheering North Texan's play in the World Cup. Richie Whitt
Soccer in Dallas for the past 55 years has been like crime in Deep Ellum – hiding in plain sight. It lurks here, there and everywhere. But we’ve done our damnedest to ignore it, lest we’re forced to pause our partying and learn the gritty details.

But no more. After what’s happening a half-world away in Qatar this week and what’s coming to our backyard in Arlington in 2026, soccer is inevitably unavoidable.

Just ask Ted Lasso, the fictional, folksy TV soccer coach whose Apple series won eight Emmys and was behind three billboards around D/FW in November trumpeting our local kids’ imminent international stardom.

Says Lasso’s sprawling message at the corner of Cedar Springs Road and Routh Street in Uptown:

"Jesús Ferreira, now that’s a name. Sounds like a holy sports car, which makes sense because whenever you’re playing, I just tell folks to buckle up and hold on."

Powered in part by three North Texas players – Ferreira, Kellyn Acosta and burgeoning hero Weston McKennie – the United States’ men's national soccer team has advanced to the Round of 16 in the World Cup for only the seventh time in almost 100 years. The U.S. beat Iran, 1-0, Tuesday and suddenly the buzz and the bars in Dallas are focused not on football, but futbol.

McKennie, who grew up in Little Elm playing for the Dallas club team, Solar, and FC Dallas’ youth program, made the pass that set up the header assist that led to the majestic, lone goal against Iran and sent the U.S. into Saturday’s Round of 16 game against The Netherlands.

Of the U.S.’ 26 players, three grew up playing on the local fields in Dallas and developed their games at FC Dallas in Frisco.

Ferreira, 21, moved here when he was 10, following his father, David, who played for FC Dallas. Acosta, 27, began playing soccer in Plano at age 4 and eventually left the fields at Russell Creek Park for FC Dallas. And McKennie, 24, used his Dallas roots to become the red-white-and-blue-haired midfield engine of USMNT.

We may not 'get' soccer, but the World Cup is into us.

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“He plays hard. He has fun with it, and he’s always respectful because those are the things I’ve been telling him to do since he was 6 years old and started playing the game,” McKennie’s father, John, said before the team left for Qatar in mid-November. “It’s a dream come true for him.”

Ferreira, who joined FC Dallas’ professional roster at 16, is now the team’s MVP and leading scorer.

“Obviously it’s a dream of every young boy and girl to play in the World Cup,” said Chris Hayden, FC Dallas’ vice president of youth soccer. “So for us to have a number of players representing the U.S. on this world stage is just tremendous.”

Maybe, in hindsight, we were wrong all these years. Those thousands of kids chasing soccer balls on hundreds of fields every Saturday morning weren’t just being treated to one big babysitter to relieve their  mothers sitting in their SUVs nursing hangovers.

It was the nursery for a generation of American sports heroes.

***

Grooming a nucleus for a World Cup run was merely a twinkle in Lamar Hunt’s eye when he brought the sport to Dallas in 1967.

The patriarch of D/FW soccer, Hunt got the itch when he attended a World Cup game in England in 1966. He founded the Dallas Tornado a year later, helped develop the Dallas Burn into FC Dallas and was instrumental in luring World Cup games to the Cotton Bowl in 1994.

Even with Hunt’s relentless passion, soccer in Dallas has been a slow build.

Led by star Kyle Rote Jr., the nomadic Tornado played all over the city at venues including the Cotton Bowl, old P.C. Cobb Stadium (now the Infomart), Franklin Field, Texas Stadium, SMU’s Ownby Stadium and even Fair Park Coliseum.

Slowly, soccer began catching on. The prestigious Dallas Cup youth tournament was founded in 1980. Renowned club teams such as Solar, Texans and Sting launched their future dynasties. And led by shirtless superstar Tatu, the Dallas Sidekicks played to sellouts of 17,000 at Reunion Arena and won an indoor league championship in 1987.

The pipeline to international success took more nurturing.

Boosted by its successful hosting of games in the ’94 World Cup, Dallas was awarded a franchise in the fledgling Major League Soccer organization in 1995. But there was so little interest in the Dallas Burn that no investors appeared, and the league was forced to the self-fund the team. The Burn debuted to a crowd of 27,779 at the Cotton Bowl in 1996, downsized to Southlake’s Dragon Stadium in 2003 and was rebranded FC Dallas in 2004 before moving to Frisco in 2005.

Though FC Dallas has never won an MLS championship – losing in the final in overtime in 2010 – the area has become a hub of soccer in America.

The Dallas Cup, played at Frisco’s Toyota Stadium, remains one of the oldest and most prestigious international youth tournaments, boasting past winners from Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Russia. USMNT’s all-time leading goal scorer is Clint Dempsey, born in Nacogdoches but raised in the Texans’ club system. And the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame? Right here in Frisco.

Nonetheless, for the most part in Dallas football remains religion while soccer toils as a skill-building hobby played by kids who eventually outgrow it for “real sports” or TikTok.

For too many local sports fans, soccer has nil appeal.

We can’t wrap our stubborn heads around the fact that a U.S. team that has scored only twice in almost 300 minutes of playing time is successful. We have trouble supporting a squad that has never won the World Cup, has won only nine matches all-time in the tournament and has made it as far as the semifinals only once – in 1930. We don’t get why a sport would outlaw the use of hands, encourage multiple passes away from the intended goal and boast butchered grammar such as “U.S.A. are advancing!” We can’t get jazzed by a pace that’s slower than refrigerated honey, or a history that suggests the first team to one, wins. We don’t understand how Qatar – a tiny country with only half the square miles and population of the Dallas/Fort Worth region – could host an entire 32-team tournament.

Average home attendance in 2022:

FC Dallas 16,615.

Dallas Cowboys 93,418.

***

We may not “get” soccer, but the World Cup is into us.

When the 2026 World Cup comes to North America – co-hosted by Mexico, Canada and the U.S. – the final match will likely be the most-watched event in the history of sports. And it very well could be played at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys’ home in Arlington – dubbed “Dallas” by World Cup organizers – is a finalist, along with Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium and New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

“We believe that Dallas is the perfect host for the 2026 World Cup,” said Dallas Sports Commission Executive Director Monica Paul. “FIFA has been an incredible partner every step of the bid process, and we expect a host city announcement in 2023.”

In the wake of the July unveiling of North Texas as a 2026 host venue, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Dallas Mavericks stars past (Dirk Nowitzki) and present (Luka Doncic) recorded hype videos. In four years, Ferreira, Acosta and McKennie will still be in their primes. And who knows? Perhaps Dallas’ talent pool – kids running around this weekend, even – will provide the next stars to the U.S. team.

It’s enough to pique our interest, and even get Jerry Jones to commit futbol-over-football blasphemy. Asked if hosting the World Cup in his stadium would be bigger than his team winning a Super Bowl, the owner responded:

“Candidly, I think it’s even a broader interest from the perspective of Dallas.”
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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt

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