Soccer has come a long way even in just the past decade since the horrific 2006 World Cup. Major League Soccer is growing and expanding; more and more Americans are playing abroad in increasing numbers. The fans are here too. We are loud, noisy, and come in great numbers. Our facilities continue to get better and better. Fields are increasingly being built in greater and greater quality as well. In almost every sense, it looks like the United States should be becoming a real power on the national level, so why not? Why are we still looking to Costa Rica and Mexico as the best teams in CONCACAF? Why do we keep falling short?
I met someone last year who came to my university to play soccer. He’s from Gabon, and he has lots of cool stories of training with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He ended up not playing for my university because he got upset talking with the coach and seeing the tactics of how the game works over here. He told me:
This mentality is what stops Americans. Football isn’t rigid. You can’t have just certain plays. For the coach here you have to play his exact way or not play at all. This isn’t football. Football is like art. It’s free-flowing, it’s making decisions in the moment. You have to be creative to play football, and over here it is not creative at all.
He continued his rant for a while, but you get the picture. Americans are so used to having set plays like in American Football, and this mentality is spread throughout American soccer youth. Americans struggle to think differently, and you have to be more creative with soccer.
He also talked about another mentality that most Americans have that is different in soccer. He said:
All you Americans think you have to win every time, even when you are worse. Sometimes in soccer, you have to play for the draw, and that’s okay. You can end up harming yourself more if you play so bull-headed every game. You have to be able to adapt and change according to the circumstances, and you Americans struggle to do that.
I thought about this for a while, and I continue to see how right he is.
There is the famous speech from General Patton with the lines, “Americans love a winner and can’t tolerate a loser.” There’s also the famous press conference from American Football coach Herm Edwards where he goes off at reporters and says emphatically, “You play to win the game!” Being so bullish with our teams can backfire, and maybe it has with our national team at certain points. We go all out, and the smarter, craftier teams like Mexico and Costa Rica continue to expose us. Sure, this mentality works in sports like American Football, Basketball, or Baseball, but that doesn’t mean we can carry that mentality over to soccer.
This mentality has also probably kept athletes from the sport as well. People like NFL player Odell Beckham Jr., talk about how they could’ve been soccer players. Americans want to win, though, so they find it hard to support a team that under-performs a lot of the time.
This qualifying campaign for the United States could be damaging to the development of soccer in this nation. The last-minute loss to rivals Mexico and a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica doesn’t look good. These mentalities carry over into our coaches. Our youth coaches implement these mentalities into our kids that can’t be used in soccer.
I had a coach from Nigeria for my high school, and we were talking to him about the differences between America and the rest of the world. He said the main thing that the United States is lacking is good coaching for our players. He said we have the talent, but our coaches are sub-par compared to coaches over in Europe. That’s why we brought in Jurgen Klinsmann, because he had a mentality that was supposed to influence our players for the better. It seems, though, that our players have only influenced him instead. We need a restructuring, and maybe that means we don’t have another American coach just yet for our national team. We need a mentality change, and for us stubborn, driven Americans that might be difficult, but it might also keep us from reaching that next level on the national stage. The national team needs to make a big statement to attract even the most skeptical of viewers in the States.