The World Cup. I’m sorry. Let me rephrase that. The WORLD Cup. A collection of 32 countries competing for a trophy that only seven teams have held high above their heads in celebration.
But why is the tournament that brings the world together, the sport that draws spectators from the most remote corners of the globe to the most populated cities not held in high regard in the United States?
It’s a tough call. It’s not like we don’t have diehard soccer fans in this country. But when you hear the phrase U.S. Soccer, the words don’t seem to mesh. It’s almost as though the term is an oxymoron. Something is missing when it comes to Americans and soccer, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Before we get into the multiple theories regarding the lack of interest in soccer, we first must get rid of all the excuses. Forget that it is a low scoring game, stop complaining that the players flop all over the place (because they all do), ignore the bad calls (it’s the human element of the sport), and stop saying that the U.S. will never be able to compete on an international level.
What I believe it all boils down to is that the United States’ program has failed to implement an effective strategy. Consider the three most popular American sports: basketball, baseball and football. What separates these three sports from soccer? Easy – coaches and players understand that sheer athleticism does not win games. There needs to be a successful game plan in order to win. The United States has failed to implement any tactical elements to their style of play. Time and time again, our country has relied on sending long balls from the final third of the pitch to the strikers, hoping that they out-run the opposing team’s defenders and find the back of the net.
It doesn’t work. You can have the fastest and most athletic players on the field and it won’t do you any good.
Soccer is a game of possession. You need a strong central midfielder who can dictate the tempo and rhythm of the game. Sending long 50/50 balls from one side of the pitch to the other is a recipe for disaster. You can’t be afraid to play the ball back if you can’t find the proper pass to the strikers.
You must be patient in order to create, and patience is what U.S. fans lack. The U.S. players posses the talent, they just need a manager that can utilize the players’ talent to the team’s advantage.
I understand that this is a loaded statement, and I am by no means discrediting the United States National Team – I am just calling for a game plan. Take the German National team, for example. After a poor showing in Euro 2000, the team constructed a 10-year plan that would once again enable Germany to play as national contenders. Ten years later, they were amongst the favorites along with Spain and Brazil to win the World Cup. The plan proved to be somewhat successful, as they finished third in this year’s World Cup. There was nothing exceptional about their style. They played consistent defense and had very strong offensive games, but above all, they played a game that was centered around possession.
Unless the U.S. side decides to implement a more effective strategy, I am sorry to say, the future of soccer in this country doesn’t look too good. But let’s be optimistic. We still have a chance. Brazil 2014, here we come.