U.S. soccer fans need to be patient
In 1994, John O’Brien did the unimaginable for an American soccer player. At the age of 16, he moved to Holland and began training with Ajax, one of the world’s top clubs.
The Southern California native was a star in the Olympic Development Program, our country’s feeder system for the national team. But O’Brien turned down the opportunity to be a college soccer star in a country whose highest level of soccer at the time was college soccer.
It was the smartest move an American soccer player has ever made, and it was a move that propelled the U.S. forward in the world’s game. O’Brien advanced through Ajax’s rigorous youth ranks and eventually earned a starting spot on the club’s first team, something thousands of youth players in Europe never experience.
O’Brien has since been part of two World Cups for the United States and was a member of the 2002 team that advanced to the quarterfinals. His decision was a monumental one for a nation the rest of the soccer world ridiculed.
O’Brien ignoring college paved the way for current superstars Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley, who went straight from high school to the professional ranks. The results from their decisions showed four years ago when the U.S. had its best World Cup since 1930.
However, all O’Brien, Donovan and Beasley did is what hundreds of players their ages have done for decades in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, England, France and Germany. In those countries, a player knows by the age of 18 whether they have a future in soccer because a pro team either signs them to their first contract or tells them to become a butcher.
When O’Brien left for Holland 12 years ago, our nation’s best soccer players were studying for finals on college campuses. Meanwhile, players their same age in England were playing soccer against the world’s best players. So who do you think was going to win a match between the U.S. and England?
That’s why the United States is still overmatched against the powers of the world. Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic was the perfect example.
The best players in Europe and South America play in competitive leagues that have been around for decades. Our domestic league, Major League Soccer, has been around for one decade.
The United States is playing an admirable game of catch-up – better than any other nation could – but it’s not going to erase decades of dormant soccer talent simply because a few of our players did what thousands of youth players do every year in Europe and South America.
It takes time to develop world class players, and we’ve only been trying for one decade. We will become a global soccer power one day, not simply a regional power that beats Panama, Honduras and Canada, but it’s going to take time.
Although patience isn’t a quality casual soccer fans in American possess (i.e. when will there be a goal?), it’s the one quality the rest of the world had to embrace while their soccer talent pool was growing. The United States may have gotten outclassed by the Czech Republic on Monday, but they didn’t get eliminated from the World Cup.
A win over Italy on Saturday isn’t impossible, but consider who are our players are up against. Our depth and talent is better than it was 12 years ago when O’Brien left for Holland, but you don’t produce players such as Brazil’s Ronaldinho or France’s Thierry Henry in a factory that’s only been operating one decade.
After all, Italy had its John O’Brien in 1930.
– Jeremy Evans is a sportswriter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org