Soccer in America: Will Klinsmann Find the Next Messi?

Andrea DukeContributor IFebruary 2, 2013

Are Kobe and Ray our version of Messi?
Are Kobe and Ray our version of Messi?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal Sports published a great piece on the US Men’s National Team and coach Jurgen Klinsmann, “Mediocrity Will Not Be Tolerated” (found HERE). 

This article focused on how the USMNT coach is completely recreating our nation’s team … and he doesn’t care who is on the team, including the stars.  Best quote from Klinsmann, in reference to one of the “stars” Clint Dempsey:

[Dempsey] hasn’t made s—. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you can play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team. 

Days later, I was browsing and saw this headline:

America’s Next Top Messi 

The story (found HERE) is accompanied by a picture of Messi, flanked by Kobe Bryant and Ray Lewis dressed in US Soccer jerseys.  In essence, the story outlines why the US is lacking in the sport of soccer and looks at how our society produces talent in other sports.

Both of these articles were discussed during the half time program of the USMNT vs. Canada game, with Alexi Lalas commenting that such discussions are important for the future of soccer in the US.  

Why do WE … American Media … need to find someone who is equivalent to Messi?  Why do WE feel the need to compare ourselves with other athletes not from our country?  Why can’t WE just be happy with what we have?  Why is America so sensitive about our performance in soccer?  Because WE don’t like to sit in the back seat of the sports car.

Sure, there are a handful of sports whose key athlete is not from America, but if you think about the big sports, the money-making sports, the spotlight sports, Americans rule … except in soccer.

Yes, we (slightly) cared about, and maybe even acknowledged soccer when David Beckham hit the scene, but that only lasted a few months.  Beckham brought with him entertainment and Hollywood, and our society loves that kind of flash and sex appeal.

But the reality is: Soccer in American is all about talent and politics.  Yes, you have to be talented, but you also need to know the right people to make yourself known. 

The ESPN article questions why we don’t have more home-grown superstars … well because those stars DO fall through the cracks because they don’t have the politics factor.  They get overlooked because they don’t have the right coach or on the right club or even from the right state. 

But the main reason…America doesn’t care about soccer.  Why?  Because we have football, baseball and basketball:

Look how many NBA stars played soccer at an early age. If the right soccer environment had existed, they could have seen their future as paid professionals in our league. Cultural change is needed before young athletes can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In a very criticizing interview, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA (governing body of soccer), had his own thoughts on why soccer in America is struggling:

The problem in the United States — it’s a little bit different. Don’t forget that soccer, as they call football there, is the most popular game in the youth. It’s not American football or baseball; it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. They have just the MLS, but they have not these professional leagues, which are recognized by the American society.

We need to understand that to everyone outside of America, we stink in the opinions and rankings of soccer.  We have several Americans in the English Premier League who are representing us well, but do we hear about them on ESPN?  We read about them only when something major or exciting happens.

“But Andrea … we get awesome players from the EPL come play in the MLS!”

Yeah…when they retire from the EPL!!

Our media rules our interests.  Thanks to the Agenda-Setting Theory, which states that the media influences the salience of topics on the public agenda, what our society finds important is what media finds important.  And for sports media, it’s the big sports, the Kobe Bryants, the Super Bowls.

Sure, soccer has a following in America, but ESPN doesn’t follow it as much as it could, thus we don’t care about it as much as we should.

We have the talent to truly make a mark in the sport, but since our culture and media revolved around the money-making sports (which I completely understand), soccer will never reach its potential. 

Youth need to have an incentive to play, whether it’s media attention or marketability, but there’s no incentive for America to love soccer like it loves football.