The World Cup is always filled with drama. Most of the time it happens on the field. It also usually happens between players, coaches and other people involved in soccer in some way. As the United States Women’s National Team prepares to take on France, host nation and one of the other favorites to win the cup, the biggest drama coming from France has almost nothing to do with France, the World Cup or soccer at all. Many more eyes and ears have become focused on the World Cup because of the comments made by Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump. Since most news outlets have latched onto the story, I won’t repeat it here. This clash has sprung out of the fact that even though the two seem to have nothing in common, they both like the spotlight. So how can we use all of the light that’s been shone onto this situation? Remember that freedom is responsibility.
In so many ways, freedom has become fashioned into a thought process that “I can do what I want.” While there is some truth to that statement it glosses over one of the inherent costs of freedom. “I need to let other people do what they want, even when it diametrically opposes what I believe is right.” Embracing freedom is easy when it is your own, it becomes difficult when it belongs to others.
So as the lights are focused on these two characters that represent very different factions of our country, my hope is that one or both of them remembers their responsibility. They both represent this country on an international stage and they have the opportunity to exercise their freedom of speech and action for the betterment of themselves OR the people who are watching. This is not Reagan imploring Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. It is a professional athlete who represents several ideals like equality in compensation, LGTBQ rights and racial equality and a president who has promised to “Make America Great Again”.
During their moment in the spotlight together, what will each of them do? Will they choose the spotlight and the clicks or will they choose the responsibility of their freedom? Rapinoe can turn that light from herself “not going to the White House” and shine it directly onto the people that she represents and their stories/struggles. The President could equally use the bright lights of this situation to address those same people and help “Make America Great” for them because Again excludes them. America was not great for women, LGTBQ or minorities in the past.
Both people have the freedom that this country affords them. My hope is that they take the responsibility seriously and see that it is not about them. It’s about us. The US may win or lose today against France. The question is can we find a way to win as a country in our daily lives? Or have we become so enamored with our own freedom that we no longer recognize the freedom of others? Republican, democrat, black, white, brown, green, woman, man, transgender, gay, straight….. at a certain point we need to figure out how to be neighbors and make America great! Even if it is for the first time for everyone.
The Women’s World Cup has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning. Although I support the US Women’s National Team, I am much more interested in the women’s game growing and being accepted in its own right worldwide. Most of the results have been in line with expectation. However the results are not all that matters. Even though there are more games to be played, this World Cup is sending messages. Some of them need to be heard and emulated, others need to be learned from then possibly forgotten. Regardless, I thought it was worth the time to recap some of the biggest beats so far.
Lone voices aren’t loud – The absence of one of the best players in the world has largely gone unnoticed. Norway has performed relatively well without their Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg. Her decision to stay out of the Norwegian National Team was a mild source of intrigue but in the end has been overtaken by other story lines. There is just too much happening in a World Cup that the absence of one person is going to invoke great change. If the World Cup is the best platform for female athletes to make a statement (and I believe that it is), then it requires a much more evident and pervasive stance. Perhaps all of the teams deciding, they are not going to play for the first minute of each game because they want to make a statement about inequality. Instead of kicking of an internationally televised game exactly when the whistle blows, a minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds is taken for all of the players to stand together against a common foe of inequality.
Objectively Subjective – Although it has people behind it, one of the loudest voices of the tournament has no voice at all. VAR has all but taken over a tournament that is supposed to be about human beings playing and interpreting the beautiful game. Unfortunately in an effort to “get it right”, it’s all gone wrong. The games have largely been robbed of the emotion of the moment. Referees without VAR get things wrong (and obviously with VAR things still go wrong). Based on what I’ve seen from this World Cup, I’m much less worried about the getting the call “right” as I am the referee doing her/his best to endeavor to make the “right” call. Human error is part of the process but two minute discussions over earphones about a possible infraction have not improved the game, they’ve cheapened it. This is largely the reason that I’ve not watched a NFL game in four years. The game has been taken away from the humans, so they defer, rather than decide.
Entitlement Doesn’t Lead to Titles – As a fan of the USWNT, it pained me to watch the match against Spain. In an almost Rocky IV type moment, I felt myself almost wanting for Spain to win. This was not me renouncing my citizenship. It was the simple fact that I saw more instances of pride producing behavior from the Spanish team. As a fan, pride is one of the emotions that we rely upon to continue our association with a team. When we are no longer proud to support our team, there is little point in being a fan. The Spanish team had a plan and they executed it well. The US didn’t and didn’t. At a variety of moments, it seemed as though the US were waiting for Spain to give up. Rapinoe and Morgan seemed to want the referee to be the one to help them past the defenders. Expectations of calls for any contact were fully on display. Although some of Spain’s tackles were reckless, the general feeling that I got was that they were actually trying to win the game through skill and hard work rather than reputation. My hope is that this was a blip on the radar screen but I am fearful that we are more show than GO!
One last word before she leaves – In one of the most shareable moments of the World Cup, Marta exited the tournament by laying down the gauntlet to the future of the sport. Although the message was intended toward young Brazilian girls, it is a strong message for anyone. The heroines or heroes that we esteem so heavily will not always be there for us to adore. Someone, maybe you, needs to pick up where they left off or possibly challenge for their spot. It is not going to be easy. As Marta put it, you need to cry before you can smile. The picture needs to be painted over and over again that the exceptional do not get there by chance or in born talent. There is work that no one sees and most people fear but if you want to get to the highest levels, you need to embrace.
So even though it is not over, there is so much to take from the World Cup so far. It is one of the reasons why I love soccer so much. The result is only part of the story. Stats and scores can only tell you so much. The experience of the 90 (+7 COME ON! VAR!) minutes is necessary to tell a story about the people that are trying to get that result. Their stories run parallel to our stories and allow us to live more fervently because it resonates around the world!
In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup. When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most. It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months. The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.
The trip was planned extremely well by my friend. He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French. We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly. Our main focus was the games. So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game. We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.
Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon. Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas. Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there. For that story, CLICK HERE.
Our next stop was Paris. There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked. After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend. Our first match was Germany vs USA. Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage. The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up. Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing. He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close. In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours. Art lovers we are not! Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.
We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage. This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space. I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty. I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive. That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group. Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around. We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball. Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”. Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life. But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP! We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it. At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult. I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.
Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field. We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime. This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late. On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium. Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris. Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.
We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home. At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight. The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months. Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.
This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times. These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.
On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship. Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self. Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.
First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset. We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head. Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues. Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations. One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis. Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description. This way you are setting yourself up for success. Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.
The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult. I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance. The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep. I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story. The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self. Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise. These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”. Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.
So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of. It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend. In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space. Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.
In “The Junk Mail” episode of Seinfeld, we are introduced to Frankie Merman. He is Jerry’s childhood friend who has many quirks including digging holes to sit in when he is upset. Despite his eccentricities, George is slightly jealous of Frankie because Frankie and Jerry attended camp together. George ruefully refers to Frankie as the “Summer Me”. He even goes so far as to lie to Jerry about an imaginary summer friend of his own. All of this ridiculousness is par for the course in the world of Seinfeld. As far fetched as it all may be, it got me thinking about the soccer world in which American fans live.
Next weekend marks the end of the Premier League. For those who religiously follow teams from England on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is hole to be filled. Recognizing this fact, it might just be time to embrace Major League Soccer as your “Summer League”. I can hear the protests now, “MLS sucks!” “There’s no promotion or relegation!” “It’s a retirement league!” I’m well aware of this and all of the other vitriol that comes out whenever someone suggests that our domestic league should be watched by our domestic fans. I understand the thought process. My son and I just took a trip to England to see two matches. The allure of European soccer is not lost on me. The only question is do we want it to be this way? Do we truly want to be thousands of miles away from the best soccer in the world? Americans account for the largest number of ticket buyers at the World Cup, other than the host nation. Which means that we travel to far off lands at great expense to see the best in the world compete. In 2026 when the World Cup is here, will Americans not attend the games because they are here? That would be a ludicrous thought! We want the best games with the best players to be in our backyards. BUT we’re impatient, entitled and shortsighted. Let’s take a look at each.
We’re impatient. Major League Soccer is barely 20 years old. Even the re-branded version of the English first division is older by around 4 years. Comparing MLS to any of the historic first divisions from Europe is at best an apples to oranges comparison. At worst, it ignores all common sense. Teams and leagues are made up by players and their endeavors are supported by fans. European fans have supported their clubs for generations. MLS clubs have not existed for a generation yet. Love for a team or club is not built overnight. It is a slow process and we’re in the thick of both the development of love for clubs and a talent pool. If the desire is that MLS should just buy the best talent in the world, do some research on the Cosmos.
We’re entitled. Other than MLS, the other major sports leagues based in the US are arguably the best in the world. NFL, no competition. MLB, takes whatever talent is produced in other leagues. NBA, second tier talent from the US go to play in the other leagues. NHL, brings in talent from all over the world. Is it really that disheartening to have one league of the top five major sport that is not YET the best? Especially when you consider that with the exception of hockey, the others are “American” sports.
We’re shortsighted. In the 1990’s my knowledge of English soccer was actually pretty limited. At the time, the Italian Serie A was arguably the best league in the world. The ingredients that contribute to the rise or fall of the fortunes of a particular league are multiple. One of the most important parts to a successful league is fan interest. If there are not enough fans, there is not enough money to buy enough talent and the product on the field suffers. The shortsighted thought that, “MLS sucks now. I’ll pay attention when it’s better.” is a recipe for disaster. The league cannot reach a status of world renown without the backing of American soccer fans. If you want the best players in the world, playing in your backyard for your local team, then you need to pay for it now, not then. We never get there if we don’t put down the deposits (both financial and emotional) right now.
So yes! Major League Soccer might be Fragile Frankie Merman. It may have all kinds of eccentricities that may not fit your model of a perfect replacement. BUT if you spend your summer pining for the return of George and don’t pay attention. Frankie will continue to disappoint and your summers will always be George-less.
It was many years ago but I’ve still not encountered a better example. I was the field marshal at a youth tournament in Pennsylvania. The players were under twelve years old and engaged in a very back and forth game. One team was extremely adept at the offside trap. Late in the game, there was a corner kick. The cross was cleared out of the penalty box and the defense pushed up. The ball fell to the foot of a offensive player about 30 yards from goal. He shot. The ball rocketed toward the goal and hit the post. The rebound fell to a forward who was slow getting back onside and he scored. The referee instantly called offside and awarded a free kick to the defense. The coach of the team that had the goal disallowed went ballistic. He screamed about how “ridiculous” the call was and asked about the referees sight, etc. As the field marshal I felt that it was my job to diffuse the situation in order to avoid it interfering with the game. I said, “Coach, if you’d like, I can explain to you why that was the right call.” He responded, “I know it was the right call! I’m just blowing off some steam.”
In most cases, soccer is not a life or death situation. It’s a passion, diversion, recreation, fun or even a teacher. The game has the possibility to do so many things because it garners the emotions of the people around it. There is nothing inherently wrong with emotion. We need them to live and color our lives. However emotion without any sense of reason is problematic. The word was chosen very deliberately. REASON! The reason why we’re there in the first place gets lost when we cannot control our emotions. Referees become demons. Opponents become enemies and sense of our self-interest overrides the judgment that we use elsewhere. This is not so much of a problem when it is a single person. However it seems to have become a societal norm.
The steam that so many people are letting off is clouding our vision. The ability to see what is right in front of our faces. Children. Children who are looking at us for how to act. Not just on a soccer field on Saturdays or Sundays but in their daily lives. When something doesn’t go their way, they’re supposed to have an emotion freak out session because that’s what you do. You don’t take a breath and refocus on the task at hand. You don’t see the bigger picture. You don’t recognize that human error is part of life and needs to be coped with. Those things aren’t done because they’re hard. They require effort, judgement and self-control. These skills are difficult to develop, especially when you’re a child, watching the adults act like children.
So don’t breathe in the steam, just breathe! Recognize that the children on the field have spent hours this week trying to improve their skills in order to perform for you. Put your focus on that. Double, triple or quadruple your focus on the fact that these are kids, trying to do something that is difficult. AND DIFFICULT THINGS ARE THE ONLY ONES WORTH PURSUING! So don’t produce steam, produce esteem for what everyone on that field is trying to do.
The 90s had many memorable events and people. Kurt Cobain, the OJ Simpson trial, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton were all extremely noteworthy. Both for their own unique reasons and the media circus that followed them. It was not just that something happened but that it was perpetuated daily for probably longer than needed. One of the most ridiculous stories of the decade was the ice skating scandal involving rivals Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. For those too young to remember, the major event was an attack on Kerrigan’s knee orchestrated at least partially by Harding’s ex-husband. There was a movie released last year called “I, Tonya” that chronicles the entire episode.
Reality had to happen first in this case because even Hollywood could not have come up with a story as far fetched as this. It’s easy to look back at a time that was truly “last century” and chuckle. It’s no surprise that from such a chaotic decade sprang reality television. A weekly public reminder that even though your life might have problems, you can feel good about yourself in comparison to “those people”.
Seeing the problem is always so much easier when it belongs to someone else. Each of us has within ourselves the solutions to the problems of our friends and family members. However we all struggle with our own issues that seem so difficult. Time and distance both seem to have a clarifying effect on the problems of the world.
I’m sure that if the issue of youth soccer politics were someone else’s, each of us would have a plausible solution. Since it’s now and it’s close to us, the issues of last decade persist with even higher price tags. Children are pawns and commodities in a game that has nothing to do with soccer but rather egos and territoriality. This coming fall, an unknown number of player who want to play soccer will not have a team. Not due to a lack of resources. Not due an insurmountable distance to travel. The deciding factor will be a focus on “our club” rather than the kids. These players end up being acceptable casualties to a soccer culture that is focused on prizes that are apparent and available now.
In so many ways we are now reaping the rewards of our fast food culture. Rampant obesity, depression, anxiety and others are all symptoms of the NOW culture that we’ve begun to accept as normal. Even though many people recognize that the ultimate prizes come from long term commitment to small improvements made over years or decades, it is so much easier to sell the cash grab of today. Risking that small and almost insignificant prize of the short term seems to be almost unbearable.
So I implore you. Yep! I’m talking directly to you because as I said last week, if the USMNT doesn’t win a World Cup by/in 2026, It’s my fault! So I need some help. If you have anything to do with youth soccer in this country. Take the long term view. See how more kids playing is better for them and better for “US”. Understand that letting your best player move on to a more appropriate team may hurt your record slightly but it could also be the opportunity that makes that player’s life better, both on and off the field. Realize that your small pond is not actually a pond. It’s part of a more expansive body. Trying to keep it separate is an exercise in futility and may cause its destruction when the wrong current comes along. BE the first person to do the right thing. It’s often difficult because there is a culture of short sightedness. People are so used to being hurt that they are either on attack or defense, rarely in a mode to assess. And more than ever that’s what needs to happen.
I’m sure if this was someone else’s problem, we’d have it all figured out but it’s not. It’s ours and it’s close to our hearts. So we get blinded by the shiny thing that’s right in front of us but I swear the bigger jewels are down the road. The hardest part is foregoing the prize of now because it feels like everything.
There are some things that are just NOT done in polite American society! You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. You don’t talk politics with your in-laws. You don’t talk about money in mixed company. And if you’re an American soccer fan, you don’t agree with Alexi Lalas! I am about to break that last social norm. Alexi gave a description of the apples to oranges comparison of US Soccer’s failings to the successes of Croatia and Iceland. I totally agree. The component pieces of the soccer landscapes and national culture in each country are so completely disparate that comparison is a fool’s errand that is at best click bate and at worst sophisticated soccer tail chasing. So let’s take the American soccer “watermelon*” and inspect it on its own merit to see where we’re going.
First of all, let’s take the population discussion completely off the table because it is irrelevant on many levels. Only 2 countries in the top 20 by population have won a World Cup (Brazil and Germany). Of that same top 20, nine nations have never qualified for a World Cup. If more people was the answer, China and India would be in the final every four years. The fact that the US is larger than another country does not indicate that it should be more likely to win (or perform well) at the World Cup. So it is much more complicated than that.
The story of the nations that have won at least one or even multiple World Cups comes down to a convergence of many factors but probably the most crucial is a soccer (football) culture. The nations that have been able to win or compete well at World Cups all have a culture that supports and/or increases their success on the field. Culture, in very general terms, can be characterized by the statement “People like us, do things like this.” So in those high performing soccer nations, people do several things that perpetuate the high level of play or induce improvement. Generally speaking this is not a top down process. Culture is a product of many little decisions made by thousands or millions of individuals, not a handful of powerful individuals making decisions. So if World Cup success is in the future for the United States, it will follow the adoption of a soccer culture, not create one.
So even though the size of Iceland does not matter, the fact that so many Icelandic people do the Viking clap does. It sends a message to every single player on the team and child who is adopting the game. The message is “This matters to us!” That message changes the daily actions of people. Given the choice between extra ball work or not, players in those environments recognize that something important is at stake.
With that understanding well established, I will go back to the title. If the USMNT doesn’t win the World Cup in/by 2026, it’s my fault! This statement may seem crazy to some but if you’ve been paying attention it becomes plainly obvious. Culture is created by individual decisions made by the masses. It’s on ME! And YOU! And everyone else attached to this game in the US. No longer can we hope that copying Barcelona drills or hiring English trainers or attending foreign friendlies on their summer tours is enough. Every one of us that considers ourselves a part of soccer in the US needs to up their game. What does that mean?
It means action by the many. In some ways this endeavor is truly in line with American culture (of the past at least). It is almost inherently American to identify a challenge and conquer it. For most of our country’s history, that was almost common place. We (the people) took on monumental tasks as a collective. Unfortunately we seem to be at a point in history where we expect other people to do it for us. We can outsource it or it’s the government, corporation or system’s fault that things aren’t going right. The problem lies with someone else or it’s just too hard and I can’t be bothered. FUCK THAT!!! We need to step up for the next eight years! Not in some grandiose, out of reach way but in simple ways that can have a cumulative effect. The main thing that will be required is a long term view. So here are some of my suggestions based on a variety of perspectives. It’s by no means a complete list but it’s a start. Add your own thoughts in the comments.
Watch MLS games – More eyes = more dollars = better players = better league = better US player pool. If you watch the EPL or la Liga but don’t watch MLS, you need to start. I know that MLS is not as good as the top leagues at the moment. However if we don’t pay attention now, it won’t have the monetary resources to get better.
Focus on players getting better – If you’re a parent, coach, or associated with youth soccer in any other way; put progress of the player over the result on the day. This is so extremely difficult for people to embrace because the desire for status is so hardwired into our minds. One of the reasons that we continue to struggle on the international stage is that we are enamored with being the biggest fish in the small pond.
Be active – There are all kinds of ways that the US soccer culture could improve but it needs people to do. Passivity is only going to perpetuate mediocrity. Let your voice be heard, your actions be seen and your passion be felt. You matter in this endeavor.
As you finish up reading this article, I hope that you have a small inkling of the feeling that I have. It’s only a matter of time before the US wins a World Cup. Soccer is no longer the game for everyone else but US. The momentum of the sport in this country is well on its way but now it needs our help to reach escape velocity. To overcome the inertia of ambivalence and low expectations, WE all must do our small part to reach the highest of heights. But there are no guarantees. WE must bet on the fact that together it will be enough. And if it’s not! IT’S MY FAULT!
*I’ve chosen a watermelon because it is my favorite fruit. It’s also large but lacks overpowering flavor and its seeds are possibly potent but they are often discarded or made to disappear before they can materialize.
The role of a captain can be very important on a soccer team. I say “can be” because on some teams, the captain does nothing more than the coin toss. My perspective is that the captain has a great deal of responsibility and should have certain characteristics that help her to lead.
Job Description: The captain is the liaison between the players and the coach. She is also the “coach on the field”. It is her responsibility to give players direction and keep the team focused on the task at hand. Away from the field, she should represent the team in positive ways. Other players and community members should see the captain as a representative of what all players in the program should strive to be.
Guidelines: There are many ways to lead others. Although I will make several suggestions about how to lead, one key component is that you need to be yourself. You may need to be a better version of yourself, but acting like someone else is not the answer.
· Arrow to the Action: Inherent to the word leader is the idea of going first. A captain/leader should never ask someone else to do something that they are not willing to do themselves. Captains set the example. If they lead by saying but not doing, they will be found out eventually.
· We before Me: A captain needs to put the good of the group before the good for herself. The role of captain is one of giving and not receiving. It requires a person who can control their desire for individual recognition. It does not mean that the captain receives no individual attention, but the team comes first and she knows that.
· The Diplomat: As the liaison between the team and the coach, the captain needs to understand what problems need to be brought to the coach and which need to be handled within the team. She is not a spy or an informant, but a representative that is the voice and ears of the team.
Not all coaches will view the captain in the way that I do, so it will be important to understand the role under your particular coach. It is possible that your coach only wants captains to do the coin toss. If that is the situation, recognize that you can do more. Despite your coach’s view of the role, your teammates may be looking for more from their captain.
If captain is a role that you aspire to hold at some point, look at the leaders that you respect. Take stock of the attributes and actions of those leaders and assimilate the positives into your personality when possible. Remember something else. You don’t need the actual title to be a leader.
Most of the time soccer is a noun but today I’m going to use it as a verb. Of course when you are creating a new word, it’s important to define it. Here is my explanation of the term.
The action of “soccering” is not the act of playing soccer. We already know how to say and do that. And NO! It doesn’t mean acting like you’re injured when no one did anything to you. The action of soccering is the real life application of the virtues that are possessed within the game. In soccer, players must make real time decisions about what to do, based on the stimuli that they take in from both teammates and opponents in order to achieve the outcomes of simultaneously reaching a goal while defending their own. The soccer paradigm puts the impetus of decision onto eleven individuals acting as a collective rather than following the pre-scripted orders of an overseer. Although positioning and style of play may be directed, principles and judgment are the main directors of decisions.
America needs to soccer! It needs to take back the very impetus that this country was founded upon. Regular people doing things as a collective that move us all forward and protect us against failing. We need regular citizens who want to be self-determining within the existing system and help to influence that system. At the moment we seem to be overwhelmingly passive and extremely willing to look for someone else to be accountable rather than looking to be responsible ourselves.
We can soccer by trying to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can soccer by changing our perspective from a “they” to “we” mentality. We can soccer by doing the right thing even if we know that no one else will notice but us. We can soccer by deciding to take a chance on something that might not work, rather than doing it “the way we’ve always done it.” There are so many ways to soccer but the thing about soccering is that it has to start with you. You can’t tell someone else to soccer. You can only show them how by doing it first and being an example.
Below is a long description of the historical paradigms where this thought came from. If you are inspired to do something right now, then don’t read the bottom, act now, read later.
Why do I believe that America needs to soccer? The historical successes of the United States have in large part been attributed to a football paradigm. Land acquisition and forward progress are the hallmarks of the All-American sport. In the past, both politically and economically, we have pushed forward in the name of progress and it has served us well. Manifest Destiny is the perfect example. Presidents and other decision-makers laid out a playbook for the American people to score a touchdown on the Pacific coast. Americans led the charge across the continent through wars and promised economic success, the way football players might listen to a play called from the sidelines. The Space Race, the Arms Race, the Cold War and Industrial Revolution were all perfectly suited to the football paradigm. So why change?
The reason for change is that the football paradigm is fundamentally flawed in a few different areas. The idea of neverending progress is unrealistic. At some point stock prices level off, profits decline and progress slows and stops. In a paradigm that preaches forward motion as the truest indicator of success, it is not surprising that we have: insider trading, big CEO bonuses for bailed out companies and strategic layoffs to protect profits. Individuals, companies and the government have all pushed toward their given marker of success whether it be money, land, power or prestige. These success markers are not inherently evil or negative but their acquisition without thought to the human equation has created an imbalance in our perspective on success.
There are also the separations in the football paradigm. The coach is the one who calls the plays. The offense scores the points and the defense stops the other team. Although all are members of the same team, it is easy to point the finger at another individual or group when things go wrong. In the Industrial Revolution this system was completely acceptable. Henry Ford brought forth the assembly line. He took men who were making fifty cents per day and paid them five dollars per day because of his efficiency. People were more than willing to be a cog in that machine because it was a better life than what they expected. They were linemen but were happy to be that. Now with modern technology and globalization that deal doesn’t work anymore. That deal is being shipped overseas and no one wants to be a lineman anymore. Everyone thinks they’re a quarterback and expects to be paid like one.
America needs to soccer because you’re part of the problem and part of the solution. You’re on the field. The decisions that you make on a daily basis matter. The President, the senator, the governor, your boss, your wife, your children, your friends, your teachers are part of it all but so are you. So before you point the finger, point the thumb. What can you do today to SOCCER?
The election of a new USSF President is almost upon us. Although the holder of this post may not be as recognized as the President of the United States, the impact of soccer on the world is not a thing to be discounted. It has both started and ended violence. So with this decision looming in the near future, what impact will the new POTUSSF have on the sport and the country at large?
To the general public, the answer would most definitely be “none”. It is an absurd thought to give this decision anything more than a passing glance on their newsfeed. This is an organization that specializes in a sport that garners almost complete indifference from most of its populace. It’s national power would, to the average citizen, rank somewhere around that of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America. Mostly kids and adults running around to get medals and club patches. While that characterization might be accurate on certain levels, it completely discounts several factors that could have a tsunami type affect based on this relative flap of a butterfly’s wing.
Perception Is Reality
It’s often not pretty but the perception of truth often has greater staying power than the actual truth. At the moment, the United States has an international perception problem. Regardless of your personal feelings about Donald Trump, his policies or his impact on the United States; he is projecting many of the characteristics most disliked about Americans. His overall agenda to “Make America Great Again” seems to come with the postscript, “non-Americans watch out.” Despite being only one man, the President has the dubious responsibility of being a partial personification of what the United States is. Mr. Trump’s actions, statements and Tweets may be his own but they also belong to all Americans when viewed from afar.
The Butterfly’s Wing
Eight candidates are being considered with varying degrees of experience, personal motive and leadership potential. While I’ll keep my personal preference on candidates completely out of this, the worst thing that the voters could do in these circumstances would be to elect on celebrity rather than ability. The reason being that the perception of the USSF and its new President has very real implications in a short period of time. The selection of the host for the 2026 World Cup will be made on June 13th. While the North American Triad of the USA, Mexico and Canada may seem like a sure thing when pitted against Morocco, small nations have dealt us unlikely defeat recently (and I won’t bring up Qatar either).
Winning the bid to host the 2026 World Cup is one of the crucial components to a successful Presidency for any of these candidates. Failure to secure this bid is not just bad for soccer, it is bad for this country.
In the mind of the general citizen of the United State in 2018, the World Cup is nothing more than a soccer tournament. It’s a fun diversion at best and non-factor for most. However in an even more interconnected world of 2026, it is a spotlight shining directly onto the United States. This event gives us the opportunity to be gracious hosts to the world. While seemingly trivial from the inside, this role could be crucial to change an international perception of a nation that exports entertainment and soldiers under a leader of singular self-interest. As news becomes more dependent on the “man on the street”, it is conceivable (if not) probable that brand America’s reputation in the remote corners of the world will depend on the personal experiences of a group of soccer fans supporting their team in egocentric America.
Stirring the Melting Pot
In addition to the World Cup bid, the new President will at the very least have an influence over the involvement of Hispanic communities in US soccer. The recent loss of Jonathan Gonzalez to the Mexican National Team system is not so much a loss of talent but a loss of contact. The roots of many Hispanic Americans in this country run deep. US history is so inextricably intertwined with that of Hispanic heritage that a number of our states and cities have Spanish names (regardless of how we pronounce them). The involvement of Hispanic players, coaches and fans (or lack thereof) in US soccer will be another key to US soccer counteracting the more pervasive American perceived ethos.
While soccer does not possess the ability to cure all that ails this country, it can be a catalyst for positive change. The leadership that is selected must realize the importance of this game, not only as a sport but a form of quasi religion that can galvanize the people under its spell. With this power comes great responsibility, here’s to hoping that the lesser of the two presidents is able to learn from the missteps of the commander in chief. “Let’s Make American Soccer Great!”
Thanks for reading!
PS – Historically speaking, host nations seem to have a greater likelihood of winning the World Cup. With young players like Pulisic and Adams being in their mid twenties in 2026, there’s a fighter’s chance.