Since our last column, we have had the pleasure of seeing Bruce Arena resign as the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, as well as learning that several candidates may run for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation come February.
The current president, Sunil Gulati, is largely incompetent and is a big part of the problem with the team, a team that — to open a recent wound — failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years.
The list of potential candidates includes Landon Donovan, a man who, despite his heroic achievements as a player donning the Stars and Stripes, is part of the reason the U.S. men’s soccer program is struggling so much.
The ugly truth is that the United States cannot fix its own problems. The country needs a foreign perspective to clean house, to retool the youth system and to scout out every potential American star, whether he lives in Beverly Hills or Buenos Aires.
It should not matter if a player is born on a military base thousands of miles away from America; it should only matter that he can play the game.
Donovan said in a 2015 interview that he believes people born outside the U.S. care less about the national team than American-born players do.
Donovan could not be more wrong, and statements like these are exactly why he would be a horrible U.S. Soccer Fedration president.
The entire concept is backward and outdated.
Many call America the greatest country in the world, and regardless of that statement’s veracity, any weight that it would hold rests on a simple fact: You can be American without ever having lived in the United States. The United States has bases around the world, allows for dual citizenship with few stipulations and fosters enormous national pride among its citizens, both native-born and naturalized.
It is absurd that we apply a higher standard to American soccer players than we do to potential presidents. There was hardly any backlash against Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.), who was born on a U.S. military base in Panama, when he ran for president in 2000 and in 2008. Yet we cry foul if an American born on a base in Germany tries to play soccer for his country.
If America was filled to the brim with only people like Donovan and Abby Wambach, who said in an interview with The New York Times that she does not support foreign-born soccer players on the U.S. team, then America would not be America.
Now, it is time for U.S. soccer to accept that fact. Soccer is the world’s game. The 2014 World Cup reached a total audience of 3.2 billion people.
The United States needs to get with the program or forever risk losing any hope of having a good national team.
At the 2000 UEFA European Football Championship, Germany collapsed and burned out, tallying just one point in the group stages. The same scenario repeated itself at the 2004 Eurocup, prompting the entire German Soccer Federation to make sweeping changes.
In the following years, it invested millions of euros into a revamped youth program, scouting high and low and building facilities that could house thousands of people. As one member of the new program roughly stated: If the next superstar is born in a village on the side of a mountain, we are going to find him.
It is important to note that a key driving force behind this upheaval was none other than former U.S. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
Yes, the very man who was fired for changing too many things and not achieving instantaneous championships is the one who helped Germany eventually lift the World Cup in 2014, as well as finish in the top four at six straight major international tournaments.
The results speak for themselves.
We are not advocating for the return of Klinsmann, although we were certainly not patient enough with him.
We are advocating for the United States to be honest with itself and bring in someone from a winning culture, a culture that knows how to develop youth and honor nationality across borders. This is 2017 — if talented players choose to identify as American, then we better let them play.
MLS is not even a top-15 soccer league in the world. The United States is not even a top-50 national team in the world, since we all know that FIFA rankings are questionable at best. It is time to be honest. The fans hardly help either, with internet forums shooting down suggestions of players solely on the grounds of citizenship.
Fans should be kissing the ground in wonder at the fact that former World Cup-winner and former Paris Saint-Germain manager Laurent Blanc might take the U.S. head coaching job. Instead we get fans clamoring about a sissy European style of play and lack of hard, physical play that is emblematic of being American. Little do they realize how winning would fix everything.
The United States and its most successful companies have always been results-focused. It is, after all, how the best businesses are run. And the United States men’s soccer program desperately needs to catch up.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College, respectively. “NOTHING BUT NET” appears every Friday.