USA Football/Soccer :(
March 16, 2016 6:21 PM   Subscribe

ESPN estimates nearly a third of young Americans play soccer, so why can’t a sports powerhouse of 320m people produce a Messi – or even a João Moutinho?
posted by josher71 (80 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Money, money, money.
posted by clavdivs at 6:30 PM on March 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


And why can't Portugal produce a Carli Lloyd?
posted by dng at 6:32 PM on March 16, 2016 [27 favorites]


Probably for the same reason the UK (a pop music powerhouse since the days of Joe Meek) cannot finish above the bottom five in Eurovision; there's a deeply ingrained disdain for the very competition, and a sense that to try and not do well would be humiliating, so consequently, no effort is made.
posted by acb at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


A more interesting question is "why do we tend to watch sports that we don't play, and play sports that we don't watch"?
posted by phooky at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


You know, we do have a 3-for-7 world cup winning team in the United States that regularly dominates European and Latin American teams. Maybe we should throw some support to the women instead of trying to turn the MLS into the Premier League.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:40 PM on March 16, 2016 [104 favorites]


This is another thread where Americans are made to feel bad that their football was not introduced at gunpoint by European colonial powers in the late 19th century. It causes (somewhat more) concussions and is not properly international, you see. You are depriving schoolchildren of the chance of being horked over by FIFA instead of the NCAA and NFL.

Shaaaaaame.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:42 PM on March 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


At least we can make, and can win games at, the World Cup. Ski jumping, on the other hand...
posted by Lyme Drop at 6:42 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is another thread where Americans are made to feel bad that their football was not introduced at gunpoint by European colonial powers in the late 19th century

Funny, I'm American, and I didn't feel that at all....
posted by Lyme Drop at 6:43 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]




But the US has had some amazing players of the game. I think of names like Hamm and Wambaugh and Lloyd and - oh. I see.
posted by nubs at 6:57 PM on March 16, 2016 [29 favorites]


We produced a Tim Howard. One of the best in the EPL, and certainly the best at the last World Cup. And Carli Lloyd is a thrill to watch. Messi is kinda meh; didn't even show up for the World Cup. Anyway the European style is just not our flavor, in general. Dunno why.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:19 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


As an accessible street sport, basketball dominates the American market. And as clavdivs mentioned, it's all about money. I could go into the bleak reality of the NCAA hoops machine, but don't want to ruin March Madness for everyone. Go Team!
posted by antonymous at 7:20 PM on March 16, 2016


Very simple really. In the US the best male athletes in field sports play football, not futbol. It's where the money is. For the women, there is no football so they excel and dominate at futbol. Football is parochial and insular. Futbol is international. If you are in the US the women's game is of world quality. The MLS is bush league...
posted by jim in austin at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yes Messi is just kind of meh.

Michelangelo? I mean i guess he could paint.

Mozart? Cute jingle writer.
posted by JPD at 7:22 PM on March 16, 2016 [25 favorites]


Ochoa, Neuer, Courtois, and M'Bolhi would have something to say about Howard being "certainly" the best at the 2014 World Cup.
posted by paulcole at 7:23 PM on March 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


I dont even think Tim Howard would make that argument.
posted by JPD at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


He had 17 saves in one game.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:30 PM on March 16, 2016


Also, what did Messi contribute exactly at the World Cup?
posted by Brocktoon at 7:31 PM on March 16, 2016


He had 17 saves in one game.

And Klay Thompson broke the NBA record for most points in a quarter, yet he'll never be anything but second fiddle to Curry. There's more to it than numbers and records.
posted by Don Don at 7:33 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Stop. Go watch some messi highlights. Hell just watch a replay of today's champions league game vs arsenal. Then come back and tell me Messi is meh.

He made 17 saves because the US defense was hot garbage. He just isn't in the same league as Neuer and Courtois. I mean which makes it sound like he wasn't a world class keeper - which isn't what I mean to imply. But he's never ever been in the discussion for "the best"
posted by JPD at 7:35 PM on March 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


The World Cup is not the end all and be all of football. It is a huge spectacle with national pride on the line but European football is where the best football is played and where the greats are made. Leo Messi is the greatest player in the world period.
posted by bfootdav at 7:39 PM on March 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Look up what MLS stars make, compare it to what MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL stars make, and that should answer why our best male athletic talents don't get funneled into soccer programs.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:48 PM on March 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


The already-entrenched incumbents of football and basketball gobble up any talented players, baseball gets their scraps, and everybody else gets baseball's scraps. There's plenty of talent; take the five best point guards, the five best running backs, and LeBron, Dr.-Who-ify their past so they grew up playing soccer from day 1, and you'd have a team that would be able to beat any EPL team.
posted by protocoach at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


The article was primarily about how structural issues in youth development in the US make it hard for elite players to develop: US Soccer changes tack every few years to copy whatever the world cup winners did without any vision of its own; pay-to-play makes it hard for lower-income people to progress through the ranks; a focus on winning tournaments over player development means clubs/US Soccer are focusing on the short-term instead of trying to develop elite players; and and by blocking solidarity payments from actually making it back to the clubs that developed players US Soccer is removing any financial incentive the clubs may have for developing elite players.

Yes, the women's game is doing fine in the USA and Tim Howard made a lot of saves last World Cup, but that has nothing to do with the article. Can people actually engage with the article that was linked? This isn't an election or I/P thread where your side not getting its talking points out means the end of the world.

People talking about the women's game, how did Carli Lloyd develop and what does US Soccer do that the other nations don't to make the USWNT such a dominant force? For the eternal question of who is the better player, Tim Howard or Lionel Messi, would it be illustrative to see their relative development paths and what it meant for the clubs that originally developed them? If you're upset about soccer being forced upon the poor nations of the world at the barrel of a gun instead of wholesome American sports like basketball or football, are you happy that clubs here don't get solidarity payments, which would otherwise seem to encourage the buying and selling of children for financial gain?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


I think the women's national team being as dominant as they are in a similar developmental system, though, indicates the developmental system isn't the problem. Great teams can come from this system, if the talent is funneled into it.
posted by protocoach at 7:58 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Guardian piece links to this NYT report on the Ajax system. I highly recommend it to anyone who's not familiar with the European systems of developing players -- you will see just how much it differs from US youth soccer. The Dutch Eredivisie is not as rich as La Liga or the Bundesliga or the EPL, so (in the Dutch tradition of football innovation) academy systems develop and sell very skilled players to the big-ticket leagues.
posted by grounded at 8:08 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Because you need to call it football to be any good at it. Srsly.

MLS is an embarrassment. I have zero interest in the sport, but being Scottish, probably spent half my waking hours in a room with a screen showing a game. Watching MLS is a Keystone Kops show of missed passes and general ineptitude.
posted by scruss at 8:08 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Or the USWNT dominance is because woman in other countries dont have a access to the superior local development program. IIRC the French moved their woman's team to the same center built for the elite men and in extremely short order developed some major talents and went from a bit of an also ran to a top tier team.
posted by JPD at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think the dominance of the USWNT under a similar developmental system shows that the system is good. If the USWNT was dominating when the rest of the world was developing girls like they do boys then I could agree that the system isn't the problem. I may be wrong, but I don't think that top professional clubs will scout girls from the age of 6 and develop them and even trade them to other teams for millions of dollars while they are still kids. This is pretty much the norm for every top male player in the game.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because you need to call it football to be any good at it. Srsly.

I bet you could call it calcio and still be good at it.
posted by The World Famous at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


On the "what do you call it" front, here is a good map. I don't follow the sport enough to know if Canada / Ireland / etc are any good at it or not.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


MLS is an embarrassment.

Well, if you're any good you end up going overseas where the money is.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 8:17 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


On preview, what JPD said.

But also, let us be clear we are not talking about women and men here. This is development that starts when players are as young as 5-6 and turns them into extremely good players before they are 18. Messi played on Barcelona's first team before he was 18. Manchester United bought an 18 year old last year (Luke Shaw) for 30 million pounds and a 19 year old (Anthony Martial) this year for 36 million pounds. None of them were the finished articles at that age, but it was clear that they were something special.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:24 PM on March 16, 2016


Messi is kinda meh


what
posted by Aizkolari at 8:36 PM on March 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


Allow me to answer that question with another question: why does New Zealand only have a population of 4 million yet it produces roughly a billion percent of the worlds rugby talent?
posted by supercrayon at 8:48 PM on March 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


It would also have been nice if Fifa hadn't kicked Ben Lederman out of the Barcelona academy. It's less of a systemic problem than in the FP article, but it would mean a lot if more of our best young players could go to the academies of the best European clubs. That said, I'm keeping an eye on Christian Pulisic.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:50 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can talk all you want about pass-on fees and developmental academies, but this article and the comments so far don't address the fundamental issue in the States: Kids (other than Latinos) just don't play pickup soccer, at least not the way they do basketball, football and (at least in my day) baseball. That's where the Messis and Ibrahimovices and Rooneys develop the improvisational skills, the subtle little abilities and nous that set them apart.

The US is more than capable of producing middle-of-the-pack guys like Brian McBride and Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron, players with solid skill sets who aren't necessarily out of place in a top-tier European league. And occasionally we see a player with a hint of that extraordinary flair, Landon Donovan being maybe the best such case. But the unconscious genius of a Messi comes from having a ball at your feet from the day you were born, in a culture where you're playing all the time, sometimes in a team structure, sometimes just fooling around with your buddies or playing keepie-uppie or banging a ball against a wall for two hours after school. Americans (again, other than those of Mexican heritage) aren't born into a culture in which soccer permeates practically every aspect of waking life. All the youth academies and travel teams and Soccer SuperStar programs aren't going to fix that.
posted by stargell at 9:00 PM on March 16, 2016 [18 favorites]


Any portmanteau in a storm, it's ridiculous to write an article about why there are no good soccer players in the United States and ignore the world class soccer players coming out of the US. They don't mention the women's team, or a single female player, in that article. It's not pushing an agenda or trying to score cheap points to point that out. It would have been interesting if the authors had engaged with the fact that the US is actually producing amazing women's players and meh men's players, and looked at how it's structured differently. Instead, they just pretended they didn't exist, and that is silly.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:11 PM on March 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


how did Carli Lloyd develop and what does US Soccer do that the other nations don't to make the USWNT such a dominant force?

We have Title IX.

I mean, the US has produced 3 of the top 4 international goal scorers of all time. It's hard to argue that we're not doing soccer well here.
posted by KathrynT at 9:12 PM on March 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Why can't the USA win a World Cup?

Not enough Catholics.

Only countries with Catholic majorities or near-splits with Protestants (Germany) are any good at soccer. The only not-Catholic country to win the World Cup was England, and that was due to home field cheating and a goal that never actually went in.

I imagine that since God's representative on earth is from Argentina* this won't change anytime soon.


*Messi, although this could also apply to the Pope I suppose.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 9:55 PM on March 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


I don't think the dominance of the USWNT under a similar developmental system shows that the system is good.

That's not my argument. The point is that there's no one or two sports that dominate women's athletics in the United States; athletically gifted women aren't automatically funneled into one sport, or, if they are, it is in fact women's soccer. And look: they dominate.

I guess my primary takeaway is that the system is less important than the culture. A culture where soccer is a dominant force will produce good soccer players. (Feel free to sub in rugby, or hockey, or basketball.) The bigger a country is that has that dominant sports culture the more and the more high-level players you will turn out. Systematic improvements can push that farther, but systematic improvements without a corresponding cultural shift have a hard cap on how much extra performance they can create. We can probably wring more talent out by improving the system, but the Messi/Ronaldo-level players will be once a century, if that, until the culture shifts.
posted by protocoach at 10:01 PM on March 16, 2016


"It's really not fair. Sheer, raw, numbers allow the United States to triumph in spite of a monstrously depressing lack of charisma and a general malaise in every other thing. Why doesn't that help us in this particular sport?"
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 PM on March 16, 2016


The NBA, MLB and NHL all top the NFL in terms of annual player compensation. The NBA pays the biggest salaries in the world, followed closely by Indian cricket league (IPL). Number three is MLB. Then the EPL, NHL and then German Football.
posted by humanfont at 10:11 PM on March 16, 2016


Probably for the same reason the UK (a pop music powerhouse since the days of Joe Meek) cannot finish above the bottom five in Eurovision; there's a deeply ingrained disdain for the very competition, and a sense that to try and not do well would be humiliating, so consequently, no effort is made.
posted by acb at 6:38 PM on March 16 [6 favorites +] [!]


There is a parallel with UK pop music and Eurovision here but it's not this.

The US is a team ball sports powerhouse. Its better kid athletes who are good at team ball sports and like soccer get pushed and pulled into basketball, American football etc. because money (but not just money), social status and connections, coolness

The U.K. is a pop music powerhouse. Its better young pop music talent who like Eurovision get pushed and pulled into the mainstream global English language pop music industry because money (but not just money) , social status and connections , coolness. Eurovision just doesn't compare.
posted by Bwithh at 10:39 PM on March 16, 2016


A bigger question is why hasn't China produced a quality soccer team yet...
posted by Bwithh at 10:41 PM on March 16, 2016


I'll just ctrl+v what I said in a post earlier this month about League 1:

I don't think the American viewing public, as a general rule, has any interest in watching a sport where we have zero chance of winning championships (except for people who have cultural ties to another nation that does win). MLS teams do varying degrees of OK in terms of attendance, but nothing approaching other sports.

What FIFA needs to do is so simple: Let America win one World Cup. Throw it in our favor, just once. Remember how US went gaga for women's soccer after we won the Women's World Cup? We started a whole league after the second win in 1999! And when that league folded, we made another league because we like bringing home trophies.

C'mon FIFA, we already know how corrupt you are! Let's be corrupt for the greater good of the sport! America winning the Cup = at least 25 years of us giving a shit about soccer.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:07 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


thefoxgod: "On the "what do you call it" front, here is a good map. I don't follow the sport enough to know if Canada / Ireland / etc are any good at it or not."

What's the etymology / meaning of the Korean term? The Chinese 足球 is literally "Foot" "Ball", but the Korean is green, indicating it doesn't map to "football". My horrible reading skills lead me to interpret it as "Chukgu", which I am assuming comes from two hanzi, but what are they?
posted by Bugbread at 11:20 PM on March 16, 2016


Apparently the Korean term means "kick-ball", and you're right that it is from Chinese.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:17 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's difficult not to admire the purity of a player like Howard, no glory hunting with Barcelona for him, instead a deep commitment to a club famous for winning fuck all for decades at a time.
posted by biffa at 12:19 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, what did Messi contribute exactly at the World Cup?

Took Argentina to the final basically without any help from the coach? Seriously, the Argentina team looked like they had no idea how to attack the opposition's goal, despite having Agüero, Di Maria, Higuain, Lavezzi on the team. It seemed like Sabella simply told the other players to pass the ball to Messi and it will work out. Not much of a plan. But it did work, almost. Not even the best player in the world can win a World Cup single-handedly (single-footedly? is that a word?).
posted by sapagan at 12:38 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]




> This is another thread where Americans are made to feel bad that their football was not introduced at gunpoint by European colonial powers in the late 19th century

Ha. This is the fun thing about soccer. English invention. Given to others by England? Almost universally not. They took it for themselves. Throughout the former empire any games provided by the former masters are either rugby union football or cricket. And in some places there was a class based revolt about the very nature of rugby union football, and thus some of those places (Australia mainly) are way ore obsessed with rugby league football.

My advice, as an Englishman, and a fan of that part of the Bradford football club that didn't break off to play another sport (i.e soccer), is to call it soccer just to provoke the entirely atavistic and enormously ignorant usual response.
posted by vbfg at 1:14 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Actually Maradona did it in 1986.

Yep, you're right. And in this case the word 'single-handedly' is even justified. (He, of course, scored also the goal of the century in the very same quarter final against England.)
posted by sapagan at 1:41 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


In Europe, kids play football/soccer the way kids in the US play basketball and (sometimes) baseball. Everyone has at least one soccer/football floating around the house, there's a place to play nearby and it's easy to just go and kick around. Growing up I played Hockey in the same way - the rink was down the street and after school we would go there and play around.

During the 2014 world cup there was a moment where one of the commentators mentioned that the American team trained four days a week. This is crazy-pants. The German team (and Spanish team (at least)) has a couple groups of players who play together and have played together on the same team for years (Neuer, Lahm, Mueller, Schweinsteiger, Boateng all play(ed) for Bayern Munchen). And the National team's play reflected that.

It is too bad that America can't field a world-class men's team but the women's team is more than carrying the weight and putting a very adept foot forward.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:20 AM on March 17, 2016


stargell, I couldn't have put it any better. That was definitely my experience growing up in Spain in the 80s and 90s.
posted by valdesm at 2:58 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


A bigger question is why hasn't China produced a quality soccer team yet...

The check is in the mail.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:40 AM on March 17, 2016


Talking of Schweinsteiger, here's the best David Squires Premier League commentary strip yet, featuring his current master.
posted by biffa at 3:51 AM on March 17, 2016


The answer is simple, and several commenters have touched on it already. America sucks at player development in all sports, not just soccer. The difference is, in other sports we have a numbers advantage. Nobody else plays football, the other baseball-playing countries are small, and basketball is a secondary sport in every other country. Does anybody believe that, if the populations of the Domincan Republic and the US were reversed, that the US would have any chance against a Domincan baseball team? Look at sports where we don't have the overwhelming numbers advantage. We get our ass kicked on the regular in international hockey, even though USA Hockey is the strongest it's ever been.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:21 AM on March 17, 2016


The reason the USWNT is filled with world class players is that the US system for girls'/women's soccer is outstanding compared to what is the case in many of the major soccer nations throughout the world.

At the same time that same system for the boys'/men's game is garbage compared to the soccer powerhouses. The difference? Misogyny.

For all the issues/faults in gender relations in the US, the one area in which we are ahead of much of the world is in encouraging sports participaton for girls. I grew up in rural Indiana and even there the girls sports teams were well supported by the community. It may not have reached the same level as the boys basketball team or the football team but it was still strong.

Meanwhile, in Spain while the men's side is considered one of the best in the world and the development of players is considered top class, the women's national team had to publicly call for their abusive coach of 27 years (!) to be replaced last year. This article from Dead spin gives plenty of examples of how the women's team was not taken seriously by the federation - here
posted by nolnacs at 6:13 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Huh? That makes no sense. The US system for developing team sports is pretty nearly analogous to what the soccer clubs do, just the division of control is split. Basketball for example essentially has become 6 years of AAU, a weird 1-2 year stint in college that is kind of inexplicable, and then to the NBA. And if you think the AAU guys aren't getting uh..."solidarity payments" I've got a bridge to sell you.

Football is essentially a year-round government supported sport in the states that produce the vast majority of talent and the college ranks do real player development before going to the NFL.

Baseball's problem is that it gets the third best athletes and has pretty much become a whites only sport in the US. Hockey is a joke. Played only in parts of the country the under-index in terms of producing pros in other sports and comes with a built-in cost barrier.

Carli Lloyd is an elite woman's player but she couldn't catch a game in bottom rung pro mens league in Europe. And not just in the sense that men are stronger and faster than woman.
Hence the US development model there hasn't been caught out.

Look at the USMNT - probably the most fit side in the world, but completely lacking in creativity or supernal athleticism. Compare that to Basketball where the US's hallmark is its creativity and physical skill and its weakness tends to be organization and team play.
posted by JPD at 6:14 AM on March 17, 2016


At the same time that same system for the boys'/men's game is garbage compared to the soccer powerhouses. The difference? Misogyny.


Yes. This is exactly correct. And the Men's model in the US is pretty close to the Woman's model - probably closer to the global standards in reality.
posted by JPD at 6:16 AM on March 17, 2016


"And if you think the AAU guys aren't getting uh...'solidarity payments' I've got a bridge to sell you... Football is essentially a year-round government supported sport in the states that produce the vast majority of talent and the college ranks do real player development before going to the NFL."

Spending money is not the same thing as developing skills. The last three #1 picks in the NBA draft haven't been Americans, and that streak will probably continue this year. Four of the top seven picks last year were foreigners. Four of the top eight the year before. All the money we're spending (which is kind of a ridiculous amount) is not producing better top-end basketball players than other countries. I maintain that if you did something like the NHL All-Star Game used to do and took an all-team composed of players from Germany, Turkey, Spain, Argentina, Canada, and Australia (about the same combined population as the US), that team would probably win around 50% of its games against an American all-star team, even though fewer people play basketball in those countries because it's a secondary sport.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:18 AM on March 17, 2016


Wiggins, Towns and Bennett all played AAU and went through the Basketball factory prep schools.

Also I'll add you to the list of five people who would argue Towns isn't American in this context.
posted by JPD at 7:27 AM on March 17, 2016


Build a roster of those countries and add the restriction of not letting them practice together (because that's a constraint on the US team) and I'll give you very nice odds on that 50/50 bet.

Also remember you can't pick anyone who came to the US pre- NBA.
posted by JPD at 7:29 AM on March 17, 2016


In 13 the only true foreign lottery pick was Len
In 14 the only true foreign lottery pick was Exum
In 15 there were two foreign lottery picks Porzingis & Hezonja.

So basically I have no idea where you are getting your data from
posted by JPD at 7:34 AM on March 17, 2016


Keeping in mind only 3 or 4 of the top 20 countries by population have produced Ballon d'Or winners should tell a lot on how hard it is, even before marketing has a say.

I think the biggest obstacle to the development of the youth game in the US is lack of patience and poor planning - the same thing that dooms franchises in other pro-sports. And a youth plan takes something between 10 to 20 years from establishment to fruition, from prospecting kids 6-12 and evolve them throughout a steady base system that only tweaks to accommodate players with slightly different skillsets, while still pushing their basic skills to the maximum of their abilities. From the article, it seems US Soccer reboots it every four years because what won last year is the future.

Also worth mentioning that, for instance, around here, Moutinho wouldn't have a lot more choices to play sports (even ignoring his father was a former player). He could play hockey or maybe cycling. He doesn't have the height to play basketball or handball. And these four are marginal sports in the national scheme of things, despite having the highest number of federated athletes after football.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2016


A few years ago there was a thread about Jamaican sprinters and someone asked why the US wasn't producing a Usain Bolt. I believe that someone posted that it was because any potential Bolts were asked at a young age, "hey kid, can you catch a football?" The sprint times for NFL players are just world class.

I think the funnel for the NFL is slowly closing. It's got a well deserved bad rep now among parents and it's only getting worse. Will futbol/soccer benefit? I don't think so. Basketball, baseball, and hockey will get the top athletes, with some drifting into track and field.
posted by Ber at 8:46 AM on March 17, 2016


He could play hockey or maybe cycling.

Your broader point is right: soccer, being more of an endurance and agility sport, supports smaller, leaner athletes than the typical North American team sports. However, hockey is a contact sport generally played by guys over 6' with more than 200lbs of muscle: at 5'7" and (more importantly) 135 lbs, Moutinho is way too small for professional hockey.
posted by cardboard at 8:50 AM on March 17, 2016


Uh, sorry, I should have mentioned: this hockey, which was the national sport (along cycling) until football took over sometime in the 50s. Most players fall between 5'7" and 6', although bigger players are more common now.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2016


I watch a good deal of youtube highlights from various sports. Maybe this pool of data is skewed somehow, but I notice that soccer highlights include a high percentage of plays where there is no goal scored. Or even a shot taken (at least, not in the clip). It's easily the majority of clips in a highlight reel from Ronaldo, though I imagine he's the extreme case.

But I almost never see that in highlights from the major American sports leagues. For example, this video (Best 60 Crossovers: 2015 NBA Season)--I only count one instance of a play without a made shot (Shabazz Napier at 0:35). A video of purely the best crossover moves would definitely have more missed shots. And clip packages from NHL players like Kane, Crosby and Datsyuk are also entirely of made goals.

I get that there are a ton of reasons for this difference (scoring frequency, size of the playing field, etc). But it does make me wonder if American audiences are trained to be much more outcome-focused than soccer fans.
posted by mullacc at 10:58 AM on March 17, 2016


There are tons of kids in North America who play soccer as their primary sport. I visited some cousins in Dallas last year and their kids played soccer. My nephews and niece here in Toronto play soccer as well and when we visited them over the weekend we kicked the ball around in the backyard after breakfast in maybe 10 degree weather. Now I am 100% sure that none of these kids will be allowed to play at a more elite level when they're older because that'll interfere with their studies but for kids who don't have Asian parents having access to high quality training at low or no cost is how we'll end up with actual superstars in the future. It can still happen in the pay to play model but it severely restricts the talent pool.

I do think it would be a great thing if the rest of the world caught up to the US and the few other countries that actually invest in women's soccer. About the only thing I can think of that could work would be some kind of combined qualification for the world cup. Have the same qualification groups for the men and women but then add up their total points. In the short term anyway it would be the best chance the Canadian men's team has of making the world cup, at least until other countries' own programs caught up. You'd also then have fans of the men's teams actively cheering on the women's teams. Maybe they won't attend the matches, but for sure they'd watch on TV or read internet MBMs.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:00 AM on March 17, 2016


I've been coaching my kids' various soccer teams for 5 years or so. Participation is growing. There are many more kids in the various leagues now than there were even just 5 years ago. Lots of clubs now have, at a very affordable level, professional coaching even for their rec teams. The U6 program at my club last Fall had a coach visit to run 3 of my 10 training sessions and he was at many of my games. It was invaluable for me as a coach and the kids got great instruction. The U8 program this Spring will have a professional coach run 50% of their practices. The professional coaches also help train the volunteer parents who take the rest of the sessions. Games now follow USYSA guidelines - emphasizing lots of time on the ball, small sided (3v3, 4v4) games, no goalkeepers. Every kid gets lots of touches, every kid on my team scored goals last year and they all had fun. It's a huge change from kids playing at the Y, in 6v6 games at the age of 3 or 4 who never see the ball unless they're one of the 2 or 3 big kids. I think US Soccer will start to see the benefits of this over the next 10-15 years.

The competition from other activities is a real problem for soccer in the US though. It's not a bad thing to play lots of sports, but kids in the US lose development time that their peers in Europe and South America don't. Growing up in the UK, I played soccer almost exclusively, except for 2 weeks of tennis when Wimbledon was on in the summer. I had a kid last Fall, his parents signed him up late. He'd never played organized sports before. They made a point of telling me he was 'slow' (mentally) and I think they were more reluctant to put him in than he was. He was a tough customer the first few practices and games. Lying down on the field, ignoring my instructions, kicking other kids. I slogged my guts out with him and half way through the season emerged a really good soccer player. Fast, great anticipation, nose for goal...I introduced passing and he started finding open players, setting up goals for others. His parents were proud as hell. He was so excited every week, but he's playing tee-ball this Spring. I had another kid, a girl who cried in her parents arms the first practice. She was the fastest kid out there. Went from not saying a word for 4 weeks to charging down the field yelling 'I'm open' and hammering home the pass, she's doing ballet.

I don't know if any of these kids will make it, the odds are ridiculous, but I know in a couple of seasons I'll be recommending some of my players for the club's elite program, which is all professional coaches and the first step in what is a long journey to the pros. You generally know, by 10 or 11 if a kid has a shot. When they've spent three quarters of their development time to that point playing other sports, it's an even longer shot.
posted by IanMorr at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


The fact is - and Americans will be sorry to hear this, coming from another American - but, it needs to be said: Americans don't teach their players to play fast enough to compete on the world football stage. The USA-Belgium game was a great game because of the goalie and the trick penalty play, but the American playing stank. Plus, they couldn't keep up with Lukaku at all.

The big benefit of the American model of producing lousy players is that most of these lousy players are educated enough to get good jobs after they retire from play. I worked for a football player here in England and know many people who got drafted in the football league as children. They hit 18 or 21, no GCSEs, no NVQs, have no prospects. Many end up working in assembly or warehousing, one or two might be lucky enough to get into a trade. It's a shame for the entire country they chew up and spit out people in this way. The idea of a student-athlete is completely unheard of in the UK!
posted by parmanparman at 2:46 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes. Wherever could you find 6'3 220 pound men who can run with incredible pace and power in the US.
posted by JPD at 4:02 PM on March 17, 2016


Spending money is not the same thing as developing skills. The last three #1 picks in the NBA draft haven't been Americans, and that streak will probably continue this year. Four of the top seven picks last year were foreigners. Four of the top eight the year before. All the money we're spending (which is kind of a ridiculous amount) is not producing better top-end basketball players than other countries. I maintain that if you did something like the NHL All-Star Game used to do and took an all-team composed of players from Germany, Turkey, Spain, Argentina, Canada, and Australia (about the same combined population as the US), that team would probably win around 50% of its games against an American all-star team, even though fewer people play basketball in those countries because it's a secondary sport.

Here is my ten-man lineup for an American all-star NBA team - Starters - Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan; Bench - Chris Paul, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Lamarcus Aldridge, Demarcus Cousins.

There are some absolutely fantastic international players in the NBA (shout out to Nicholas Batum on my hometown Hornets!), but I don't see how an international lineup could even keep it close with the American lineup I listed. Just using the last few years All-NBA teams (which I looked at to formulate the big men selections for my list), what would you have..? The Gasol brothers, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki... Absolutely great players, yes, but no way are they beating (or especially, guarding,) Curry, LeBron, Kawhi, Davis, Durant, etc. etc. Actually, I put Jordan in the starting lineup for rebounding and rim protection, but Davis is the best in the league, so... let's go small ball and say my starting lineup is Curry, LeBron, Kawhi, Davis, Durant... That's '92 Dream Team territory. Heck, LeBron, Kawhi and Davis would rival Dumars, Rodman and Mahorn for best defensive threesome ever assembled probably.
posted by Slothrop at 5:15 PM on March 17, 2016


Just mentioning for the record that the USA was 12th out of 21 in the 2014 Amputee Football World Cup, which seems very respectable to me.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:41 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes. Wherever could you find 6'3 220 pound men who can run with incredible pace and power in the US.

Did you forget to relate this sentence to the thread?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:13 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm more sympathetic to Popovich's POV that it's more about how players can fit in the framework of a team rather than how good their stats are. Draft picks are a useful shorthand, but young players (hopefully) keep evolving after the date they've been drafted.
posted by ersatz at 6:46 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


The US is in the middle of a big cultural shift with regard to soccer. Participation as a youth sport has been high for a while, but it didn't have the kind of cultural knowledge about the sport to support the coaching and player development. This kind of baseline culture of soccer is slowly and steadily taking hold. MLS ratings and game attendance is growing. More and more sports fans are following Premeire league games. Based on revenue growth of MLS, it isn't impossible that salaries, team value and revenues could catch The European leagues in the next 15 years. With American Football in a crisis over CTE, it may be that we see Soccer rise faster than expected.
posted by humanfont at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2016


There's some talk about having MLS in the Libertadores (there's mutual interest), and the Copa Centenario this Summer will be a great way of measuring the current popularity of the game.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:20 PM on March 19, 2016


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