The United States is suffering from a curse it doesn’t know was cast.
While the country is moving towards footballing legitimacy, it will never be a true soccer nation without idols.
Kids need heroes to look up to. When the U.S. went to the moon in 1969, it inspired a generation of scientists, thinkers, and dreamers.
Raúl, Real Madrid legend and current La Liga ambassador to the United States, addressed the issue at the Soccerex Americas Forum held in Mexico City earlier this week,
“I BELIEVE THAT SOCCER IN THE UNITED STATES LACKS AN IDOL AND THEY SHOULD DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO CREATE ONE.”
“IN BASKETBALL, THEY HAD [MICHAEL] JORDAN AND NOW [STEPHEN] CURRY, LEBRON [JAMES].”
He’s right. The next generation of American soccer players need American idols to look up to. Messi and Ronaldo are great, but they’re a world away.
They could never have the same impact as a Michael Jordan or LeBron James – not because they’re not inspiring, but because they’re not intrinsic to American culture.
It’s hard to get behind someone who’s not one of your own.
Landon Donovan is, by all metrics, the greatest American soccer player of all time.
Unfortunately, his personality isn’t inspirational. It’s just not. Fantastic player; not a real talkative guy. And I get that. Some people speak through their play.
But his love for the game isn’t infectious like Messi’s. He never dazzled like Ronaldo (either one) or Ronaldinho.
Sure, he had his moments:
But he never inspired.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a Landon Donovan fan. But watch this post-game interview after he scored that goal:
For fuck’s sake! That’s the least inspirational thing I’ve ever seen. I know it’s not his fault he was cursed with that nasal monotone, and I don’t want to denigrate his career and all the hard work he put in to get to the top, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
First of all, don’t start your interview by weeping. I get that it’s an emotional moment, but you’re making always-in-his-feelings-Drake look like the fuckin’ Terminator here. Beginning your interview with a seven second cry solo (or solo cry, if you prefer) is not a good look.
Second of all, don’t give your wife, who you know is divorcing your ass, a shoutout. This is your time to shine, Landon.
It’s hard for me to even watch that interview. It makes me cringe. It makes everyone cringe. It’s the antithesis of inspiration.
Now let’s juxtapose that with America’s current torchbearer, Clint Dempsey. First we’ll set the scene. He scored a huge goal against arch rival Ghana in the 2014 World Cup:
So it’s basically the same interview situation Landon Donovan was in for the earlier video – star player scores big goal in crucial World Cup game.
Let’s see how Dempsey handles it:
Let’s start with the good: no tears. That’s going to raise your score by at least an entire letter grade.
Other good things: acting like a normal human being; conducting yourself in a way that doesn’t make me want to leave the room.
And who could forget this gem that Dempsey gave us:
Dempsey plays with a chip on his shoulder. A little fire. A little passion. He’s an easy guy to root for.
The United States needs more guys like Clint Dempsey. Unfortunately, Clint Dempsey’s days are numbered. Not ’cause there’s a bounty on his head, but because he’s getting old.
He’s got another World Cup in him, but after that he’s gonna be kickin’ back in an easy chair and fishin’ somewhere in Texas. Which is good – he’s earned that. I hope Dempsey lives ’til he’s 100 and fishes from sunup to sundown 300 days a year.
But after Dempsey, who will carry the torch?
Michael Bradley is quality, but he’s not the most exciting guy I’ve ever met. He’s an egg. A good, solid, stoic egg. Arguably the most important cog in the USMNT machine right now, but not someone who’s gonna drum up a tremendous amount of excitement.
Jozy Altidore is another good player – I think. I still haven’t figured out if he’s actually good. Every time I think I have Jozy figured out he goes and does the exact opposite of whatever conclusion I’ve reached.
If he’s having a shit game and I decide (for the 100th time) that he’s really just not that good, he’ll go and score a SportsCenter Top 10 free kick from 20 yards out.
Ebbs and flows with Jozy.
Take the 2014 World Cup. He was hotter than a pistol coming into the tournament, scoring like 3 goals a game in all the tune-up friendlies. Then he went and got hurt and was a non-factor for the rest of the tournament.
Obviously he didn’t get hurt on purpose, but still, he wasn’t much help sitting on the end of the bench.
Jozy hasn’t shown me the consistency required to become “The Man”.
Michael Bradley is next in line anyway, but he’s no spring chicken himself, nor is he a firebrand.
He’s more like a Toyota Prius. Good at what he does, but not something people are real fired up about.
What the United States needs is a player the whole country can rally around.
Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, and Jordan Morris are all promising, but as of yet, they’re untested commodities, at least on the USMNT scene.
Bobby Wood has slightly more experience than the other two, who have a combined total of none.
Gyasi Zardes has been trending in the right direction lately, but he, too, needs to perform consistently for the USMNT.
The Copa America will be a very enlightening tournament.
The next iteration of USMNT mainstays will start to separate themselves from the Mix Diskeruds of the world and we’ll get our first look at something resembling the squad that will travel to Russia in 2018 for the World Cup (knock on wood).
For that reason, the Copa can’t come soon enough.
Raúl is right.
Without a Michael Jordan or a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Wayne Gretzky; someone to rally around, someone for kids to look up to and emulate, the United States will never be a great soccer nation.