As someone who is an avid soccer follower, it kills me to realize that the U.S. men’s team will never win or seriously compete for a World Cup during my lifetime. It is almost as if America has forgotten how we have developed some of the best athletes the world has ever seen. There are many excuses as to why the United States can not produce great men’s soccer players, but in my opinion there is only one reason.
When I think about the excuses I have heard over the years, I hear things like “our best and most elite athletes don’t play soccer, that is why we can’t compete”. We have 300 million people we don’t need our best athletes, just the right athletes. Some of the best players in the world, past and present, were not elite athletes. Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandez, Toni Kross, Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo just to name a few aren’t exactly athletic marvels. None of them ever ran real fast or jumped real high.
Then there is the “we don’t have enough academies” and “the MLS needs to adopt a better youth program”. People like to throw the word infrastructure around or lack there of as an excuse. There are countless players who didn’t come up through famed academies or didn’t get any real instruction until they were 13 or 14 years old.
Then there is the “there isn’t enough money in soccer argument”. Well news flash: two of the highest paid athletes in the world are Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Lionel Messi of Barcelona. Yes, they both make more money a year than LeBron James. Surprise! This idea that you can only attract players to play the game if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is false. Plus, there are currently multiple players in the MLS making millions of dollars a year playing soccer right here in America.
Then there is the whole “the game is boring, there is not enough scoring, American’s get bored”. If you can not appreciate athleticism and grace, I don’t know what to tell you honestly. Soccer has some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen who do amazing things with a ball at their feet every game. When you get more exposure to a game, you start to understand the nuances and appreciate the intricacies of the sport. People watch NFL games when the score is 10-7 all the time. There can be an appreciation for the difficulty it takes to score a goal in soccer. Trust me, that is coming from a former football player.
Part of the problem is that the MLS is a very poor representation of what the game is suppose to be about. The quality of the majority of players in the league is really poor and doesn’t showcase the brilliance the best players in the world display on a daily basis. I only watch the 5 major European leagues which are in Spain, England, Germany, France and Italy, where the best players across the globe reside. If you are someone looking to enjoy soccer or just a casual observer, please do not allow the MLS to be your first exposure to the game. Go watch La Liga in Spain or The Premier League in England. I promise you that you will be entertained. The games are end to end, and the crowds are enormous. Think about it, in the top league in England right now there are 5 teams that reside in London alone (Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham and Crystal Palace). That is like the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Revolution all being in the same league playing the same sport. Those stadiums get fifty-thousand plus people to sit in their stands every weekend. It is an amazing achievement when you actually sit back and think about it. Do yourself a favor and watch a game in it’s entirety and tell me you aren’t mesmerized.
How can a country with 300 million people not produce one world class player? Thank God for Christian Pulisic (A teenage U.S. soccer sensation who plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany). He looks to be a world class player in the making. Tiny countries continue to produce world class players and we can’t field a competitive men’s soccer team. It is actually quite pathetic when you analyze what other countries like Uruguay, for instance, are producing.
I personally believe that the reason we won’t win a World Cup in my lifetime is because in America, soccer is an elitist sport. If you look at countries like Brazil, Argentina, France and Spain, soccer is in their culture. Where does culture come from? Culture is driven from the lower, poorer classes of society in every country. The problem with America is that our hopes to produce the next crop of U.S. talent lies in suburbia. Not to say that good athletes can’t come from the suburbs, but it’s not where culture is developed. Brazil has more professional soccer players playing in different countries around the world than any other country. Why is that? Where do we think they learn to play soccer? They learn in the favellas in Brazil, that’s where. Poverty breeds pain, struggle and suffering. From poverty, children develop a certain toughness, grit and determination that children who eat three good meals a day and dessert just don’t have typically.
It is one thing to be taught the technical side of the game and tactics but creativity comes from playing on the street. Why do you think we have the best basketball players in the world? It is simple. Because it is an easily accessible game to everyone, not an elitist sport with high cost. Imagine if Magic Johnson didn’t learn to play basketball on the street. Would he have made “behind the back” and “no look” passes with such regularity and ease? No coach taught him to do that, he acquired it from the culture of playing on the street. Soccer is no different. Zidane and Ronaldinho learned their craft on the streets and ghettos of their respective countries. That is where creativity and culture stems from.
Until America gets back to the basics and understands what makes our sports culture so great, the U.S. mens soccer team will continue to struggle to find the requisite talent to compete at the highest level. World Cups will keep going by and we will keep saying things like “almost”, “they worked hard”, “they showed great heart and effort”. It has gotten to the point where I won’t even watch the U.S. team play anymore because I know the ultimate outcome. I know that they will never compete at the highest level in the biggest tournaments until the soccer culture in America changes. Period.
Please let me know your thoughts on the subject. I am interested to hear what you have to say and have a dialogue with anyone who disagrees or has an insightful opinion.