A Note on the Climate of American Soccer
We who are doubtful are not football players, we are not baseball players, we are not lawyers and/or scientific professionals, we are not computer technicians or even engineers. We who are doubtful often times tend to be American Soccer Players. Why? Because in the world’s number one sport in a country that likes to think of itself as being number one, we are not? Because, despite the rhetoric of youth and development, team-spirit and sportsmanship, we are players and coaches who grow up in a results-based environment which is too focused upon winning? Because as a country we had the gal but not the guts to change the name of the game –soccer- without the will to impose that euphemism upon the rest of the world?
I don’t know the answer but these are some of the reasons, the excuses really, that I tend to hear. And they go on and on. How many times have I read through the pages of an American Soccer journal, put together in such a professional and organized fashion, only to find so many of it’s authors and adherents decrying the deficiencies of the US game? How many times, for instance, does one have to read about the magic of the Brazilians or the total football of the Dutch in latent reference to the deficiencies of ones own system? These articles -whether written by a member within the the NSCAA or the USSF circles or in some city publication- which are usually composed by one or more of our domestic coaches, hurt our soccer, not only by undermining it’s image and declaiming it’s style, but in some cases by going so far as to criticize the players themselves. Players who may not be as fanciful as the Brazilians, nor as thoroughly bred as the English, nor as solid in the back as the Italians, but players who are learning none-the-less and who are getting better and better year by year.
I am not advocating trying to hide the problems inherent within US soccer, neither am I failing to admit some of the athletic ability and work ethic other coaches and critics have noted in relation to the US style of play. What I am talking about is an attempt to refocus the debate and to bolster so many of the latent possibilities before us, which are as grand and as numerous and as diverse as the country herself. Simply put; if our system were a team and it’s critics coaches (which at this point in time they often tend to be) then how many of them could be said to be following their own advice in terms of positive feedback, constructive criticism, discreet critique and confidence in their clubs at all costs? As coaches/critics we all know that in an overtly weak situation it becomes imperative, not only to focus upon, but in certain cases even to exaggerate, our strengths? Not so as to falsify hopes of winning, but rather so as to build character and create confidence and possibly, just maybe even, inspire that sort of creativity which comes from the depths of faith.
Do our American players and coaches believe in this –have they ever, really? And if the aforementioned opinion can be said to go for a team or club in particular, than why not for a system in general?
I say this because too many have been the times that I’ve read an article or heard some critical comment made which, rather than inspire or illuminate a positive aspect of our game, attempts to cross-analyze via statistics and/or compare and contrast our game with that of another, usually foreign, football club. And no, of course we do not exist in a vacuum, but yes, we certainly have our own issues which are particular to our game and which we would do well to focus upon if we have any hopes of furthering it. We have done this with the woman’s game because we have pioneered the woman’s game. Perhaps if our men were less worried about becoming like other countries they might pioneer something of their own!
Why should we then try to be like the Brazilians or even the French when we are not? Why should we want to copy the Dutch system when our system is not theirs and we do not have the same background? Why not focus upon ourselves and those aspects and problems inherent to our own game which are particular to where we come from and where we live? In essence why not focus upon the problems which are particular in making up American soccer vs. European football? And why not do this while still recognizing that, although the game is indeed very old, our system is still relatively young; and that, just as we are always saying to the coaches of younger players -to allow them to make the necessary mistakes- why don’t we follow our own advice and allow ourselves to make a few of those mistakes? Should I go back to the list of reasons and excuses (and I know some of you coaches and seasoned players are smirking here)? Why don’t we, why can’t we begin an attempt to judge our style and our game by it’s own standards? I know it has happened to some degree with the talk of our athleticism and our work ethic, but doesn’t there have to be more to it? Do we really lack the history or do we simply lack the faith, the guts and the drive to create one? Is it the chicken in us or the egg on all our faces?
Until we are willing to take our game and it’s style at it’s own worth, based upon merits particular to itself, we will never have a style or a game that we can confidently bring to the world stage. We will continue to de-saddle the horse before it ever leaves the barn and to complain just outside the racetrack, to the wind and the sun and what’s worse, to the jockey, that the horse is bare-backed and that we have no idea how it got that way! And so as not to sound like some sort of inflammatory journalist or snide, soccer idealist, let me make a proposal.
What I propose would be akin to a list of initiatives, drawn up by various regional coaches and players who come from diverse but particular backgrounds. Initiatives and backgrounds, not of the game in general, but rather of the American game in particular. This list would include everything from field difficulties to the troubles high-school athletes face. The list, once drawn up, would then be handed over to a body designated and comprised of select individuals picked with help from the US’s largest organizations surrounding the game. These initiatives would then be prioritized and a schema would be drawn up. Money would have to be raised but there is money, and there always will be money so long as there is purpose and drive. The only question is why such a measure isn’t already on the table? If not the World-Organization or the European Federation or the FA or whom have you, who will do it if we don’t do it ourselves? Once on the table these initiatives could become a sort of guide-book, a map if you will, of our deepest values and concerns. Besides helping to address those concerns –which support all of our coaches and players across the country- we might also come to find out, in a much more detailed manner, those peculiarities, quirks and aspirations that make up the character of our game.
What I write is obviously something of a challenge. And perhaps such initiatives have been proposed and some of us just don’t know about them because we are not enough ‘in the know’ of what goes on behind the closed doors of the clubs and organizations. If this is so then let that be the change which takes place, so that more people might become enlightened and involved.
I write of course only as one coach amongst many, and proclaim no especial insight except for those observations I have made. I have seen players, as many potential players of our beloved sport as I have seen players with potential, the difference being only a reflection in the eyes. A reflection that must be found as much in the eyes of each coach as in the hearts of every player. Because if we don’t believe than our players don’t believe and if our players don’t believe than our public won’t believe and if our public won’t believe than our sport will remain what it is: A weak euphemism for a stronger word as yet to be invigorated with the heart and soul of the American spirit.