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.