So far, I’ve gone into detail about the various competitions and systems that come with supporting club football. Throughout the season, these players take breaks from their clubs (typically two-week breaks at a time, with a longer gap in the summer) and report for international duty. During this time, they train with the top players from their country, usually playing 1 or 2 games in the allotted time span. Understandably, cohesion is tricky as they have a very short window to develop chemistry and learn tendencies. However, representing your country on the national stage is an honor for any player around the globe regardless of status or success.
These two-week gaps in the club season are crucial for international success. Most countries are training for two big events - The World Cup and their respective continental competitions. It would be much more difficult to join forces in the summer offseason, so taking breaks throughout the club soccer calendar provides coaches and players the opportunity to qualify for major tournaments and adjust tactics accordingly. There are a few different competitions in international soccer:
The World Cup is the most-watched event in the world (Not just sports, literally the most-watched televised program on the entire globe). Once every four years, players from all over the world join forces with their fellow countrymen to compete for the world’s most coveted trophy. International football (especially the world cup) unites citizens, helping them escape their day-to-day life issues. Players spend their entire lives dreaming of representing their countries on this stage, and winning the cup is a feeling that cannot be matched.
Qualifying for the World Cup takes place throughout the club season. If you recall, USA missed out on the last World Cup after a shocking defeat to Trinidad & Tobago. This happened in October - just a day or two after, each player had to set aside their sadness and return to their club teams. Each continent has a different format for qualifying, but when it’s all said and done, each continent has a fair representation at the cup.
Each continent has its own tournament where countries compete to be the kings of Europe, South America, etc. USA and Mexico have a storied history of playing each other in the Gold Cup, and unfortunately, Mexico looks miles ahead of us at the moment. Next summer the Euros will take place, which can be considered the second-most prestigious international tournament behind the World Cup. These tournaments give smaller countries a more legitimate chance to qualify and make a deep run that they otherwise may not be able to in a World Cup that is very difficult to qualify for.
Beyond the World Cup and continental cups, teams participate in friendlies. The end result is usually the least important part - these games are set up for teams to build chemistry with each other in a non-practice setting. Calling a game a “friendly” kind of hints that it’s meaningless when in reality, the games are crucial for coaches and players to learn their best formations and how they are going to win when it matters. With such a short window to play together, the friendlies are integral to the success of countries.
International soccer is pretty similar to other sports - players take breaks from their club teams to play with their countries, like the NHL (I know the last Olympics NHL players didn’t play) & NBA. The only difference is the Olympics in soccer are virtually meaningless lol, and most teams field young players instead of their country’s best.
International games can be the most bittersweet soccer competitions. Having to spend 2 weeks without watching your favorite club team play can be frustrating, but coming together with some of your closest friends to support your country can be one of the most exciting feelings in the world.
Author: Living in Southern California, Robert Sweeney has been a fan of soccer since he played as a young child. Since then, he’s become a diehard Tottenham and US National Team fan. Rob enjoys writing about the impact soccer has had on his life in hopes that it betters others as well. Twitter: @robsweeney11