Why can’t a country that has over 300 million people produce 11 world-class soccer players?
I’m sure Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, is asking himself the same question. There’s a very simple reason why. The solution is where the complexity lies. As sports fans, we all know the overwhelming factor to winning in sports comes down to talent. The issue isn’t knowing what it takes to win — it is finding the talent to complete the task.
The most obvious obstacle suppressing the development of U.S. soccer is the incomparable success that the major sports sustain in America.
First and foremost, the best athletes in America don’t play soccer. As long as the four major sports leagues exist, in particular the NFL and NBA, American soccer will most likely never produce consistent world-class talent. We marvel at the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the class they display to the world. But honestly, can a U.S. soccer fan ever expect a player in our ranks to reach such heights?
In every other country, their best athletes for the most part play soccer. In America, our best athletes typically play football and basketball.
The glaring distinction between American soccer and the rest of the world comes at the youth levels. In Europe, almost all of the soccer teams have youth academies where they train adolescents year round, in hopes that they will eventually make it to their senior squads. Of course, in America, the MLS does not have this luxury due to the fact that the MLS doesn’t produce the kind of revenue that its European counterparts produce.
In other countries, they see the financial and commercial success of Ronaldo, Messi, Wayne Rooney and others, so their adolescents strive to become professional soccer players. For some, it is a way out of poverty, out of struggle, or a means to create a better opportunity for their families.
American adolescents see the financial and commercial success of LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady and numerous other American sports superstars. So why would they strive to be Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey?
We all know Donovan and Dempsey have created wonderful careers for themselves and have had tremendous financial success as well. Even though both can be in the conversation as the best American soccer players ever, their celebrity pales in comparison to the likes of James or Brady on U.S. shores.
Could you imagine Kobe Bryant playing soccer from age four to now? Wouldn’t you like to see Calvin Johnson heading a cross from Donovan inside the penalty box? Envision Wes Welker running onto a pass from Dempsey splitting two defenders.
American soccer enthusiasts want to see U.S. soccer become a juggernaut in the eyes of the American spectator, evoking the same passion and keenness that our fans bestow upon our major sports. Would it be so bad if we had less American talent in our major sports leagues and more American soccer talent?
In order for the U.S. Men’s National Team to compete at the level we are accustomed to seeing our Olympic athletes compete at internationally, we need our best athletes to start playing soccer. It is essential to convince American adolescences that soccer is just as advantageous of a path as any of our major sports, and that it can bring them financial and commercial success on a world stage.
It is the world’s game after all. Perhaps we should inform our children that Ronaldo ($44 million) and Messi ($41 million) made more money last year than Peterson ($20.5 million) and Brady ($38 million). Do you think that would open some eyes? Or is the underlying problem that most American’s are unaware of who Ronaldo and Messi are?
There is no doubt that Klinsmann is the right man for the job; his resume and credentials are impeccable. Klinsmann has a specific style of play that he is trying to embed into the core of the U.S. Men’s National Team. The real question is can America supply him with the talent required to bring U.S. soccer to the next level? Next summer’s World Cup will be a big test. Only time will tell if a U.S. soccer revolution is coming.