The first post in a multi-part series on how American soccer can improve.
The firing of head coach Bob Bradley from Team USA can only mean there are good things to come American soccer.
The development of our national team and our professional league will happen eventually. Simply based on resources that build winning soccer, namely population and money, America can’t stay down for long. It’s not a question of if, but when.
What’s best for a country’s domestic league may not always be best for its national team, and vice versa. The success of one is not always interrelated with the other. Countries with very poor leagues have had success internationally, such as South Korea (2002 World Cup semifinalist), Russia and Turkey (both semifinalists in Euro 2008). Even Brazil‘s national league isn’t great. Conversely, the country with the best league, England, has had very little success in worldwide competition (last major win: 1966 World Cup).
The best way for Major League Soccer to get better is to have its players get experience with national teams, thereby improving the quality and reputation of the league, yet the best way for the national team to get better is to have its players play where the competition is greatest — anywhere but the MLS.
It’s good for American soccer to have American players playing in the American professional league. But that means country-wide feelings on the sport — TV ratings, youth involvement, general acceptance of game — not the U.S. national team.
We want our players playing in their leagues. It’s as simple as that. The competition is so much better. Is it good for soccer in this country — is it good for kids growing up on the game — to have Landon Donovan to be playing at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy? Of course. But would it be better for the national team if he played solely in one of the big three leagues (the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A), or even in Germany or France? You bet.
One of the most important features of a national team is the coach, the glue who brings it all together. If we want the best coach, where does it appear he needs to come from?
I liked Bob Bradley as coach of U.S. soccer, but the team would have more success with a foreigner. Bradley is from New Jersey and Bruce Arena before him was from New York. We need to broaden the scope. Western Europeans dominate soccer in all aspects, from players to coaching to tactics. Nowhere else in the world is not only quality soccer, but also ideas and ultimately, knowledge, so readily available across borders than in Western Europe. Not even Brazil can compare in that metric.
The best build off each other and become that much better that much quicker. Even small countries can learn quickly due to the excess of available information; take for example Greece, which won Euro 2004. In America, we only have ourselves to go up against, and we aren’t really that good.
Even the English, who continue to hold the belief they rule international soccer despite going winless in major tournaments in the last half-century, have swallowed their pride and hired an Italian manager for the national team in Fabio Capello. The big four clubs combine for a grand total of zero coaches who were born in England. Two at least are from the U.K., Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish (both from Glasgow, Scotland). The others come from abroad: Chelsea’s new head man André Villas-Boas is from Portugal and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is French. Even in a local example, the U.S. women’s team, best in the world, is coached by Pia Sundhage, a Swed.
I don’t know if I like the idea from a theoretical standpoint because I think a national team should have to have all of its coaches, trainers, et cetera from that country, but if it helps the USA and it’s within the rules, there’s no reason not to do it. The only coach in the last three World Cup finals not from Europe was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his native Brazil to a second-place finish in 2002. A non-European coach hasn’t won the World Cup since 1994.
The Europeans have the experience, the contacts and know-how. They’ve dealt with more talented players than any coach in the American system and might finally be able to whip the Yanks into a winning formation, not Bradley’s midfield mush.
Some players need to be developed as much as they need to be taught. “Mold 21-year-old Jozy Altidore into a star” should be the first bullet on the job description after “play winning soccer.” Here’s hoping the U.S. can get out of its own way and find the right western European coach, a Spaniard, perhaps, for the job. I’d welcome him with open arms.