Saturday, June 26, 2010

U.S. Soccer should be better by now

Wasn't it about 15 years ago when every American child abandoned Little League Baseball for soccer? Weren't were cultivating a generation of soccer players who were going to turn the sport in the American passion? Weren't these kids supposed to push the United States past being a respectable soccer nation and into a power?

Well it's 2010, and those kids born in the mid-1980s are the prime age for being professional soccer players, yet we still lost to Ghana in the World Cup. If Landon Donovan is the best American player, then that doesn't bode well for U.S. Soccer because he was about the fifth-best player Saturday in the 2-1 Knockout Stage loss.

It's amazing to see the Ghanaians play harder, faster and tougher than the American team because by now, we were supposed to be a soccer force. Those kids who could have been LeBron James or Evan Longoria or Chris Johnson were supposed to have ditched the three major sports in favor of soccer, but somewhere interest has been lost.

Somewhere between those cute pee-wee soccer leagues and those high-level leagues reserves for our top players there has been a disconnect. Kids stopped loving soccer or parents stopped pushing their kids to play when the sport became too demanding or too expensive. We aren't complaining about the shortage of great basketball players or football stars or even baseball players. They are hitting the professional ranks in droves.

But we have no idea who will consist of the 2014 World Cup team because the sport's young stars are either too young or not good enough for intense international competition. Donovan is a nice player, but what happened to soccer sensation Freddy Adu, who was playing professionally at age 16?

We are again at a crossroads in soccer. Even the most pedestrian soccer fan could have figured that Ghana was the better team Saturday. We lacked the athleticism and precision, the depth and the endurance. And it was the same case in '94 and '02. But we were supposed to build off those World Cups and return with a vengeance. Instead we are asking ourselves whether we will ever be a soccer country.

That's a question that should have already been answered, but somehow the U.S. Soccer Federation never adequately fed off the soccer craze of the early 1990s, because those kids should be superstars by now. And the U.S. team that is coming home today has no superstars. We know that much.


  1. While it's not difficult to support the notion that the US Men's National Team should have fared better in the World Cup, let’s not lose sight of the fact that they only lost once in four games and were only a goal away from making the final eight teams. Continuing on as the only African nation left in the tournament, Ghana played with a continent-large home field advantage that clearly lifted their play and are still floating forward as the clear Cinderella for the balance of their bracket. And that doesn’t even touch on how much more effectively they used their substitutions. But the biggest reason for the USMNT’s faults when compared to other nations, no matter how large or small they may be, is that each of the teams that make the quarterfinals will have one primary advantage over the United States: soccer is their national pastime.

    Kids in America have at least five other major sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, among others) they can invest their time into, all of which offering the premier league in the world to play in within the boundaries of their own country. It's easy for kids to reach out and dream of being the next Dwayne Wade, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby because they, along with their leagues, are getting constant exposure. Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Gianluigi Buffon and other worldwide superstars don't get even a fraction of the same limelight here domestically. Kids want to “Be Like Mike,” afterall.

    Inner-city children growing up, dreaming of breaking into financial success, pick up a football or shoot a basketball. The vehicle for nearly every other nation in the world is through soccer, where, save for a few sparse nations around the globe, the game has no major competition. Dynamic multi-sport athletes in America face recruiting from professional leagues and major college conferences that cannot be overlooked. As significant as MLS is starting to become, as evidenced by the continued expansion, Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew don't have nearly the clout and power that Auburn, Kentucky or Duke have. Kids who are driving to be the best in their sports can go after fame and glory here, both collegiality and professionally, or they can get ready to play in the third division in a nation on another continent. Go for the chance at playing in the SEC or ACC on your way to the NFL or NBA, or jump at the chance to play for the reserve side of a second division team in a non-English speaking country. That’s not the United States Soccer Federation’s fault. It’s just a byproduct of how our sports society is structured compared to other nations.

    Sure, the USMNT could’ve done better this weekend, but they absolutely dominated the second half and were on the fringe of taking over the game on multiple occasions. They were without their best central defender and set-piece target. They had played the entire tournament without their quickest and perhaps best forward after he nearly died in a car accident. And they still nearly made the final eight, where they likely would’ve been the favorite against Uruguay.

    They were one goal away from being a favorite to reach the final four while being down key contributors and they should’ve been better than that? This team represents an incredible turnaround from when those kids of the mid 1980s were born, seeing as America hadn’t made the World Cup at that point since 1950. How much better are they supposed to be?

  2. Gary, JS3 drank your milkshake....

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