It was truly a pleasure watching the Spanish soccer team throughout the Euro 2008 tournament. Their exquisite display of pinpoint passing, controlled possession, and fluid attacks outclassed the rest of the field. They were the best team and deserved the championship.
Afterwards, my thoughts turned to the state of men’s soccer in the U.S. The American side has made strides over the past ten years, and are arguably the best team in North America.
Players such as Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley, Freddy Adu, and most recently, Jozy Altidore, have crossed shores to compete against the best in the great leagues across Europe.
And here on American soil, the MLS, while definitely not on the same level as the English Premier League, La Liga, or Serie A, has grown in size and popularity and has attracted talented players from across the globe.
However, will the U.S. Men’s National Team ever be able to challenge the more traditional West European and South American powerhouses for world supremacy?
Sadly, I don’t think so.
From the day the average American boy starts watching sports, he is exposed to the NFL, MLB, and the NBA. He grows up idolizing the likes of Peyton Manning, LeBron James, and Alex Rodriguez; not Kaka, Leo Messi, or Michael Ballack. He goes out in the backyard to shoot hoops or toss the ball around. He doesn’t kick a ball in a goal.
Now granted, soccer leagues are quite popular for young people in America. I, myself, played for many years while growing up and enjoyed it.
However, soccer is not this country’s passion, and never will be.
In countries like Spain and England, young boys kick balls around as soon as they learn how to walk. They go to matches at the Nou Camp or Old Trafford (if they can afford it), dreaming of the day to be able to run within the confines of those cherished stadiums.
On the international level, the achievements of a country’s national soccer team can even unify a nation. The team from Ivory Coast competed in the 2006 World Cup in the midst of a civil war, which was put on pause so rival sides could cheer on the national team.
Now that’s passion.
Soccer is a part of the identities of millions of people in countries across the globe. Just not in the U.S. I tend to think that many Americans see it as a foreigner’s game, preferring instead to sing “Take me out to the ballgame” or watch the jet fly over during the Super Bowl.
Money has been spent in this country to build training academies in order to serve as a breeding ground for future soccer talent. But as long as football, basketball and baseball reign supreme, European and South American countries will continue to top FIFA rankings and battle for the title of world’s best.