Editorial: Assessing the USMNT in an angry soccer culture

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Nacogdoches, Texas native Clint Dempsey trains in Houston, about 140 miles from his fireplace, in preparation for the USMNT's semifinal match in Copa America Centenario. Victor Araiza/Prost Amerika.

Nacogdoches, Texas native Clint Dempsey trains in Houston, about 140 miles from his fireplace, in preparation for the USMNT’s semifinal match in Copa America Centenario. Victor Araiza/Prost Amerika.

Editorial: Assessing the USMNT in an angry soccer culture

by Sean Maslin, Editor, Prost Amerika

It used to be rather easy to assess the United States Men’s National Team. Remember the heyday when the USMNT would go into a tournament, put in one good performance, one mediocre performance, and one terrible performance and there would be no hand wringing and no divide among supporters. No matter the performance there was always the little orphan Annie attitude of the sun coming out tomorrow.

Sadly those days are long gone. If they were still around one might look at their performance during this Copa America as being generally positive. But in this day and age USMNT soccer supporters seem angry.

It is an odd reaction given the results of the tournament. The United States beat the teams that they were supposed to, lost to an Argentina side that is one of the best in the world, and played Colombia to a very close 1-0 loss. There is nothing wrong to losing out to a Carlos Bacca strike and a brilliant David Ospina save.

But during a time when the expectation is that the United States should be beating both Argentina and Colombia sadly that is not enough.

Pundits will point to victories over those sides in 1996 and 1994 as examples that somehow magically transfer over (Never mind on the second result that victory was only achieved through an own goal and the players were receiving death threats prior to the match).

After having watched countless hours of soccer this past month and having followed the United States over the past twenty years, it does not really bother me that the squad is in the position that they are in.

Remember there was a time when indoor soccer ruled the land and the best chance to catch a National Team match was watching it on tape delay at 3 am. Despite Mr. Lalas’ assertions not everything from the 1990s was great. Things are pretty okay right now and considering the blackhole that soccer was in twenty years ago that is not a bad thing.

At this point you are probably wondering: wait, where is the hot take? Where is the bombastic comment that is meant to trigger page views and send comments through the roof? Where is the GIF with statistics copy and pasted from another source? Where is the fucking hashtag?

Sorry. No tech tricks. No hot takes. Just an honest assessment. The United States Men’s National Team is fine. Not good, not bad. Just fine.

Now for some that may seem like an insult. It is okay. For decades U.S. Soccer and most recently their media partner Fox (and the trumpet for all things hot take Alexi Lalas) have pumped out the idea that the boys in red, white, and blue were just thiiiis close to winning a World Cup. Sorry, we are not. And that is fine.

In regards to some of those big victories in statistics we like to call them outliers. If every team that was favored to win a match did so the game would be completely boring and uninteresting. That does not necessarily take away from those victories, it just gives proper context that generally speaking this type of result would not happen.

Oh and for the record let’s get rid of this ridiculous population theory that seems to make the rounds every so often. Let’s look at the ten most populous countries in the world.

TOP TEN COUNTRIES WITH THE HIGHEST POPULATION
# Country 2000
Population
2010
Population
2016
Population
2050
Expected Pop.

1

China

1,268,853,362

1,330,141,295

1,378,561,591

1,303,723,332

2

India

1,004,124,224

1,173,108,018

1,266,883,598

1,656,553,632

3

United States

282,338,631

310,232,863

323,995,528

439,010,253

4

Indonesia

213,829,469

242,968,342

258,316,051

313,020,847

5

Brazil

176,319,621

201,103,330

206,050,242

260,692,493

6

Pakistan

146,404,914

184,404,791

192,758,348

276,428,758

7

Nigeria

123,178,818

152,217,341

186,879,760

264,262,405

8

Bangladesh

130,406,594

156,118,464

162,855,651

233,587,279

9

Russia

146,709,971

139,390,205

146,358,055

109,187,353

10

Japan

126,729,223

126,804,433

126,464,583

93,673,826
TOP TEN Countries

3,618,894,827

4,016,489,082

4,249,123,407

4,950,140,178
Rest of the World

2,466,012,769

2,829,120,878

3,090,970,573

4,306,202,522

TOTAL World Population

6,084,907,596

6,845,609,960

7,340,093,980

9,256,342,700

Graph courtesy of InternetWorldStats.com

Now aside from Brazil and maybe Japan, Nigeria, or Russia can any of these countries be considered soccer powers? No. Having a large population doesn’t mean that there are going to be more soccer stars.

All of that being said the United States is not a minnow either. There are 211 members of FIFA. Not everyone is Argentina, France, Germany, or even England (completely kidding about that last one) but they are a perfect example of where delusion can lead you. The USA currently finds themselves in 31st place in the FIFA World Rankings. Although anything FIFA puts out should be scrutinized, if we are to take them at their word that puts the United States in the 86th percentile. Not great, not terrible but pretty good.

So how does the United States make that next big step from being a decent soccer country to a great soccer country? There seems to be plenty of theories. Firing Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati seems to be a popular opinion. As does playing just Major League Soccer players. There is also the notion that we need to burn the entire system down and re-build.  There are even those who say we should do nothing at all, that everything is fine.

Here is a novel idea: let’s stop with the hot takes. Rather than overthinking every match as if it is the end of the world let’s try and be a bit more constructive in our thoughts. Find the good, understand the bad, and come up with constructive analysis. Not everyone wants to be a journalist but remember your words are a reflection of yourself and coming across as a zealot never looks good.

Also, everyone calm down. Soccer is not life or death. Jurgen Klinsmann keeping his job or the United States losing to Argentina is not the end of days. Learn how to take a loss and grow from it.

There are also plenty of other things that individuals can do to help secure the future of U.S. Soccer. For starters, state and local organizations are always looking for new coaches, referees, and officials. U.S. Soccer will only succeed when those that are interested in it actually put the effort in it to make it better. Until then it is all bluster and frankly not productive.

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3 Comments

  1. Matthew Hoffman on

    Argentina are the #1 club in the world by ELO rankings. They’ve made it to the championship match in the 2014 World Cup and lost consecutive Copa Americas in pks. Their federation was in such disarray that FIFA had to step in. My point: talent hides a lot of defects.