Kids Sports News Network

In Need of More Players like Tim Howard

Tim HowardAccording to a 2006 FIFA survey, the U.S. led the world in youth soccer participation with 2.3 million boys and 1.6 million girls playing the sport.  Yet, the U.S. Men’s national soccer team has only competed in the last seven world cup tournaments out of the last 20.  Of course, the U.S. Women’s national soccer team is looking at its 8th consecutive world cup next year, having won in 1991 and 1999.  They are currently ranked first in the world by the FIFA Women’s World Rankings.

For the United States Men’s national soccer team, however, another FIFA World Cup has come and gone, and with it comes the quadrennial ritual of analyzing the state of U.S. soccer and what it will take for the USMNT to reach the next level. To be fair, the team has qualified for every World Cup tournament since 1990, which is noteworthy considering it hadn’t even made the group stage from 1954 to 1986.

So, what to make of it reaching the round of 16 and its extra time loss to Belgium? Well, to state the obvious, goalkeeper Tim Howard is a stud. Not that that’s much of a revelation, but if there was any doubt it was erased in his Herculean performance in which he defended a World Cup record 16 shots on goal. Sixteen! Never in the World Cup has a goalie had that many saves since records have been kept.  There was no doubt he was the man of the match in the losing effort.

On the flip side of that epic performance is the fact that the USMNT’s porous defense allowed 26 shots on goal. But, its strategy of laying back in hopes of a breakaway goal almost paid off in the final seconds of regulation as Chris Wondolowski sailed a short-range chance over the goal. So, in spite of being overwhelmed, the team still had a chance to steal a last second-victory in the round of 16. Had the team managed that feat, it would have been just the second time the USMNT had made the quarterfinals, the other time occurring in 2002. Since 1990, in addition to that quarterfinals appearance, the U.S. has made the round of 16 three times and the qualifying round three times. So how does this team reach the upper echelon?

First of all, this country is not lacking for players.  The same survey, finding the U.S. leading in youth participation in soccer, concludes that the U.S. is only second to China in overall participation with over 24 million players. So, by sheer numbers alone, we could be cranking out more elite players than we are.

However, elite players typically come from elite athletes. And, most of the top-flight athletes are choosing other sports. Can you imagine a team filled with the likes of the NBA’s Lebron James and Chris Paul or perhaps Calvin Johnson or Clay Matthews III of the NFL? If today’s youth are going to emulate the most popular athletes, then they’re naturally drawn to the top two U.S. sports in American football and basketball.

Of course any time USMNT is analyzed , Major League Soccer, the top tier North American league, comes under scrutiny as well. In its early years, the MLS was featured as a way to develop home grown athletes and as a result had a higher percentage of U.S. born players. More recently, there has been an influx of foreign players. In 2013, the MLS boasted a foreign player rate (players born outside of the U.S.. and Canada) of just over 40 percent.

Of course the league promotes this as a positive, and from a business standpoint it probably is. If it can attract top players from around the world the league stands a good chance of increasing world-wide interest.

But from talent development standpoint, this trend invites two conflicting schools of thought. On the one hand, more foreign players means fewer minutes for U.S.. players in our country’s highest level of soccer. Countering that argument are those who say that bringing in great talent from abroad elevates the overall level of play and exposes home-grown players to new techniques and tactics.

This may be some of the reasoning behind hiring former German team coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Some of his coaching techniques and player selections have come under scrutiny, but one thing is clear; he has his teams physically ready to play. Ultimately he did guide the USMNT through the perilous “group of death” to reach the round of 16. It will be interesting to see what another four years of his influence brings to the U.S. team.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Author: Mike Zeitzmann Mike Zeitzmann has spent 30 years in broadcasting, including working with the late sportscaster Pat Summerall. He is an avid sports junkie and gelato lover.  He currently lives in Italy.

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  1. Pingback: The Crown Jewel of Competitive Youth Soccer - Kids Sports News Network

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