OK so maybe I’m not the best guy to write an analytical piece on soccer. I get that. It’s not really my thing, and I probably don’t follow it enough to do it justice.
I’m that guy that has an XBOX and for some weird reason, only plays like, two games maybe once every three months: NCAA Football and of course… FIFA. I’m that guy who will never watch a Premier League game on NBC Sports if there’s another sport on. I’m that guy who could name about four guys on the USMNT before this year started. I know who the big ballers are in La Liga or what team won the last Champions Cup, and I might click on ESPN FC to see how some of my favorite athletes are doing once every few months.
But most importantly, I’m that guy who gets amped up for the World Cup. THAT guy you probably hate who wears his Captain America t-shirt and bandana to the bar to watch the Cup games and yell at Michael Bradley for “playing terribly today” as if I’d watched every game he’s ever played.
Ok, so come to think of it… I’m actually the perfect guy to write about soccer and what to take away from the USMNT run at the Cup this year. Why? Because I’m exactly the type of fan that U.S.-soccer-promoter-guy is trying to turn into a real soccer fan and make us a soccer country. The classic American sports fan. I like American football best, basketball next, baseball, then hockey, then golf, and soccer somewhere down there. I’m not that goon who throws a dip in and says, “Soccer is for Euro pansies,” but I’m also not the hipster-sports fan who freaks out on fans around him for saying “0” instead of “nil.” (Like that matters)
What does matter is what we think of the World Cup. Because like it or not, it’s the one time even zero-percent soccer fan will overhear a conversation about the USMNT in the cubicle next to him and feel a tinge of pride to know we beat Ghana this year. It’s the one time where there’s no football, no basketball, no hockey, just a couple non-major golf tournaments, some pre All-Star Break baseball games that don’t matter, and soccer. It’s the one time that everyone is watching soccer.
My takeaways were a series of extremely mixed feelings, and here they are:
- We need better athletes
You don’t have to be a soccer fan to realize our midfielders were outmatched in every game we played. Their help defense against Belgium was atrocious, and if it were not for Tim Howard (more on that later), we would’ve been embarrassed in the Round of 16. There are only 5, 6 superstar special guys that can create and score goals by themselves against multiple defenders at will in soccer (and they all pretty much play striker) – I’m not asking for that. I actually think the U.S. did unusually well at creating chances when we did possess the ball. I am just asking for middies who can win the possession game and give our strikers, who are pretty darn good if you ask me, more of those chances.
- Michael Bradley looked like a traffic cone at times
Speaking of strikers, holy hell Michael Bradley. Minus the one assist in garbage time against Belgium when the game was borderline unwinnable, I thought he was awful. I don’t remember a free kick on goal (why does he take our free kicks!?) and the one free kick we didn’t have him try for goal we actually almost scored on a brilliant deception play to tie the game vs. Belgium. For a guy who used to be the captain of the squad, I was shocked by how little of an impact he had; particularly against Ghana and Belgium
- We really needed Landon Donovan in the worst way
That awkward moment when Jozy Altidore goes down in the first game and you realize we have no one on the team to back him up. Obviously we brought other strikers to Brazil (Wondo and Johannsen), but no one with his style of play. And as much as I like Aron Johannsen’s story, he was a non-factor against Ghana. I said it before the Cup: You always bring a few dudes you know you aren’t going to play at all. How was Landon Donovan not even one of those guys? If nothing else, the guy understands better than anyone what Jozy brings to the U.S. with his style of play and could’ve tried to replicate that during… Oh, I dunno, the extra time of that game against Belgium.
- Tim Howard is an awesome goalkeeper
I saw someone write an article about how we all overreacted about how good Tim Howard was against Belgium. That’s insane. Some things bear the reactions they receive and that performance was one of them. Dude had no chance in either of the goals we gave up and was outstanding in the other three games if you ask me.
- Sometimes I think Jurgen Klinsmann is a real smart soccer dude
Smart move to give Yedlin as much playing time as he got. His substitutions against Ghana and Belgium each scored big goals at the end of those games. He was able to rally the troops despite the injury to Jozy. I was also impressed with how he managed to wrangle in Jermaine Jones and make him more than just an “enforcer” (which he is known for) or as I like to call them in hockey, goons
- Jurgen Klinsmann is overrated
Speaking of substitutions, how did that Julian Green kid not get more playing time!? Are you kidding me? In the like, five seconds he got to play in the Cup he played like the best player on the team! I can’t believe we subbed in Johannsen (did nothing) and Wondo (blew a wide open goal to clinch a win against Belgium) and played them both huge minutes and this kid just barely got a look at all. How did we not make defensive adjustments against Belgium? How did we have no one to replace Jozy? How did Landon Donovan not make that team? How can we act surprised when we lose in the Round of 16 when our coach tells the whole world before the tournament even starts that we have no shot of winning? The guy literally said, “Hey, let’s focus on getting out of the group and THEN WE’LL SEE”!?!? What kind of un-American crap is that? The USMNT played like a team that backed their way out of that Group of Death and was perfectly content with slapping that on their resume.
My Overall Takeaway:
I think Ghana outplayed us and probably should have at least tied us, we outplayed a beat-up Portuguese team with a Ronaldo I barely recognized, we really didn’t bring anything significant to the table against Germany until the very end, and we got destroyed by Belgium.
I keep being told by soccer hardos like Colin Cowherd that we will see less and less kids playing football and more kids playing soccer in the near future. The arguments are many:
– The world is becoming flat and soccer will bleed into the U.S. naturally
– The concussion issue has moms and dads to not want their kids to play sports like football
– Soccer is simple and easy to understand and inexpensive to play
– The U.S. has the money and infrastructure to support an already oversaturated sports market
– Everyone plays FIFA
– I don’t care how internationalized we get, the dollar is king and until you convince Lebron and Megatron that they can make more money kicking a ball than catching it, they’re not playing soccer
– I think the concussion thing is overblown. I have had the unique experience of living in the South and the Northeast. What’s true for the middle-class mom in Connecticut is not the same for the poor single-mom in Southern Alabama. Of course Mary from Connecticut would rather see Johnny play soccer. If it doesn’t pan out, he’ll just study a little harder, go to UConn and get a real job. But Mary from Alabama knows she and Johnny have only one ticket out of their small hometown, and that’s football.
– Basketball and football are cheap to play too. Courts, fields, and equipment are all provided by public schools, Pee-Wee leagues, or AAU organizations.
– Lots of dudes play Grand Theft Auto and don’t go dealing drugs and start shooting sprees. Lots of kids play FIFA and don’t play soccer.
If we are going to see soccer emerge as a mainstream sport in America, I think it’s still a good ways away. Half the USMNT was born in a different country and just have dual citizenship. The biggest thing soccer lacks in the U.S. is money-making potential and star power. You play two continuous 45-minute halves with one commercial break in the middle. How do you market that for television revenues? Cowherd was trying to sell Jozy Altidore as the next great U.S. soccer superstar about a year ago. The guy was basic in WC qualifying and didn’t really get going until the Nigerian friendly. We left the biggest American soccer star in history at home in the U.S. to bitterly commentate from his couch.
I have always said the biggest reason we love sports is because of the people and personalities who play them. We get to watch ordinary humans do extraordinary things. We need a star. Soccer’s biggest challenge in America is telling Chris Paul to forgo assists on the court and all the State Farm endorsement money that comes with it and assist on the pitch instead. We’re years away from our best athletes picking a futbol field over a football field.
Don’t worry folks, just a few more months til kickoff.