Not to go on and on about it like the stupid announcers on American TV, but this passage from Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker piece (sadly not online), may explain why the American team did so poorly in the World Cup:
Every kid in the American suburbs, it seems, owns a pair of shin guards. Soccer accords nicely with baby-boomer parents’ notions about sports: every kid gets to play, no one stands out too much, there’s plenty of running and trophies for all. If [John Robert’s] children are typical, they will play neighborhood soccer for a few years, with enthusiastic but inexperienced parent coaches, and then wander away from the game by adolescence. Great high-school athletes tend to migrate to football and basketball, where they can play in front of big crowds and perhaps qualify for college scholarships. Soccer in the suburbs serves mostly as a bridge between Barney and Nintendo; it’s a pleasant diversion, not a means of developing brutes like Jan Koller, to say nothing of the magicians who stock the Brazilian team.
This dovetails nicely with what my friend David wrote during a discussion about the disappearance of the US from the World Cup:
Our best athletes go to basketball, football, and baseball, roughly in that order. Soccer gets the dregs, sadly. Don’t you think Terrell Owens would be a better striker than Landon Donovan? Even a 50-year-old Darrel Green might be faster than the fastest player on the US Soccer team, and so on.
We know these guys are smart players, and they may have the same instincts that even the Brazilians and Ecuadorians do. But they’re just not nearly as good. Watching Brazil decimate Japan yesterday, even briefly, it was obvious how much stronger they were than the US team.
Over IM just now, David and I were musing about Allen Iverson’s possible greatness as a soccer player; so creative, quick, and fearless. I bet if some the NBA’s best players grew up playing soccer the way they played basketball, the US would have a pretty great team.