Now, hold on.
Hear me out.
I love the United States Men’s Soccer Team. I love watching guys like Clint Dempsey win a match with one shot, Christian Pulisic do his thing and (formerly) Tim Howard keep his team in the game save after save. I love seeing the American Outlaws going crazy every chance they get during a match. And I love seeing young, new guys come in and be the spark the team needs.
Despite all this love and awesomeness, there is a problem with United States soccer. This problem isn’t primarily directed toward the guys who put on the jerseys, though. It’s directed at the country itself.
We live in a very prideful country. (Yes, we really do.) What I mean by that is we, Americans, love to win. Who doesn’t, though? Yes, that’s true, but we really love to win. Not only that, but we also love a good highlight reel filled with flash and flair. Is it a coincidence that the two most popular sports in the U.S. are our best sports?
According to a 2017 study, only about 10 percent of high school athletes play soccer. That accounts for about 450,000 kids playing high school soccer. Compare that to countries like England and Spain, where that number is much higher because of the popularity of the sport. We can’t possibly think that because we have the third most populated country in the world that we should be better. Having only 10 percent of high school athletes play is like cutting our population from 329 million to 32.9 million.
What was the point of ridiculing the country for being prideful?
Well, look at it this way. Do you really think more kids are going to want to play after all the harassment the U.S. Soccer Team has gotten for not making it into the World Cup? Don’t get me wrong, we definitely should be the ones warming up for the World Cup instead of Panama or Honduras, but that talk is for another day. You can’t expect us to be one of the best in the world with so few people in our country playing the game, while those who do play the sport get harassed by millions of fans.
Who wouldn’t want to see Kevin Durant instead of Michael Bradley? Both are looked at as one of the best of their time in their sport, but Durant is looked at as one of the best in the world, while Bradley is certainly not. There is no surprise whatsoever that more kids play football and basketball than soccer. It just so happens that a lot of that really good talent and athleticism isn’t going into soccer. U.S. soccer will continue to be average unless one of these sports becomes less popular, such as the NFL, or there is a major overhaul in the youth soccer system.
Yes, as crazy as it sounds, the youth system is more important than any other variable for the U.S. Men’s National Team to be better. What I mean by that can be seen through one simple comparison. Lionel Messi, regarded as the best player in the world, has been playing club soccer since he was seven years old. Clint Dempsey, regarded as the best player from the United States, has been playing club soccer since he was 15. The simple fact that European and South American countries start developing their players at a much younger age completely derails the United States’ chances of being in the upper echelon of greatness. I will say that it has gotten much better in the past few years, but this is an uphill battle and there is a lot left to do to see significant improvement.
I consider myself very optimistic about a lot of things, but when it comes to U.S. Soccer, I’ll be as clear cut as can be. There is a chance that one day we will be better. I really want to believe that there is hope, and I promise to continue supporting the U.S. Men’s National Team until the very end.
But, with how it’s looking right now, we’ll never be the best.
By Jack Bennington, guest writer