Unless skilled in playing soccer, the fastest sprinter in the world can't do what Freddy Adu can do on a soccer field.
It’s what a player can do with a soccer ball that makes the difference between a world-class player and someone who ties on soccer cleats and simply moves the ball forward.
Don’t misunderstand: Speed kills in most sports and is an asset in soccer. But it isn’t enough to make someone a great soccer player. If flat-out sprinting speed mattered so much, we’d have never heard the name David Beckham. Quickness in small spaces is more important in soccer.
Upper-body strength is of little consequence to soccer players. Vertical jumping ability is an advantage in competing for head balls but is not a deal maker.
Long-jumping ability is of no consequence to soccer, though a well-placed Bob Beamon-esque leap now and then would be welcome if just to break up the monotony.
The reason American teams generally don’t fare too well in international soccer competition isn’t a question of athleticism, it’s one of skill level borne of—in most cases—lifelong dedication so that dribbling, passing and shooting a soccer ball is as second-nature as walking.
Americans don’t grow up dribbling a soccer ball or a soccer ball substitute to school. We don’t grow up juggling a ball around the house.
Though soccer at youth levels has been coming on in the States increasingly for the past 40 years, kids here are encouraged to rely on their athleticism above all else. Soccer requires nuance and subtlety and we’re a nation of straight-liners seeking the fastest way from Point A to Point B.
Americans don’t improve dramatically at soccer because there’s disconnect between the dynamics of soccer and our way of thinking. For all the years of witnessing great international players and teams on television and in person, soccer in America by and large still is a kick-and-run game.
But isn’t that what America is, a kick-and-run nation at its core?
America is a land of barrage. Operation Cacophony. We may not always outsmart or out reason our opponents. But surely we can overwhelm.
Throw a pithy remark at America and we’ll blanket you with f-bombs in return. So don’t give us this sport “football” that mostly is frustration and low scoring. You can pitch the “pitch.”
Kick a soccer ball our way and we’ll more likely than not kick it back at you. And then we’ll chase it.