A SOCCER NATION ON THE FENCE
Enjoy it while it lasts…
Only a few more weeks, possibly even a matter of days, before the feel-good euphoria of the World Cup and the US' performance (positive indeed!) are swept from our collective memory.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this. Soccer people the world over will shift from global soccer's greatest spectacle, to domestic leagues, Champions League, Copa Libertadores, FIFA Club World Cup – whatever.
For Americans, this often means one of two things (with varying degrees of overlap):
1)Focus on your local MLS, WPS, USL, NCAA, or ..hell, who am I kidding, you only care about Beckham, Donovan, Henry, and Ljungberg!
2)Focus on the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A, France's Ligue 1, the Scottish
Premier League, or ..heaven forbid, the Mexican Primera, because that's where you find the "best" soccer and hairstyles.
We'll cordon ourselves off in our own little soccer bubbles until Sunil Gulati and US Soccer tell us who will lead the US to Brazil 2014.
Then, two worlds ignoring each other in relative peace, will explode across the soccer forums and publications of America.
"The US needs an experienced [insert nationality (usually Dutch)] coach!"
Stop me if you've heard this before…
"The whole structure of US Soccer is wrong. The best players are priced out at an early age!"
"We should be more like Brazil!"
"We should be more like Germany!"
"We should be more like the Dutch!"
No, really, stop me!
"The US will never be good at soccer because our dependence on organization and athleticism stifle creativity and cunning!"
"Americans will never embrace soccer, because Americans hate whiners and cheaters. At least in MLS they can take a hit!"
"The US beat Spain in the Confederations Cup. Spain won the World Cup. Ipso facto, we are the best team in the world."
"We need to develop technical skills to hang with the big boys."
"If soccer is going to be the number one sport in America, it really needs to target urban minorities, like basketball."
The inevitable conclusion of these sentiments is confusion.
We are a soccer nation of contradiction. We are a soccer nation on the fence. We are a soccer nation with a thousand captains and a thousand directions, but only one ship.
When will we stop screaming for a "respected" foreign coach to lead our soccer nation and become respected coaches that lead our communities?
When will we summon the gumption to get up from our flat screens with surround sound and join a local league or pick-up in the park?
When will we stop grumbling to ourselves or in internet forums about poor media coverage and write letters, make phone calls, and start our own publications!
Initiative, innovation, personal responsibility – these are ideals that Americans have found instructive and self-assuring since "No Taxation Without Representation."
Nike's "Don't Tread On Me" ad campaign is indeed an ad campaign, but it has successfully woven itself into the stadium culture of US Soccer because it harkens to these core principles that continue to inspire Americans (and indeed the globe).
Since post-industrial societies emerged the siren calls of specialization and compartmentalization have led us further and further down a path where personal responsibility and esprit de corps no longer speak their common language.
No, this isn't covert manipulation funded by the "Tea Party" movement (soccer is a communist sport anyway!). It's a sincere call to action, from a sincere American, sincerely concerned about the future of the American game and "American exceptionalism" that has gone astray.
Somewhere between the "Euro-snobs" and the "old school" jingoist, there is a place for soccer in America. Finding this balance is our most relevant struggle.
It absolutely matters whether Gulati brings Bob Bradley back for another four years. It absolutely matters if the next national team coach is Jürgen Klinsmann or Otto Rehhagel or Sven-Göran Eriksson or…Marcelo Bielsa.
Whoever the "man in-charge" is will undoubtedly shape the immediate prospects of American soccer development and success in World Cup 2014, 2018, and 2022. However, the FUTURE of American soccer lies elsewhere…
In our willingness to patiently and enthusiastically explain the rules and technicalities of the game to the casual fan who will add his voice and his wallet to the American cause (whether it be professional or national team)…
In our willingness to leave our TIVO dormant at least one night a week and take a ball to the park, court, or field to juggle and invite the curiosity and imagination of children to come alive in the game…
In our willingness to accept the challenge of coaching and coaching education in order to raise the overall level of play in the American game, despite the fact that there are few overt immediate rewards…
More so than anything, the future of American soccer lies in our willingness to take ownership of this game and this country and develop our own models and mentalities. We have worn the badge of the "melting pot" for nearly a century, but neglected the difficult work of trial and error to arrive at the steady position atop the fence where the grass is greenest on both sides.
Go ahead, write me off as just another voice in the cacophony of rhetoric.
But for me the discussion does not end or begin here.
This medium is just one tool used in the foundry of a proactive mold, in addition to the pick-up soccer that will be played at Underhill and Cedar Rose Park and the U-9 coaching that will take place off Sacramento Street, and the 7v7 league play off Gilman Street, and… and…