An interesting article from ESPN on how it isn’t a lack of athletic ability that holds America back at the World Cup
To believe the best-athlete myth is to fundamentally misunderstand American soccer’s plight. Athletic ability is not the problem. In fact, it’s generally considered a Team USA strength, along with competitive spirit. We can run and jump with the world’s best. Compared to their superstar Argentine and Spanish peers, however, our best players lack vision, creativity and technical skill. On-ball magic. Soccer-specific attributes that don’t transfer from one sport to the next, that can’t be measured with the stopwatches and shuttle cones of a scouting combine. Does being able to hit a major league curveball automatically make you a PGA Tour prospect? The things American soccer needs to improve on come from immersion and exposure, from how you grow up in the sport.
And in that regard, our best isn’t good enough. Not even close.
As a teenager, Messi attended the training academy of top professional club Barcelona, living and breathing the game’s highest level; by age 19, he was playing in his first World Cup. In the world of international soccer, his story is the norm. It’s also the norm in the United States — provided you play football, basketball or baseball, where the minors and/or de facto minor league college sports prepare you to be a pro in sink-or-swim, survival-of-the-fittest fashion.
Play soccer, by contrast, and you’ll likely spend your formative years in college — well below MLS, a Marianas Trench removed from the big-money, high-pressure hothouse of European club competition. By the time America’s top talents reach the international level, they’re stuck playing catch-up. Though a shift to continental-style player development is taking place — witness U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, who trained at the IMG soccer academy in Florida, went to MLS at age 17 and is now playing in Germany — overnight dividends aren’t a sure thing. How else to explain Freddy Adu?