Messi messing with Team USA

Messi magic against Team USA

Last night’s 4–0 drubbing of USA by Argentina in the semi-finals of Copa America in Houston once again underscored in bold typeface how far U.S. Soccer has to go to be on par with the world’s best. It was literally no match. Not just four goals to nil, but 10 shots on goal to 0, four corner kicks to one, and 67% time of possession to 33%. You can’t get a much more dominant scorecard than that.  For most of the contest it looked like the college All-Stars versus the Super Bowl champs.

Still, the game was hugely hyped, and that is the one positive to take away.  But when Los Gauchos scored on a simple give-and-go in the third minute, well, the balloon pretty much popped right there. Then when the glorious Lionel Messi showcased his other-worldly talent in the 32nd minute by bending the ball like a light wave into the top right corner of the goal off a 28-meter penalty kick, lasering it mere centimeters out of the reach of the USA keeper, the deal was sealed.

Boys play football in Khulungira, Malawi

Boys play football in Khulungira, Malawi

Here’s the thing. You go anywhere in the developing world and you’ll see kids kicking around make shift soccer balls, even if that constitutes a wad of paper scrunched together and held in the round by tape. Just like kids in the U.S. used to hold old beat up baseballs together with tape just so they could keep playing.

American high school sports these days are mostly pay-to-play, and the expense of games like football and baseball are prohibitive. But soccer only requires a single ball in an open field or street, which makes it accessible to the vast majority of the world’s population.

But in America soccer is more a rich kids’ game with travel squads and the potential for college scholarships. And in the halls of the nations’ high schools it’s still football and basketball players who get dates with the prom queen not soccer players or track stars. In fact you don’t see much news about high school soccer at all, just AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization).

Certain sports are bootstrap sports, boxing, athletics, and soccer fall into that category. But individual sports develop talents quite differently in different parts of the world. Generations of players growing up with soccer develop foot-to-eye coordination while American games are primarily of the hand-to-eye variety.

Another thing, as I watched King LeBron James lead his Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title this past week I wondered: are America’s best sprinters, jumpers, throwers and vaulters really in the sport of track and field? Or are they scattered around in America’s pro sports teams? Same for soccer.  Can you imagine if guys like Kyrie Irving played soccer his whole life instead of basketball? Continue reading