U.S. men's soccer needs a kick in the pants
The Olympics are coming up in less than a month, the gathering of some of the world's greatest athletes in London.
It's always an exciting time, and one of the big parts of the joy of watching the Olympics, for me, is the performance of the United States women's soccer team. I don't care if you love soccer (not me) hate soccer (not me) or are only a casual fan (me). The drama of the women's team at the Olympics is always a highlight.
This year, however, I'm struck by a question about soccer in this country and I'm not sure what the answer is.
How come the United States is such a world power in women's soccer and the men's United States team is so very ordinary, or even below ordinary?
The first match played by the women's national team was in 1985. They've won two world cups and three of four Olympic gold medals. By any standard the American women are at the very top of the world.
The men, on the other hand, are a very different story.
The first game for the national team in World Cup action was in 1930. There have been 20 World Cups in that time. Ten times the U.S. didn't even qualify for the tournament. The best we've ever done was eighth place in 2002, and that was considered a miracle.
The men have been playing in the Olympics since 1992. Their record is 4-13. Twice they have failed to even qualify for the games, including this year.
To say the men's team has been an also-ran is to be charitable.
But why? American athletes are great athletes. We lead the world in basketball, (American) football and baseball. We have more great golfers. The NHL is by far and away the best hockey league in the world.
I think that is part of the problem. We have so many sports where we are leaders that the best athletes in this country don't play soccer. In many countries in the world soccer is the biggest sport around.
If you grow up in England, Croatia or Brazil you have heroes. Players like England's Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Mario Mandzukic or the exciting Brazilian, Neymar, are the biggest sports heroes in their countries.
In America how many people could even recognize the names Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, perhaps the two best players on the U.S. team?
It's not the fault of the athletes. It's the fault of the sport.
Big time athletics for women are much more limited than men. Women don't play football or baseball and women's basketball is forever doomed to be not that popular. Soccer is the big game for women, and from Brandi Chastain pulling off her jersey to Hope Solo on "Dancing With The Stars," the women have captured imaginations unlike the men's game.
Mia Hamm makes television commercials. Alex Morgan poses in a painted-on bikini in Sports Illustrated. You never see any male soccer players on television, unless they are playing a game.
It was about four decades ago that this boom began with an explosion of kids soccer. You can't turn around during the spring and summer without seeing bright-shirted kids kicking the ball with everyone from little tots, to high school and college soccer teams.
We are now well into the third generation of that alleged and anticipated soccer boom. But, despite all that participation, soccer has just not caught on as a major sport in this country.
Dave, I think the fact that even you couldn't stir the pot and drum up ANY reaction with a soccer article, pretty much paints the picture of how most folks in the US feel about it.
If you were an avid soccer fan you would know that the Olympics don't mean much to most countries. The US Men's team that would play in the Olympics is considered a youth amateur under 23 team. This is not the same team that competes internationally for the World Cup etc. Currently the Euro Cup tournament is going on which is a much bigger event for European Countries; their best players will be on the national team competing in the Euros not competing in the Olympics. Basically, the US not being in the Olympics for soccer is not a big deal b/c in the world of men's soccer it is an amateur event.
Soccer can be played anywhere at anytime...all you need is a ball. This makes it very affordable and attractive to poorer countries around the world. Baseball, football, basketball all require equipment and facilities that many people around the world just can't afford. Moreover, professional mens soccer leagues around the world keep the best players playing the game while the US players languish in "B" leagues. Let's also look at cultural differences, women in many other countries around the world simply do not play organized sports like they do in the US. This could be for a myriad of reasons but in the US, women enjoy truly equal rights and equal opportunities (Title IX, etc). This certainly helps improve the chances of fielding a strong national soccer program. Look at the big team sports at the Olympic level, the US women dominate: Soccer, basketball, volleyball (indoor & beach) - they are ALL ranked #1 in the world right now.
Nice to see Begel getting his material from The Mark Belling Show now. I believe each and every point he makes was covered in a show last week.
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