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    Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Sorry for the length. I came across this fantastic explanation of why the USA MNT doesn't perform with the best of them yet. For those of you non-soccerites, you can take solace that it's the NCAA's fault. It's a pretty good debunking of the argument that we divert our best athletes to our 'big 4' sports. Sorry it's long, but timely and worth thinking about. I wasn't aware that college soccer allows subs to re-enter the game.

    Here's the link to the thread on Reddit

    "In my opinion as someone who has risen through the ranks of American soccer including 5 years in college and some trials with MLS teams, the argument that America fails at soccer because we have our best athletes playing other sports like football and basketball is actually an argument that is largely false. Don't get me wrong, I think the likes of Chris Paul, or Russell Westbrook has the makings to be world class players (and could you imagine if Lebron James spent his life playing keeper?). However, the reason why America hasn't risen to the elite level of international soccer is much more nuanced and complex. Here are the two main factors that prevent America from becoming elite.

    1. The next time you meet someone who was born outside of the US, ask them to kick a soccer ball. No matter how athletic they are, or how much soccer they have played in their life, chances are they will have the basic motor mechanics to kick a ball properly (more or less). Now ask your average American friend to do the same thing. Odds are, unless they were a soccer player in their life, their mechanics will be laughably poor.

    Now, ask your foreign friend to play catch with a baseball or a football. Or ask them to shoot a basketball. Odds are, they will be laughably terrible and won't even have the proper mechanics for such a motion. Now ask your American friend to do the same thing. They will probably be able to at least have some grasp on the arm mechanics needed to throw a baseball or shoot a basketball somewhat competently.
    This example points out that certain games are embedded in the culture and therefore nearly everyone (or at least the people who care about sports) have both a physical and conceptual grasp of the rudimental aspects of that game. It's not just that their elite players are better, but their entire population is better. A rising tide lifts all boats. The problem with American soccer is that we have put so much emphasis on elite development, while the rest of the population remains ignorant to the basics of the game. We are trying to build bigger boats, while our tide is much much lower. It takes a lot of resources to develop any elite player, but as a culture we are starting from a disadvantage. Even if Adrian Peterson chose to play soccer from a young age, he would likely not have even begun to develop his rudimental skills until he was around 10 or 11 when he started to play seriously, whereas another soccer culture teaches these things to their kids when they are 3 or 4 - the same age when Americans are teaching their kids football, basketball, baseball, etc.

    1. This builds to the second point. Because American soccer (i.e. the federation, which is responsible for developing the national team that competes in the World Cup) focuses on elite development almost exclusively, we as a country actually do quite respectably in international competition up until around the u-18 level. That is to say that our youth national teams can compete with almost anyone in the world until they turn 18.

    The drop off is easy to explain. It is all because of college soccer, where the vast majority of elite players in America end up. I could write an entire book on how college soccer destroys the United State's ability to compete on the world stage, but I will boil it down to this: The NCAA only allows college soccer teams to compete for 3-4 months of the year (with spring exhibitions allowed). So from a sheer numbers perspective, while other countries make their 18 year olds pro players with salaries who play year round, we limit our elite players in the prime of their professional development to 3-4 months of high level training and games a year.
    Alongside the sheer numbers disadvantage, there is also one glaring issue with college soccer, which has to do with substitutions. For those who don't know, international soccer at the professional level allows for 3 subs a game where if you come off, you can't come back on. In college soccer, you can basically sub freely - If you come off the in first half, you can't come back on until the second half, but in the second half you can come off once and come back on in that same half.
    What happens as a result of this is that in their prime professional development age, American soccer players don't play by the same rules as the rest of the world. Whereas soccer at the top level is largely a players game, college soccer gives much more power to the coaches. As a result, our players don't learn how to think and read the game in real time because in college soccer, if something isn't going right, the coach can make a sub. If someone is tired, the coach can make a sub. This creates an unrealistic picture of the game at the college level which has much more to do with coaching decisions and physical exertion than it does with playing the nuances of the game. For example, the college game usually is high press, intense, and brutally physical because guys can essentially run their heads off and then get subbed off when they are tired, then come back on and do the same thing. This is completely unrealistic at the elite level when you have to conserve energy and think about what you are doing in real time. As a result, American soccer teams, even at the elite level, tend to be incredibly fit, strong, and organized, but we lose because we are very unoriginal, unintelligent (soccer wise), and technically not as good as the teams we play.
    Ultimately until soccer becomes more of an institution where the vast majority of the population is knowledgeable about the sport and its fundamental tactics and physical requirements, AND we fix the way we develop the young adult (i.e. college aged 18-22) players, we will never as country reach that elite status that every 4 years we want to have.
    tl;dr - Our lack of cultural appreciation and knowledge for the sport makes America start developing our players from a disadvantage AND the college system which develops most of our elite players is poorly constructed to create professionals in the game at the elite, global level.


    Secondly, there have been some interesting and thought provoking responses to my analysis. However, it seems that I need to clarify something. A lot of you seem to have taken exception to my assertion that, "America fails at soccer because we have our best athletes playing other sports like football and basketball is actually an argument that is largely false." What I was really trying to say is that I don't believe that the American soccer team is losing on the international stage because we are less athletic than Germany, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, or any other team that we might play. In fact, I think most people in the international soccer scene would place the American squad as one of the most athletic. The point I was trying to make is that American soccer doesn't suffer from a lack of athleticism. The problem is with the current United States soccer culture and system of development. Having Adrian Peterson at striker for the USMNT right now would in all likelihood not bring us closer to winning the World Cup (though it would be awesome to see and I would love to be proved wrong on that!)
    To reiterate my point, I think that American soccer suffers from a lack of enough kids playing youth soccer with a high level of understanding about the nuances of the game as it is played at the professional level (there are probably way more kids in elementary school that can tell you the tactical differences between a nickel and dime defense than the differences between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3...) and that our system for developing young professional players (college soccer as it currently stands) is not set up to develop elite players.
    That being said, I appreciate the debate! Go USA!"


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    How can you tell who is truly the better team when the scores of whole games are so often 1-0 or 2-1? It may not necessarily indicate parity, but rather that a good offense can't score much more on a good defense than a bad offense can. And everybody seems to have a good defense.



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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    We should just take Oregon and Washington and ONLY let them play soccer, no other sports and see what happens. The population would be similar to other countries and they already spend more on soccer than most other countries. Heck, the US spends more on soccer each year than the GDP of probably half the countries in the World Cup.



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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cycsk View Post
    How can you tell who is truly the better team when the scores of whole games are so often 1-0 or 2-1? It may not necessarily indicate parity, but rather that a good offense can't score much more on a good defense than a bad offense can. And everybody seems to have a good defense.
    Organization, technical skill on the ball, movement off the ball, finishing quality, passing quality, understanding of nuances of when to press, when to sit back, when to counter. The USA team is better at some of these things than they used to be, but still have a long way to go.

    Not everyone has a good defense...watch the Chile game today :).


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    I would argue that the US is already a world power. One of few countries to make every WC since '90, reaching the knockout stages on 3 of those occasions and one quarterfinal. I'm not going to do the research but I bet that would put us in the top 20% of the world in terms of NT performance.


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    I disagree at least from kids in Iowa. The soccer system is so screwed up it's almost impossible to keep kids playing. My daughter is 10. The lowest cost for a select soccer team is $750 dollars. They have to try out for the team also. Baseball, basketball, and every other American sport there are several options for low priced leagues and games. We had several quit this year because of the price and overall way youth soccer is played.
    At the age of 8 they start in with having to have professional coaches like WDM academy. Then at the age of 10 if you don't have professionals and pay big bucks. It's hard to keep competing. Same reason Hockey is not as popular. The overall cost is through the roof.
    Now compare that with baseball, basketball, and every other sport. Fathers and mothers coach it and coach it effectively. BTW for those who say professional coaches are a must in soccer. Look at Ghana in soccer. My guess is they don't have the great professional youth soccer coaches. Look at the dominican republic in baseball.
    Soccer is the worst sport for kids to advance in, at least in Iowa. Not sure how every other state does it. My son and daughter have played basketball, soccer, baseball, football and track. Soccer is easily the worst to keep competing in. It's not even close.


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bewilderme View Post
    Organization, technical skill on the ball, movement off the ball, finishing quality, passing quality, understanding of nuances of when to press, when to sit back, when to counter. The USA team is better at some of these things than they used to be, but still have a long way to go.

    Not everyone has a good defense...watch the Chile game today :).

    Here are the scores of the entire World Cup so far:

    Belgium -Algeria 2-1
    Brazil - Mexico 0-0
    Russia - Korea 1-1
    Germany - Portugal 4-0
    Iran - Nigeria 0-0
    US - Ghana 2-1
    Switzerland - Ecuador 2-1
    France - Honduras 3-0
    Argentina - Bosn/Herz 2-1
    Columbia - Greece 3-0
    Costa Rica - Uruguay 3-1
    Italy - England 2-1
    Ivory Coast - Japan 2-1
    Mexico - Canada 1-0
    Netherlands - Spain 5-1
    Chile - Australia 3-1
    Brazil - Croatia 3-1

    In no game has the loser scored more than 1 point, including Argentina against the allegedly bad defense of Chile.

    According to the Wikipedia page for the 2010 World Cup, in only five games did the loser score more than 1 point (and it was always 2 points).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_FIFA_World_Cup

    Obviously, the game appeals to a lot of people, but I just haven't been able to get into it. And now that I'm analyzing it, I think I know why. The defenses are too good and the scoring, especially the winning shot, seems too "lucky" too often. If there were higher scoring that reflected the quality of the offenses, not the lower scoring that reflects the quality of the defenses, I think I would find the game to be more compelling.


    Last edited by Cycsk; 06-18-2014 at 10:52 AM.

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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by Knownothing View Post
    I disagree at least from kids in Iowa. The soccer system is so screwed up it's almost impossible to keep kids playing. My daughter is 10. The lowest cost for a select soccer team is $750 dollars. They have to try out for the team also. Baseball, basketball, and every other American sport there are several options for low priced leagues and games. We had several quit this year because of the price and overall way youth soccer is played.
    At the age of 8 they start in with having to have professional coaches like WDM academy. Then at the age of 10 if you don't have professionals and pay big bucks. It's hard to keep competing. Same reason Hockey is not as popular. The overall cost is through the roof.
    Now compare that with baseball, basketball, and every other sport. Fathers and mothers coach it and coach it effectively. BTW for those who say professional coaches are a must in soccer. Look at Ghana in soccer. My guess is they don't have the great professional youth soccer coaches. Look at the dominican republic in baseball.
    Soccer is the worst sport for kids to advance in, at least in Iowa. Not sure how every other state does it. My son and daughter have played basketball, soccer, baseball, football and track. Soccer is easily the worst to keep competing in. It's not even close.
    I feel like that is pretty reasonable. Is that for an entire year?


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    People always have a hard time understanding why a country with a relatively huge population isn't a soccer power. IMO it's 2 main things

    1) Elite athletes generally play football, basketball, and baseball first. Lot's of reason for this but soccer comes pretty far down the list when it's the opposite in most countries.

    2) Development. I grew up in SW Iowa and have seen this change high school soccer first hand. The towns with the best youth programs and participation eventually have the best soccer teams. The US has gotten better about this but still lags behind the world powers.


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Highest scoring World Cup in 60 years and still not enough scoring?



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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    I feel like that is pretty reasonable. Is that for an entire year?
    That is the cheapest. Basketball this year will cost around 200 bucks. Baseball was around $350 for the year. Football will be $160 bucks. So how is $750 reasonable when every other sport is so much less?


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by 3TrueFans View Post
    Highest scoring World Cup in 60 years and still not enough scoring?
    I think that's exactly the point he's trying to make. Even when soccer is "high scoring" it's still pretty damned low scoring.


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by Knownothing View Post
    I disagree at least from kids in Iowa. The soccer system is so screwed up it's almost impossible to keep kids playing. My daughter is 10. The lowest cost for a select soccer team is $750 dollars. They have to try out for the team also. Baseball, basketball, and every other American sport there are several options for low priced leagues and games. We had several quit this year because of the price and overall way youth soccer is played.
    At the age of 8 they start in with having to have professional coaches like WDM academy. Then at the age of 10 if you don't have professionals and pay big bucks. It's hard to keep competing. Same reason Hockey is not as popular. The overall cost is through the roof.
    Now compare that with baseball, basketball, and every other sport. Fathers and mothers coach it and coach it effectively. BTW for those who say professional coaches are a must in soccer. Look at Ghana in soccer. My guess is they don't have the great professional youth soccer coaches. Look at the dominican republic in baseball.
    Soccer is the worst sport for kids to advance in, at least in Iowa. Not sure how every other state does it. My son and daughter have played basketball, soccer, baseball, football and track. Soccer is easily the worst to keep competing in. It's not even close.
    I know exactly what you mean. I am a licensed soccer coach and have made a good amount of money doing so. That being said, soccer is a relatively new game and these professional coaches, in my mind, are a must this early in its life.

    I was coached by a guy from London my whole career. He had played professionally and has been a DOC in Iowa since the 90's. I learned everything I know from him and he is the reason I enjoy coaching.

    Now when I coach, I don't make as much money as my former coach, but I have the knowledge that would be considered on a "professional" level. I'm sure some kids I've coached will end up sticking with soccer and becoming a coach as well. It takes a while to spread the knowledge and popularity.

    We needed those pros from overseas because to play with the best, we need to learn from the best. Eventually, hopefully soccer will be common knowledge to some.

    As for now, we aren't there yet. So those coaches are a must. You could have a parent coach the team, but good luck competing and growing the game. Soccer (and hockey as you mention) has an interesting aspect where USA isn't the cream of the crop. The better soccer leagues are overseas. The better players and coaches are overseas. We still have a ways to go.

    On the flipside, I am sure a youth basketball/football league in Europe or elsewhere would pay top dollar for an American "professional" coach.

    Soccer is a game, as an above poster mentioned, that can be won or loss on one bad touch, bad positioning, etc. The time it takes to develop those skills takes a while where you can be near perfect in those aspects. In basketball or football, we expect turnovers, we know we'll have an interception or the other team will score, or that a basketball player will get a breakaway and easy layup.

    Those mistakes in soccer can cost you a game. The need for mistake-free play is much higher.

    I know this can be argued both ways, but that's how I view the game.

    TL;DR - Soccer is still an unknown to most americans, we pay to develop the skills to compete with the world, knowledge and perfecting the game take time.



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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    Quote Originally Posted by Knownothing View Post
    That is the cheapest. Basketball this year will cost around 200 bucks. Baseball was around $350 for the year. Football will be $160 bucks. So how is $750 reasonable when every other sport is so much less?
    Well, are you getting professional coaching in any of those other sports for that money? I mean, it all depends on what your kids want to do. If my kids liked soccer and wanted to play it's not like that's a back breaker for a lot of people, especially around DSM and the burbs.


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    Re: Why USA isn't a world power in soccer (yet)

    A lot of that could translate to a local level of why Iowa wrestlers dominate other states, especially states of comperable population. Almost a majority if Iowa dads could teach their young kids decent wrestling technique. Only parts of Russia or the Middle East could say the same.



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