Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sucking At Soccer

I'd like to ask this simple question about the United States national men's soccer team . . .
Why do we have one?  
The American men's soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the second time in a row.  This also comes after a so-so performance at the World Cup, a lackluster showing at the Copa America earlier this year, and the resignation of yet another head coach.  The only way any of them will see Rio is if they're dating any of the players on our women's soccer team.  And if they are, maybe their girlfriends will let them walk on the turf at the stadium and kick a ball or two . . . just to know how it feels.  As much as I detest the infantine doggerel "girls rule, boys drool," I have to concede that, in the case of soccer in America, it's dead accurate. 
Is it time to admit we Americans just can't cultivate male soccer players at the same caliber as our women?  Probably.  The men's team keeps re-calibrating itself and its players are convinced they're finally on the way up, only to stumble again.  It's like Lucy Van Pelt holding the football.  Perhaps they should be glad that soccer balls don't have to be held in place to be kicked.   
Some soccer fans are already saying that an Olympic berth doesn't matter.  Olympic soccer, these folks say, isn't as prestigious as the World Cup or even the regional championships and tournaments.  But some veteran soccer players, like Brian McBride and Stuart Holden, are having none of that.  The lack of opportunities for play in tournaments like the Olympic Games, they say, denies players the necessary experience to grow as athletes.
A few observers have wondered if the right fellows in These States are getting involved in the game.  In the U.S., these observers explain, soccer is mostly seen as a middle-class sport, and our soccer heritage is pretty much one that sees the game as a quaint diversion for suburban families . . . and thus we get middle-class male players that aren't motivated enough.  In other countries, meanwhile, soccer is a scrappier, more proletarian pursuit that produces hungrier players with more of an edge.  Maybe, these wags say, we should recruit more male soccer players from the inner cities and the working-class industrial towns.  This theory, of course, doesn't explain how the girls are better here if they come from the same experience of being driven to games in minivans and playing on the same lush green suburban fields as the boys.
Whatever.  All I know is that our gals have been underpaid, and our guys have been playing at minimum-wage caliber.  If we downsized men's soccer, we'd be able to pay the women fabulous bonuses. And they deserve them.  Our women's team won the gold medal in the first Olympic women's soccer tournament in 1996 and has won every Olympic championship from 2004 on, and they're likely to be on top of the world when they leave Rio de Janeiro, just like they were when they left Atlanta, Athens, Beijing, and London.  The men's team, meanwhile, look like they just entered Nazareth.
They look about half past dead.           

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