(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Hits Just Keep on Coming

Read this from the AP wire services on what happened to the U.S. team against the Czechs in the World Cup. Sayeth one of their few bright spots, in essence, "We just didn't have a clue."

Makes you wonder how they got to be ranked #5 in FIFA's ratings, ahead of some serious, traditional powers.

After all of the competition, selectivity and training, the U.S. faltered on the world soccer stage.

Not because the other team played better (even if they really did).

Not because some key player got hurt (one of the two best Czechs, Milan Baros, missed the game, and another, the 6'8" striker Thomas Koller, got hurt and left early).

Not because the U.S. team didn't have enough talent (that's debatable, of course, as some say the talent level is there, but I'd submit that the U.S. team members don't play the type of competition in their "day" jobs that the members of the best national teams do).

But because, well, they didn't know what they were doing.

Here's a hint: when on offense, be nimble, quick, take care of the ball, get it to the open man and set him up to score, and, when in the other team's end, relentlessly attack; when on defense, mark your man, disrupt his progess, don't let the other team get into a rhythm, don't make silly mistakes clearing the ball, and keep the ball out of the goal you are defending.

Sounds simple enough, akin to Tony Gwynn's advice on how to hit a baseball: "See the ball, hit the ball."

But it just didn't happen for Team USA.

Soccer in my area has taken on cult status. The only thing close, and this is somewhat indigenouos to where I live, is girls' softball. There are travel teams, intramural teams that practice 2x a week and play one game on weekends, and then other intramural teams that practice once a week and play one game on the weekend. The travel has been known to tear at families, putting the whole family in the van, turning all but one into a spectator, and leaving little time for anyone else. I don't here friends around the country talking about football for their boys as much as I hear about soccer.

So, you would think, with Darwinism taking hold and the natural selection process that yields the best players, that the same way we can unearth a Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant out of a nation of 280 million plus that we could find our own version of Totti, Deco, Zambrotta, Kaka, Cole, Cisse. Lots of parents, lots of resources, lots of time spent.

So it makes you wonder -- are the best athletes and game players of our children playing soccer? Are the hungriest athletes, those who want to win at all costs, playing soccer?

They are in most places in the world, but I'd submit that they are not doing so in the United States. That's not to say that they aren't good athletes, but the competition just isn't there. At least not yet. Those kids, in the U.S., are playing the sports that offer more notoriety and glory -- football, basketball and, yes, baseball.

So perhaps it was that the U.S. players didn't know what to do.

It also might have been the case that they're just not good enough to compete on this stage, at least for now.


Anonymous Phil the Brit said...


I'm going to light the blue touch paper and stand weeeell back here.

Here goes: just how strong is the team ethic in the US?

We here in Europe are well used to standing in awe of individual American competitors like Tiger, Lance, Pistol Pete and far too many track and field superstars to mention.

And yet, this isn't the first US sports team to underperform in spectacular style. Based on individual ability, how can your Ryder Cup and Olympic basketball teams ever lose?

Is the cult of the individual in American culture so strong as to inhibit team play, a fact mostly hidden, as your major sports do not expose you to international competition?

As a keen, and mostly admiring, observer of American sport and business, the imperative of being perceived to be a winner just seems so strong that team members end up competing with each other as much as with their opponents.

Is it OK to come out from behind my desk yet?

5:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knowing little about soccer at the highest levels, but reading a lot, it sounds like it's a coaching problem. Can you imagine any major professional sports team showing up in the playoffs and having the players admit that they didn't know their roles?

10:06 AM  

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