Bill Simmons’ latest column on USA\Mexico (MUST READ)

The Sports Guy just wrote a fantastic column on his trip to Azteca for the qualifier, and I think it’s safe to say he’s now a USMNT fan for life. You have to read this article.

Now, how about we start emailing him to check out Mr. Charlie Davies?


6 Responses

  1. Generally a good positive article from a surprising source. My only beef with his writing comes in part IV.

    He raises the canard about “if our best athletes played soccer,” which is BS. It is a lame excuse and largely completely without merit. Very few of our best athletes in other sports would be great soccer players, soccer requires a set of other skills not generally common to other sports. First and foremost soccer requires skills (with the feet) and a certain type of intelligence and concentration not required in most sports. The mental side of the game is combined with fitness requirements that greatly exceed anything in the big US sports. Smaller basketball players might make good players (like Stave Nash), but most popular US Sports don’t require what soccer does.

    Just because Gooch is the only USA player who one might think might have a NFL body (if he put on 40-50 pounds!), doesn’t make him the best athlete. Its pretty clear that Donovan, Dempsey and Davies are the best athletes, and Gooch being a good athlete lacks the sort of skill needed to be truly world-class. The players who make Barcelona tick all would be overlooked in the USA because they are small and slight (Messi, Iniesta and Xavi). its their skill and intelligence that sets them apart. They are great athletes, but not physically overpowering. Put a ball at their feet and they are magical.

    Why does this merit any comment? Americans are making excuses for not succeeding rather than addressing the real roots of our failure to climb to the lofty ranks of the world soccer elite. Our youth system has some serious flaws, our coaching is not good, and our National federation is incompetent. Locally, youth sports like football, basketball and baseball complain that soccer is siphoning off the best athletes from the talent pool. Soccer in the USA has plenty of talent, its the skill and intelligence that we need to cultivate.

    • A better way of phrasing that question is “What if our best athletes grew up playing soccer?” Sure many of them would not be able to cut it and would find out that they are better at other sports and would still end up playing football or basketball, but many of these great athletes never played soccer when they were young because of a lack of availability. Had they played I’m sure many of them could have been terrific players. Think about how fast and quick some of the NBA’s point guards and shooting guards are. Or NFL wide receivers and cornerbacks. Most guards in the NBA are atleast 6 foot or taller. Dwyane Wade is 6’4″ and I find it hard to believe (if not impossible to prove) that he wouldn’t pick up soccer just as easily as he picked up basketball when he was a kid. If these players had played soccer (and at their size they could play any position on the field) they could have been absolute stars (not to mention the other incredible athletes under 6ft they play in both the NFL and NBA.) Now think about players like Zlatan, Drogba, Torres, Cristiano. Had they been born in the United States they’d most likely be playing football, basketball, or baseball.

      I’m not saying it is an excuse for the U.S. to hide behind but its hard to say there isn’t any merit behind the idea. Until recently soccer has been a very distant 4th sport to the United States. As youth soccer has grown so has the quality of our National Team and it’s hard to argue that. We are just now seeing the beginning of the hypothetical question Bill Simmons asked as some of the better athletes are now growing up playing soccer along with the other big 3. Guys like Altidore, Davies, Spector and Gooch are what would happen if our better athletes grew up playing soccer. Now if only our coaching could catch up to the new skill and athleticism that the U.S. possesses.

  2. I love Bill Simmons. Anyone who thinks the fact that he devoted a whole column to the national team will not dramatically affect the number of people who will at least give this whole soccer thing a try is crazy.

  3. First, I’ll be clear, a column like this coming from a source like this is pure gold! He captures the energy of the fan experience in a marvelous way.

    If one looks at how the US plays and succeeds, the argument could be made that the US already over-relies on athleticism. Where the USA fails is skill and intelligence. We can’t keep possession unless we’re playing really weak teams, and our players do really dumb things with great regularity. On top of that our coaching is rather poor, predictable and overly traditional/conservative.

    The focus on the physical is clearly present at all levels of the game (youth, ODP, high school, college, National Team, MLS). This approach sacrifices skill and intelligence. Two other elements also need acute attention for us to “take the next step”:

    1) Coaching – I just don’t mean Bob Bradley although he’s a good symbol. Our coaches are driving our reliance on athletic ability because they can’t succeed developing players. Our coaches don’t simply fail to live up to competence in modern football, but we’re failing to innovate the game. If we can get some innovative coaches to stamp a purely American style into existence, it will rocket the USA into the international football elite.

    2) Refereeing – The standard of play enforced by USSF referees causes some of the over-emphasis on physicality. If anything, the USSF is accelerating this approach in its referee training. The US game is extremely rich in contact and violence relative to the rest of the world. Combined with our relative lack of skill, it leads to too many US players being sent off in international competition. The physical play inhibits technical possession play and encourages teams to play the direct style. This is happening at all levels.

    • I’m just saying that the more elite athletes we have playing soccer when they are young, the more likely we are to have a star who has both skill and athleticism, not just one or the other.

      I agree that our coaching is completely lacking and I think that leads to our reliance on long balls and pure athleticism where we do have some players that can and would hold possession if given the chance (Feilhaber being one of them,) unfortunately Bob Bradley isn’t a fan of possession, just long balls and bunker down defense.

  4. Great column! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I’m glad we have The Sports Guy on our side; he appeals to a LOT of guys who would probably not have given any thought to watching a soccer game. Hopefully, a lot of people read that article and have opened their minds to the beautiful game.

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