Perhaps the best aspect about American soccer is the same thing that prevents its players from reaching the highest level of professional soccer in regard to the lack of creative players in the American soccer system. American soccer at the national level has been a relatively successful team that can often produce better results than other national teams with better talent, and the reason for this is unity and management.
If you look very closely at the results of the USA national team, there have been a number of very good results against tough opponents over the last several years. If you look at the World Cup in 2002, they reached the quarterfinals only losing 1-0 to Germany in a very close game that they could have easily won (ok, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration). In addition, they beat Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16 and beat a favorite going in to the tournament Portugal, 3-2 in the group stage. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, they beat Spain (European champions in 2008) 2-0 and lost in the final to Brazil 3-2 after a 2-0 lead. In the 2014 World Cup, in a group containing teams as Ghana, Germany, and Portugal, they advanced in the next round and lost only 1-0 against Germany, who ended up winning the tournament.
However, this attitude of unity and management is lacking the sense of freedom that coaches are not giving players needed at the youth level, to become world class players at the highest level of professional soccer. It’s almost as if US soccer has reached its maximum point and in order to reach to the next level, you have to do something different to get past the current paradigm. Though, sometimes this process produces seemingly backwards results before you actually reach the next level and see clear progressive results.
A country that is overlooked in the amount of world class players that are produced at the highest level is Croatia. Though, Croatia may not have all the answers figured out in creating the world’s best soccer team, they probably have the best conversion rate of youth players into elite professional soccer, more so than any other country in the world (and this is no exaggeration!). Some of the top countries such as Spain, Germany, Italy, and France have a population of about 46 million, 80.62 million, 59 million, and 66 million, respectively. In contrast, Croatia has a minuscule population of about 4 million people. Yet, Croatia currently has 2 Croatian players playing regularly for Real Madrid, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, and another Croatian that plays regularly for Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic, still 2 other players that have played for Atletico Madrid in the last 3 seasons, Mario Mandzukic and Sime Vrsaljko, and another player that is currently playing in the 1st division in Germany who was playing for Barcelona 2 seasons ago and is still only 20 years old!
A Croatian football writer (soccer in America), gave his opinion on the matter when asked about the reason for the talent level coming from Croatia. His response, ‘‘Creative players tend to thrive in less tightly organized environments, where they are less likely to be fitted into pre-set patterns and can have more freedom to improvise – learn how to make their own decisions from early on, not be told what to do and where to stand by their coaches. They become more individualistic and less dependent on the system’’.
Though US soccer may be doing a number of good things outside of player development, perhaps a change in the philosophy of youth coaching will help take the ability of players in this country to the next level.
Please feel free to welcome your thoughts!