Instead of asking, “How does U.S. Soccer find and develop talent?” maybe we should first be asking, “What is talent?”
That was the message from Alexi Lalas, former U.S. Men’s National Teamer and current Fox Sports 1 soccer analyst, Monday on The Triple Threat on SportsRadio 610. When asked what he thinks we need to do to cultivate a roster that rivals the world’s elite, he said we first needs to come up with a clear rubric of what we’re looking for.
“We are an incredibly diverse country, and we have so many different ethnic groups and backgrounds and histories — it’s what makes us a great country,” he said. “But what makes us a great country, our diversity, can also at times be challenging because, there’s so many different people that think about the game in different ways. Whether it’s the coaches that are coaching your kids. The coach that’s coaching your kids might think about the game in a completely different way that somebody else is thinking about the game. What makes the game beautiful. What a good player is. What a pretty play is. All of these different things that we’re trying to figure out how to identify a good soccer player. But everybody has a different idea of what a good soccer player looks like at the age of seven.”
It’s an interesting concept, and flies in the face of the usual answer, that we miss out because our top athletes are playing other sports.
If you watch international soccer, stylistically, national teams can be as different as their domestic cultures. Germany is defined by its structure. Brazil, by possession and improvisation. Mexico, it’s short passing and 1 v 1 skills. England is hyper aggressive. Italy, more tentative. And so on.
When you consider that, in terms of size and population, these countries are as small as certain U.S. states, it helps illustrate Lalas’ point, that there’s a lot of room for debate on just what, exactly, “good” looks like.
With the Stars and Stripes poised to take on Argentina in the Copa Americana semis tomorrow night at NRG Stadium, it’s worth remembering, the difference between us (FIFA World Ranking, 34) and them (1) isn’t so much whether we have the talent. It’s whether we agree on just what that means.
Matt Hammond hosts Saturdays from 11-3 pm on SportsRadio 610 and fill ins during the week. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter @MattHammondShow.