On Monday, I wrote this column suggested that the United States’ failures in World Cup competition stem, at least in part, from the fact we as a sporting public don’t care enough about soccer to put pressure on our international teams to be great.
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins shares that view and goes a step beyond, insisting that our youth soccer programs have failed to produce top players. Jenkins says part of the problem is that soccer leagues are looking for talent in the wrong places — cushy suburbs instead of gritty inner-city neighborhoods:
As (U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil) Gulati noted to the Wall Street Journal before the World Cup began, American soccer “is very much a pay-to-play sport.” Gulati suggests that his federation may need to do some “outreach” in poorer communities. He can start by taking a truckload of balls into New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and San Antonio, and informing the kids at the local Boys and Girls Clubs that Messi makes about $35 million a year.
When have you ever seen a bunch of American kids kicking a soccer ball around on their own, unsupervised, across a patch of asphalt or in an empty lot? Answer: never. The day that America wins a World Cup is the day that the game is played with real urgency, as a vital imperative ambition, not just a way to display our sophistication.
This is an emotional, hot-button issue to be sure. I heard from a women’s soccer coach who was angry about my column and said most U.S. sports fans don’t engage with soccer because we have to share the sport with the rest of the world.
I am intrigued by the idea, though, that youth soccer programs, which have become ubiquitous in the past couple of decades, aren’t developing high-level players in the same way that Little Leagues are sending elite players on to the major leagues or that youth basketball and hockey programs are preparing players for the NBA and NHL.