Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 

Hope is not a (us soccer) plan



The Men's Olympic team disaster this morning was yet another rude slap in the face (or should I say elbow to the sternum).

A week ago, I dared to hope we could grind out four points and hoped that would be enough to advance.

Then I hoped we wouldn't have to face Argentina, or Italy, or Brazil in the next round if we did manage to get out of the group.

I hoped we could get by without a Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra on the roster because they would be needed for the US World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala next Wednesday.

I hoped that instead of real, proven leaders, that Peter Nowak's choice to "burn" two of his over-23 year old player slots on 24 year old MLS players with no big tournament experience would prove him a real genius.

I hoped Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley would prove to the world that they are not only the future of American Soccer, but future global stars.

How dare I let hope be my plan!

But what else is a US Soccer fan to do but hope? It's about all we can do other than buy tickets and contribute our opinions in writing. But what do we really know? What does anyone in this country really know about what it really takes to come through the US development system and go on to be a world class star?

Unfortunately, I think the obvious answer is no one knows. We're mostly the blind leading the blind. We're copying all we can from the most successful player "development" environments - be it a dirt lot in rural Brazil or the Ajax Academy. We flirt with foreign coaches, but never turn over the reigns completely, preferring to tap their brains, but only inviting them to stay if they play by our rules.

We're doing what American's do - we pick something to be best at, and we systematically go about doing it. We rely on our ingenuity, resources, unlimited budgets, and over 200 years of free market economy EXPERIENCE, and we just do it. From rail, to electricity, to cars, the bomb, and even the Moon and Mars. We throw everything we have - which is more than anyone else - at a problem and we don't quit until we're on top.

This is exactly what's happening with soccer here, and it might work - eventually, but when? We've got the resources in the infrastructure and in numbers of players. We've got the money of course, and we've got some ingenuity. What we lack is the experience, and that just cannot be bought. Gaining experience takes time, which is a problem considering our other mostly American trait of being impatient.

We seem to be making progress if you count progress as checking off boxes on a plan that we wrote. We're convincing more talented youngsters to choose soccer over pointy football, basketball or baseball as their sports of choice. And we are doing what we can to provide a good player development environment through hundreds of organized youth clubs. Our players appear to be more comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, and learning some individual creativity. Our national teams even try to play the game the "right" way.

But we're never going to win a World Cup until we have the experience to go with our "Americans can win anything we set our minds to" approach. We need a player pool that at least knows what they don't know. Not one that can't even imagine what goes through Ronaldo or Kaka's head before the pass before the pass gets to the person that passes them the ball. And we're not going to get there until a majority of the players on our national team play for major world powers on the club scene, and that's at least another generation away.

We're not there yet, and there aren't enough players in the pipeline yet to make me believe the golden generation for American Soccer has yet to be born. It's going to take time. It's going to take a really strong MLS with full stadiums funding elite youth academies. It's going to take today's top US prospects spending a career in Europe and then coming back here to head up those academies and having babies that end up staring for Real Madrid. In short, it's going to take more than Freddy Adu.

As much as I will continue to hope, the honest thing to say for at least another 20 years will be that "I hope we get lucky". To think any other way is just delusional, and SO beautifully American.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

 

Networks should follow Title IX



Can you believe the US Women's Olympic Qualifying games won't be shown on TV? Unfortunately I do believe, and it's a real shame!

The BEST women's team in the world opens Olympic Qualifying tonight at 7:30 against Jamaica in Juarez, Mexico. They are the defending Olympic gold medalists, and tonight is the first step toward their title defense. Don't we deserve the opportunity to see our team earn their way to China in these qualifying games? Last month we all got to see the Men qualify. What do we have to do to get equal coverage for women's soccer here? How about a little Title IX enforcement for networks?

US Soccer's Match Tracker will have to do. Enjoy reading about the game in 2-minute increments :-(

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