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Sally Jenkins: For U.S. soccer, it's time to set sights higher

Sally Jenkins has penned a column that says, for a nation that wants to be first in just about everything, it's odd that so many Americans are accepting of the U.S. soccer team's second-rate status in the world. Give it a read here.

By Matt Bonesteel  |  June 29, 2010; 10:27 AM ET
Categories:  2010 World Cup , U.S. men's national team  
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Comments

Instead we're cultivating players in little leagues overmanaged by adults handing out juice boxes.
==============
Hackneyed rubbish. You think Clint Dempsey got where he is solely by playing pick-up in his back yard? No, he drove some ridiculous distance several times a week so he could play with good players and receive good coaching.

You think Landon Donovan grew up and developed his skills in a barrio somewhere?

Instead of fitting some cliche, maybe US Soccer can look at its successes, and figure out how to replicate them on a larger scale, instead of taking advice from Sally Come Lately.

Posted by: OWNTF | June 29, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

OWNTF: I think you analysis of Sally Jenkins hits the nail on the head. And besides, who cares about her analysis? I take it about as seriously as I take my own analysis on foreign policy.

Yet, I think you should give the USSF more credit. I was one of those players that would drive from Silver Spring to northern Baltimore numerous times a week to play for the Baltimore Bays (players on my team would make even further trips). Yet, when I compare the current set up for high level youth soccer I am blown away by many of the changes. The academy system is making many positive changes and I expect more talent in the likes of Najar and Hamid to be produced in the coming years (let’s not forget that major youth clubs like the Baltimore Bays or Scott Gallagher FC in STL are part of this academy project). When playing in college I spent time helping coach various youth programs and Syracuse and the emphasis on training had completely changed from the time when I was a kid. The implementation of small sided games and the focus on technique was very impressive. This is not to say there aren't serious challenges but like you said, high level American youth soccer is in no way shape or form the juice box league (but on a side note, who doesn’t love a juice box?).

Posted by: grubbsbl | June 29, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Agree with above, this is another ignorant rant by a sports hack who just joined the party and is shocked, shocked, that domination aint happening.

Posted by: UnitedDemon | June 29, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The emphasis on small sided games is huge but we won't see the results for approximately ten to twelve years. I have been involved in youth coaching for the past ten years or so and the positive changes during that time are quite dramatic.

Posted by: Gambrills4 | June 29, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Sally says:
"When have you ever seen a bunch of American kids kicking a soccer ball around on their own, unsupervised, across a patch of asphalt or in an empty lot? Answer: never."
Sally needs to read John Harkes book "Captain for Life" about his growing up in Kearny, NJ, where this went on, and still goes, on all the time. And its true in hundreds of other towns, now especially where Hispanic kids are growing up
Part of the problem, however, is that many of the best athletes in U.S. high schools are steered to American football every fall and never give soccer a look.

Posted by: kaynfred53 | June 29, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I am not even about to read some garbage as someone called her: Sally Come Lately. As cool as it is for the country to start buzzing about this stuff, I could hardly give a crap about someone who hasn't been paying attention until two weeks ago throwing in their two cents.

Hey Wa Post, don't make the mistake of not reporting on DC United's Open Cup match being played tomorrow night or the game in San Jose this weekend because you're so busy letting Sally Jenkins ramble on about what US Soccer needs.

Posted by: DadRyan | June 29, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Alright, apparently my comment was too shocking for the censors. Suffice it to say I have no interest in the bleatings of dinosaur sports columnists who no longer bother to actually cover the subject at hand.

Posted by: JkR- | June 29, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

And I do know that Jenkins has piped up before, but I'm burnt out on all this bandwagon reporting, sensational love child stories, etc.

I'm used to my wife alerting me every time C. Ronaldo ends up on TMZ in his bathing suit, but listening to all these casual mofos talkin' about how soccer needs to change is irritating. I've got neighbors who've got the market on that cornered...;)

Posted by: DadRyan | June 29, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I see kids kicking soccer balls around on a fairly regular basis. Actually I think it is a more regular sight than seeing kids tossing a football around. However, it would be far more constructive if the kids were juggling which I don't see anywhere near as much.

Posted by: Gambrills4 | June 29, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I also would challenge her premise that we accept being a "second rate side." I certainly don't accept it happily or willingly but I am a realist. I understand the disposition the beautiful game currently finds itself in our country. Rather than expect miracles, I choose to think critically in an attempt to help better our chances.

I am always seeing potential in our program and secretly hoping we put a run together and reach the semis. Heck, I already started dreaming about 2014.

Kaynfred53, her comment just shows her idiocy. I see random kids playing pickup daily at parks in College Park when I got for my afternoon jog. But I guess she is entitled to broad generalization devoid of reality like the rest of us….

Posted by: grubbsbl | June 29, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Sally says:
"When have you ever seen a bunch of American kids kicking a soccer ball around on their own, unsupervised, across a patch of asphalt or in an empty lot? Answer: never."
Sally needs to read John Harkes book "Captain for Life" about his growing up in Kearny, NJ, where this went on, and still goes, on all the time. ...

Posted by: kaynfred53 | June 29, 2010
--------------------------------------
while i agree it would be easier for sally (since she lives in manhattan) to go to jersey to see this for every other post reporter (besides maybe wilbon) they could easily see this happening right here throughout the washington metro region.

that was just lazy writing by somebody living in manhattan who has long ago lost touch with washington and other parts of the country.

Posted by: PindarPushkin | June 29, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

At first I thought Sally made some interesting points, setting higher goals, changing the focus of kids play among others. These have been discussed with the USSF for years.

However, by the time I finished the article, I really got the sense of how naive and Johnny Come Lately she is to the sport.

The thing she really doesn't get is that soccer unlike almost every other sport is truly a global game. In most countries of the world it is the Number 1 sport by far and is completely embedded in the culture.

Here in the US we have made tremendous ground over the last 20 to 30 years as evidence by the US team performance, coverage by the media and attention by the public. For example, I remember seeing the 1978 World Cup final in a large downtown Pittsburgh movie theatre with about 50 other people including Senator Heinz and his kids. At the time there was no US team, no coverage and no buzz.

My point is that we have made remarkable strides but it takes some time. However, I don't think a goal of winning the Cup this year is very realistic for a country where soccer is the 4th or 5th major sport (up from literally nothing)against the major powers of football like Germany, Argentina, Holland and Brazil.

I do like the idea of raising our sights for perhaps the 2022 WC (hopefully hosted by the US) were we make a serious run at winning.

Posted by: dcufan531 | June 29, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

You guys are being too hard on Jenkins, whose article essentially endorses Project 2010 a mere 12 years after its creation.

If I could find it, I would link to Jenkins' article blasting the soft bigotry of low expectations that plague the US Olympic hockey team, who were insufficiently disappointed with their recent silver medal.

I also noticed that Jenkins received a national award for writing last year's fifth-best piece of sports feature writing, and that "Jenkins also received honorable mention for her columns in 2009." http://tinyurl.com/244mzh9 Surely Jenkins knows that is not good enough. The Post needs to develop more sportswriters who, like Wilbon, were hardened by Chicago's south side, where he wrote sports columns, unsupervised, in an empty parking lot, with not an orange slice in sight. Or maybe that was at Northwestern.

Anyway, Jenkins has inspired me to have no idea what I'm talking about, and for that I can only thank her.

Posted by: hungrypug | June 29, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

The real issue is that the USA fans are not settling they are just aware that the USA program is a work in progress. It's just that simple.

Posted by: Gambrills4 | June 29, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

hungrypug. I try to block all knowledge on Project 2010 becuase I knew it then to be a good joke.

Posted by: grubbsbl | June 29, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

The only thing worse that the bars full of "once every four year" fans is newspapers full of "once every four years" columnists.

Posted by: harkes4ever | June 29, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

The only thing worse than the bars full of "once every four year" fans is newspapers full of "once every four years" columnists.

Posted by: harkes4ever | June 29, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Boy, you soccer people are awfully sensitive. ;-)

Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | June 29, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I also noticed that Jenkins received a national award for writing last year's fifth-best piece of sports feature writing, and that "Jenkins also received honorable mention for her columns in 2009." http://tinyurl.com/244mzh9 Surely Jenkins knows that is not good enough. The Post needs to develop more sportswriters who, like Wilbon, were hardened by Chicago's south side, where he wrote sports columns, unsupervised, in an empty parking lot, with not an orange slice in sight. Or maybe that was at Northwestern.
=========================

Well in, Pug!

Posted by: Rand-al-Thor | June 29, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"When have you ever seen a bunch of American kids kicking a soccer ball around on their own, unsupervised, across a patch of asphalt or in an empty lot? Answer: never."

Did it last night. Had two kids drive an hour from over in Kennesaw, the other side of the -ish where the Beat play, on instant notice. And yes, there was juggling. From those of us that can.

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | June 29, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Meh . . . columnists yammering about things they know nothing about is par for the course on sports radio, ESPN, etc. Some people from the Post have made a pretty lucrative career out of it.

There's probably a nugget of a legitimate point in there somewhere—the US needs to improve in identifying and developing talent outside the pay-to-play youth system. But realistically, that's only going to happen as MLS strengthens. It's far to daunting a task for the USSF to tackle.

The questions are whether/when MLS reaches that point, and what national teams we wind up strengthening—USA or Central American sides (i.e. Najar)

Posted by: benonthehill | June 29, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone read the article in the NY Times magazine about Ajax recently? Interesting stuff. I'm not sure it's a model I'd want to see here, but it shows what, theoretically, maybe necessary for the creation of top talent consistently.

Posted by: TwoIsle | June 29, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

If Juergen Klinsmann said this same thing about player pool/development, you'd probably be debating it rationally. Instead, you're jumping all over "Sally Come Lately." And it's funny, because Klinsmann pretty much said this on ESPN the other day.

The pyramid in the US is not like what it is in other countries. By and large, we raise players to get scholarships. We don't raise players to be pros or for the national team. The model has to change if we want to accelerate the rate of progress we're making as a national program and ultimately sit in the top tier.

Posted by: 37thandK | June 29, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

The reality is we are somewhere in the top 20 of nations in the world, and can beat any team or loose to any team on any given day.

I get very upset when the US flops, as they did in the initial rounds of the confederation's cup. And, when the coach makes poor player choices like starting clark.

But, the reality is that we don't have the horses to compete with Argentina or Brazil on a consistent basis, and that's just not anyone's fault.

Posted by: hacksaw | June 29, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

And if you REALLY want to get the opinion of an idiot journalist, check out Kizla's column in the Denver Post. I take back my support for Denver to make the world cup venue site list. The soccer community out here is pretty active, but it's small. And there are just too many morons out here that would actively rant against the game even while we host the world. Really sad.

Posted by: hacksaw | June 29, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

If Juergen Klinsmann said this same thing about player pool/development, you'd probably be debating it rationally. Instead, you're jumping all over "Sally Come Lately." And it's funny, because Klinsmann pretty much said this on ESPN the other day.

The pyramid in the US is not like what it is in other countries. By and large, we raise players to get scholarships. We don't raise players to be pros or for the national team. The model has to change if we want to accelerate the rate of progress we're making as a national program and ultimately sit in the top tier.

Posted by: 37thandK
------------------------

Ding ding ding!

Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | June 29, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Sally isn't saying anything that most of us hardcore "soccer fans" don't already agree with. Yes, we're happy to have gotten to the knockout stages in this World Cup, especially given the 2006 trainwreck, but I don't think a single one of us isn't disappointed in the loss to Ghana. That said, we got beat by a world class strike, and there's no shame in that. How'd you like to be a fan of Chile right now?

Development is coming, but it's gonna take time. I don't know how much stock I'd put into the "sandlot" theory either. Isn't the knock against today's hoopsters that they're all flash and no fundamentals? Is there any wonder? Cripes, it's all showtime now, and traveling and double-dribbles just do not get called unless they're egregious.

Yes, Messi probably did his time on the "mean streets," but he also got whisked away to the Barcelona academy at a very young age.

Jenkins is also right to point out the "pay to play" nature of U.S. youth soccer, though she's hardly the first to see this (read any issue of Soccer America from the past 10 years).

Posted by: loosek | June 29, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Juergen didn't say anything groundbreaking the other day, and neither did Sally in her article. the progress we have made since 94 is amazing. American's are just impatient (which is why they don't like the boring beautiful game anyway), and many don't understand that it takes generations to get to the top. We have a much larger pool of people to select from, so we should go faster, but it will still take decades.

In the last 6 World Cups, we have advanced past the group stage in 3 of them - I think any "start up" soccer nation would kill for that record, let alone 6 straight appearances. Winning the 3rd game and the group this time was progess, even if the Round of 16 didn't work out.

Posted by: VTUnited | June 29, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Nobody is saying Klinsmann and Sally were first to the table with their thoughts. They're just the latest to frame the issue so that everybody can argue about it.

We're obviously making progress and improving, and the status quo is fine if you want to take another incremental step in, say, 20 years. We'll be better in 2014 than we were in 2010, but we are and will be firmly entrenched in the tier we find ourselves now. This isn't a bad thing, but if we're setting a goal of 2022 to be something other than what we are now, the model has to change. Yesterday.

Klinsmann would probably be a very average manager on the field, but just having his perspective in the system and the mere possibility that a new paradigm could be established would be infinitely more valuable in the long run than what another coach could do in the next four years.

Posted by: 37thandK | June 29, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, not a fan of this article. She uses the Olympics as an example, and yet, ignores the fact that we do consider each individual sport before being outraged that an American individual or team didn't win gold. Anyone with a brain considers the historical facts. Thanks for checking in once every four years to give us an uninformed opinion about soccer.

Posted by: greifie | June 29, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"We can now say 'pitch' instead of 'field!'"

I'm one of those who are sick and tired of American soccer "experts" trying to sound British, as if we have some sort of inferiority complex. We don't call trucks "lorries," nor elevators "lifts," nor gasoline "petrol," nor trunks "boots," nor hoods "bonnets," nor spell "tires" with a "y," nor spell "harbor," "color," "favor," "humor" and other such words with a "u."

So we shouldn't call fields "pitches." The British call cricket and rugby grounds "pitches," as well, so it's not a term that specific to soccer.

This isn't jingoism. This is common sense.

Posted by: JosephDHippolito | June 29, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

The biggest failing of Jenkins' piece is it is entirely unoriginal. She's not offering any real insight -- or, at least, nothing that everyone who follows this stuff doesn't already know.

Hungrypug's comment wins for comic relief and insight. What I would add, though, is that Project 2010 was a decent idea -- it's certainly raised our game. That the dream of really contending wasn't realized has to be attributed to the fact that the first class was the best. We've never found another Donovan in the mix. On the other hand, Altidore might be the next big star. People are dissing him, but they ignore the fact that he's 20. He's about as effective at 20 as Donovan was at 21, in his first World Cup. If we get more players at that level, the USA will be a force.

The comments about USA players' lack of technique and the problems of relying on suburban kids are hardly eye-opening. However, I won't attribute it to just the emerging nature of the sport here -- for one reason: There is another sport here where the USA suffers similarly on the international stage: BASEBALL!!!

For years, the lords of baseball got away with blaming USA Olympics failures on the amateurs taking on Cuban professionals, etc. With the World Baseball Classic, we've seen top Americans take on players form other countries, and we are still left wanting. There are some Americans who can hit the ball, but few who can hit, run and field.

The problem is well-understood. The best athletes -- the biggest, the strongest, the fastest -- they're not playing the game. Nr are those inner city-youths who play those pick-up games four hours and develop techniques that foreign kids master. That's true for both baseball and soccer. Noto nly are the kids not playing these games, they're basically not even on the cultural radar screen in these areas. Soccer is seen as a foreign game, and baseball might as well be.

Rural areas can also be problematic In rural areas in the South and the Plains states -- where the best football players come from -- soccer is neither seen nor heard. Not on local fields, and not on TV. SO these kids lack both real instruction and models to emulate in pick-up games. Baseball gets some of these corn-fed kids, but soccer doesn't.

The answer isn't simple. Baseball has an inner-city initiative, but you'd be hard-pressed to find real results. Gulati is talking about doing that, but you can't make soccer players by just offering free balls.

The only, real answer is patience. Baseball is undoubtedly in decline in our culture, among the youth. Soccer is undoubtedly on the rise. As it becomes more ubiquitous, more kids -- better athletic prospects -- will come to the game. Results will follow.

Posted by: fischy | June 29, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

The "experts" at BP want you to know that they are doing their very best in a technically challenging environment to clean up this unofrseen disaster.

The "experts" at wall street don't expect you to understand their complex financial instruments, but just trust them that they are for the benefit of the investor.

The "experts" wanted to avenge 9/11 and achieve stability by attacking baghdad.

...is it really that shocking that an inconsequential sports column will not hit the nail on the head?

Posted by: wordup1 | June 29, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

The only, real answer is patience. Baseball is undoubtedly in decline in our culture, among the youth. Soccer is

Posted by: fischy | June 29, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

american football may have reached a peak and be in decline as well. just check out the story on chris henry's brain condition even though he never had a concussion! i sure as hell won't let my son play american football. unless technological solutions come about, american football could go the way of boxing...who knows?

Posted by: birdynumnum | June 29, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"We can now say 'pitch' instead of 'field!'"

I'm one of those who are sick and tired of American soccer "experts" trying to sound British, as if we have some sort of inferiority complex. We don't call trucks "lorries," nor elevators "lifts," nor gasoline "petrol," nor trunks "boots," nor hoods "bonnets," nor spell "tires" with a "y," nor spell "harbor," "color," "favor," "humor" and other such words with a "u."

So we shouldn't call fields "pitches." The British call cricket and rugby grounds "pitches," as well, so it's not a term that specific to soccer.

This isn't jingoism. This is common sense.

Posted by: JosephDHippolito
------------------------------------

Aw, come on. Why does this bother you? Many Americans have gotten the bulk of their pro soccer exposure watching European matches (sorry, "games") on TV and the words used are obviously "pitch", "match", "nil", etc., so that's what they get used to using themselves. So what?

The sport has come a long way in the US, but we still have a long way to go. I don't know why ANY energy is expended on this when there are legitimate issue to be addressed.

Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | June 29, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

@fischy,

How many characters did you have to spare?

Posted by: benonthehill | June 29, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Of course, Portugal and England, Italy and France -- they've got to take on their national disgrace and do something about it. What does Sally Jenkins recommend? Or, is it enough that they suffer the great angst that we don't?

Posted by: fischy | June 29, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

again. by and large the US public does not care about soccer. find whatever reason you want, but they don't. every four years or so there is a slight spike in interest on account of the world cup, but it is fleeting. i am not sure why soccer fans want soccer so big here. there are plenty of outlets for soccer in the premier and other leagues.

Posted by: funkey | June 29, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

. I don't know why ANY energy is expended on this when there are legitimate issue to be addressed.

Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | June 29, 2010 3:49 PM
----------------0--------------------

I blame Bonesteel for linking the piece and inviting comment.

Posted by: fischy | June 29, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

BONESTEEEEEEL!

Posted by: VTUnited | June 29, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Those who are arguing that structured leagues are integral to footballing success are foolish. Look at the contrast between Brazil and the USA: the US has spawned Donovan, Dempsey, and Altidore, two stellar athletes, but not spectacular soccer players. Meanwhile, Brazil has spawned Kaka, Robinho, and Luis Fabiano. Notice the difference? Yeah, the Brazilians are a lot better. The same comparisons can be made with Argentina, and Spain, and nearly every country that has the means to support quality leagues and youth teams, while still allowing its youth to grow up playing in the streets. Even Mexico, entrenched in poverty, consistently fields more talented teams than us. On paper, they are all better soccer players than us- probably only a few Americans could crack that lineup, excluding goalkeepers.

The point is that leagues and structured coaching can only do so much for a player. At some point, he must be allowed to develop his skills on his own and experiment without authority breathing down his neck. Yes, discipline and organization are to be valued, especially for defenders, but there is no denying that American teams always lack the flair and creativity that the best teams in the world have. So, yes, we should continue to expand and pour money into our youth systems, but we should also let the kids express themselves on the pitch, rather than branding "techniques" into them from an early age. That's not how Pele learned the game; nor Maradona; nor Messi, or Best, or Ronaldinho, or Tevez, or any of the world's greatest players, past and present.

Posted by: kdiff813 | June 29, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

On paper, they are all better soccer players than us- probably only a few Americans could crack that lineup, excluding goalkeepers.

I have no idea what it means to be a better soccer player "on paper", but your second claim seems to be clearly belied by the US's record against Mexico over the last decade.

Posted by: BooThisMan | June 29, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

VTUnited: In the last 6 World Cups, the US has won a grand total of 4 matches (2 of which were in 2002, so that's 2 wins combined in the other 5 Cups).

In our last 8 World Cup matches, we've won only once... and that took a miracle. And we haven't had a single goal by a forward in those 8 matches.

Patience is one thing but at some point, you have to say that it's not good enough, that progress is stalling.

Soccer players don't grow on trees. The insanely parochial youth soccer structure has to be ripped up, but who has the political will to attack that when youth soccer is the largest constituency in who elects US Soccer's leadership?

Posted by: saabrian1 | June 30, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Aw, come on. Why does this bother you?

Because, PrinceBuster21, it's phony, pompous and pretentious. Those on ESPN Radio who report on World Cup results during their Sportscenters every 20 minutes use terms like "nil" instead of "zero" when talking about soccer, but use "zero" when talking about baseball. Is this a substantive moral issue? Of course not. But that doesn't mean that we should call a spade a spade, as it were.

Posted by: JosephDHippolito | July 1, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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