What Is American Brand Soccer?

What brand is this?

I was reading The Shin Guardian comment section yesterday and a hockey game broke out.

Sorry, terrible joke. I’m just trying to give a little bit of love to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Did they start yet?

The Winter Games have been somewhat of a financial disaster for Vancouver, a fine city, coupled with off (warm) weather that has them trucking in water, ice, and snow for the events. Yuck.

Somewhere there is an analysis for how much NBC spent on the Olympics vs. their ROI from advertisers and increased viewership. I have a “Broadcasting” piece coming up but it looks at the non-Olympic sport of bowling.

Apologies for the digression, a debate–not a fight–began yesterday surrounding the level of American soccer players versus their counterparts in other countries as the central theme. (Apologies for the active participants, I think the discussion was so good it warrants framing it within a post and starting a new comment thread.)

TSG Commenter “Charles” wondered if it were better to focus on American contributions to soccer when TSG began discussing mentors. His thoughts on how soccer was experienced in America coagulated on the following thesis:

“Football is seen as an extension of culture by the rest of the world. Here it sometimes seems the general feeling is that it’s a game people play.”

The 1930 United States World Cup Team

Charles went on to ponder whether biased adoption of greats from other nations somehow marginalized the game in the United States, retarded it’s growth here in the States, or somehow devalued American soccer history?

It is a fair and valid question even if you don’t agree with Charles because a similar situation is occuring in England right now with their belowed Premiership league.

I countered Charles with some questions and an example:

My questions:

How good is American soccer and its players and how do they, the players, reach elite global status? and…

What are the many or proper paths to showing the world all about American soccer?

I weaved those questions around the notion that English greats have asked for quotas on foreign players, lamented the influx of outside talent and generally feel their own soccer culture is currently under assault. The attack on soccer in their country will stymie the development of future players; this is the thinking of most who subscribe to the need for quotas.

At the time I wrote the following:

Arsenal: No Brits in their starting squad.

Chelsea: 3 Brits in their starting squad.

Manchester United: 2 Brits in their starting squad (I’ve got Johnny Evans in the middle on this one).

Only one of these three is a product of England....

It is a common theme in Britiain these days (and I think Soccernomics may have written on this accord) to be xenophobic as a means of the home soceity having more opportunity and developing more footballers.

But I think as survival of the fittest (in the phrase’s broadest measure) teaches is that intense competition is a rising tide that lifts all ships.

Arsenal/Man U don’t employ Brits unless they are the best in the business.

Now here’s the parallel.

The U.S. Soccer game is not one of elegant passing a la Argentina or Spain. It’s not one of precision crosses like Germany. American soccer for it’s most part has been built on stout defense and a mindset of invincibility (which the States has certainly not earned yet).

If the U.S.–like added above with my Ruud-Crouch-Cooper analagy–can gain experience and skills across the board it will only make them stronger and it will only make the game stronger as those skills are transferred.

So in essense, I take the opposite side of your debate. I would rather Americans learn from non-Americans because chances are the “American” way has been transferred to them already.

While Charles and I, and all of you, could have continued to have a elaborate debate, Patrick summed up some points, extremely succinctly, on American soccer that I’m republishing below and using as the genesis to begin debate below.

Patrick:

I have this argument about once a year with my father. Since you pretty much summarized his end of it, I’ll give you (and others) the other side.

It comes down to a few questions. In my opinion, the answer to each question encourages more Americans to play and learn from coaches overseas. But honestly, I think both sides have a lot of valid points, and the true answer involves some mix of both these approaches to developing American soccer.

• Was there (or even IS there) a unique “American” soccer culture/style?

I say no. We are, for the most part, a nation of immigrants when it comes to who plays and coaches soccer. I have, since I started playing, been coached by a German, an Englishman, a Belizean, and a Czech. Most of my other coaches either learned the game from their immigrant fathers, or it was in their family due to the cultural connections it had to where they came from. Heck, most of our National team right now is either first or second generation immigrants. The thing is, I think this is a future strength of American soccer. There isn’t a universal “understanding” of how or how not to play the game. We don’t overly idolize playmakers, favor physicality over skill, or favor defense over offense. We don’t turn people away from the game just because they “don’t fit our style”. We just play with the best we think we’ve got. And while sometimes that means sacrificing superior talent on the altar of temporary tactics (sorry JFT!), in the end I think we will develop a more comprehensive player pool because of it.

• Is a unique national style consistent with the emerging trends of the international game of football?

Again I say no. Remember, football was spread via British sailors in a time when there was no globalization. After reaching Brazil, for example, football was left to develop in isolation, free from the influence of the “Western European Nucleus.” This led to a very distinct style. It also, initially, was not very effective internationally. It took coaches, implementing European ideas, or learning from trips to Europe, to really make Brazil the world power it was today. Nowadays, there is very little tactical variation in football. Everyone presses. Formations are, for the most part, similar. Success turns on the individual skills of the player, *players’ experience*, teamwork, and their coaches ability to implement their vision. To get that experience, American players need to learn from the best, which (for now!) means European coaches, and European players.

• Would it even be desirable for the US to have a national style?

Partly for reasons mentioned above, I say no. However, I still want to elaborate. I believe that a national style stifles tactical creativity and flexibility because it encourages coaches and countries to wedge square blocks (players) into round holes (the style). It’s one of the reasons I think England has been dreadful internationally despite having some of the better players. For the longest time (and still now, honestly) the English press and national style has demanded teams that quickly move the ball up the pitch and take as many chances on possible on goal. Hell the idea of possession football took root in England far later than in other countries because their national style resisted such a play style that demanded patient breaking down of a defensive side. Even in the 1960’s with the success of Bill Shankley’s Arsenal and “the boot room,” possession football was the exception in the EPL.

Riquelme for Argentina

Everyone knew the best soccer involved smashing the ball to a center forward and lettinghim try to outrun and outmuscle the opponents.

Argentina’s obsession with the playmaker (and the subsequent blame of Riquelme for Argentina’s world cup failures) is another example. All you have to do is mark the guy tight and you stifle the creativity of the entire offense. It is no wonder guys like Messi who are used to the entire team being a creative element get frustrated when they return to play international ball.

I realize now that this is rather long and rambling so I’ll try to sum up my points quickly.

(1) America currently has a receptive soccer culture, open to new ideas and tactics. (2) In order to maximize this receptiveness, American players need to learn from the best coaches and players which are currently in western Europe. (3) Having a national style would hinder, not help the development of the sport.

—–

Thanks Charles, Patrick, everyone for your contributions to this piece. Looking forward to the discussion.

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67 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Evan on 2010/02/10 at 12:11 PM

    I don’t think a national style is something that the players and coaches can consciously try to develop. I think it is something that if it happens, will just happen as a byproduct of a combination of the players available and the coaching. However since all the above nations formed their national styles a very long time ago, before there was technology allowing us to see games from anywhere in the world and before all the best players went to Europe to play, perhaps it is too late for the USMNT to create a national style, or at least one that wouldn’t be based of the style of some other nation. Personally I don’t care what the national style is as long as they are getting results, and as long as they aren’t just playing long balls.

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  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/10 at 12:38 PM

    “Having a national style would hinder, not help the development of the sport”

    I agree with this statement. The US almost has a carte blanche whereby they can go a la carte and pick the best components from varying footballing cultures – the fluency of Spain and Argentina, the Italian defence and technical ability, the German organisation, Brazilian “everything”, English pressing.

    But of course, this needs to be taught at an early age. As Patrick said, he had a very international footballing education. Good players can adapt. I would also say that the framework needs to be flexible – players you have at any given time should dictate style, formation and tactics/strategy, as well as the opponents; “horses for courses” should I say. And remember, sometomes, the best players do not form the best team.

    While the MLS is in its relative infancy and the better players are looking for a move to Europe for whatever reason, it’s is important to remember that the style of the national team mimics the style of their domestic league. But a lot of the US players do not play in the domestic league…

    I know Brazil’s players play in Europe, but their technique makes them better suited to Italy and Spain rather than northern Europe.

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  3. Patrick made some excellent points regarding the diversity of USA’s football culture.

    I agree with both Patrick and George that a rigid national style would hinder rather than help American chances in present and future competitions.

    Perhaps true national styles in football are a thing of the past. With formations becoming more similar as Patrick indicated, there is a homogenization that cannot be denied.

    I agree with George that hopeful young American players should choose Europe over MLS, if only for the money, and then only for 3 years. If a player isn’t being selected in the first team after 3 years, he should return to MLS with money saved away for his future. I say this only because the current revenue and salary cap in the MLS is patently ridiculous. Maybe the sensible thing to do in MLS is make it the way the European Union did. If a player is born and has citizenship in North America, Central America, or South America that should be good for 8 of 11 places on the pitch at any one time. But even if MLS implemented this, they don’t have the money to spend to actualize that dream.

    It was nice to see the image of the 1930 boys.

    I still think that there is a soft propaganda regarding the quality of American football and its players. If 20 foreign television presenters agree that our players and the level of our football is rubbish, then it must be true. 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed, right? If journalists keep saying that our players are struggling, and that our national team is barely keeping pace – it slowly becomes accepted as fact, regardless of the results. Classic case in point: When Jovan Kirovski was in the ManU reserves, he scored 20 goals one season. You’d think that would be enough to warrant an extended look in the first team. He never appeared for the ManU first team. 20 goals! God sakes. What does it take? I would love to hear an explanation of why Jovan was sent down. FIFA once wrote in a match analysis that the USA were undersupported for an away match at Cuba. They neglected to mention that it was, in fact, illegal for Americans to attend though some did anyway – risking prosecution. That is yellow journalism. When I posted a reasonably worded and polite commentary explaining this, it was censored from the website.

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    • Posted by B-Mac on 2010/02/10 at 2:18 PM

      Charles- I gotta say, I think you’re kind off base with the claims of propaganda and anti-American bias. Jovan Kirovski never featured because he had serious work permit issues (written about in this SI article from ’95 http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1007378/index.htm), not because of an anti-American bias from Man U.

      I think the international perspective on the American player is pretty fair: hard working, low ego players that perhaps lack some of the skill and creativity of their European and South American counterparts. Players like McBride, Reyna, O’Brien, and Dempsey (not to mention the string of goalkeepers that has made the US arguably the best in producing the position) have shown themselves very well in Europe. The only quality US player that faced the supposed rubbish claims was Donovan, but he was able to quickly dismiss them in his stay so far in Everton.

      The only real criticism the USA has received in recent years that shaded towards bias has been the MLS. The league has unfairly been painted as a lower tier league when in reality its quality is similar to that of the European middle tier leagues. The style of play in the MLS is hurt by a playoff and salary cap system where you see no team winning more than 50% of its games and regular season games lacking passion.

      Ultimately however, I think the international view on United States soccer. A deep run from the USMNT in the World Cup will ultimately prove the true talent and style of American soccer, one which may lack a particular tactical system, but is defined by hustle, teamwork, and execution.

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      • I agree with some of what you say B-Mac. In fact, in parts of your rebuttal you are reiterating points that I made about MLS and it’s salary cap/revenue situations. I acknowledged in a follow up that the issue with Kirovski at Old Trafford had to do with a work permit issue.

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      • Posted by KMac on 2010/02/10 at 5:24 PM

        Very thoughtful analysis B-Mac.

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  4. Apparently it was a work permit issue with Kirovski. So my bad there.

    I’d like to thank Matt for providing this platform for further debate.

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  5. Posted by Swa on 2010/02/10 at 2:25 PM

    What makes US and A greatest country in ze world is the fact that so many people from so many cultures have come together to form the cobb salad (melting pot implies too much of a unification) that we all learned about during our 4th grade teacher’s unit on Ellis Island. Having a unified national style would be altering the very principle that has turned our nation into what it is today.

    The entire English squad (excluding Becks) plays in the Premiership.

    The entire Spanish squad (excluding Cesc and Pepe, but likely not much longer for Cesc) plays in La Liga.

    The entire Italian squad (excluding Rossi, Aquilani doesn’t count) plays in Serie A.

    Anyone of merit from die Mannschaft plays in the Bundesliga.

    The best French players have branched out to England and Spain, but a large majority of their current squad plays in Ligue 1.

    The Brazilians, Dutch and Argentines have branched out a lot more given that they don’t have domestic leagues that are top 5 in the world, but many of the players in question are of a caliber such that their specific skill set’s compatibility with a certain style or system is irrelevant.

    The US starting lineup against England will (assuming all health issues are taken care of hastily) look something like:

    Premiership,

    Premiership Championship Serie A Ligue 1

    Bundesliga

    Premiership Bundesliga Premiership

    Premiership Ligue 1

    With some of the top subs potentially looking like Premiership, SPL, SPL, Superligaen, Bundesliga, MLS, Primera de Mexico.

    The point in all of this is that our football really is an extension of our culture in that we don’t have A culture, we have many. To pigeonhole ourselves into a specific style of play would be to limit our national identity in a sense. As of now our players can play any number of different styles and as long as our skills are refined enough by playing against the best competition I think that’s where our advantage lies. We can play with anyone. And when we finally get the attitude in our heads to assert ourselves we can make any team play the game we want it to be played based on the strengths and weaknesses of our personnel, which are different for every player on the roster. Not to mention that in a country where the best athletes (No offense to the boys, but just imagine LeBron and Adrian Peterson on the pitch in Rustenberg. Now imagine LeBron going up for a header against Tiger Terry.) choose other sports, having a specific style that demands specific skills will only turn more kids off to the sport.

    There has been an endless succession of flashy Brazilian and Argentine playmakers, burly English strikers and Italians who swear they’ve never been offside in their life, but as the Hammarby fans will tell you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2Ldbl5P8sU

    That’s what makes our nation great, and that’s what will one day soon make our national team great.

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    • Posted by Bob on 2010/02/10 at 4:17 PM

      I think that this argument is spot-on. How can we really develop an American style when all of our national team players are scattered all over the world? How many national teams will have players who start in every major European league plus MLS and the professional league in Mexico? That is a very diverse pool of talent and skill sets that will be tough to defend if the USMNT can gel as a team.

      Even our high school players are starting to disperse to MLS, Mexico League, and European academies. Again, there is no real consistency rather young players trying to get better by playing competition outside the USA.

      Also, I agree with others that our very best athletes do not play soccer. Can you imagine what it would be like if someone like Reggie Bush or TO became strikers instead of playing football? Forget basketball … some of our football players have so much size and speed and agility they would not be stopped by anyone if they were on the pitch.

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      • Not only the wide receivers, think about some of the defensive lineman who are simply just freaks of nature, though they’ve grown too large to play soccer because the sport they saw a future in demanded that they be bigger.

        Case in point – in 1995 Warren Sapp, at 293 pounds, ran a 4.84 40-yard dash. It’s not the fastest time, but to move 300 pounds that quick takes a hell of an athlete. Think if he stayed svelte what he could’ve done in other sports.

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    • I just wanted to point out that Torres plays in England too… And I go as far to say that his size, playstyle and aggressiveness complement the basic Spanish style in such a way that if he were not there, Spain would not be as successful as they otherwise have been.

      But honestly, on a team that includes a midfield of Xavi, Xabi, Cesc, and Iniesta, Any striker is going to look good!

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  6. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/10 at 2:47 PM

    You forget Torres and Ballack…

    You claim ‘push v pull’ but I would also argue that the American players did not seek a specific move to Germany (or France or Italy or England etc). They went because a team from that country wanted them – ie ‘pull v push’. I defy you to argue that Bradley went to Borussia Mönchengladbach because he wanted to go to the Bundesliga, rather than play in a better quality league than the MLS. My point, if an EPL or La Liga or Serie A side came instead, he would have still been packing his bags…

    You have a lot of great atheletes, but great atheletes don’t necessarily make great footballers. With the loot that’s available today, Usain Bolt would be a footballer. My point is that each sport has a different skill set (not better or worse, but different (sprinters vs long distance runners for example)). I would like to see LeBron James carry his massive frame up and down a football pitch for 90 minutes.

    At the moment, you don’t have a Kaka or a Messi where they can pick and choose from the inevitable long list of international clubs. Push vs Pull.

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    • Your point regarding supply/demand is fair to say and makes good sense.

      The United States don’t require a Kaka or Messi, we have a Donovan and an Altidore.

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      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:25 AM

        I applaud you for being patriotic. But you are insane if you think Donovan and Altidore are on the same level as Messi and Kaka.

        There were a lot of people that said that Donovan’s previous loan “failures” in Europe didn’t really count because it was only a 10 week period and that’s not a good sample size etc. If sample size error is what you claim, then you cannot read too much into his “success” at Everton, as like you said, it is only 10 weeks. You cannot have it both ways.

        It will be really interesting if Donovan stays at Everton until the summer; especially as he run his mouth at Beckham (via the media) last year for doing the same thing, bleating about commitment

        I do agree with the notion that people say that X cannot be as good because they never played ABC. The same thing could be said about Giggs and Best – neither one has played at a World Cup but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t world class at their peak.

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        • Posted by Swa on 2010/02/11 at 10:18 AM

          Maybe I’m just looking into the Donovan situations the way I would like to see them but I the small sample size argument is mostly valid for his German days when he didn’t have enough time to break into the regular 18. David Moyes has started him in every possible game, and he’s played the full 90 in the last 3 if I remember correctly. Lando is already a great (world class? I happen to think so) player, so for him “success” in Europe can only really be quantified in the respect that he earns from the world football elite. It’s been stated on this site repeatedly that the best things that can come out of Jozy and Lando’s next few months is an elevated stature for our national team.

          I’m obviously only viewing the situation in the way that I want, but I still believe that the sample size was too small in the past when he still needed to earn respect, but at this point, even if David Moyes is the only European on the planet who respects Landon Donovan, he has earned a great deal of respect regardless of how long his loan stay is. Of course…a subpar Cup performance and a return to LA would erase that.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 10:44 AM

          I am not doubting his ability – I have seen enough of him over the last 6 years. But, turning it on for Everton for a few games is not producing it for a whole season in a good league.

          The dirty so and so kicked Cole and fractured his ankle. His WC is now in jeopardy.

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      • Maybe Donovan & Altidore aren’t considered as good as Messi and Kaka because people like you and pundits keep saying it, by the thousands. Are they really, either Kaka or Messi that must faster or stronger? Are they able to turn faster and less predictably than LD and Jozy? I think that Messi and Kaka are players of great skill. Why is it so difficult to explore the possibility that perhaps the gap between them isn’t as big as you imagine. I can already answer that. It’s because you and untold legions of other simply insist it is so. USA got a pretty respectable draw with the Argies when they had Messi in the team. Shouldn’t Messi’s vaunted quality have made the difference? And as far as Kaka goes, although the US doesn’t beat Brazil, often it’s been known to happen. I believe Brazil at the Confed Cup Final half-time were wetting their pants down 2:0 to the USA. So I guess it’s all relative George isn’t it?

        You can’t be saying that their better because they play for Barca and Real and that’s the only reason. Is that what it’s going to take, Lando and Jozy getting signed by Barca or Madrid? You write about how it’s insane of me to even compare them, but then that’s it. Never why.

        By your reckoning no one need show up in Rustenburg, as when England face the USA the result will already have been recorded. Right, George, we’d be insane to think that so many wayward Yanks could tip the balance against the Queen’s chosen ones? That is as patently silly as Divine Right.

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        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/11 at 2:37 PM

          This is Matthew from TSG — I would appreciate if the commentary going forward is not directed personally here. That is not what TSG is about.

          Thank you.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 2:46 PM

          I have alreasy said that to under estimate the USA is a foolish thing. I have also said that if both teams ‘play to their maximum’ then it is reasonable for onr to think that England will win – but, (and it’s a massive but) things don’t work like that, do they? Upsets happen – see Spain in semi final.

          Kaka and Messi have been producing it against some of the world’s best players season after season. Donovan on the other hand has been turning the likes of Wynne inside out. IMO until Donovan produces it week in week out against the best, then it is difficult to make that claim that he is just as good. You think I am only saying this because he is American, but the fact is, that you’re only saying this because he is American – I have only said that I don’t look at a player’s nationality when deciding on quality. I have faults, yes, but I am not *that* narrow minded.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 3:07 PM

          And when we beat the USA 2-0, we played poorly and still beat you at a canter!

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        • It certainly wasn’t my intent to direct a personal tirade at George. Mr. Cross sir, If I’ve offended you, allow me to extend a sincere apology.

          The article is entitled “What is American Brand Soccer?”

          I would have to say, judging by what I’ve seen here so far, that the American brand is:

          to work as hard as anyone else in the world that plays the game, only to see our best efforts written off as an aberration to the established world order of football. A world football order that possesses a static perception of the American game and it’s players as mediocre. A perception that is unlikely to change regardless of the results achieved by US Soccer in the present, or in the future.

          This is my final say on the matter. I will no longer rebut to this thread.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 3:42 PM

          Charles, no need to apologise. It takes two to tango as they say…

          I am not belittling (sp?) US football. I see where you’re coming from and agree with you about your principles. However, we will just have to agree to disagree with its application today.

          One only has to see the USA, Australia and a handful of African countries getting better and better. The “established world order of football” ARE looking over their shoulders. Trust me on this one.

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    • George – Baby Sweatpants went from MLS (NY/NJ MetroStars when his dad was the coach) to the Dutch Eredivise before moving to Gladbach.

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  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/10 at 3:05 PM

    Charles: I really do think that football is a ‘borderless world / market without borders’, and the best players (if they want to) will be picked up by the best teams in the best leagues.

    Look at how many European players are in the NBA? Why is that? Because it is the best league, with the best players and it compensates the players the most. But I think that’s a myth, it is soft propaganda regarding the quality of European basketball and its players…

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    • I don’t think basketball is a fair comparison George. Basketball teams don’t have reserve sides. LeBron James doesn’t compete for a place in the starting five everyday in training. It is his to lose, until he loses it. This is completely unlike football where you must earn your place every day, and where the training has almost more emphasis than the matches. The philosophy is completely different.

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      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:14 AM

        “LeBron James doesn’t compete for a place in the starting five everyday in training. It is his to lose, until he loses it.”

        The basic mantra in football is that you get yourself in the team, and you get yourself out of the team – ie, if you have a shit game, then you might get subbed or might get benched for the next game.

        If the coach doesn’t have the balls to drop LeBron for a sub-par performance, then whose fault it that?

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  8. Posted by Wilson on 2010/02/10 at 3:18 PM

    If We keep building the pace and great coaching brought in from from Europe, then I see USA with a Dream Team. Just like the Basketball team. USA has cultures from every where. Burly Strikers and Flashy Playmakers. Only thing that we need is depth/pool of talent. Imagine picking best of 5 different Jozy’s to pick from. NFL has hundreds of Jozy with his poor work habits but extreme talent, They end up out of the League in 3 years. But they can’t get in the league until 3 years after graduation high school. There is a large pool of physically talented players to pick from right there. I know of a failed NFL player by the name of Jarrett Payton. He was all-american soccer player at St. Viator High School. He happens to be the son of the greatest NFL player of all time. Walter Payton. When Walter died Jarrett drop the shinguards to follow his fathers path in his senior year. Soccer is just loses to other American sports in glamor. It all started with money, like Babe Ruth 1920s got a $6 millon.

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  9. Posted by Marc on 2010/02/10 at 4:13 PM

    I tend to be rather conflicted when the athlete discussion comes up. It is certainly true that the best American athletes do not become soccer players, even though some played the game as kids (i.e. Kobe Bryant who grew up in Italy), and I am prone to believe that improved athleticism can only improve the USMNT. I can’t even imagine what Kobe would be like if he can continued with soccer instead of basketball (and having watched him play games with MLS players and other friends, I can vouch that he is already very very good). Or Steve Nash for that matter, who is more average sized but still an athletic freak (yes I realize he is Canadian not American).

    But, as George wrote earlier, the best athletes don’t always make the best soccer players. However George, having a very large appetite for sports and watching a ton of NBA as well as soccer, I don’t think LeBron is a good example for this. With his unique set of strength, size, speed, and work ethic, I believe he could a top player for the national team. This isn’t to say he would be as good a soccer player as he is basketball player (arguably the best there ever has been, and this from someone who grew up in Chicago worshiping MJ), but at 6’8″ 250lbs, he could be like Onyewu or Jozy on steriods. I think a better example of athletic freak that would struggle as a soccer player would be almost any big man (Shaq, Dwight Howard).

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    • Posted by Bob on 2010/02/10 at 4:22 PM

      I bet Dwight Howard would make a great GK. Again, think NFL over NBA where players charge hard in sprints, stop, cut, zig and zag. That is where we lose great soccer players. Can you imagine Devin Hester as striker?

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      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:40 AM

        That’s a bit like me saying that Jonny Wilkinson would be great in the NFL because the ball is the same shape. They are two different sports completely, and as such, require a different skill set.

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        • The different sports do require a different skill set, but imagine if Wilkinson had come over here at the tender age 8 and seen the NFL and it’s glorious millions of hookers and hang-ons, I mean dollars. Wilinkson obviously has the size and athleticism to play rugby which would translate nicely to an outside linebacker position, plus he’s a top class athlete so changing sports won’t be too big of a challenge for him compared to you and me. Strategy and instinct on the other hand is a horse of a different color.

          Think about it this way, how many pro ballers of any sport in any country are also good (compared to my +30 handicap) golfers? Athleticism is athleticism and some people just have better control over their bodies than others.

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    • Posted by Marc on 2010/02/10 at 4:30 PM

      Just adding an point i forgot to add in the first post:

      I think that American soccer, at least at the club level, already tends to focus too much on the physical attributes of the players. A personal anecdote to demonstrate what I mean: Brad Guzan grew up in within a few miles of myself. Everyone seems to agree that he is a great future goalkeeper. He played for one of the premier Chicago-area club teams: the Chicago Magic. Yet he didn’t start on those club teams. He was the second-string keeper behind another talented, but diminutive (~5’10″) keeper. The first string goalie was All-State, All-American, etc. but because of his stature and build couldn’t get a look by any major college programs. Eventually went to an Ivy League school (not too shabby) but gave up on soccer a year after graduating high school. This isn’t supposed to be a reflection on Guzan, instead a reflection on the focus scouts put on size, especially for keepers. I’ve heard similar explanations (size) for why Brian Perk wasn’t highly rated by MLS scouts despite his experience and proven skills with the U-20 teams.

      Reply

      • So which one of you gents wants to explain to Gooch, Donovan, and Captain Carlos that they’re not representative of the best American athletes?

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:50 AM

          But that is the point I was making earlier – people have this idea / ideal of what an athelete should look like. But a (skinny) marathon runner is no less of an athlete than a (muscular / ripped) sprinter.

          In modern professional football, they’re all athletes.

          Reply

        • I couldn’t agree more.

          Reply

  10. Posted by Swa on 2010/02/10 at 4:14 PM

    Brain fart on Torres and Ballack…

    Maybe my statistical analysis was unnecessary and proves nothing, but I still think it means quite a lot that our starting lineup plays in a more diverse smattering of leagues than most. I think it’s been established that Italians play the game a certain way, as do Germans, Spaniards, Brazilians, Argentines and others. The United States on the other hand, is capable of playing any number of diverse styles, and to attempt to unify them appears quite foolish. We lag behind the rest of the footballing world for many reasons: a lack of respect from various influential entities and a lack of respect for the game within our borders being arguably the most important. The lack of a singular style of play is not a negative, but rather can be a positive and will be as soon as we are able to elevate ourselves to the upper echelons of the sport globally.

    I would personally love to see LeBron James lug his body up and down the pitch for the full 90. He is one of the best conditioned athletes in the world and if he were a footballer rather than a small forward his weight training regimen would have been drastically altered for the past 8 years. Obviously you can’t just extrapolate that if soccer were held in higher regard in the US than it is currently that it would get all the best athletes, but it has to be assumed that many many more would choose it.

    Reply

    • “The United States on the other hand, is capable of playing any number of diverse styles, and to attempt to unify them appears quite foolish.”

      This I agree with.

      “We lag behind the rest of the footballing world for many reasons: a lack of respect from various influential entities and a lack of respect for the game within our borders being arguably the most important.”

      This underscores my soft propaganda point. Thank you Swa.

      Regarding the “what if” questions about if only NFL/NBA players would give the round and true football a try…I’m going to have to disagree. Generally people who make this point equate huge, ripped person with amazing athlete. This is not necessarily true for a number of reasons.

      Reply

      • Posted by Berg on 2010/02/10 at 8:05 PM

        Actually, when I think of the potential athletes that would tear around a pitch, I don’t think of the huge guys.

        I’m thinking of smaller, insanely quick athletes like Barry Sanders, Dante Hall, Devin Hester. On the “bigger” end (Around 6ft tall, under 200lbs.) are guys with insane speed like Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles or everyone’s favorite loss to the “other” football, Chad Johnson.

        I’ll be the first to concede that being a great athlete doesn’t automatically = great soccer player, but it’s a good jumping off point. In my eyes, if soccer were number one in the States and USMNT pulled from the entire pool of athletes (who in this scenario would have played the sport their whole life), there is no question that the quality of the team would increase.

        Reply

        • Posted by Swa on 2010/02/11 at 1:07 AM

          Huge, ripped person does not by any means equate to amazing athlete. But at the same time being huge and ripped does not preclude someone from being an incredible athletic talent. LeBron James is the definition of athletic specimen, with Adrian Peterson close behind. If they had focused on the beautiful game around age 14 they would like a little different now and would have considerably more touch than I imagine they do currently. Much like the idea of making the King a tight end, a switch could not just happen but would need to be made retroactive to seventh grade or thereabouts. It’s something to think about. Jan Koller and Peter Crouch aren’t exactly considered to be wizards with the ball but they are dangerous just the same, and anyone in the US who is remotely their height is not only encouraged but essentially required to play basketball. Just imagine if Bobbo had a striker in the 6’6″ range to experiment with…

          Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 7:08 AM

        Charles, I really don’t understand your “soft propaganda point”. Nobody is suggesting that US footballers will not be the best in the world. What I believe most people are saying is *at the moment* they are not the best in the world.

        And it is the US press that talks about the in-roads that US players are making in football; comparing and contrasting 2002 WC Squad vs 2010 WC Squad and how many are overseas and what not.

        You talk about soft propaganda, but how about some hard propaganda – how do you think (the 2009 MLS Cup winners) Real Salt Lake would do against Barcelona (2009 UEFA Champions’ League Winners)?

        My point is that I am not talking about the potential of the MLS, but talking about the present.

        Reply

        • I am referring less to the quality of domestic football in this country, and more about the quality of the best players we produce. I am saying that like likes of Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and the rest will always have to work 10 times harder than their foreign counterparts to impress a manager enough to earn a place in the team.

          I believe the reason for this is the general opinion overseas is that if you have two players of relatively the same quality one American, and one of some other nationality – the foreign player will likely be chosen first. So if the players are the same quality, how can this be? What I propose is that if enough people say foreign players are better than American ones full stop, that eventually people all start believing it. Like a dirty little rumor started by teenage girls to discredit someone they don’t like. I think it’s a lot like people circulating rumors about companies to de-value their stock.

          And I’ve seen it happen more than once that the manager that wanted the American guy gets the sack, and then that American player seems to eternally ride the pine after that.

          I already know your response, that it’s a global free market and the cream rises to the top. You can’t see the cream rise to the top if you’re already blind.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/12 at 7:46 AM

          I cannot help Employment Law and free movement of labour within a certain Free Trade Area. If there are two players who are equal (ceterus paribus etc), one EU and one non-EU, then why wouldn’t the European company take the EU player?

          You forget, I am a foreigner in the USA, and my company had to prove that they ‘made a reasonable attempt’ to employ a local, and ‘prove that I had a skill set that couldn’t easily be found’. Obviously different industries, but the basic employment law principles apply.

          I believe there is a special dispensation to sportsmen (and women), but look at the trouble Freidel had in the 1990s.

          Here’s a thought: Managers now-a-days are under so much pressure to produce. Do you think they’d bench a better player because of their nationality or do you think they’re going to field the best possible team?

          This is becoming a very circular debate.

          Reply

  11. Posted by KMac on 2010/02/10 at 4:40 PM

    Everton 2 Chelsea 1. Terry at fault for both…Donovan VERY productive with the team.
    GO LANDON!

    Reply

    • They need to let Lando start taking the PK’s….

      Reply

      • Posted by KMac on 2010/02/10 at 5:45 PM

        interesting idea!

        Reply

        • Posted by Bob on 2010/02/10 at 10:31 PM

          Also, they need to lock him up to a multi-year contract. Since he has arrived, Everton has won 13 points in 6 games! I really hope that he does not come back to LA. Man, that would be something. I bet Becks would be pissed off! lol

          Reply

  12. Posted by KMac on 2010/02/10 at 6:13 PM

    It struck me reading all these great observations on style, that style requires a deep talent pool all playing the same system and players who can understand, train for, and execute, that style. What strikes me is that we have some depth and some exposed gaps due to potential injuries. I would suggest that the critical success factors of USMNT success to-date that there may be several “X” factors beyond a system that have led to the successes and failures. Having a background in strategy (western and eastern), it strikes me that deeper analysis is in order to dig beneath the surface here.

    My central point revolves around “SWOT” analysis: What are our Strengths, what are our Weaknesses, what Opportunities against specific opponents, and their relative Threats that we need to mitigate.

    So, big wins(ala in the Confed Cup) have been generally the result (IMHO) of these X factors, in no order of priority:
    1 – better than average possession and passing relative to our past performances against world powers utilizing time and space effectively. This includes passing successfully to the middle third or offensive third after winning possession or in keeping possession
    2 – full team pressure in all thirds of the pitch with good shape (again chosing to use space and time to our strenths) = winning the ball in all thirds for 90+ minutes (even though some of the final 45′s undid us – i.e. Brazil and almost Spain)
    3 – excellent counter attacks and opportunistic hustle/right-place-right time goals, utilizing, to some degree each, tenacity, pace, stealth, and clinical finishing (see use of time and space again!). With Deuce and Charlie Davies on the mend and hopeful to return, and Landon getting more expose with Everton against top English sides (City, Arsenal, Chelsea, etc) our tenacity and stealth may be fleeting?
    4 – excellent individual performances supported by a balanced excellent team performance ( the indomitable spirit of tenacity – perhaps one I would like to think is still a quality USMNT and country can still )

    So, can a “style” help us in the short, medium or long term? Perhaps in the long term. Definitely in all cases I feel that strategy, tactics, and execution are paramount.

    I now step off the bully pulpit.
    KMac

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:36 AM

      “full team pressure in all thirds of the pitch with good shape”

      When you were 2-0 up against Brazil, you needed to shut up shop. But they picked you off in the second half and if it wasn’t for the brilliant performance from Howard it would have been more than 3. My point is that you needed to be professional and close out the game.

      Look at Arsenal v Chelsea last weekend – for all of Arsenal’s possession and neat passing, they only got behind Chelsea once (Cech saved from Arshavin with his feet). It wasn’t necessarily a pretty performance from Chelsea, but it was efficient and effective, and they did what they needed to do to win. Chelsea kept their shape and discipline and let Arsenal do their nice little triangles in front of them in the middle third. Chelsea won 2-0.

      And tournament football is all about getting through to the next round.

      Reply

      • Yes, but my point is that no matter how crap Arsenal played by your reckoning, you would still say that the least of their players is better than the best of ours. Wouldn’t you? And that is my point. Teams and players from Europe aren’t crucified on the basis of their first failure. I think American players and clubs are. Would you at least agree that this double standard exists?

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 3:03 PM

          Now we’re getting to the crux of why you think I’m a Euro Snob! I do not think that ABC is better because they’re Brazilian.

          For the record, I have questioned years ago, when a Brazilian player played a 15 metre square ball with the outside of his foot and gets applauded, why that’s better that a ‘normal’ pass? The result was the same, except one had a little curve on it…

          I think 2 US players (on current form) could get in the Arsenal first XI.

          You weren’t crucified, as you ‘over achieved’ by many peoples’ reckoning, especially after you lost the first two group games. The issue is that you’re 2-0 uo at half time in the final and folded / let Brazil settle and play their game. Any team will get slaughtered if you let Brazil play as they have too many players who can hurt you offensively.

          Reply

  13. Posted by Mark T on 2010/02/10 at 11:12 PM

    Wow…this is among my favorite posts in the history of our site…more so for the comments than Matthew’s work. (I kid, Matthew)

    I seem to be in the minority here, but I am in favor of developing a US-style predicated on physical play, superior fitness and a frenetic pace (as needed). With the limited time the team is actually together, the diversity of talent / skill in the player pool and propensity for injury, it makes it challenging to play mix-and-match style for the long-term. In addition, without a defined style and consistent roles you need superior coaching to make it all work.

    No two players are the same, but couldn’t a defined style lead to less confusion in the midfield depending on who is playing. For example, when Deuce and Donovan play on the wings they always drift to the middle, but when Rogers and Holden are in the tend to stay out wide. Similarly in center of the field, Bradley plays pretty much wherever he feels like and Rico, Feilhaber and Torres each play differently when paired with him.

    To be clear, I am not suggesting that the style has to be strictly employed at all times, but more consistent definition of strategy and roles could benefit the program.

    As for American athletes playing soccer, I have have resigned myself a long time ago that most of the best athletes will go for the big-time (read: big money) sports of NBA, MLB and NFL. Should MLS ever achieve financial parity with those leagues then athletes will make different choices. Until then, no chance.

    The other issue is that American kids tend to play multiple sports at least through high school while in many other countries there is soccer / football and not much else (although basketball is making in-roads.) A number of kids play soccer year-round, but a high percentage do not.

    (By the way, this has to be the first online comment section on a soccer publication that has a SWOT analysis of USMNT…rock on all you strategic thinkers!)

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 6:11 AM

      I played football and rugby union in the winter, and cricket and track & field in the summer. And I was pretty good at all of them, but football was / is always my first passion.

      Reply

    • That brings up an interesting point, the difference between tactics and style. I may be splitting hairs here, but tactics are a more concrete, day to day approach to the game while a style is a larger concept encompassing theories of development, favorable or desirable qualities in a player, and general approach to the game (attacking/defending/direct/indirect).

      Mark, I think we actually agree – A good team needs solid tactics that are reinforced, practiced, and adhered to. Within the scope of a WC cycle, you want consistent tactics, defined roles. Maybe a few tweaks based on slotting in new talent. It’s one of the reasons why I think hating on Bradley at this point is just silly. But when your tactics are overly influenced by your style, it think that is a negative, because you are forced to do things tactically that you don’t have the player base to pull off effectively.

      Our national style should be as flexible as possible, because it will give a coach for any given WC cycle the ability to choose the best national tactics for that cycle.

      I know it’s a minor distinction, but it IS a distinction. And at least I think its important to point out. My note was more about the long view – I’m sure you’ll find I have drastically different opinions on the short term, which is why unlike a lot of people, I’m fairly anti-jones-torres-castillo. I think those players, while GREAT for the US future and US soccer in general, are not proper players for this cycle.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/11 at 2:53 PM

        I agree. Style is the “platform” you have. Tactics will vary game to game depending on the opponent (horses for courses, cutting your cloth accordingly – cannot think of anymore silly cliches). It is the tactics that are tweaked, which could be little adjustments like playing a little narrower, or making sure the gap between the back four and midfield is 8 meters when you don’t have the ball etc…

        Reply

  14. Posted by TMuck on 2010/02/11 at 3:13 PM

    Looks like there’s mainly two topics, style and athletes implementing that style.

    First style, I agree with Mark. I believe the US needs a particular style of play. That style can be a hybrid between several different styles of play, but it needs to be there. As players grow and learn the game of soccer they are taught a particular style play and these styles become their insticts on the field. Speed of play and therefore speed of decision making is a huge key to success in soccer. By playing a system where say the wings stay outwide instinctually you know you have a midfielder out there. You can just look out there real quick spot him and then play the ball. You’re not thinking of where you’re going to play the ball then you’re thinking of the next play before you’ve even got the ball. As opposed to certain players having certain tendency just because they were taught a different style, you’re searching for someone to play the ball to, as opposed to thinking one play ahead which slows down the game. When you have a style and everyone on the team is used to that style changing and replacing parts becomes much easier, and you’re entire strategy doesn’t change everytime someone gets injured, or year after year when guys get too old.

    Second athletes, I don’t think any other country has as much of a demand on athletes as the US does. There are 6 major sports that are competeing for athletes in the US: NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, MLB, and Golf. You could maybe drop golf and the NHL from those lists cause those sports aren’t super heavey on US athletes. Where the battle is won and lost for soccer is in between the ages of 8 and 14. Where parents or kids really get serious in their sports and have to decide between the 5 or 6 they’re already playing, and the parents decide there’s only so much money and them to go around between each sport. LeBron wasn’t going to switch to soccer his senior year of high school.

    I think as we go we’re going to see more Altidore’s and Donavan’s come along. Keep in mind USMNT only really put themselves on the map with ’94 World Cup. That’s when the US really started to wake up about soccer. I was 9 years old then, I’ve been playing my whole life at this point, and I love the sport, and I know many more people my age that can say that than my father’s generation. (Disclaimer: This may not hold true for the rest of the country, I’m talking from a Western PA point of view, which is a football hotbed) But as my diehard generation has kids and they see the passion my generation has for soccer it’ll hold more for them, and in 10 years the LeBron’s and the Chad’s may drop basketball or football in favor of soccer.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Rich on 2010/02/11 at 8:41 PM

    I am a day late and a dollar short, but wanted to note the following. I think the US already has a style of play and has one that reflects the culture of the US. If I were to characterize the play of the US National Team, I would say the team is industrious and result orientated. I would like to see the US add creative (and i believe that is coming), but those traits suit me fine. I think the first trait is one all teams want and most would claim, so I won’t make too much of it. The second trait, that of being result orientated is more uniquely American in the footballing world, although I would probably argue the same for Italy, Germany, and maybe England. At a club level, I would make an argument that Manchester United and Chelsea are particularly result-orientated clubs. I don’t think the American fans nor players care how the team wins as long as they win. This is contrasted by Brazil (admittedly technically much better) and by Arsenal. Arsene Wenger follows every loss by whining about how his team played better, more beautiful football. I hold that it would be unacceptable here both to the fan-base and to the players for him to do so. I believe this trait which maintains any-which-way-as-long-as-we-win is a great strength for the US. It is also part of the disconnect between US fans and the rest of the world. US fans cite wins as a sign of progress and ability–example: the Confed Cup. The rest of the world looks at the way we win and doesn’t see the same thing because they don’t value the same things. Fin. End one man’s opinion.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/12 at 10:36 AM

      Hilarious:

      “Coach David Moyes undertook the massive task of overhauling all of Donovan’s bad MLS habits and molding him into a player fit for the Premier League. The arduous process took all of a week”

      Reply

  16. [...] Our 3rd guest is Boston soccer man Patrick, a frequent column contributor who always keeps us in the know. Thanks Patrick. He also helped pen one of our most popular pieces: “What is American Brand Soccer?“ [...]

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  17. [...] by matthewsf in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment A few weeks ago the TSG community nearly ran away with this column we were already writing.  Shame on you. [...]

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  18. [...] • What Is American Brand Soccer, by Patrick Kilgore [...]

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