Friday, May 23, 2014

The U.S. and the World Cup

Jurgen Klinsman did the right thing.

By jettisoning Landon Donovan and other veterans, he took a stand for what he believes to be the best 23-man roster.   Naturally, this is not without risk.

Politics play a big role in the selection of a World Cup squad.  Ask any English fan, and they'll tell you that at times the national squad has rested on the reputations of veterans instead of fielding the best team possible.  In the U.S.'s case, Klinsman decided to bank on hope over experience, especially in the form of a bunch of German-Americans who show promise but who haven't played much on the world stage.

That the U.S. cut a veteran like Donovan draws attention because he, along with Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard (and to a lesser extent, Michael Bradley) have been the face of U.S. soccer over the past so many years.  That said, the cutting of a player of Donovan's caliber might not have drawn much attention in countries such as England, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Argentina and Brazil, where Donovan might have been fortunate to make the second team, let alone the top 23.  That's how far behind U.S. soccer is, no matter what their publicity machine tells us.

Examine the rosters of the top World Cup contenders, and you will find that they are populated with players who play in the top leagues in the world, get meaningful playing time and in many cases are among the best at their position.  Examine the U.S. roster -- and the U.S. is among the 10 largest countries in the world (and four of them -- China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia -- have crummy soccer teams -- and you won't find those players.  Why?  Because soccer is not ingrained in our culture, and because the best athletes in the U.S. play football, basketball and baseball.  They do not lace up the boots and play what the rest of the world calls football.

Big news in the U.S.?  Of course.  Donovan has done a lot for the game in the U.S.  Big news for the World Cup?  Sure, precisely because Donovan is one of the U.S.'s biggest names.  But let's make sure that when we examine Donovan's skill set and accomplishments we don't confuse them with the likes of the biggest names on the best teams.  Because, even if you're a Donovan fan, he's just not in their league (and, truth be told, but for a small dose of the Premier League -- he didn't want to be there).

No comments: