The world can have the World Cup. Germany can, and probably will, win the thing -- and good for Germany. But when Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose and the rest of the German all-stars take their turn holding the most heinous, venous trophy in sports, they better give thanks to the higher power that made it happen.
The United States of America.
|Landon Donovan's great, but is he really the best the U.S. has to offer? (Getty Images)|
It would be ours.
But like I said, I know what this is. So what is this? It's the truth. Here in the United States -- heretofore referred to as "we" -- we do not invest ourselves emotionally, financially or socially in high-level soccer.
I said "high-level soccer," people. I didn't say Kiwanis Club soccer. I didn't say youth soccer. We invest heavily in soccer at that level -- orange slices for everyone! -- but as the kids get older, the more gifted athletes tend to move on to other sports. Assuming the most gifted athletes played soccer at all, which is a stretch. Soccer in this country is a suburban sport, but our best athletes come from the more populated urban areas. Soccer thrives in Weston, Fla. In the heart of Miami? Not so much.
And this, my outraged friend, is my point: Our best young athletes -- the cheetahs who run 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, the pogo-sticks who stand 5-feet-9 and can dunk with two hands, the nimble-footed electrons who can backpedal faster than most people can run forward -- play football or basketball. And the ones who don't play football or basketball are playing baseball.
Everyone else? They're playing soccer.
In other words, the U.S. World Cup soccer team wasn't the best of us. That was the rest of us.
So now I've insulted pretty much everyone, but this needed to be said. Hell, it has been said. Or it has been thought. Don't sit there and tell me that you've never heard, said or at least considered the notion that the United States -- for all our advantages of size, population and affluence -- is competing on an unlevel playing field with other countries at the World Cup. Kids in Germany and Brazil and Italy and France and England and on and on ... they dream of the World Cup. Kids in this country dream of the Lakers.
And still we reached the World Cup Round of 16. I overhear people talking about how embarrassing that is, that we can't do better than the Round of 16, as if that's shameful. More than 200 countries tried to get into the 2010 World Cup field of 32, and we made it. And then we advanced out of group play and into the knockout round. And we did it in a sport that doesn't attract our best, or even our second-best, athletes? I'm not embarrassed -- I'm proud. And I'm serious. This is sincerity, not sarcasm. That's quite an accomplishment for us, reaching the final 16 of a sporting event that is a borderline religious event for the rest of the world, but an afterthought for us.
Imagine a soccer team with NBA star Chris Paul darting around the midfield. With NFL rushing leader Chris Johnson making a run down the sideline. With Wes Welker being too strong for his defender, getting free to loft a cross to John Wall, soaring in for a header.
Imagine LeBron James as our goalkeeper.
Other countries don't have to imagine it. Their Chris Paul, their Chris Johnson -- their Welker, Wall, Sherron Collins, Steve Smith, Devin Hester, you name it -- their studs are already playing soccer. That's all they play in Germany, for crying out loud. No American football. No baseball. Some basketball, sure, but Germany is like almost everywhere else in the world: You're playing professional basketball only if you're (A) tall or (B) not good enough to play soccer.
In some ways, it's sort of embarrassing for those other countries. After all these years, decades, centuries, they still haven't diversified athletically. Their grandfathers played soccer. Their grandsons will play soccer. The world changes everywhere else -- cars, clothes, technology -- but overseas, the sport stays the same. Soccer is all they do. Meanwhile, we moved on. We invented basketball. We invented baseball. We invented American football. If it's a team sport, we either made it or we perfected it. All but soccer, anyway.
So I'm done listening to people in this country -- my friend at the gym, my neighbor, my father-in-law just a few days ago -- lament the lack of results in American soccer. I don't see it that way. Think of soccer like a spelling bee: We're sending our C-plus students to take on the rest of the world's valedictorians, and you know what? Our C-plus students aren't that far behind.
Maybe in our country, we don't care whether our best athletes play soccer or not. In other countries, they damn well better care. And they better be grateful that it is the way it is.