Mac Engel

Soccer's other problem aside from being a 'rich white kid sport'

Globe Life Park will host its first ever professional soccer match when the International Champions Cup tournament comes to the United States this summer. Chivas de Guadalajara will play Atletico de Madrid at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 23.
Globe Life Park will host its first ever professional soccer match when the International Champions Cup tournament comes to the United States this summer. Chivas de Guadalajara will play Atletico de Madrid at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 23. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The fundamental reason the United States did not qualify for this latest edition of the World Cup isn't one of expense, although that's a pathetically large factor, but rather one of spontaneity.

We, as a nation, don't play the sport for fun. As a nation, we play soccer as an organized activity that is thought more than it's felt and breathed.

Recently former U.S. women's national team goalie Hope Solo said the biggest problem with the state of the sport here is that it's a "rich white kid sport."

She's not wrong. Only America can make the least expensive sport in the world expensive.

The larger issue is that, globally, soccer is a sport that is played for fun, and without thought. Much in the same way we may play a few "downs" of football for fun virtually anywhere, or run a game of pickup basketball with as few as two people, we don't do that with soccer.

Not yet. Maybe not ever.

Until U.S. children play soccer in their own backyards, driveways, parking lots and learn to feel the game first before taking to coaching and strategy, the U.S. will rank well behind places such as Uruguay and other smaller countries.

In the U.S., there is always a coach around ... usually because it's their job. Seldom to never are kids just playing, and learning it on their own.

The United States boasts a population of 325 million, has a viable professional soccer league and extensive, expensive training all over the place. There is no reason why the United States, mathematically, does not rank among the Top 10 in the world in this sport. Or any sport it wants.

More people live in the city of Los Angeles than the nation of Uruguay. Uruguay advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup while the U.S. did not even qualify.

More people live in the greater L.A. region than Iceland, Croatia or Costa Rica, all of which had national teams that qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The argument is our version of LeBron James is playing basketball or football first, and not soccer, whereas in these other nations their LeBron is playing soccer.

Math alone says even if our best athletes don't necessarily all migrate to soccer, we still should have enough talented players to top any of these smaller nations. And we don't.

We don't because the kids in those nations grasp, feel, and know the game in the same way we do basketball. Despite the rise in European and South American basketball talent over the last 20 years, American-born players remain superior.

They are superior because the game is ingrained all over our culture.

How do you make kids want to grab a soccer ball and run out and play it the way they may basketball? Kids normally follow the monkey see, monkey do routine.

If they see it on TV, especially the U.S., they are more inclined to want to run out and immediately play.

This part of the evolution of a sport takes decades and decades; when it comes to soccer the U.S. is a little more than 20 years into this process. Evaluate soccer in the U.S. from its modern-day beginning: Hosting the 1994 World Cup.

That's when soccer began in the U.S., and since that time there has been virtually nothing but progress, growth and expansion with a quality national team. We send players overseas to the most established leagues in the world and have a viable pro league right here in the MLS.

According to a friend who works for the U.S. men's national program, the teen programs are all competing and defeating the world's best programs at that level. He figures that should translate, he hopes, to the bigger international tournaments in four years.

What the sport has not seen, however, is an evolution to the point where kids all over play it spontaneously so they instinctively feel, and know, the game.

By now we should expect the men's national team to qualify for every World Cup. Until we as a nation play the sport just for fun rather than as a part of intense instruction, we should never expect to win it.

Mexican National Soccer Team Coach Juan Carlos Osorio discuses developments of the US men’s national team as it relates to his program in preparation for the 2018 World Cup.

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