US Soccer has plenty of issues which prevent it from matching up to it’s aspirations of competing with the very best, Dever Webb
It always seems, every four years, when the World Cup comes around; there is a huge spike in the interest of football (soccer) in the States. “Soccer is on the rise.” “Soccer is getting popular” “Soccer is really starting to catch on.” “Is this the year the United States shows the world they are serious contenders?” “Just watch, we are getting better and better” are all popular narratives leading into the big tournament. Narratives that are quickly and miraculously turned into “Well, four more years, then watch!” “Next World Cup, we’ll be ready to prove something.” once the spectacle is done as only European/South American nations end up contending. People aren’t realistic, at least the general public isn’t. And, beyond that; neither are most avid fans.
Let’s be realistic here folks. The goal for the USMNT every World Cup since 1994 was and is to get out of the group. Have a quick look at recent World Cups the U.S. has been involved in. Throughout this, there are some interesting facts involved. Every single World Cup since 1990 the United States has failed to get out of the group every other World Cup year. They broke that trend this past World Cup, advancing out of the group for two consecutive Cups in a row for the first time. Interestingly, this was the first time that the World Cup wasn’t held in Europe following a non-European host. Here we go:
1990-(Italy) Failed to get out of the group
1994-(United States) Round of 16
1998-(France) Failed to get out of the group.
2002-(Korea & Japan) Quarterfinals
2006-(Germany) Failed to get out of the group
2010-(South Africa) Round of 16
2014-(Brazil) Round of 16
Since the U.S.A. hosted the World Cup in 1994, coupled with the MLS taking off in 1996, Americans have been going on and on about the growth of the game and how much better the country is getting at ‘soccer’. Guess what? In comparison, we’re not! The sport is getting much bigger across the nation at youth levels and so on and so forth, and we are getting better on the international level. My point is, on a comparative scale, we aren’t getting any better. The U.S. are light years better than they were 20 years ago, but so is everyone else. The game evolves just as people do. Meaning, the U.S. was and is able to grow and get better at a very rapid pace because there was and is so much ground to catch up on compared to other top nations. Once our country has reached a stabilizing point of growth and ability then it will level off and there will still be a significant gap between the United States and other top nations. That goes all the way back to youth level.
In the United States, according to SFIA, ‘soccer’ is the 4th most participated in sport, still inferior to basketball, American football, and baseball. All over the world, youth development for young footballers is a top priority, and has been for many, many decades. Clubs have youth academies to develop the youth all the way up to the professional level. In the U.S., these academies are just now legitimately starting to become prevalent.
There (the youth system) is the number one problem/reason why the U.S. will never be a top footballing nation. When most other countries around the world have the beautiful game as the number one overall sport and the number one youth sport, ‘soccer’ in the U.S. has only recently climbed into the top five for participation and popularity. It’s nearly impossible to develop the talent pool when more kids are playing other sports. That speaks right into my other key point.
With soccer not topping the popularity list, that creates a far less amount of people to choose from when getting to the professional level. Simply said, our best athletes play other sports. Now, don’t make the LeBron James comparison, people of his freakish ability and stature wouldn’t play soccer anyway. He’s simply too tall for the game. He wouldn’t be able to properly coordinate his feet at that height. Now, of the able bodied people that could play soccer, most choose not to. Think of all the stellar athletes in the United States that play basketball, American football, and baseball. I’m not implying that American soccer players aren’t phenomenal athletes, but that this country has tons of exceptional athletes that play other sports.
The reality of it is, soccer isn’t that popular among adults in this country and it never exactly will be. We, as a country, have to pull from our misinformed, garbage youth systems and dual citizenship players from other countries that aren’t good enough for them. That is something that Klinsmann has really started to focus on. Will it be the long term answer? Only time will tell, but it is a good start. Once again, those players are the, for lack of a better term, ‘rejects’ of the other countries. There is a reason Jermaine Jones chose the United States over Germany. It wasn’t because he thought the USMNT was better, it was because he knew he’d never see the pitch for the Germans.
Even though the American youth system is getting better, the USMNT coaching staff still believes the future of American soccer lies in other countries. If you look at the 2014 World Cup roster, 9 of the 23 players are of foreign descent. I’m not totally against that, it’s just a bit saddening that of the 300+ million people that live in this country; we can’t find 23 Americans to represent our country.
To recap: I believe that US Soccer will never be a serious contender at a World Cup due to a youth system that is decades behind, too many other sports to contend with for top athletes, and a general lack of interest by the public.
Having said all that, one may find it hard to believe that I am a die-hard fan of US Soccer. I firmly believe every statement I’ve made, but hope like hell that I’m wrong. I’m not saying I believe USMNT will never make a good run in a World Cup, but that they don’t have the backing to sustain a World Cup contending squad every four years.
Go and prove me wrong, America!
Written by Dever Webb.
Have a read of all articles in our Rest of the World blog here.
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- A rant against US Soccer, it’s issues, future & chances - September 9, 2014