Thursday, June 22, 2006

Insert Bad Nuremberg Joke Hed Here

Ghana 2-US 1. Oh, well, I suppose it's progress for American soccer that it's reached a level where bad calls can have an effect on our national team's losses.

Were the US a more traditional power in the world's most popular team sport, we'd fire coach Bruce Arena, deliver a few death threats to returning US players, and move on. That's what Serbia, Poland, the Czech Republic and the other first-round losing nations are up to right now.

But American soccer is more of a political movement than a sport, and like earnest Democrats, soccer fans can't just say, "hey, we lost, that sucks." They must ponder the Meaning of It All. Fortunately for them, the meaning of the USA's 0-2-1 record in the 2006 Cup is obvious to anyone.

Scores may be low in soccer, but there's no sport ever invented where a team could play three games, score one point by design and another by accident, and not go home a loser. The US team's offense was a study in lack of imagination and a total lack of finishing skill throughout the tournament. Our "creative" players were a collective snooze. If I could recognize that deficiency, it was obvious indeed.

US soccer now has the resources, talent pool, and yes, fan base interest to become a true international power in the sport. What it doesn't have is the vital element of any team that can't be provided by pouring more money into it or by establishing another 10,000 youth leagues. That would be star power, the ineffable all-important difference between good and great. That only comes through evolution, and soccer's still too new here to have evolved that far. It hasn'
t produced its gifted mutants, it's X-Men.

Look, you can teach a million kids how to hit a baseball, and odds are some of them will develop into big leaguers. But you can't teach a kid how to hit homers. He's got that in him or he doesn't. Coaches can teach football players how to block and tackle, or even how to look for daylight when they've got the football. No one knows what made Barry Sanders what he was. Over the years, probably ten million American youngsters practiced basketball as diligently and took as many jump shots as did Jerry West. There's still only been one of him.

Because those games have deeper roots in American soil, they've thrown up more gifted students than has soccer. Dwyane Wade is his own superstar, but it sure didn't hurt him to have Michael Jordan to study. Who're American soccer kids going to study, the plethora of ex-player commentators on ESPN? Those guys weren't as good as the current players they've criticized the past two weeks.

All teams in all sports are dying to lay hands on gifted mutant great ones, of course. But it's worse in soccer. The nature of that game is such that without players containing the x-gene, a team can't score at all, and all its strength, speed, fundamentals, and desire mean nil.

Awaiting the passage of time is the coldest of comforts for fans. US soccer, however, has no alternative. The x-gene can't be grafted onto a player like he was a rosebush.

On the other hand, the passage of time WILL work. Darwin was the world's first percentage player. In due course, US soccer will evolve its creative genuises. We won't have to expose the 2010 team to the bite of a radioactive spider.


At 2:05 PM, Blogger Doran said...

A group will not evolve unless there is selection pressure such as environmental changes to force the population to adapt. What selection pressures are there really in the US to produce a better cohesive soccer team in time for 2010 in South Africa?


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