June 27, 2011

Hard Lessons: It's time for the USMNT and its fans to grow up and realize that progress is not measured by narrow victories over Central American countries or avoiding embarrassment at the World Cup. At Grantland, Bill Barnwell (late of Football Outsiders) proposes a different approach for the U.S. Men's National Team.

posted by holden to soccer at 04:43 PM - 11 comments

It was interesting to me two different writers came to the same conclusion.

posted by yerfatma at 05:41 PM on June 27, 2011

"Jones played ahead of Maurice Edu, who was a regular contributor to Scottish power Rangers this past season at the age of 25."

I would pay to see this show.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 10:48 PM on June 27, 2011

Instead of solid colors, would each character have a different plaid?

posted by kokaku at 06:47 AM on June 28, 2011

That was an interesting read, and there are definitely some good points to be made. Even with a 2-0 lead, there was no point on Saturday when the US was the better team on the field. I do take a bit of an issue with the implication that the younger players should always be on the field in favor of the older ones. There is certainly something to be said for experience and leadership. I would also say that Cherundolo in particular stood out to me during the tournament, and we particularly missed him in the Mexico match.

That said, I was very pleasantly surprised with the return of Freddy Adu, and I would like to see much more from guys like Maurice Edu and Tim Ream. I also agree with the assertion that if the overall vision of US Soccer is not fixed on winning the World Cup, we are selling ourselves short.

posted by bender at 08:50 AM on June 28, 2011

In general, I agree with the article though winning this Gold Cup would have been useful as entry ticket for the next Confederations Cup. If Bradley's strategy had gotten us the trophy I could accept the roster choices.

As it did not there are definitely questions. For instance, why not play three young defenders plus Boca or Cherundolo for a bit of maturity? Putting those two as the first choice fullbacks meant a complete lack of pace out wide since our so-called wingers were constantly cutting inside; 4-6-0 was more like 4-3-3-0 with no one except Adu consistently getting wider than the 18 yard box.

Edu has consistently not gotten the playing time I think he's earned from Bradley despite his club form. Jones hasn't shown me the ability to do the offensive business required from his position, so I'm just not getting the decision.

I think the author doesn't take injuries sufficiently into account though. With healthy Stuart Holden, Charlie Davies, Tim Chandler, and Jozy not going out so early the team would have been much younger and pacier. Add in Edu over Jones and I honestly think that team would've steamrolled the Gold Cup.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2011

I think the author doesn't take injuries sufficiently into account though.

Every international tournament comes after a long season.

I talked about this last year when Bradley's contract was up for renewal: unlike many national sides, the US could genuinely approach the World Cup with a four-year strategy, with competitions like the Gold Cup as building exercises. Mexico clearly wanted this one, but they're also sending their U-23 Olympic team to the Copa America, which means they can get the best of both worlds before the CONCACAF prelims next March.

The game in the US is in a robust enough position that there's no need to sacrifice squad development in order to secure victories in one or two relatively humdrum summer competitions.

It's reminiscent of the situation in the women's team, where the looming presence of old-guard players (on the pitch and in the media) eventually became an impediment to further growth.

posted by etagloh at 01:48 PM on June 28, 2011

Really enjoyed this article. As someone who has an ever-growing interest in soccer, it does seem that the fundamental posture is off in the US. I don't see the average American sports fan respecting an approach to competition that boils down to "let's just make sure we're competitive." Right or wrong, Americans always want to win, and I am guessing part of the lack of respect soccer sometimes receives here is tied to this lack of boldness. It seems that America is growing to love soccer as a country more and more, and it is time for the US to set its sights higher. I am sure there is much more work to be done than just a new mission statement, but it is a start.

posted by brainofdtrain at 10:29 PM on June 28, 2011

None of this is going to matter until American athletes decide to choose soccer. That's the problem. Our best athletes don't play the sport. Imagine if some of the freakish talents we see in the NFL and NBA had chosen soccer instead of thier respective sport. Can you see Chris Johnson (RB, Tenn.) as a forward or LeBron James and Calvin Johnson (WR, Det.) as midfielders? How about Randy Moss in goal?

posted by SooperJeenyus at 10:14 AM on June 29, 2011

While that is unquestionably true, we have still managed in recent years to take the athletes that do choose soccer and turn them into a competitive side on an international level. This was certainly sparked by hosting the WC in '94 and pushed along by the modest but steady growth of MLS. Now we are at the point where players are going over to play with European clubs and the national team is consistently #1 or #2 in CONCACAF and wins matches in the World Cup.

While it could be argued that we've only recently (or barely) made it to the point of being able to refocus our mission, I think Barnwell is fairly astute in his assessment of the state of US Soccer, and that refocus is necessary to move on to the next level.

To bring it back around to your point, SooperJeenyus, all of these things--the competitiveness of the US national team, the growth of MLS, and American players having success in higher profile leagues in Europe--feed off of each other. They have grown together to get to this point, and will continue to do so. Factor in a growing hispanic immigrant population that is far mor interested in soccer than any of our other sports, and soccer will grow even faster. Just about every kid in this country who plays sports starts with soccer. When they get older, they graduate to other sports, but I think we will see this start to change--especially if we can develop a few homegrown stars to emulate.

posted by bender at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2011

"None of this is going to matter until American athletes decide to choose soccer. That's the problem. Our best athletes don't play the sport. Imagine if some of the freakish talents we see in the NFL and NBA had chosen soccer instead of thier respective sport. Can you see Chris Johnson (RB, Tenn.) as a forward or LeBron James and Calvin Johnson (WR, Det.) as midfielders? How about Randy Moss in goal?"

That doesn't necessarily follow; "soccer IQ" on the pitch isn't simply a matter of being a superior athlete; you have to spend a good portion of your childhood developing basic ball control skills and a good portion of your teen years developing an ability to read the game and make split second decisions. Being very tall or very big aren't necessarily an advantage in soccer (except for goalies); players tend towards the average in size - soccer body type is built more for endurance than for size or sudden bursts of speed, so players would have to train differently too.

A sudden influx of bigger, faster American athletes choosing soccer would exaggerate a problem we already have: too many American soccer players and coaches focus on size and speed and not enough on intelligent play - developing good first touch, knowing where to be at the right moment so that you look "fast" even if you aren't really that fast. One should anticipate, not merely run fast.

So yeah it would be nice to pick better athletes from the talent pool for American soccer, but they need to grow up in a soccer environment, grow up thinking and watching and playing and dreaming soccer. That's more possible now than in the past, what with the internet, global TV, a world-wide sporting scene available to all that wasn't available 10-20 years ago.

Kids need to grow up playing unorganized street soccer, for the love of it, not merely "soccer as a youth activity" as it is now. I grew up playing street soccer in the 1970s, but that was because I and my friends grew up with a popular local NASL team to watch and emulate. That plugged us in to the "soccer culture" which is very necessary to get kids to put in the kind of time it takes to create soccer players.

As soccer gets more popular in the USa it doesn't necessarily follow that soccer will be diverting players otherwise destined for football or baseball or basketball or ice hockey; there are plenty of athletes now who don't go into those sports because they aren't a good fit for them, but who might be a good fit for soccer. Someone can be a good athlete but still never make the grade in sport A while being perfect for sport B.

What makes for a good footballer (soccer player) isn't the same set of qualities that makes one good in other sports. Soccer requires a pretty unique set of skills which means that as the USA improves in soccer, it won't necessarily be "stealing" athletes from other sports; it will be discovering and developing athletes who otherwise wouldn't be involved in professional sports at all. There is of course some crossover and many players who are good at multiple sports, but this idea of "pure athleticism" is exaggerate and there are a lot of athletes who are overlooked simply because they don't fit in to the requirements of the existing "big league" pro sports.

posted by dave2007 at 11:16 PM on July 01, 2011

Dave, I think you misunderstood the writer. He was much more likely suggesting that James or Moss choose soccer as kids as what you ranted on about is fairly obvious (and discussed previously on SpoFi).

posted by billsaysthis at 12:35 PM on July 03, 2011

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