Soccer Takes Flight!

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Contributor: John Dudley

Every four years, writers dust off their think pieces about if this is the year Americans finally embrace soccer. I’d argue we already have to some degree, but the articles keep coming and they haven’t changed much since the 70s. What has undoubtedly changed is that soccer is part of the hobby landscape. While I have fond memories of ripping 1994 Upper Deck World Cup packs, soccer has remained on the periphery of the hobby only poking its head up occasionally. 

Soccer is no longer an afterthought and indeed is one of the big success stories in the hobby currently. The royalty of the sport (Pele’, Ronaldo, and Messi) and the young heirs (Haaland and Mbappe) command prices comparable to Jordan, Brady, and Gretzky.

If you are late to the party (I sure am), it is not too late to join in the fun. It can be confusing figuring out where to start though. I think curation is an underused collecting skill and it is one that I love to highlight when starting a collection. Narrowly tailoring your focus can make approaching a daunting sport like soccer approachable. Here are a few different ideas that could give your burgeoning soccer collection a laser-like focus and give you a collection you can be proud to show off without breaking the bank.

Pick a Team

I’ve been honing in on specific teams in my other sports so it makes sense to do that here. I’m not just talking about a single organization like Manchester City. I’m talking about a team from a specific year or period. Think 1993 Bulls or Jordan-Era Bulls. Either of those would fit the concept. Specializing on a specific team like that has the upside of forcing a collector to learn a lot about the team and the players. Another upside is that this approach can fit any budget. The downside is that even if one is passingly familiar with soccer one is not likely to have a favorite team yet and committing to one randomly for a collection could lead to disappointment.

Pick a Young Star

This is the approach I used when I started buying soccer cards a few years ago. I’m a bit biased because my player worked out (Phil Foden). Even if your player doesn’t, it is a fun way to start following soccer. Find a young up-and-comer and follow their progress. Along the way, you will learn all the ins and outs of the soccer leagues, the teams, and the economics behind the game. This is an excellent approach for those looking to research and learn about the sport.

The G.O.A.T. Approach

The same approach that has collectors flocking to Jordan, LeBron, Brady and the other oft-named GOATS works very well for soccer too. Here one is looking for Messi, Ronaldo, and Pele along with a very few select others like Beckham and Maradona that have already achieved international superstardom. The downside is that prices are already exorbitant, but the plus is that Pele, Messi, and Ronaldo really have had absolutely historic careers that might not be rivaled soon. I like the idea of targeting Messi and Ronaldo as I think collectors will eventually want more than just the rookies and start specializing in cards issued during their playing careers. One can find some deals, even on these greats, in some of the more recent releases and they offer an affordable entry point compared to the earlier issues that are now featured prominently in the big auction houses. 

Unsealed Wax

I like the unsealed wax approach for all sports, but especially like it for sports where one is less familiar with the players. Essentially, sealed wax lets you bet on the field instead of just one or two players. The big caveat here is that research is even more critical in soccer. One must be cognizant of what rookies are in what products and also what stars are in it. The unsealed wax market has cooled and I think it might be time to start looking at soccer again after the World Cup hype cools off.


One of the easiest ways to narrow your collection down is just by collecting players who have appeared on the USMNT. One of the big advantages here is that the US team has never really had any superstars that command much fan attention outside of the US. This means one can put together a stellar collection for not much money. Autos and rookies of most of the bigger names can be found for just a few dollars and one is actually hard-pressed to find many cards of USMNT members selling for over $100. Being patriotic means you can put together a top-flight collection for the price of a mid-range hobby box. I would caution waiting until after the World Cup ends as prices do spike around the event. 

USA, USA, USA Again!!!

A lot of collectors have definitely adopted the USA-centric approach, but they prefer the more successful USWNT. Legends and current players sell well with the Parkside SWSL set moving from the discount aisle at Target to a surprise hit as people chase autos including the Trinity Rodman. The only downside to this approach is that some cards are already pricy. Still, it is fun to chase down some great American champions and one has a wide range of true stars to choose from. 

Wrap Up

Regardless of which approach you take, I hope you will consider picking up a few soccer cards here and there. It’s neat to learn about a new sport and it is a growing market still in its infancy. Also, if you haven’t checked out the insanely useful Card Shop Live app, what are you waiting for? It’s great for breaks, personal rips, singles, and hobby info. The breakers are all heavily vetted so no shenanigans here. 

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