US soccer will never be #1; it doesn’t have a street game. Isn’t that what they say? No shoeless street urchins knocking around a ball made from socks as raw sewage flows across the scrap landed penalty box. Look at England, the first world version of this fantasy, and hail the working class soccer legend. His old dad kicked the ball with him after a shift at the factory; they spent years bonding on the crumbling stadium terracing flowing with discharged piss from lager bladders and mouths. And how junior didn’t need to bother with all that boring math and geometry at school. He could run diagonals and create linear equations on a soccer field – poor + soccer = legend of the game. We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. Ball control speaks louder than any college, mate.
So, here come the Americans. Playing on the grass carpets of soccer suburbia, as beautifully manicured as their soccer mom’s nails. It’s a safe game, soccer, no need for helmets and hurt, no need for the threatening newspeak of hoops, no danger of being around too many bad boys. And do your homework! We want that scholarship to college for our juniors, where the blackboard teaches not just Humanities but how to play soccer.
Listen to the coach, play the paradigm, be a good sport. It’s all about fun, love of the game – viciousness unknown, cheating despised, bullying, hacking, stealing are out – no thanks, that is not for us. That’s not soccer. That’s not how we play in America. We play fair.
So what! Is that last paragraph even mildly accurate? Most likely not but some commentators think it is. Let’s assume some of it credible for the sake of a few more strokes. What has this pleasant model produced? You could say, US internationalist Landon Donovan – smart, educated, a guy who advocates reading as a pastime, a cultured man with an ability to string together sentences like he strings together goals. Did he grow up playing on the dangerous street of the underclass? Certainly not. Boy of the suburb. Is he as good a player as any once disadvantaged street-smart soccer peer? He certainly is.
So do we need the soccer street to succeed at the world’s game? Consider this. What are we good at in America? We’re good at TV, and very good at the unreality of reality TV. Calling all producers. Here’s the script. It’s in the copyright vault. Get in touch if you wish to buy it.
We build a slum with a scrap of land with previously mentioned raw sewage flowing across the penalty box. We find some young soccer prodigies and deprive them of vegetables, feeding them survivalist soccer every day as they battle hardships of poverty and villainy, learning to fight like the street demands every time they chase down the ball.
There are no coaching mentors. No showers, no soft down pillows, no cleats – barefoot makes better players – and after a summer of reality TV poverty, bus them to the well heeled suburbs to play against the top kids in uniforms, fresh and clean and smelling of roses.
Who will win? Street or suburb?
Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.