Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Will the US ever be a soccer super-power? … by gimleteye

Yesterday's exciting finale to the US appearance on the World Cup stage underscored the popularity of the game with American audiences. It does feel like there is a critical momentum in favor of soccer, attributable mainly to the impressive growth of youth soccer across the nation. (I was part of a small wave of children learning to love the game in the early 1960s). Soccer is now the most popular youth sport in the United States, measured by participation.

But lots of kids chasing a soccer ball doesn't make a superpower in the world's most popular sport.

Nightly News commented, a lot of Americans have opened their eyes to soccer. The remark was meant as a coda, but it lightly skips over the enduring dilemma: popular, youth soccer leagues cannot provide opportunities for enough kids to acquire the skills that set apart higher achieving national teams.

Soccer is "the beautiful game" because it teaches itself to children who play and scrap around a ball outside of coaches, organized youth leagues, and outside the eyes of soccer moms and dads.

America cities, where there is the population density to support lots of interaction of children, are layed out in ways that deny opportunities for children to interact outside of highly structured activities. I know, because I spent more than 20 years in south Florida ferrying my kids to and from distant soccer practices and games by car.

Most of the explanations why the US isn't competitive in soccer revolve around the number of sports that compete for the attention of young athletes. That, plus the degree of specialization that is now required -- at a very young age -- to excel. While these are valid points, they are not the key point.

So far as the eye can forecast, the national team of the United States will continue coalesce around soccer stars whose skill sets were acquired outside the US -- whether in Germany, Mexico, or other nations where as children, these players mastered how to touch and feel the ball on vacant lots, in streets, or neighborhood parks.

The best corollary is basketball. The US excels at basketball because the cost barriers are low, the opportunities for acquiring skills require only a ball and one hoop, and a large pool of kids don't depend on commuting back and forth in suburbia to the nearest court and game.

Sheer motivation is only part of a selection process that dramatically narrows the talent pool for domestic-grown US soccer players.

Create conditions in the US where kids pick up soccer skills like basketball skills, and we will be a soccer superpower. Build more training academies and more sophisticated coaching without providing the conditions for a large number of kids to learn the beautiful game themselves, and we won't.


Anonymous said...

Parcel B was promised to voters to be a park. Ads from the Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County showed a soccer field on Parcel B. Now, of course, a full World Cup field would not fit on the 3 acre site but certainly the Heat and the County should fulfill their promise to the voters and build a 1/3 field?

Anonymous said...

Who cares ? We don't need rich soccer players.

Anonymous said...

Parcel B can be a place for children to walk and play so they stay off their computers. Parcel B can help other children stay out of trouble. Exercise helps kids (and adults) build strong bodies.

Anonymous said...

Probably not. At least not for a while. Most kids in the US grow up with family members, aunts, uncles, who are baseball, basketball, football fans, ect. Kids learn from them. Then you have the big tv contracts for these sports. Soccer does not compete as well yet.

Anonymous said...

Having coached soccer for the benefit of my kids and many others throughout the mid '90s and well into the '00s, we learned to appreciate the beauty of the game and the importance the sport enjoys throughout the world. From the age of four my kids learned geography by reading up on Panini sticker books, watching La Liga, the Premier League and Serie A. I strongly believe soccer made them stronger and helped them become better human beings. I saw the sport grow and I saw the baseball fields I grew up playing in being torn up to create soccer fields. Nostalgic yes, but it made a believer out of me. Soccer is the future in the U.S. and I have no doubt that within 20 years that World Cup trophy will be ours.

Anonymous said...

The Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County promised the voters that Parcel B would be green and open. The ads showed a soccer field. Time to honor the promise. At least remove the fences that look so Third World...

Anonymous said...

It's always about the money. We will never win the WC unless a few things change, like what was mentioned, salaries for the soccer players needs to be competitive with the other major sports. Until that happens, our gifted athletes will ALWAYS choose the NBA, MLB, and NFL over MLS.

Also, how can we compete with those soccer "mills" that they have in Brazil? Where they cherry pick children as young as 3yo and then then separate them from their families (families do consent though as it's considered an "honor") to go to a so-called "school" for education (it's a farce) but where all they will do all-day long is eat, breathe, sleep soccer everyday. How can you not fabricate thousands of good players? Sure not all of them "make" it, and it's sad what happens to those that don't. They get kicked out of "school" as soon as their adults and have not been signed to a pro-team. What happens to them? Most of them end up in poverty with nothing to show for having lived their lives consumed by soccer. Same thing goes on in those baseball "mills" in the Caribbean. Only in this case the MLB is guilty of funding those mills by paying fees to be able to have scouts visit and watch potentials. It's blood money.

I too am of the mindset that if we Americans gave as much crap about soccer as we do American Football, we would have won that World Cup a few times by now. But we don't, so we won't. One can only dream.