Being the third most populated country in the world, one would believe that this would lead to success when it comes to global competitions in athletics. This is not the case when it comes to the United States in men’s soccer.
The United States men’s national team is currently ranked 30th in the world, according to FIFA’s world rankings. Countries currently above them in the rankings include Ireland, Wales, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. So the question still looms: How do nations so much smaller than the United States succeed in the sport?
One reason is the amount of experience that the U.S. has in international soccer. According to The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation, the United States has only played 618 international games in its existence.
Compare that to soccer powers such as Brazil and England. The United States trails them by more than 300 games. With less experience against the best the world has to offer, that could explain the struggles of the United States soccer team.
From 1950 through 1990, the United States didn't even qualify for a World Cup. To make matters worse, they played in half the amount of matches as countries like Brazil, England, Italy, and France. A bad team with no experience led to them being a constant underdog in just about any international match they played in.
The level of competition for the players might be the biggest factor for the United States. Out of the 29 teams in front of the United States in the world rankings, 21 of them are from Europe. In other words, the United States struggles could just be due to its location. Europe has the best soccer talent around, which leads to better competition when it comes to club play.
Teams buy players at a young age from all over the world, and help them reach their potential. This is true with the team Ajax, which is located in the Netherlands. The team is known for its great youth system, which has produced many great players such as the Dutch national star Wesley Sneijder.
David Endt, a former Ajax player and a longtime executive of the club, has said, “Here, we would rather polish one or two jewels than win games at the youth levels.” What Endt is saying is that the United States is too focused on creating good teams at a young age instead of creating singular talented players.
The best soccer-playing nations construct individual players, ones with superior technical skills who later come together on teams the United States struggle to compete against. That is why the current United States head coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, has said that he wants to see more players from the United States going to play overseas in Europe.
He believes that putting his players in the middle of the best competition in the world can lead to the U.S. becoming more successful as a soccer playing nation. This is shown to be true for the players that he chooses to field.
For the 2014 World Cup, 18 of the 23 players selected had played in Europe at some time in their career. All of these players, with the exception of Brad Guzan, who was the backup goalkeeper to Tim Howard, had an appearance during the tournament.
At this point, many of the prominent players such as Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, were playing over in Europe and were in the best form of their careers for the national team. Currently, both are playing in the Major League Soccer (MLS), which is located in the United States.
The league is less competitive than many of the leagues in Europe. Since that time, both players' production for the United States national team has dwindled immensely. Altidore went on a goalless drought of 27 matches, compared to his five-game goal streak that he had in 2013.
This shows that playing in Europe does have correlation between being a more productive player. If the United States wants to have success on the international level, they will follow Klinsmann's plan of sending their top talent to Europe to be groomed for soccer stardom.