JACK ROZIER - Tuesday, September 28, 2010
When did it ever become so difficult to write, let alone think, about American soccer?
Well, probably on June 26, 2010.
On that day, our focus began to shift ever-so-gradually from the ephemeral "what could be" to the ever sobering "what is."
Yes, the World Cup hangover was on in full force and is only now ebbing in the slightest degree.
Europe and South America have turned their passions towards reloading for Brazil 2014 or re-charging for Euro 2012.
South Korean delusions aside, Asia was always struggling for relevance in 2010 - expectation be damned.
Perhaps Africa can feel our pain. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to argue that anyone of their representatives failed to fulfill their potential.
And so that leaves us in the begrudging company of Africa and Mexico wondering what to do next...
We should feel lucky that there are so many pertinent issues in our game to shift the collective focus from a mediocre 2010 to the promise of 2014.
But it just isn't panning out that way...
Bob Bradley's extension is widely and rightly viewed as a step sideways, rather than a step forward. Although many enthusiasts kick and scream about "sweeping reform" and a "fresh approach" I can't recall any new names being offered up.
The most probable reality is that the man US Soccer truly has in mind is under contract until 2012 (say...through the Euros?) and that Bradley's resignation two years hence won't be much of a surprise to his players.
Still, the friendlies in early October will be the first indication as to whether Bradley is keeping the seat warm or keen on seeing out the completion of his second term.
Even FIFA's imminent announcement of the sites for World Cup 2018 and 2022 is a mixed bag.
Consensus seems to be that Europe has the inside track on 2018. If Europe is awarded 2018, the US is the odds-on favorite for 2022.
With such a speckled history of success, hosting the World Cup in 2022 would be a watershed moment for soccer in the US.
Now that "Project 2010" is dead and dusted, no doubt I'm not the first to recognize the assonance of "Project 2022." Expectation for US success will border on delirium without the benefit of a generation of consistency we so desperately need.
While it is part of the American identity to seize extraordinary opportunity, we also boast a manifold history filled with blunder. I am not arguing that the hypothetical success or failure of the US in potentially hosting the World Cup in 2022 is the pinnacle or precipice of soccer in this country, but...
If that's not enough uncertainty for you, let's consider a more fundamental dilemma.
For nearly two decades, I have experienced the youth soccer movement in this country on and off the field.
Not unlike other facets of American society, choice is the lynchpin of progress in US soccer.
In the relatively short span of time from my youth to the kids I coach on a daily basis, the expansion of choice is remarkable.
Recreational, Developmental, Elite, ODP, High School, College, Professional (domestic), Professional (abroad), or none of the above.
This is an oversimplification of the basic choices facing contemporary players, parents, coaches, administrators, and referees that propel the game in this country.
Will clubs through affiliation with the US Soccer Development Academy become mini-Bradenton's around the country?
With MLS teams offering youth academy training, will local/regional clubs be absorbed into the professional realm?
Will high school and college soccer continue to forfeit relevance like their counterparts abroad?
With every permutation, there are a thousand more choices and a thousand more questions.
Of course, the power of choice is that through trial and error we eliminate inferior methods. Not to arrive at a static destination, but to innovate, to establish higher standards and more efficient methods of determining value.
It doesn't take an economist or a philosopher to acknowledge that the development of soccer in the US is the same as any other social movement, political persuasion, or pound shedding diet regimen.
For soccer to maximize its potential in the US it needs an active and informed populace that can gauge the worth of available options and demand higher standards. While I am more forgiving than most in considering the timeline for this experiment, the fact remains that right now, more can be done.
The US has enjoyed and still enjoys some of the highest figures for participation in the sport at the youth level, yet what can we say about the quality of that exposure to soccer?
There are still sprawling recreational soccer leagues with coaches that have never played the game. Is it beyond USSF's capacity, through their state bodies, to provide a basic framework for coaches and incentive for leagues to endorse and proliferate it?
There are former-player coaches that train their pre-teen teams as though they are seasoned professionals. Is it too much to ask that through official channels these coaches be made aware of age-appropriate methods?
As it stands, the trickle down of fundamental knowledge will continue to bypass another generation of would-be American soccer enthusiasts and further isolate the current crop in their respective soccer-spheres.
USSF should take a more active and central role in the consolidation and dissemination of dialogue and resources, particularly at the youth level. I'm not suggesting that USSF dictate or sanction, but that they embrace the responsibility of their position as the official governing body of the sport.
At the very least, a more visible USSF initiative would clear the haze and galvanize the US soccer-body. Perhaps divert a bit of the focus on television deals and PR for the senior national team toward elevating Claudio Reyna's US Soccer Youth Technical Director profile (and other retired internationals) as a tangible resource and ambassador for coaches and players nationwide.
Yet, "what is," "the very least," and "what can be" are different worlds, divided by our inaction. And although the devil's advocate in me might on a different day argue for the duality of worlds, the realist in me knows that every day in training (and in life) is a unique opportunity to achieve something special - to grow and encourage the growth of others.
Which world are you working for?