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The Future Of Soccer In The United States

What would it take for the United States to become a world soccer powerhouse? We’ll kick it around.

US players kick off the World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP)

US players kick off the World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP)

World Cup fever has hit, of all places, the United States of America.  The big global latecomer to soccer.  Millions of American hearts went way up the Amazon Sunday night for the heartbreaking tie with Portugal.  Millions celebrated the nifty first game win over Ghana.  Millions more will tune in tomorrow for the big game with Germany.  Team USA is performing better than expected.  Of course, US women took the World Cup in ’91, ’99.  What would it take to put US men’s soccer firmly up in that top tier?  This hour, On Point:  World Cup fever, and building an American soccer powerhouse.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Andrew Das, assistant sports editor for the New York Times. (@AndrewDasNYT)

Paul Kennedy, Editor-in-chief and General Manager of Soccer America, a US Soccer magazine. (@pkedit)

Andrew Lewellen, writer for Grantland and former college soccer player. (@AndrewHLewellen)

Mike Burns, general manager for the New England Revolution.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: How Jurgen Klinsmann Plans to Make U.S. Soccer Better (and Less American) — “‘We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet,’ Klinsmann told me over lunch in December. ‘For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.’”

Fusion: When the U.S. Made A Baby Step in Basel — “As good as the Swiss looked against Austria was as bad as they looked against the U.S. Only 16,500 showed up in the Herzog & de Meuron-designed St. Jakob’s Park—all the starchitecture was in Basel—and they booed their team off at half time and full time. Michael Bradley scored the only goal in the eighty-sixth minute in an ugly game but a brave performance for the U.S. team. Winning ugly was something it needed to learn how to do—the hell with wining over new fans.”

The Wall Street Journal: At World Cup, South America Is Ascendant – “South American sides haven’t had the pleasure of playing on home soil since 1978, and they are taking full advantage of it. Thursday, Uruguay pushed England to the brink of elimination with a 2-1 win that came just hours after Colombia notched a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast in front of thousands of delirious yellow-and-blue clad fans at Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.”

Video

Soccer fans in Kansas City celebrating John Brooks’ goal in the US match against Ghana at the World Cup in Brazil.

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  • Arkuy The Great

    Association Football (“Soccer” and “Futbol” are corruptions thereof) has always been a favorite game for people to play in the US. We all play it; from youth leagues to high school to intramural and varsity in college to pick-up games in the neighborhood, etc. This does not translate into a firm fan-base from which a “major league” can expect to draw support, however. Indeed, for US sports fans Baseball, Basketball and, yes, Football (the gridiron variety) have entrenched traditions of support that are passed down through family and friends. That will never go away.

    I do not see MLS ever getting much beyond where it is today in this country; basically a “AAA minors” league feeding talent to the European “majors”.

  • Charles

    Homegrown talent is the only way for the USA to be a viable powerhouse, but where’s it going to come from?
    Soccer has been ubiquitous at least since I was a middle-class suburban white kid some two decades ago. Seems like that’s the group that should have produced all of today’s talent.

    Like anything else in this country, if we could find a way to make more money off of it, I expect we’d get a lot better quick.

    • Arkuy The Great

      We do produce good talent domestically. Trouble is that they all head to “The Show” in Europe if they are that good. Further, look at the star player pantheons of the NBA, NHL and MLB. There are lots of different national flags represented there. The talent pool for all sports is globalized nowadays. If MLS had the wherewithal to compete with Premier League, et. al. in attracting and retaining the best players they would do so. The issue for Soccer in the USA is the fan base willing to part with hard-earned cash to watch games and buy merchandise. It just is not there….yet.

      “…if we could find a way to make more money off of it, I expect we’d get a lot better quick.”

      Ain’t that the truth!!!

      • adks12020

        You’re right, there is good young talent in the U.S. Another big reason our teams have struggled to become top tier is our development system. In Europe the best young players are playing in lower professional leagues at 17, 18, 19 years old. It’s similar to the farm system in baseball and hockey in the U.S. Young American players go to college to play since it’s the only option while staying in the states and they simply don’t develop as fast. College soccer competition in the U.S. is nowhere near the level of the lower professional leagues in Europe so our players take a long time to develop. A good 22 year old in Europe is equivalent to a good 30 year old in the states. That 22 year old can play for years with the same guys on a national team and really gel. Look at someone like Beckerman. He’s a good player but he’s 32 and this is his first World Cup. What are the chances he’ll be on the team at 36 when the next world cup happens?

  • Jon

    soccer can never become Americans favorite sport because of their religious obsession with fairness. NBA’s 7-game system makes sure the strong team wins; NFL video replay makes sure calls just. and soccer is an unjust game and only in soccer a weak team can beat a strong team.

    soccer is an art a creative art. soccer is life and life is unfair. and soccer is a collective sport not about individual heroism like with Jordan or quarterbacks. The recent culture clash of Klinsmann vs Donovan is a great example but Klinsmann cannot change the culture.

    “No we cannot change” is Americanism “Yes we can change others and not the other way around”. Americans never change their mind until the end of the world, just like soccer can never be called football in this land of new Israel.

  • hennorama

    The answer is obvious: hire Mike Tyson as Incisor Advisor.

  • Jim

    “What would it take for the United States to become a world soccer powerhouse?”

    Beat a European team like Portugal last week. That is what needs to be done. Instead of mimicking an Italian defense in the final 10 minutes of the game, the US should have counterattacked. The USA team must realize it has an identity of its own and it is not Italy.

    Lastly, the team has to communicate with each other. in a world cup stage you do not have to have a lineup of superstars. Ask Germany what happened to them 4 years back. better, ask the dutch team when they had Van Basten and Gullit in 1990.. it is like having Shaq and Kobe together. Germany defeated them and went to win the world cup… Eight years back, the Italian team has nobody in that team… yet they win the world cup with team unity and a suffocating defense, something the US team still does not have as shown last week.

    • adks12020

      Winning one game doesn’t make the team a powerhouse. The U.S. needs a better player development system that will consistently churn out quality young players year after year rather than having teams led by players in their 30s.

      Also, the inability to get back on defense and control the ball is what cause that last goal by Portugal. Counter attack is what Portugal thrives on; they want teams to play aggressively then they can blow by them on the counter. The U.S. played the right strategy as evidence by the fact that they dominated the majority of the game. In the end it came down to a couple of mistakes in the midfield (lazy, inaccurate passes). Personally I think Bradley was tired at the end and they should have taken him out at about 85 minutes.

    • johnhaskell

      “Eight years back, the Italian team has nobody in that team… yet they
      win the world cup with team unity and a suffocating defense, something
      the US team still does not have as shown last week.”

      Pirlo, Nesta, Cannavaro, Toni, Totti . . . the “best” roster in the world? No, but let’s not be hyperbolic and think the Italians were some darkhorse, Nova over Georgetown, come from nowhere winner.

    • NonnerDoIt

      We reached the 2002 knockout stage by beating Portugal. We’ve been a world power for 12 years now! Who knew?

  • Jim

    another point: it does not hurt if the US can create a striker like its coach, Jurgen Klinsman… The guy was amazing in 1990 and 1994.

  • James

    What would it take for the United States to become a world soccer powerhouse?
    It will happen when parents start pulling their kids from Football en masse due to concussion concerns, and the elite athletic talents start moving to other sports.

    • NonnerDoIt

      I’d add that I don’t think the kind of athletes that succeed at soccer are the kind that succeed at our other big sports. Even if they’d started young LeBron would be a mediocre soccer player, and Messi and probably even Ronaldo would be poor basketball players. For every Barry Sanders or Chris Paul that you can imagine being a world-class soccer player in a different environment there’s a whole bunch in those sports that would never make it in soccer.

      That said, it is the case that a lot of people who could be great soccer players end up focusing their efforts on being mediocre athletes in other sports. I play pick-up basketball with tons of boys with strong legs and quick feet but who are under 6′. Point is I think there’s room for soccer to succeed without taking much real talent from our other sports.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    We already have professional wrestling. Why would we want another fake drama queen sport???

    • TFRX

      Don’t look now, but basketball is a threat (edited for clarity) to take that throne away from soccer.

      “Selling the foul” has been a thing in hoops for at least 5-8 years.

  • AC

    i think now that everyone is aware biting is legal, ‘mericans will start getting into it :)

  • keruffle

    Football has too much trauma
    Baseball is so slow
    Soccer is a better drama
    Will its audience show?

    @keruffle

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    America must be #1. We could never be involved in a world sport where we were consistently the losers. It would be traumatic to our identity and narcissism. The American Dream and Manifest Destiny is at stake!

  • Jim

    oh another thing… the US team needs to know some soccer etiquette. Instead of playing like England… try to ask the players to dramatize any infraction or foul by the opponents like the Italians and the Germans.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    W’ell just buy up the talent needed to win. Big win for star soccer players. Big loss for working folk who just jwant to take their kids to a game.

  • TFRX

    Note that Americans are very good at set pieces.

    I think there’s an “uncoachability” to soccer which doesn’t really relate to football, basketball and baseball. The coach can’t start things with everyone in an exact place, like in every snap, inbounds play, and pitch.

    PS The book Soccernomics is a must read. It states (among other things) that you need three things for a good national team: Enough people–a talent pool of sufficient size, non-poverty, and a stable government.

  • Jim

    No No… shoot high.. Don’t find the next Ronaldo… FIND THE NEXT MARADONA

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    You can’t use your hands in soccer. Like your arms have been chopped off or bound behind your back. You have been castrated and are not fully a man. It will not take off in America. America is all about arms! Building up our military weaponry: our arms! Our armory! Taking up arms against the British and the terrorists and everyone inbetween. We will not put down our arms!

  • hennorama

    It’s fascinating how this discussion has completely ignored the fact that the US already has “a world soccer powerhouse”: the U.S. Women’s National Team.

    • johnhaskell

      They acknowledged that at the very outset of the show.

      • hennorama

        johnhaskell — thank you for your response. I stand corrected.

  • nlpnt

    Q: What does a typical American soccer player call a typical American soccer fan?

    A: Dad

  • johnhaskell

    Jermaine Jones is considered “good”? If by good we mean he has a deft ability to turn the ball over in the middle third to start the opponent’s counterattack, then yes, he is on par with Messi.

  • johnhaskell

    No mention of who was suppose to be the savior of U.S. soccer, Freddy Adu, who subsequently faded into the abyss of soccer obscurity . . . a/k/a the Norwegian leagues.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Just the fact that we still call it soccer when it is football and have another sport called football shows how we need to be separate and separated from the world. We see it linguistically, culturally, politically, geographically (separated by two huge oceans), and ideologically (American Dream, Manifest Destiny). Football will not takeoff here. It equalizes us with the rest of the world. We are the superpower.

  • Kathleen Stark

    So, ‘soccer moms’ not so risible anymore?

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      Good point. The reason they are called ‘soccer moms’ and not ‘baseball moms’ or ‘football moms’ or ‘basketball moms’ is because soccer is a feminized sport. The other sports are masculine and teach boys to be strong and stand up to mom.

  • Dab200

    My husband and I have watched all matches so far, and that after work so we are sleep deprived but we love it. For US to win it will take a change of culture, enthusiasm of the public and the true, real football (not soccer) to be on TV all year long not only every 4 years!

  • skelly74

    Soccer has one ingrained flaw that makes it commercially unviable to the U.S. market: basically no breaks in the time-clock. This fact prohibits commercial support.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike soccer, as it is entertaining. I also can’t stand commercials in our popular major sports, especially NFL. But the game will have it’s own cult following, like professional hockey.

  • Aopisa

    I look forward to the day that we start calling soccer “football” like the rest of the world and American football will have to come up with another name to call itself!

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      I hope you’re patient. We don’t use the metric system and we won’t call it football or rename our football. Soccer will never takeoff in America.

      • JS

        it already has

    • Arkuy The Great

      “Futbol” and “Soccer” both are corruptions of the sport’s real name, which is “Association Football”.

      The “it’s football, not soccer” pedants really need to get a life!

      • Aopisa

        Thank you for your concern and helpful suggestion! I will now go find a life. I did not realize I had no life due to the naming of a sport.

        I am not a soccer nut, but watch my fair share of games. I never hear anyone calling it “futbol” or Association Soccer.

        I was just making a light hearted comment.

        • Arkuy The Great

          My pleasure really. Arguing over the “correct” corruption is really annoying. As with any other good American it is “Soccer” to this poster.

          Oh, and try watching or even playing a real physical game like rugby! A colleague of mine from Ireland calls it “a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen” and derides soccer as “a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans”.

          • Aopisa

            Calling it soccer is fine. It’s only a wish and a pipe dream that we were able to call it by the same name that billions of others do.

            I really do not follow professional sports in any meaningful way. Still, I think American football is stupid and the Superbowl a joke compared to the World Cup which at least on its surface pits nation against nation like no other sport even the olympics.

            I have football loving friends that wrongly claim soccer is not a contact sport. I would take soccer and rugby over football any day.

          • Arkuy The Great

            I have been disinterested in pro sports since allegations of steroid and hormone “juicing” became rampant decades ago. It has become such a show business that a “Valley of the Dolls” sequel could easily be written about three athletes. And, unfortunately, soccer is not immune. Look up allegations of thrown matches and the like in various competition tournaments and the bloom will come off really fast.

  • johnhaskell

    “Lured” Dempsey and Bradley? Bradley fell out of favor at Roma and Dempsey as well at Tottenham. They did not elect the MLS in favor of the Premier League or Serie A. I really wish the guests would stop with the hyperbole.

  • hennorama

    Here’s part of what the national team is up against:

    College recruiting gamers as athletes

    Robert Morris University will offer about 30 athletic scholarships to students who play the ‘League of Legends’ video game

    FTA:

    What it does have is a budget of about $450,000 to fund 30 or so annually renewed scholarships, some of which will be valued at about $19,000 — half the cost of Robert Morris’ tuition and room and board. Melcher said the scholarships will stock three varsity teams and a few reserve squads.

    See:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-video-game-scholarship-20140623,0,4334654.story

  • Pete

    Did Klinsi say the wrong thing? How many teams have the World Cup in history? He may have been a bit too blunt, but he is absolutely right. Many of our young players are paying big bucks to be on travel teams, and in many cases these players have outlets other than “soccer”. When you see kids playing soccer like our young basketball players in any place where a round object can roll, we will never be a power house. In most other countries you can see this, and small fields are all around areas, rural and urban, much like our little basketball courts. That some of our players grew up in other countries where they could go out at any time…not be coached by someone who thinks they know the sport…and play with tough athletes on a regular basis should tell us something. One day, yes….but not any time soon.

  • Deb

    America trains their futbol players the same way they scout and train football & basketball players. They look for big early developed boys. Other countries seem to understand that all kids eventually grow up and continue to train ALL kids. If a Messi does not physically develop soon enough – he would be dropped off of the radar. In addition, clubs are too expensive and eliminate those families who are not wealthy enough. Both of these issues cut out a huge potential for talent in the USA.

  • Salty

    A lot of folks just think it is boring. I am a casual fan…I will watch the WC, FA cup finals and the occasional European Cup game, but otherwise it bores me as well. Most Americans will never watch it.

    • RolloMartins

      And yet they somehow can watch an American football game that lasts four hours (with the last five minutes going about 30 minutes) and that actually contains on average 11 minutes of action. Boring? Oh yeah. The gridiron makes even baseball seem sexy.

      • Salty

        Yeah – football is a strange game. My wife us English and really doesn’t like watching it. Too many starts and stops.

        American football though is a different type of game – short bursts of intense action not long periods of continuous movement… I don’t really know of any similar sports anywhere in the world. Rugby is the most similar but it has more movement with less intense action…

        (I played football for 7 years and never played soccer… But I did live in England for 14 years and have an understanding of it for sure.)

  • Sinclair2

    To answer Tom’s question, MONEY. Pay the huge salaries to the best and you’ll have checkbook championship teams just as the late George Steinbrenner had with the Yankees.

  • Caleb

    One major factor that significantly limits the popularity of soccer in the US is how the game is officiated. Dives, bribes and blown calls with no accountability or replay system results in constant crimes against fair competition. The Uruguay/Italy result yesterday is just one further example of how much rides on the disposition of a single incompetent referee. Can we imagine this ‘soccer fever’ continuing after tomorrow if Germany wins because a dive results in a penalty kick, or if a blown off-sides call negates a winning US goal? Now imagine explaining to all the fresh soccer fans that such a result is considered a treasured tradition in soccer that everyone must accept because it teaches us how unfair life is.

    • Arkuy The Great

      To be fair, there is a good deal of “diving” going on in basketball and hockey as well. While it is disappointing it is hardly a deal-breaker by itself.

      • Caleb

        Agreed, that’s why I didn’t identify diving alone as the problem but rather the lack of accountability built into FIFA’s officiating. This leads to bad outcomes consistently – so consistently that soccer fans consider it ‘part of the game’. My argument is that the perspective of the traditional soccer fan will not be embraced by most US sports fans because we assume that measures should be available to correct human error like a limited number of coach challenges, instant replay etc. It’s very hard to get invested in a sport where so much can be decided by bad officiating.

  • ExcellentNews

    Q: What would it take to make the US a soccer powerhouse?
    A: A national culture of soccer

    Q: What it would take to have a national US culture of soccer
    A: Fewer Americans

    No kidding – most of the comments below just show to what extent people here do not get the game. Football (the real name of the sport) is not about statistics and frequent commercial breaks. It really cannot be described to someone who has not grown up playing and enjoying the game.

    Needless to say, football is the best sport in the world…

    • Arkuy The Great

      So Soccer would take off in America but for the Americans. Got it. That sounds like a wonderful vision of the future….

      And the proper name of the game is “Association Football”. The commonly used nicknames are all corruptions of that title. So calling it “football” is no more legitimate than “soccer”, “footie” or any other such variant.

    • M. A. Cayer

      aka field hockey

  • NonnerDoIt

    Yes to this. I played American football and now have significant neck issues. I’ve never had any major injury, but I played on the interior line for 4 years in HS. I will strongly encourage my two little boys to play soccer rather than football. I love American football, but somebody else’s kids can break their skulls for my entertainment.

  • NonnerDoIt

    I wish you were right about pickup soccer games. I’m in Portland, OR where soccer is very popular in theory, but there’s virtually no pickup soccer. On the other hand I can, and do, find a pickup basketball game at virtually any decent court in the city any evening or weekend when the weather is decent.

  • Markus6

    I know I’m going to sound like an ignorant American, but wouldn’t the game be better with just a little more scoring. I like the game. I even coached kids for 6 years and therefore feel partially responsible for America’s weakness in the sport.

    But I see so many times one team is dominating the other and the score is nil-nil. It seems just too automatic to shut down any offense. And by the way, when highlights are shown on TV, what do you think they show? And doesn’t such low scoring increase the role that luck plays.

    I like a good shut out in baseball once in a while, but on average I’ll take a 4-3 score over a 1-0.

    • hennorama

      Markus6 — Yes!

      We shouild change the game, and all of its long, proud traditions, to accomodate American audiences. After all, we rule the world, so it should bend to our will.

      Obviously.

      • Markus6

        My idea may be a dumb one and it is likely to be impossible to implement given how many countries are involved. But why take an honest suggestion which is only intended to make a great game better, and turn it into some generality that has nothing to do with the idea.

        Some people have to see evil everywhere.

        • hennorama

          Markus6 — thank you for your response.

          Your idea is not “a dumb one;” and it’s more arrogant than ignorant.

          Not to put words onto your fingertips, but it seems more typical of “American exceptionalism” than an effort to promote the US national team’s integration into a worldwide sport, or an effort to improve the team’s overall standing.

  • Pete

    Change the world’s game to accommodate American interests? Maybe if we made every point count 6 like our American football, people would watch it more often. You’ve got to be kidding. And to see On Point go to Bruce Arena for expert advice….have you seen his background in the world sport? He lucked into a coaching position at UVA and now he’s an expert?
    Check out the other American experts and their background. Not even our sports casters know how to cover the game yet, and commentaries from them are typically uninformed and biased.
    Yes…we still have a long way to go to be a major factor in this world sport. It’s easier for us and more provincial to stick to sports that no one else in the world take seriously. Can one even imagine how much respect we’d get in the world if we had a serious soccer power?

    • JS

      The national broadcast for this world cup have been dissapointing. But here in New England, the broadcast team for the New England Revolution, Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner, have been above par.

  • Dab200

    Maybe the reason that the world football (soccer only in USA) can’t become popular in America is the fact that it requires 45 minutes of uninterrupted, by commercial ads, TV? American popular sports are full of commercials!

    • JS

      Full of commercials, and full of stoppage of play. For a 60 minute NFL game there is a grand total of 10-15 minutes of active play.

      • MDE427

        Which is basically 10 to 14 more minutes of action that most soccer games. That is the issue. NFL football is exciting action with running, passing and tackling. The clock becomes important and is used as an advantage, or as a detriment, as the games come to a close. The NFL (& the NCAA) football games are superior in entertainment, which is why it is preferred. The only time a soccer game is the least bit exciting is when someone scores, which rarely happens.

        • JS

          You may not like it, but the ball is in play in a soccer game for most of the 90 minutes, while the ball is in play in a NFL game about 12.5 minutes, so your statement is false.

          NFL and NCAA are exciting, and they cater to a low attention span population. “Ok, everyone ready, a plays about to start…are you ready? here it comes!….wasn’t that exciting, now talk amongst your selves, eat or drink, take a leak, or watch these exciting commercials while we get ready for the next spat of action.”

          Theres no need to pay attention for more than 75% of the game.

          A soccer game develops over time, with build ups and lulls. If you don’t like it, thats fine, but you don’t like it because you don’t like it, not for a lack of scoring.

          Tin Howard put in one of the most exciting games in USA sports, and he didn’t score once.

  • Guest

    American football is still a superior game to soccer.

    • JS

      nope

  • Regular_Listener

    It is already a huge sport to play – but not to watch. Why not? Well, how about some more scoring? FIFA should change the rules, or allow different countries to play with the rules some. I love World Cup action, but it becomes less exciting as it goes on, because I know that the games are going to end up with one of three scores: 1-0 (most likely) followed by 0-0 or a high scoring 1-1, followed by a penalty kick shootout, a terrible way to end a game. What if they ended NFL ties with a placekicking contest?

    I think they need to change the offsides rules to make it more like hockey. Once the ball is past a certain line, then no more offsides calls. That would be a good place to start. In the Argentina vs. Belgium match, I watched Argentina repeatedly trap Belgium offsides. This is a drag on the whole game. They could also make the goal itself a little bigger.

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