Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

US Soccer: Is It Our Best?

Sometimes it’s called “American Exceptionalism.” In other words, we think we’re good at everything. And generally, we are. With a population of 330 million, a diverse culture, landscape and heritage, there’s usually somebody in America who’s good at whatever you can think of.

Which is why we get disappointed when we don’t win.

The World Baseball Classic? Come on, we invented the game. It’s always been played in the States.

And we’ve never won it. In fact, never even been the runner-up.

Olympic basketball?

Another game we invented and dominated, even with college players representing the red white and blue. So when we didn’t win it in 2004, part of the “Dream Team” era, it left us scratching our heads.

Really, we lost in basketball?

Sometimes we expect to win, and other times we expect to dominate.

But Soccer is a different story.

We’ve never really been interested.

If you travel, you know the rest of the world is just mad about the game. Anywhere you go you’ll see two sticks a few feet apart and a bunch of kids kicking what looks like a ball, trying to score. Europeans consider F1, MotoGP and Futbol as the real “sports.” Americans involved with football basketball and baseball are only interested in the “entertainment sports.”

But as the world has gotten smaller, the interest in our sports has broadened overseas and soccer interest has grown in the US, especially since games from all over the globe are readily available on television, all the time.

Which brings us to the 2-1 loss in the Gold Cup to Jamaica. We’ve never lost to Jamaica in the Gold Cup. And we’re 21-1 lifetime against the country of about 3 million people. Under a hundredth of what we have. Very disappointing after the recent success and excitement surrounding our national team.

So how does that happen?

First of all, every kid in Jamaica grows up dreaming of playing on the national team. The best athletes in Jamaica play soccer. (OK, some become the fastest people on earth) In America, athletes are generally dreaming of one of “our” sports and the pathway to becoming a professional. So suspend reality for just a minute and imagine we cared as much about soccer as the rest of the world. That means that our best athletes, like they do in Brazil and Argentina and Germany and everywhere else, dream of playing for the national team. Imagine a team representing the Red, White and Blue that has LeBron James at center mid. Mike Trout on defense and Blake Griffin in goal. Or JJ Watt? Go back in history and put Deion Sanders at striker and Barry Sanders on one wing. Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker in the mid-field. And the possibilities go on and on. Our best athletes in America don’t choose soccer. It’s not part of the culture and the money, in this country, isn’t there. But if we ever focused on it, things would be different.

It’s not to say that Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore aren’t good athletes. They are. And they’re the best soccer players in America. But the possibilities of what might have been are endless.

Jürgen Klinsmann, our coach, said we gave up two goals on set pieces and “that’s the reality of it.” Although our side didn’t look like they had a sense of urgency in the first half, Klinsmann is right: Jamaica converted two chances and we converted none. Looking at the history of US Soccer’s governing body, it wouldn’t surprise anybody if they went looking for a new coach. That would be silly because Klinsmann understands what it takes to win on the biggest stage and still is the right guy for the job.

I do wonder though if he ever looks at Kobe Bryant and thinks, “What if?”