Tuesday, June 23, 2009

America's Soccer Dilemma

I don't mean to get my dick off with this blog by just posting random things I've written here and there, but this time, I want to add this to the postings. It's just a letter I wrote to the producers of espnsoccernet podcast: http://www.espnsoccernet.com/podcast. I hate to promote a non-Gier entity with this blog, but what can I say? I'm a fan of the podcast. I like to listen to it at night, before bed... just turn out all the lights and travel away to a far off realm where stories of international athletes and the exotic cities their clubs call home play out as I fall asleep. Hey, it suits me. I love travel and escapism, and international soccer is just a way I get my fix.

Anyway, it's just a letter I spent some considerable time and thought on regarding America's soccer situation. I know that the producers got the letter, but they chose not to address it in any podcast I've heard (not that I'm bitter). If you're a soccer fan, read it, and perhaps you'll agree with me:

Dear Adriano, Jonathon, Dan, et al,

First off, I am a really big fan of your show. I never miss it.

Lately, I've been pondering something regarding American soccer and I don't know who else to ask for an answer. It's a long discussion, but perhaps you can get to it now that it's the off season.

Anyone well knows that American soccer is generally lackluster compared to most of the rest of the world. The typical explanation is that soccer is just not a priority sport in America compared to American football, baseball, basketball, etc. However, these days, it seems most young children in America who are the slightest bit interested in sports play soccer from a young age. Where I'm from (Chicagoland), there are both public and private leagues for kids as young as 4 or 5 and as old as 18. Most colleges in the US have a varsity soccer team, many of them quite good. And America is now home to the MLS, smaller in popularity compared to the NFL for example, but with a respectable and growing following.

My point is that we certainly have many opportunities for kids to play soccer competively in the United States and a growing market for its fans. Many of the most athletic kids in high school chose soccer over other sports. Our population is several times that of England or Spain, but America still seems to be incapable of producing a player like a Steven Gerrard or a Fernando Torres. Why does America seem doomed to mediocrity in soccer? Why can't we produce world class players? (I'll admit Landon Donovan, for example, is quite impressive, but seems to struggle when he comes to Europe and faces more daunting competitors.) Winning the World Cup, as you English well know only winning it once yourselves, is a very difficult thing to achieve, but could the US ever expect to win it? We can dominate in the Olympics, for instance, but most Americans don't seem to consider track and field, gymnastics, or swimming high interest sports. Certainly more kids in America play soccer than those sports (with the possible exception of track and field). Then again, most other nations probably don't care much about the Olympics except for Russia and Australia with swimming. And in the Olympics, stories of the more dominant nation falling to the less favored seem common practice, like Korea beating the USA in baseball, or the US men's basketball team losing in the 2004 Olympic games. Why can't the US beat Brazil sometime at soccer? We never do.

Perhaps it is, after all, because our best athletes chose other sports over soccer, unlike the best athletes of most other nations; Chad Ochocinco (formally Chad Johnson) was an excellent soccer player in his youth, but was forced to chose between it and American football, ultimately going for the fame and fortune of being an NFL wide receiver.

I simply don't know. Perhaps we lack proper instruction and coaching. Or perhaps its because our soccer league is just not rich enough to bring in adequate competition like the Premier League can, giving players from all over the chance to improve by facing stiffer competition.

Anyway, it's a long and ongoing debate, just like this is a long and ongoing email. Perhaps we'll never know, but I would like to know your opinions on the subject.

Darian Gier from Wheaton, Illinois

*I should add that after I had written this email, the United States, after looking like they would subsequently return from the Confederations Cup tournament as embarrassed losers, did manage to make it to the semifinals against Spain in an amazing turn of events (the semifinal match is tomorrow, but I assume the US will lose to a really, really awesome Spanish team).

Even regardless of their recent success (or luck, as it were) I do think that our national soccer team is respectable, and a pretty decent team considering the field of talent they often play among. They are a group to be proud of, whether you embrace soccer or not. That said, I still cheer for Germany.

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