Belgium versus the United Stated in the World Cup Round of 16 match on July 1st, 2014 was the peak of American soccer. It was a gutty performance full of grit, will, determination, 6 Old Spice commercials, Burt Reynolds’ mustache, and the ghost of John Wayne in goal. It was quintessentially American. And not good enough. Not in this sport. And not in real life.
While this style of American soccer — mixed with good fortune — successfully captivated the nation, it remains largely ineffective. Agonizingly close, but always lacking. Tell your patriotism to cover its eyes and you’ll see that the USMNT ended this World Cup with a 1-2-1 record.
That’s soccer’s summit and why we need to embrace, and expect, football.
Football, real football, is a sport of organization, creativity, and skill on the ball. Soccer is a sport of grunt work. These ‘imported from Detroit’ performances will never result in glory in the game of world football. It’s reflective of a fundamental faux belief that’s been engrained in American heads by those pulling the strings of our economy and legislature. Americans respect and don’t question anyone who successfully appeals to the “good” hard-working, god-fearing, tough-nosed, backbone- of-America types. But we should.
Disregard for what is and bumptious, forceful redefining is as American as it gets. ‘Discovered’ sounds better than ‘stolen.’ ‘American agriculture’ sounds better than ‘slave labor.’ This formula translates directly into how we view soccer in America. Football requires the exaltation of attributes we’ve been taught to mock and consider frivolous. So a relatable brand of step-brother football (soccer) has been constructed to reflect dusty patriotic ideals America would support in any arena — from World Cups to wars.
Let’s move forward. In football and in life.
Jurgen Klinsmann is the right man to drag us by our powdered wigs toward embracing the sport the rest of the world adores. He sees the change that’s needed. He’s persuaded players of dual nationality to suit up for the USMNT with promises of football. Jermaine Jones, Julian Green, and Aron Jóhansson are all quality foreign born players unfamiliar with “soccer.”
But Jurgen has also seen pushback in the form of outrage toward Landon Donovan’s omission and star US players leaving top European clubs for the MLS just six months before a World Cup. In the tug of war between football and American soccer, that was a choreographed heave by soccer. While Dempsey maintained decent enough form, Michael Bradley was a whisper of the player who bossed AS Roma’s midfield on its way to a top 2 Serie A finish.
To play football the recipe for qualified talent must change. We widely accept that top NFL and NBA athletes could easily translate their talents to soccer. But in the world of football, creativity is valued above brawn. Deft touch is valued above grit. Technique above pure athleticism. The US doesn’t have a single player who can face a defender, take him on, and get by. Deandre Yedlin wowed in his unexpected cameo and showed he might be the closest, and he’s a substitute defender.
The undertone of the chant that fueled American soccer fans throughout this World Cup was dependent upon hope. If the United States wants to take a true next step, play football, and realistically compete at the next World Cup — ‘I Believe That We’ need more than belief.