Iceland, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain, Germany, Panama - what do these places have in common? Well pundits covering the World Cup would have us think that their performances in the tournament tell us something about the condition of soccer in the United States.
Behold some takes:
Here’s Yahoo writer Leander Schaerlaeckens faulting Jurgen Klinsmann for the US failing to qualify while also blaming him for Germany’s early exit despite having not coached the team for 12 years and him being nowhere near the USMNT when they lost in Trinidad & Tobago.
Hey, this was a bad World Cup for Klinsmann, huh? No USMNT at all and a group stage collapse by the German team he long took credit for.— Leander Schaerlaeckens (@LeanderAlphabet) July 1, 2018
Then there’s Matt Doyle telling US fans that having players in a top five league in the world is bad actually.
In retrospect maybe the #USMNT's problem was too many key players in the Bundesliga.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) June 27, 2018
He’s obviously joking. Or he’s not. Who knows?
Here’s noted soccer expert and two time ex-MLS general manager Alexi Lalas explaining that if only the US were smaller we’d be better at soccer.
Alexi also gave us this - insinuating that a USMNT that couldn’t beat Trinidad wasn’t capable of getting absolutely destroyed in the World Cup.
What’s Panama’s population? Surely a country 1/130 the size of the US with only 4 million people in it should fuel the United States to be smaller and emulate their qualifying success - which is it, the US is too big or Panama is too small?
And the venerable Will Parchman echoing the population idea.
Small. Population. Is. An. Advantage. Not. A. Hindrance. https://t.co/4rhxR2N3VM— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) July 11, 2018
And the Men in Blazers twitter account manager pointing out the size of World Cup finalist Croatia, something that was also bellowed about for the last 10 minutes of the Fox broadcast of their win against England - I wonder what we will hear about ahead of the final.
Croatia population 4.1 million. Roughly same size as Oregon, our 27th biggest State— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) July 11, 2018
Every time that someone notes the population of a country and says that’s why it’s good at soccer, a kid in the US who can’t afford academy fees starts a band or something.
All of these are observations with no causal analysis or evidence between size and soccer success that largely strips away the context that explains national team success.
Iceland has leveraged its size by making the sport accessible to everyone who wants to play it regardless of cost and by lining up players against each other by ability rather than age. Germany won the World Cup after it harmonized the interests of its top league with the national team in order to create a youth development pipeline that not only benefits itself, but the United States as well.
For whatever examples of small size that are seen as an advantage, large nations also do well at the World Cup as the five stars over the Brazilian crest can attest to. Additionally, the fact that France, the fourth biggest country in Europe, is in the final and Russia, the largest country in Europe, was a penalty shoot-out away from being in the semis shows that size isn’t exactly a disadvantage.
In the end, the United States needs to find its own path to be successful. There are a number of obstacles that hold the sport back that the federation doesn’t seem interested in or capable of resolving.
Until these issues are identified and treated seriously by anyone who has the ability to address them, the US will continue to under-perform in the sport and all we will have will be the takes about population, or tiki-taka, or good questions asked by reporters at World Cups the US won’t be winning.
Anyway, onto the Rekrap...
Everyone seems to be happy that Wayne Rooney is in DC to play with DC United, a team that has existed for only six years longer than he has been a pro, especially Wayne! As our friends at Royal Blue Mersey noted, he seems to think he was forced out at Everton despite being their leading scorer - so at least he’s somewhere he’s wanted. Rooney will make his debut in MLS on Saturday when DCU opens Audi Field. This should be a joyous occasion for the team but two supporters groups are not happy about how they are being treated by the club as detailed in the Washington Post.
Maybe just get better players...
Speaking of MLS, the Colorado Rapids are one of the worst teams in the league, but they are investing in the future with analytics. It might seem counter intuitive that a soccer team would get a statistician rather than good players to make them better, but that’s how Colorado is going about improving the team. American Soccer Analysis has a deeper and less cynical look at how it all works.
A Chicago Fire always pays its debts...
There is a lot of noise about compensation payments - partly because Sunil Gulati clouded up the issue during the USSF Presidential race - but there is an explanation out there. Miki Turner of SoccerEsq has a run down on how the process works and why the idea that it is the fault of the MLSPA isn’t quite right.
It is so devious of FIFA to give Mark Geiger the distinguished honor of being one of four dozen VAR officials that will be in charge of the third place game. Concacaf Ladrones has one last chance to make his mark on the World Cup and I couldn’t be happier for him or for America, the country that gets disrespected more than any other country when it comes to soccer.
VAR designations for 2018 FIFA World Cup Match 63 (14 July) - Play-off for third place - and Match 64 (15 July) FINAL @FIFAWorldCup https://t.co/onUHYpNc9G #FootballTechnology pic.twitter.com/aje9D2yQ92— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) July 12, 2018
They didn’t even need Tom Cruise to rescue anyone...
One of the stories that seemed like it would determine the fate of one of the more exciting teams in the World Cup was the saga of Paolo Guerrero. Of course, he is the Peruvian forward who tested positive for cocaine and was banned from the World Cup - until he wasn’t. It turns out that part of what got him out of trouble was a drug test on a 500 year old mummy as noted soccer publication National Geographic details.
MLS is good actually, OK well, some of it is...
Say you watched the World Cup and thought to yourself - “I want to see more soccer with inexplicable results, superstar players on the same teams as those who are barely good enough to play in a rec league, and Mark Geiger” - what should you do? It’s easy. Watch MLS, the best worst league in the world. The Guardian has a guide of every team by watchability so if you paid $5 a month to watch Scunthorpe ever weekend on ESPN+ you can also get to know MLS a little better.
What is home exactly?
David Goldblatt, who is hosting a great podcast these days called Game of our Lives, has a piece in Al Jazeera putting England’s World Cup run into the broader context of soccer, politics, and society in the country from the 2006 team to now. It’s not coming home, but what that home looks like and the society it reflects is much different now than it was when that song was written.
Ciao means hello and goodbye...
Ronaldo is taking his talents to the Italian Piedmont. That can only mean one thing... he gets to have the distinction of snubbing the MLS All-Star Game for two years in a row - can’t wait to watch Francisco Calvo go up against Federico Bernardeschi next month. It also turns out that Ronaldo is a scab as workers at Fiat, the company that also owns Juventus, have promised to go on strike as the company makes cuts while spending 100 Euro on the transfer.
MB4 breaks his silence about the World Cup...
Michael Bradley has stayed away from doing interviews or giving his opinion on the opinions of others since the US missed out on the World Cup. He’s finally broken his silence to Paul Tenorio of the Athletic. The profile that is drawn in the article gets at the complexity of the most misunderstood player in his generation and is worth the read.
Here’s your goals
Frankly, I’d like Croatia to win because they can score a goal in the World Cup from open play.
Then there was this incredible goal from Croatia.
On the other hand, practicing set pieces is good and fun.
You should listen to...
The Scuffed podcast! Adam Belz and Greg Valesquez talk about soccer in America and all the goings on with the sport. This week they’ve got an interview with one of the more under the radar young Americans Chris Durkin.
You should watch...
The Tour de France, it’s very soothing.