Why The Us Can, Should And Someday Will Be A Soccer Powerhouse (Maybe)

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Why the US Can, Should and  Someday Will Be a Soccer Powerhouse (Maybe)
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When US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann told The New York Times, "We cannot win this World Cup," then left Landon Donovan off his team, he cast himself as a convenient villain and baited America into giving a shit about soccer. He also made it clear that his team has its sights set on the future. The takeaway from America’s World Cup campaign isn’t that we lost, but that we turned in a bellwether performance as one of the scrappiest sides of the tournament. Maybe the mad German at the helm knew what he was doing.

But Klinsmann was also being brutally honest about our current squad. The loss of Jozy Altidore in our first match severely affected our ability to attack, and as a result we spent most of our World Cup defending. We were outclassed in the midfield, desperately needed more possession and lacked the technical quality to finish our rare goal-scoring chances. So what does Klinsmann do for the next four years to keep us dreaming? Here is our humble blueprint.

Kids all over America play soccer. According to Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, authors of
Soccernomics—“the US has the most young soccer players of any country.” But this enormous pool of healthy, well-fed kids (cough) has translated to very little success on the senior stage. What’s the problem? College.

In the most competitive soccer nations, 17 to 18-year-old kids train every day with the best players in the world, e.g., FC Bayern Munich’s Julian Green. American players, if they are lucky, land coveted roster spots at colleges in the Southeast and California, where the NCAA allows them to play about 20 games per year. They cannot gather with teammates in any officially sanctioned (read as: competitive) ways while the rest of the world’s talent plays four and five times as many matches. International players are being bought and sold into farm teams and club development programs while US college players sit on couches, drink beer, smoke pot and live like
Animal House during the off-season.

US Soccer is aware of the scourge of education (I’m kidding) and has attempted to offer alternative early entry programs like “Project-40” (now defunct) and “Generation Adidas” that encourage postponing college in order to train every day as a MLS professional. Project-40 and Generation Adidas have produced the current American soccer names most familiar to us—Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey and Howard—but those programs are still small. Step one is to expand these programs.

Step two: Scoop up the Gedion Zelalems of the world, and make it easier for American talent to follow in his footsteps. Zelalem is a 17-year-old, German-born midfielder/wizard of Ethiopian descent who has come up through the ranks at one of the finest youth academies in the world: Arsenal FC. Zelalem lived in the DC area for six years and looks to be beginning the naturalization process. On his 17th birthday, he signed his professional contract (the earliest possible juncture by law). Scouts have been gushing over the kid for years now.

We need him. More importantly, Major League Soccer needs to cultivate relationships with the best youth academies in the world. Because it is Zelalem’s German passport that garners him access to some of the finest coaching and experience in the world; kids with “just” an American passport face an uphill battle when attempting to play overseas (especially in England—which is unfortunate because, hey, at least they don’t have to learn a new language). Klinsmann is clearly deploying half of this strategy already, but we could only benefit by developing exchange programs with all the finest footballing academies on Earth. Because winning, not simply competing, is how Klinsmann can get Americans to continue to care.

And we can win. In fact, had our nation’s immense athletic talents been funneled into soccer instead of other sports since finishing 3rd in 1930, we easily could have had a starting XI that looked like this:

As our 10—Michael Jordan, play maker extraordinaire, with the sheer will to win.

Our 9—Cael Sanderson—an invincible holding center forward, one who simply could not be pushed off possession. In midfield we’d have Bo Jackson and Jerry Rice making attacking runs through any high line, while our double-pivot of Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders kept the center of the pitch on lockdown. At fullback we’d have the blistering pace of Deion Sanders and world record sprinter Maurice Greene to stifle any so-called world-class striker, then jump-start the counter-attack. Our center back pairing of Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and LeBron James would easily head clear any cross. Ever. In goal, on the off chance that a ball ever got through the murderer’s row in front of him, we’d have the lightning fast hands and utter domination of Muhammad fucking Ali.

So get to it, America. Rumble, young men, rumble.
Why the US Can, Should and  Someday Will Be a Soccer Powerhouse (Maybe)

Herr Klinsmann, the convenient villain


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