Why US Men's Soccer Is Yet to Build an International Competitive Team
By Carlos Madrigal
An argument could be made that the United States has produced the best male athletes the sports world has ever seen. From Michael Jordan to Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods to Muhammad Ali, the U.S. has produced top athletes in almost every sport that has ever been played. There seems to be just one sport that Americans have never been able to dominate: the biggest sport in the world, soccer. In the men's category, the US has won a gold medal or world championship competition for every major sport including basketball, hockey, baseball, tennis, golf, swimming, boxing, gymnastics among others and they have dominated the Olympic medal count in almost every edition of the Olympics. Apart from all of this, the biggest and most important sports leagues in the world are in the US including the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and PGA Tour.
It may seem odd that a country with such a culture of sports has never succeeded in the most popular sport in the world. A big part of the American population argues that soccer is a boring sport because of the low amount of goals scored in games when compared to any other major sport. The truth is that since the 1994 world cup, which was hosted in American soil for the first time, and the creation of the Major League Soccer in 1993 soccer has been growing in a very big way. The US soccer federation seemed to be on the right track to make soccer a major sport. More and more kids across the country started to play the sport and it is now starting to become part of the American culture, teams were investing large amounts of money in building their stadiums and developing players, and they also invested in developing future talents in every teams youth academy.
So what is the problem? The problem is that soccer is not a sport for just any kind of athlete. When talking about how good a player is in American culture, the experts like to talk about how high the player is, or how tall he is, how strong he is and how fast he can be. These are all categories that can certainly predict how good of an athlete a person can be in any major contact sport like basketball or football and so-called experts in US soccer have tried to use these categories to identify future prospects, the biggest mistake they can make. In the MLS combine held every year, potential MLS players are put through a set of tests that are supposed to showcase their ability. There is a Speed test consisting of a 30-meter dash, an Agility test where their times on a 5-10-5 shuffle are measured and then a Power test that includes a measurement of their vertical jump. What people need to understand is that these tests can mount up to mean absolutely nothing at all. Soccer is an art of its own and it can't be reduced to these four categories. There is so much more to soccer than what these four number tests try to show. One of the best players of this generation, Andrea Pirlo, would probably be on the bottom of the table in all three of these categories. Pirlo is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds, he was never fast, never jumped high and was not the most agile player but he was an artist with the ball and possessed the highest level of talent one can find. The same could be said about Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player ever to play the game.
Although Messi is indeed very quick and agile, he is measured at 5 feet 7 inches and he got there thanks to a growth hormone treatment that was supplied to him by FC Barcelona in order for him to be able to grow. When Messi was fifteen years old he was measured at just under 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 136 pounds. It is sad but true that if Leo Messi would have been born and developed in the US, he would have probably never made it to anything because no team in America would have given him a chance. Scouts and coaches in the youth systems across the country need to focus more on attracting raw talent to develop it rather than tall, strong and fast athletes into their academies if they want to change the narrative and become a leader in the only sport they have not been able to conquer.