People ask me all the time (I guess because they know I love English national team soccer and Tottenham) how can the USA catch up to the world in soccer. To me, it’s an easy answer, but hard to achieve. The answer is more kids playing soccer, and playing massive hours from an early age. Matt Jones said on his show with Phil the other day that international kids grow up with a ball at their feet, while our kids grow up with a ball in their hands. Some might consider that an oversimplification. But I don’t. I thought it was very insightful and well articulated.
You want to create a virtuoso violinist? Or guitarist? Or dancer? They better be logging in practice hours at age 4. Same in basketball. Kids like a Nick Smith played a zillion of hours of hoops by age 12. That’s just the way it is.
Any of us on this board that have spent time in Europe can tell you that in inner cities, the concrete rec. areas are set up for pick-up “football.” Our soccer. Same in Latin America. Same all over the world. Kids that wind up being soccer stars almost always have the same story…they played soccer dawn to dusk their whole life. Organized or not. The just played and played and played. Ball at their feet for literally countless hours.
Not as many US kids do that. Maybe they do in hoops. Or baseball. Or football.
Now…things ARE changing. But its gonna take time. Our US national team has plenty of speed. Stamina. Strength. Heart. What we don’t have is a player the quality of a Steven Bergwjin coming off the BENCH. We don’t have as many players whose first touch and subsequent touches in tight spaces are equal to what the great soccer nations have.
But we can get there. If, and only if, our society decides soccer is our top sport. And I am not sure that will happen. It might…but it might not. Who knows.
I think its because here there are multiple sports to choose from where as in other countries, especially in south america, there is only one. That and the fact that the MLS is not a major league, compared to la liga, premier league, bungesliga, etc. If the MLS were a league that attracted prime talent from other countries and offered wages comparable to the other leagues, more kids would want to play.
I agree. There is no shortage of opportunities for kids to play organized soccer in the US. Plenty of good trainers. What’s missing is the touch and creativity that comes from playing hours and hours of street and playground soccer. Too many kids playing hours and hours of video games and staring at phones.
My take may be slightly different. It’s economic at its fundamental roots. The most talented and skilled athletes in the USA are playing the sports they think will get them out of poverty. That’s football.
The best athlete in the world is an SEC tailback. That’s what I see in Mbape.
Our best athletes (size and speed) are SEC tailbacks. They never consider soccer. It is expensive. The top club teams are expensive.
I can’t imagine that Corliss Williamson, Darren McFadden, Cedric Cobbs or Treylon Burks ever considered they could become rich playing soccer. They are probably four of our state’s greatest talents.
If they had grown up in France, they would have known soccer would be their most lucrative options and would have been taken in by a top club and trained.
Soccer here means the players pay the coach, not welcomed in as the key to the future of the club (and coach).
My employees and coworkers in Europe and Latin America always jokingly said that America will never be as good as them in football as long as we refuse to call the sport with the same name as rest of the world calls it. I always shrugged that off as a joke, but wonder if there is some truth to it. For sure, by calling it soccer, we present ourselves as outsiders to the sport.
But it is what it is and that is never going to change. So we have to live with it.
Your summation of where we are makes sense. I think we are making slow and steady progress. I see two big changes that spell good news for us.
One, youth participation in the 15-18 age group is up. Previously most kids played soccer at early age, but dropped the sport around age 14. I know my son did and turned to basketball at that age. Now a lot of kids seem to stay in the sport past 14 as worries about football injuries have increased. This will take few years to have a visible impact.
Second change is probably the biggest. US soccer now has increasing number of black athletes and speed that other multiracial teams like England, France, Belgium, Netherlands show in their forwards and midfielders is beginning to show up on the US team. Diversity of this tram reflects the US population. So, if that keeps up it is possible we can dominate or at least be a contender in Soccer, just like Track&Field, which we have been dominating forever, even with the presence of football and basketball.
Watching teams like Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Clemson, Utah, SC Trojans, TCU, why would I bother to waste a few hours watching Soccer? Little to zero interest. Not near the excitement or strategy with the super athletes we watch. Soccer doesn’t even match basketball for excitement.
I don’t disagree with any of this. But I also believe Matt Jones’ comment had merit. Both perspectives are related: Matt’s exact comment being “kids in our country grow up with a ball in their hands, Euro kids grow up with a ball at their feet.” There are lots of reasons “why.” But…there is some truth to his comment. IMHO.
Yes, I understand comments like this. People come out of the woodwork every four years to diss soccer after not having watched much soccer.
For me, I am tense longer watching a soccer match than any other sport. One mistake by the defense and that could be the game. Soccer has continuous action, no huddles, no timeouts called by the coaches and no subbing in and out. As far as strategies, you have to know the game and not just how scoring is done, various formations on offense and defense, and recognize how adjustments are made at half-time.
Clay, that’s exactly what I was telling family and friends since all the hype began for this years Mens World Cup.
The best athletes in the USA don’t opt to play Soccer for precisely the reasons you pointed out while the majority of the World Cup Qualifying countries top athletes do.
If the USA is going to compete at a World Cup level it must identify, recruit and develop a much better and deeper team of athletes.
I’m not saying that the best athletes in our country are going to give up baseball, basketball or football. However, that next tier of athlete that’s not going to likely make it to MLB, NBA or NFL would be better athletes than what we are fielding our team with now and we have to steer more of those kids to soccer at an early age.
Yes, there are more playing overseas leagues. But I think a lot of that has to do players who were born and groomed in Europe who have one of the parents with American citizenship and chose to play for USA. To put us on the same level as European and few Latin American nation, our domestic league MLS needs to reach the same level as overseas leagues. Then that becomes the farm system for the national team and The Who,e thing has a domino effect.
But as I said I see some positive signs with youth participation and increased interest among black athletes.
Pulisic, Adams, Aaronson, Ream, Sargent, McKennie, Robinson, Scally, Reyna, Weah, Wright. All born in the US, playing overseas and on the WC roster. Yeah, Weah had options (since his dad is the president of Liberia) and probably a couple of others.
Also, Brazil’s domestic league is no longer the farm system for the Selecao. All of their good players are basically in Europe. It’s not a bad thing that your talent is good enough to be plucked for the world’s best leagues.