SCIENCE FICTION
RECAPS
EXTRA TIME
EDGAR ZUNIGA - Monday, July 9, 2012
Ask any US Soccer fan if they think the men will win a World Cup in their lifetime and they will usually respond with a 40-yard stare in deep thought before a sheepish grin and, 'I hope so.'

In their recent Debate Issue, ESPN The Magazine had Stefan Szymanski, co-author of Soccernomics, answer the question, marking 2042 as the year the Red, White and Blue will shock the world.

Although that is actually only 30 years away, it is nearly halfway through the 21st century, when we will finally have cities on the Moon and colonies on Mars. Who knows? Maybe the Moon might even field a squad for the World Cup qualifiers.

That reminds me of when I was an idealist kid growing up in the '80s, raised on "Robotech" and "Transformers" and daydreaming of the distant year 2000 like it was some magical era when we would have flying cars and field trips to the Moon would be a common thing.

Of course, when the 2000s actually came around, the best we could do were aging, ill-fated space shuttles.

And forget the flying cars. For a while, just flying in airplanes became a frightening experience.

Although the advent of the Internet brought the world closer together (for some, too close for comfort) and we have gorged on amazing technological advances for our entertainment, we are nowhere near the space-age civilization envisioned by futurists and hopefuls throughout the mid-1900s.

In the case of US Soccer, the rise of talent and interest during the '90s and 2000s has many people entertaining dreams and hopes of World Cup glory in some not-so-distant future.

Szymanski backs up his claim with statistics that track the annual winning percentage of the US team and compares it to that of past World Cup winners entering the tournament. According to him, eventually, the US will rise to this magical percentage and be crowned World Champions.

If the national team maintains its current rate of growth, the stats paint a pretty picture for the future.

However, what Szymanski overlooked is that the competition within CONCACAF, when compared to that found in Europe and South America, is nowhere near at the same level-now or ever.

Mexico might be able to put up a fight against heavyweights from these other regions, and the US will steal a victory here and there, but what about the rest of the region?

What...is CONCACAF going to suddenly grow into some superpower where Nicaragua will battle with Surinam, Mexico and the US for spots in the World Cup? Is the CONCACAF Champions League going to eventually make everyone forget about that lackluster Euro sham?

Real Madrid vs. Juventus?

Bah! Give me Chivas USA vs. Defence Force!

Copa America?

Pfft! World Champions are made in the Gold Cup!

While I do allow myself to indulge a bit in Szymanski's optimism and would love to see his prediction become a reality, for the US to eventually reach the status of perennial World Cup contender, our region would have to undergo a similarly impressive growth spurt.

Unfortunately, the CONCACAF Champions League is but a small blip on the global radar, while the Gold Cup remains The US and Mexico Show (with that cameo from Canada in 2000).

To their credit, Mexico has enjoyed an impressive resurgence the last few years but the US seems to be stuck in neutral and it remains that we were closer to winning a World Cup in 1930 than we are now.

After Mexico and the US, you have shaky Honduras (still celebrating that they even showed up to the World Cup) and conflicted Costa Rica, who cringe at any mention of Jonathan Bornstein.

Our neighbors from the north are no closer to winning a FIFA World Cup than Brazil is to winning an Ice Hockey World Championship.

Then, there is the rest of the region, which is in constant flux and lacks any stability.

Astonishingly, however, it never fails that the US has a difficult time during qualification.

Not on paper, nor on the field, does beating Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 at home look impressive. That was a team composed almost entirely of members of Antigua Barracuda FC, which currently plays in the USL Professional Division-the third tier of err...American (?) soccer.

While Mexico had a similar result at home against Guyana, they made it clear, before, during and after, that they were on cruise control for that game.

The US rarely enjoys such a luxury and there is no way that Jurgen Klinsmann would allow the team to enter a World Cup qualifier in such a relaxed fashion. Everyone expected more of the US and rightfully so.

For the US, however, this is the nature of things in CONCACAF, especially on the road, which has historically been treated as a drive through a bad neighborhood in Detroit in the middle of the night. Roll up the windows and pray that you avoid all the red lights.

Despite any advantages in skill and athleticism the US might possess, any road trip south of the border is more of a struggle than it should be, as exemplified by that agonizing game in Guatemala, where the US was lucky to escape with a draw.

There is something to be said about home field advantage in CONCACAF and how US players react when playing on foreign soil.

They go from their comfortable homes and lives in First World nations to playing in balmy, loud stadiums located practically in jungles, but you would swear they just got airdropped into a savage wilderness with only a dull butter knife to protect themselves.

The rest of CONCACAF knows this and fans do everything possible to feed that anxiety.

If the US is to conquer the world, they must begin by vanquishing their own demons.

Until the US can go down to Costa Rica and win with attitude, take care of business in El Salvador, build upon their success in Honduras, avoid pitfalls in Panama and provide Mexico with a serious threat in Azteca, there is no way the US can take the next step in the evolution of a World Cup contender, when they can stare down traditional world powers.

Who knows? Maybe they will finally beat Ghana.

Without question, the United States possesses the infrastructure, population and resources to build a soccer superpower in decades to come-maybe sooner than later. But - where is my flying car? I would have loved to vacation on the Moon this summer.

Alas, those hopes and dreams of previous generations turned out to be scribbled on the shores of the cosmic ocean and eroded by waves of human conflict.

A World Cup in 2042 sure would be nice, but for the US to rise to the summit, CONCACAF will have to rise as well. But is that really going to happen?

I hope so.
Red
Thursday August 2, 2012 2:44 pm
I just have a really good feeling that if I live a full life(and I am in my 20's) the USA(mens team) will have without a doubt won at least one FIFA World Cup.
UASKD4iT
Wednesday July 25, 2012 8:01 am
Stefan when 2014 comes around get ready to eat ur words, literally get that magazine and chew on it.
Howard
Lichaj, cameron, ream, johnson
gatt, bradley, shea
Donovan, boyd, dempsey
Look out world ur rein is at an end.
B-E
Tuesday July 17, 2012 9:15 am
Kobe did grow up playing soccer. He lived in Italy where his dad was a professional basketball player. He obviously was a lot better at playing basketball. Jay Heaps was good enough to play basketball at Duke - didn't make him a great soccer player.
Athleticism and size are important, look at the German National side. But the two best German players, Ozil & Bastien Schweinstager are its least athletic members.

Jason, to play tactically the same as the USMNT you must play in Europe rather than MLS.

Where will the future US players come from? The same places they come from now. What will have changed is American society. Little boys learn football, basketball and, especially, baseball from their fathers. In an increasingly matriarchal society, boys will learn the game and receive support in doing so from their mothers. A lot of moms can knock the ball around one touch, not so much for hitting fungos & grounders. The millions of ten & twelve year old girls who cheered on Mia Hamm in '99 are entering their child bearing years. Their children will fuel the USMNT in 25 to 30 years - right in line with the prediction.
Desi
Wednesday July 11, 2012 6:19 pm
TGA. What the heck does that even mean?
TGA
Wednesday July 11, 2012 1:07 pm
here is a good exercise for YA. Imagine that soccer was the premier sport in the USA. Now survey current superstars in NFL, NBA and MLB and put together a USMNT from that talent pool. I bet the first 11 would not include any current USMNT starters.
JasonFromMontereyCA
Wednesday July 11, 2012 1:05 am
Look at our domestic league; Major League Soccer. There is seemingly no incentive for yanks to not go abroad and stay in MLS where they would take a large pay cut (on average) compared to leagues abroad. If our large prospects could stay here in the MLS and play together and within the same basic tactical philosophy as the national team, then we would be way better off. Look at Spain...those guys are comprised of mostly two teams in the same league that have a consistent tactical philosophy between their club teams and their nat squat. But hey, I played football, what do I know.
Ohana
Tuesday July 10, 2012 4:35 pm
I don't know what that stuff is in the last post. I don't want anyone to think I'm cussing.
Ohana
Tuesday July 10, 2012 4:25 pm
Dismissing the importance of athleticism in the game is absurd.
Dempsey vs. Drogba:
Who's the better player? Dempsey
Who's the better athlete? Drogba
Who was worth more money during the peak of their career? Drogba
Are you not seeing that Chelsea, Bayern, Barcelona, etc. globally search for players that have elite skills as well as elite athleticism? It's because that combination is rare. From a national team perspective, you can only “shop” within your own country and what the US has bought is clear and it’s mediocre. It’s time to start shopping at another store, so to speak. It’s not a “cop out” to go after the best youth athletes that may normally grow up and play other sports. If you take “whatever” kids that wander onto a soccer field you may find that you get a “whatever” performance from the national team in a few years.
Alex
Tuesday July 10, 2012 1:42 pm
I agree with Chastro that saying "If only Kobe, ARod, etc. played soccer..." is a cop out.

Most US sports require freakish physiques to play. There are millions of kids that aren't 6'0+ or weigh 250 pounds or don't the ability to hit a curve ball that are nonetheless excellent athletes who can excel in soccer.

Even if you take out ALL of the football, baseball and basketball players, the USA still has more potential soccer players than any major soccer power (except maybe Brazil)
Charlie G.
Tuesday July 10, 2012 9:29 am
Its almost impossible to get a sense of where top talent for the USMNT pool will emerge in the future - our soccer landscape seems fragmented and disorganized, but comparing what appears to be our trajectory with another country may be misleading. As far as the necessity of a strong domestic league is concerned, what about Uruguay, Croatia, Denmark and Greece ? Perhaps I'm a crazy optimist, but having been a fan of US soccer since 1970, I'm still amazed how the sport has emerged in the last few years - yes, the success of the USMNT at the top varies, but to me an essential base is being built, as messy as it seems (well not that Messi). Talent will emerge, but maybe not in the way we think, and maybe not as slow as we think when we look at the past.
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A big question for U.S. fans heading into the World Cup is surely on Jozy Altidore and just what is plaguing the young striker at Sunderland.
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