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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.
Brianna
Tuesday July 10, 2012 4:04 am
I recall reading that until high school the most popular sport in America is soccer and when they hit high school they tend to start playing other sports like football, basketball, baseball, etc. Many kids just don't see the incentive to continue playing soccer, when they don't see a viable chance for them to get either a scholarship or a lucrative career playing pro.
xbhaskarx
Tuesday July 10, 2012 2:26 am
2042 huh? If we're throwing out random numbers, I'll go with 2026... in the United States.

But as important as it is to win the World Cup, the real step is to become a consistent top 10 team, one that regularly makes it to the quarterfinals. After that, it's a bit of a crapshoot, some country or the other has to win it, if things go our way it could be us.
chastro
Tuesday July 10, 2012 12:43 am
I'm so sick of that dumb comment jim.

Oh if Kobe played soccer instead of basketball...oh if Vick was a midfielder instead of football. Chicken crap.

Chad Johnson? we saw what that looked like

Ever seen Messi? He's short, somewhat pudgy. Maradona? Pirlo? Rooney? None of those guys are/were really "athletic" by US definitions. Soccer is a game of instinct, touch, stamina..not just raw athleticisim in who jumps the highest or runs the fastest.

So tired of that cop out
jim
Monday July 9, 2012 8:58 pm
Robotech was AWESOME! In other news, the US won't win it all until our top athletes choose to go pro in futbol instead of football.
JFORD
Monday July 9, 2012 6:42 pm
This guy is really pessimistic and does not seems to understand too much about football. If he had grown up in the midst of this like me, he would know that sport is not as logical as it seems. And I'm sure, at one time not so long, as he thinks, the Yanks will win the World Cup.
Cole Joseph
Monday July 9, 2012 6:06 pm
The main thing that I believe would help the US is to improve the domestic league. Get rid of the stupid Designated Player Rule. Better players come to the league for the money that way. Also clubs should develop their youth systems. Make it easier for them to grow from within.
Dave
Monday July 9, 2012 12:00 pm
The USNT assent towards the top tier of soccer powers will take time. The keys to further advancing the talent and strength of the USNT player pool
1) Better coaching at all age brackets
As a youth player in the 80's the majority of the coachs were parents with no experience in playing the game. Now most select teams are coached by ex-professionals or at the very least ex-college players, who know the game and can help the next generation excel.
2) Strong Professional League
MLS needs to be seen as a viable option as a career. That means that the salarys of players need to be attractive...minimum salaries of 100K. The reserve league needs to have a full docket of games (30-40 per year). With the size of the US we cannot stop at 20 teams....we need to keep growing the league to the point where there are 2 Divisions (East & West) with 15-20 teams each. Then have a playoff between the 2 divisions to crown the MLS Champions.
3) MLS needs to be strong enough to fully fund youth teams. Teams that the players don't have to pay for....and where they get better training and compitition.
When these 3 things happen the US will become more of a force on the world stage.
Ohana
Monday July 9, 2012 11:49 am
I think the lack of high-level competition in CONCACAF is secondary to a lacking youth development system. In my opinion, elite athletes learn and advance their skill level faster than non-elite athletes. The best athletes in the US play football and basketball. There are some "good" athletes that play soccer but largely the best youth athletes in the US are eventually guided toward those two sports. What if Derrick Rose, Adrian Peterson, or Robert Griffin III grew up playing soccer? It's a whole different story then. At this point, there is no way for the MLS to compete with the potential fame and fortune of pro football and bastketball. The marketing gimmicks of professional soccer haven't worked in regard to pulling the elite kids from football and basketball. The "potential" to be good is out there but.....
Alex
Monday July 9, 2012 11:48 am
I am optimistic. When I played youth soccer in the early 80's, it was only in the fall and the coach was almost always "the English guy". My dad (German) was once drafted to ref a game because he was German and the league figured he knew the rules. Now my kids play all year round and are being coached by people that played in HS, college, city leagues etc so I think that our starting point is going to be much improved and will continue to improve. I know that it is a long way to WC glory but the size of the avalache depends on the size of the snowball that started it and it is looking pretty good from the starting point.
Christian Gallus
Monday July 9, 2012 9:38 am
Because of my son (a U-9 player ) I have had the fortune to attend dozens of soccer tournaments ( many tournaments have team participation in the hundreds) on the East Coast and have seen thousands of boys play; The amount of talent I have seen at at the U-9,U-10 level is staggering( , absolutely incredible, the volume of talented boys is far greater than anything I have seen in Europe therefore we should win a world cup by 2026. Only thing holding us back is money; to create a great scouting system takes money; because of the lack of great clubs ( with money ) the only scouting in this country is done by college coaches; If we want a World Cup we have to turn our most talented players into professionals around the age of 18 ( with a good salary ); they cannot waste 4 years of their life playing college soccer (3 months a year) if their wish is to become soccer pros. ( In the rest of the world by the age of 22 all pro players are fully formed ) Christian Gallus Binghamton NY
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