Forget the World Cup. There’s a more exciting international team sport than soccer to watch next summer

The fastest growing sport in the US is also expanding internationally.
The fastest growing sport in the US is also expanding internationally.
Image: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
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American soccer fans were stunned this week when their men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia—the first time since 1986 the US men’s national team will sit out the event. While the US women’s team, the defending Women’s World Cup champions and the far more important American squad, are a lock to qualify for their 2019 cup in France, the men’s failure was a complete disaster for a country that’s tried in vain for years to legitimize its international soccer ambitions.

Perhaps the American sport-industrial complex should turn its attention to a sport it’s actually good at: lacrosse. Not only is lacrosse the fastest growing sport in the US, but it’s also expanding rapidly across the globe and has a World Cup-like event of its own next summer.

The 2018 men’s world lacrosse championships will be held in Israel in July, the first time the event has ever taken place in a country where English is not the primary language. Fifty countries from five continents will compete. The US will try to avenge its title game loss in the 2014 world championships, when Canada beat them on their home turf in Denver, Colorado.

Lacrosse has in recent years tried to shed its reputation as a sport for affluent white people. It has a lot more work to do, but it’s made some progress: Groups like Harlem Lacrosse have helped bring the sport to low-income areas throughout the US, and in 2016, Hampton University became the first historically black college in 30 years to field an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse team.

There’s some hope now that the sport can transcend the self-inflicted cultural and economic barriers that have kept it out of the reach of many minorities. That hope is greatly aided by the sport’s expansion around the world.

Last an Olympic medal sport in 1908, lacrosse appears close to rejoining the world’s biggest sports stage. To qualify as an official Olympic sport, it must be played by men in 75 countries on at least four continents, and by women in 50 countries on at least three continents. The Federation of International Lacrosse—the governing body of the quadrennial world championships—is already comprised of nearly 60 countries across five continents.

In the mean time, next year’s world championships will make an excellent case for why the sport should return to the Summer Olympics. A fast-paced, hard-hitting sport that borrows concepts from hockey, basketball, and even soccer, lacrosse requires a preeminent combination of speed, strength, skill, and coordination. It’s also much safer than American football.

The game’s history is part of what makes it so special. Much, much older than baseball (“America’s pastime”), lacrosse was created by Native Americans and played for several different reasons: to settle tribal disputes, to prepare young warriors for combat, and to honor the Creator.

Today, the Iroquois Nationals are the only First Nations team sanctioned to compete internationally. After the US, Canadian, and Australian national teams, the Iroquois Nationals are typically one of the best teams at every tournament, known for an extremely fan-friendly, creative brand of lacrosse.

For Americans looking for something to replace the World Cup next summer—or for anyone around the world looking to get a preview of an exciting, growing sport—check out the 2018 lacrosse world championships in July. And for those who prefer college sports, the NCAA men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments, nicknamed “May Madness” (a riff on college basketball’s March Madness), are some of the most exhilarating sporting events one can experience: