Commentary

The Time it Takes: Beau Dure's 'Reality Check' delivers a provocative and balanced primer to soccer's story in the USA

Why the U.S. Men Will Never Win the World Cup: A Historical and Cultural Reality Check by Beau Dure, (Rowman & Littlefield)
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The intelligent effort and fighting spirit that changed the USA’s mind about soccer and led it to the cusp of becoming a major American sport met these goals with impressive speed.

Still, it took 50 years.

Americans began playing soccer near the time of the Civil War, yet in 1970, essentially zero kids knew the game. From the earliest games to the present, soccer was embraced and resisted, as reasons inherent in the game, American culture, and turn of the century society complicated and lengthened the sport’s struggle to become integral in American life.

American soccer today is a multi-billion dollar sports market and culture, still emerging – tens of millions have grown up playing, American men have qualified for seven of eight World Cups since 1990, American women are eight-time world champions (World Cups and Olympics) since 1991, and pro soccer is being woven into the fabric of communities all across the country.

Not unlike August 1990, American soccer again faces transition so common in the game itself -- a broken moment when our task is to reclaim play, bringing it back into what harmony and rhythm the team’s effort generates and combined talents allow. So goes one accurate story whose drama now concerns whether we can mature to achieve and sustain excellent quality of play and excellent quality of experience for all.

Yet how many remain skeptical, and how many are deeply troubled by various dissonances?

Many grievances are trending today, advanced in takes plausibly predicated on discernible evidence. The men’s national team’s failure to qualify for Russia 2018, for instance, is supposed to mean we can no longer ignore signals flashing ‘something’s rotten in the state of American soccer.’ The game’s cost, uneven access, frequently poor experience, and just OK quality rightly claim attention, while the absence of clear and obvious solutions leave many of the game’s most devoted people in despair for our situation. As 2020 dawns, most soccer pundits openly suggest the sport’s national leaders and organizations are incompetent, corrupt, or both, and we’re witnessing a converging media campaign to compel a confrontation or at least more considered communication about these and other key concerns.

And then there are soccer’s angry Americans, most virulently risible and visible on social media – their emotional investment seems now to tilt much soccer writing and podcasting toward a viral ecology bizarrely resistant to practices informed by and generating healthy culture. What to make of this ideology distilling into dogma?

Then again to speak in person with such online and sometimes real-world revolutionaries is to experience genuine love for our game and sport, to hear the meaning it gives, and, on the whole, to recognize authentic goodwill and good faith. So many invest themselves daily in their communities, and what distance they feel mostly reflects local challenges more effectively met with resources that, today, have yet to be generated. For those matters requiring institutional action regarding decision-making and policy, what trust remains fades farther with each moment their concerns are not reflected in the words of organizational leaders and spokespeople.

So where does this leave us?

Journalist and historian Beau Dure’s provocative and balanced primer to soccer’s story in the USA offers helpful orientation, calmly reminding us we have much to celebrate, much to lament, and much to resist as our story unfolds through this transition moment.

Dure is familiar to Soccer America readers and to those who have paid attention to the game over the past two decades as one who helps us see things as they are, not as we wish them to be. You can count on his sober, reasonable and often bold analysis to reflect relevant, finely researched information, much of which you will not find elsewhere. Such is his honest effort that, as the U.S. women’s national team’s lawsuit has proceeded to near universal public acclaim and support, Dure checks facts promoted by plaintiff and defendant alike, painstakingly compiling financial data and creating pay analyses so fans and media can compare variously calculated claims.

For those expecting more of Dure’s courageous independence, Why the U.S. Men Will Never Win the World Cup will not disappoint. He pays off his promise to educate and inform in fun spirit “despite the depressing premise,” presenting valuable historical information and reasonable perspective, leavened with sometimes illuminating, sometimes curious analogies and pop culture references. The effect builds his argument while keeping the pages turning, a skillful aid for casual fans, those more familiar with the game, and all who are eager for introduction to American soccer history and knowing awareness of matters beyond the field. Those seeking even-handed coverage of significant matters affecting the health of the sport will find a knowledgeable aggregation of journalism and media opinion. Trigger warning: pro/rel advocates’ unexceptional arguments – though not the pro/rel concept – take a fair beating.

Across nine chapters, Dure scans American soccer history for information and themes that illuminate the present. The title may aim to catch attention, though he tethers his 196-page argument more tightly to his subtitle: A Historical and Cultural Reality Check. Each chapter names “a reason why the U.S. men won’t win the Cup” – “we play too many other sports, watch too many other leagues, are too insecure in our soccer identities, can’t agree on anything, can’t stop suing each other, fell behind major soccer nations by 100 years, are obsessed with quick fixes and too serious to succeed at a sport built on joy” – though he’ll “be perfectly happy to be wrong about” what this all amounts to.

You may suspect Dure’s too smart to avoid qualifying his absolute claim, and he’s coy enough to postpone until his final words the crucial caveat. All efforts to escape the tiresome charade that follows the misbegotten ‘when’ question are joyfully tempting, and what better way to redirect conversation than with simple closure, ‘never,’ evenly spoken? This writer finds Dure’s argument unpersuasive – ‘never’ is not the answer – and his commitment to it doubtful, but this hardly seems the point.

Dure’s reality check matters. Blending his own experiences with reports from soccer journalists, historians, and select academics, he nudges us away from that strange seriousness about who we are not (yet may become), pointing us toward a more relaxed attitude about who truly we are.

Throughout the book and again in his final chapter, Dure helpfully catalogues and addresses our many divisive dispositions and practices, modeling a helpful corrective to a hyper-critical attitude so ingrained in other major American sports, an attitude now increasingly mimicked across countless cottage industry podcasts, blogs, and twitter accounts. More importantly, who can doubt Dure’s concluding insistence that “the biggest enemy to soccer’s progress in the United States ... is us. The U.S. soccer community”?

Here, in recognizing that we in the USA now have our own soccer culture, one thing Dure means, I think, is that we have a shared history: the modern game is now long enough nationally established that a few generations have grown up with it so a collective memory is emerging. This offers a chance to consider where we are by recalling the fact that American soccer had to take a road less traveled.

One addition that would enrich and sharpen the book’s historical and cultural analysis reflects a curious detail about contemporary soccer journalism and historians: how rarely they engage those most directly involved – across all relevant categories – during the crucial period between 1960 and 2000. Taken together, these primary source people will tell you what happened and why – they’ll unfold details of, and in many cases correct, the first draft histories that overlook how the USA learned the game, came to embrace it, and learned to generate the human capital, finances, physical infrastructure, and sporting memory that generated today’s durable platform.

How can it be otherwise than that their knowledge and understanding forms, and informs, vital elements of our culture? Such perspective won’t show ours as the best of all possible worlds, but by diving deeply with those most directly involved in our transformation into a soccer nation, Dure could better illuminate what’s been accomplished in American soccer, how it came to be as it is, and what this means moving forward. Whether they would persuade him it’s just a matter of time before American men win the World Cup is an open question, but he might see even more good reasons we should keep calm and carry on.

(William Gordon is a Founding Director and President of the American Soccer Corps, a 501(c)(3) civic research and education organization. ASC is currently establishing the Modern American Soccer Oral History Archive and developing the documentary series America’s Soccer Story.)

14 comments about "The Time it Takes: Beau Dure's 'Reality Check' delivers a provocative and balanced primer to soccer's story in the USA".
  1. frank schoon, December 18, 2019 at 1:21 p.m.

    When you look at the game's development, technically speaking, it has gone down very much in technical quality. In other words the game since the mid 70's began taking a direction whereby the physical, athletic, power and speed began to take prioirity over skills, thinking, movement, positioning. A part of that problem can be blamed on Rinus Michels of Holland who decided that since he had such great technical players why work on skills, since his player were already skilled Therefore he decided to emphasize Athleticism , lots of running, tough defense.  Ofcourse, the rest of the world's coaches copied Michels way practicing and that is where it went all wrong. These idiot overlooked that Michels had great technical players which these other coaches lacked.

    Also the wave of many of the new coaches entering this sport lacked good technical skills themselves, which hurts the American player development greatly. This is why the statement players are over coached is so often heard. Coaching, itself, began to be a more dominant force, at the cost of INDIVIDUALISM . Also another problem that has been a detriment is that coaching has more to do with team concepts not individual concepts.

    One has to realize 70years ago coaching was not as a predominant factor in team play, instead Individualism and that can seen by so many great Individualistic stars in soccer. Van Hanegem a Dutch great, who many thought was the real star, not Johan Cruyff of the famous dutch team of WC'74 known to have introduced Total Soccer, stated  that each team in those days had 2 or 3 great players and today, you're are lucky to find 2 or 3 in the whole league.
     
    If we placed today's US development of soccer back 50years ago, they would be little or no chance of ever winning a world cup, and the reason for that was that in those days, SKILLS ,TECHNIQUE were the most important aspect of soccer, an aspect that is sorely missing in the US game. This Skills aspect is the most difficult to learn which was so greatly emphasized then. Whereas today pickup soccer, the most important aspect in skill development, is nowhere to be had. 

    Fortunately since skill and technically has been greatly lessened as compared to the past the US has better chance of winning a world cup today or rather in the future due to soccer's emphasis more on Athleticism and power and speed and less on skills and aspect that was in reverse years ago.....

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, December 21, 2019 at 2:45 p.m.

    I agree, Frank. My own experience is very limited. I had no organized soccer experience prior to the 1980s. 

    I do have a rather unique perspective on the value of skills training. In my mid 30s I played on an adult competitive team with all the other players coming from soccer countries in Latin America and Europe. While I have good skills from other sports, my soccer specific skills were "novice" level. I improved greatly over the 2 years I trained and competed with them, but I could never come close to their dribling skills. I excelled on the flanks where I could take advantage of athletic ability in 1v1 situations, but at a disadvantage in the the center. 

    My conclusion is that while older players continue to improve, they cannot make up for lost years. This is why I think that the path to world cup success lies in broad promotion of fundamentals before age 14. Exactly what we don't do now in general. Instead we focus on team tactics and winning youth competitions. 

    While I see progress in the technical and tactical aspects of college players over the last 50 years, I don't see progress in player development at the youth level. The problem I see is that the training available to most pre-teens is limited to parents who never played elite soccer, even though elite soccer in the US is not all that elite. A USSF coaching license is no substitute for the knowledge that comes from playing the game. Most of the coaching materials I saw assume the candidate already has knowledge of how the game is played and there is a dearth of quality material on technical skills and technical training. There is a lot available on line, but it is mostly gargage.

    While I am talking about material availability, I will mention that there is actually a dearth of quality material on team tactics. This is part of the reason that I have come to believe that team tactics (what lies beyond the general principles of play) are best viewed as competitive game plans and situational, based on available players, the competition rules, and the opponent. Which explains why teaching team tactics at the fundamental stage of development  wastes valuable training time.

    For over 40 years I have looked for quality English language resouces on both topics and found very little available.  

  3. cony konstin, December 19, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    We need a soccer Revolution in the USA. We need 600,000 futsal courts so kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and no adult interference. We need a Rucker’s Park soccer environment. We need to create Courts of Dreams. You build them. They will come


     


    https://youtu.be/M7JBcu0MzvI

  4. beautiful game replied, December 19, 2019 at 4:20 p.m.

    I like the idea of Courts of Dreams. It works in the basketball venue.

  5. Gary Levitt, December 20, 2019 at 8:58 a.m.

    I am a product of American youth soccer, lucky enough to be raised in an area of Miami where Coral Estates Soccer Club was established by Lou Confessore.  The other clubs in the Miami area at that time (late 60's and 70's) were Miami Shores, Cutler Ridge, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne (these are the ones I remember). The makeup of most clubs were young Americans learning how to play the sport and young international kids whose parents had immigrated to the Miami area. Based on my background I will offer up my assessment of where the sport is lacking from a youth to national team level.  
    1)  the prototypical youth soccer club does not always allow a path for our most skilled players to participate - due to social/economic reasons. 
    2)  the rest of the world: while there are basketball, team handball, rugby, and baseball leagues for their youth to participate, soccer, for most youth internationals, is the number one participation sport. Is our youth development and identification system working to provide our best youth players a path to competitive participation?   No, it is not.
    3) Physicality versus skills - my only benchmark is our national team playing in CONCACAF.  While many years ago the USA's physicality overcame some technical and tactical issues, this is no longer the case.  Some of our Central American and Caribbean opponents, along with Canada, whlie sometimes being technically superior to the USA teams, have now caught up to us in terms of physicality.  Panama, Canada, Jamaica, and T and T come to mind.  Is it Rinus Michaels fault?  No, it is not.

    Again, just my perspective. More importantly, when is the Federation going to take discernible corrective action - not just to win a World Cup, but to ensure we have the player pool to qualify for Qatar and future WC's?  I don't know many people who feel we are a lock for Qatar and with the limited international windows next year, the national team has a tremendous amount of work to do.  I enjoy everyone's assessment and will read Dure's book, but I would really like to hear about positive changes to what is now a serious problem.  

  6. frank schoon replied, December 20, 2019 at 10:50 a.m.

    Gary, always enjoy reading other's perspectives and experiences especially when it goes back to 60's and 70's that you were part of...Let me add something to your 3 assessments...

    1)<"youth soccer club does not always allow a path for our most skilled players to participate - due to social/economic reasons."> Good point but you don't need youth soccer clubs to allow a path...Zlatan didn't join a soccer club until his late teens...he learned playing 'street/pickup soccer. Also, he came from a poor, I'm poor , Serbian family where couldn't to have dinner at times..(read his book) in other words don't make excuses due socio-economic backrounds. As a matter of fact kids coming from poor countries have better skills than our kids who play at well to do youth clubs with all their facilities...

    2)<"  Is our youth development and identification system working to provide our best youth players a path to competitive participation"> Our youth development is not GOOD and as long as we don't have culture of PICKUP soccer our youth development is not only too one-sided but also too PROGRAMMED, carried out by instructors ,although licensed, who lack real expertise... This aspect first  has to happen before even worrying about providing a path to competitive participation, for what good would it do if a youth is not properly developed.

    3)Your assertion< " our Carribean,CA, Canadian opponents  have now caught up to us in terms of physicality."> I don't agree with that at all. Central American soccer has never been a power in soccer and they hardly ever pose a threat to any country. Sometimes an individual like " Magico Gonzalez" from CA will come about but nobodyn the soccer world really  takes CA soccer serious. Costa Rica lately has made a mark due to individual players who are good with a ball not that they were Athletic for that is not what our neighbors south of the border rely upon in their game. Look at Barcelona who had the greatest midfield in the world with Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, who are not only are so far from Physicality and Athleticism, but instead use their intelligence, skill, and letting the ball do the running not the player.
    Canada took us to the cleaners not because they dominated 'athletically' but with soccer skills....I think you are way off base  with this "physicality' thing...

  7. Gary Levitt replied, December 20, 2019 at 1:56 p.m.

    Frank - your POV is well taken.  We can agree to disagree on the physicality issue - I was pointing out that our former MNT managers may have played a style and shape that used our physical superiority over other CONCACAF teams - but I do not think that physicality holds true now due to other teams, who have technical superiority, may have increased their physical presence on the field.  More importantly - do you really believe that the USA is a slam dunk to qualify for Qatar?  Thanks for your reply.  Gary

  8. frank schoon replied, December 20, 2019 at 2:17 p.m.

    Gary, good question. I hope they qualify, but what has been happening to us, well, I really couldn't say.  
    You know I'm more worried about the development of our players for that I think is the overal problem that needs to be tackled regardless if we qualify for Quatar. I'm not really looking forward to the Quatar WC. I think that world cup will be the first one where the spectators will be going back home with a cold....Can you imagine sitting in an airconditioned stadium and than walk out of the stadium into stinking hot weather....
     
    You are probably right about the use of Physicality by previous MNT for that is what we base our soccer on which is not surprising. I remember Walt Chyzowhich(sp) saying when he coached the NT, 'take no prisoners" ......

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, December 21, 2019 at 3:02 p.m.

    If you look at the backgrounds of our previous national team players, you will find men that grew up playing for multiple clubs including AYSO and non-afiliated Hispanic teams. You will find women that grew up playing on boys teams and playing pickup against older males.

    Unfortuneately USSF has eliminated those opportunities that made for outstanding development opportunities.

  10. Mike Tamaro, December 20, 2019 at 1:10 p.m.

    "And then there are soccer’s angry Americans, most virulently risible and visible on social media – their emotional investment seems now to tilt much soccer writing and podcasting toward a viral ecology bizarrely resistant to practices informed by and generating healthy culture. What to make of this ideology distilling into dogma?"
    Yes you've captured Beau's stance perfectly here. The unwashed masses are the problem. The "ideology distilling into dogma" though is typically discussions around opening the US market and eliminating the single entity grip on the pyramid.  Soccer and FIFA have guiding principles of advancement based on "sporting merit" that our country ignores and that insiders defend as natural and inevitable (see dogma). Beau has a talent for entering such discussions and filibustering them to death. 

  11. Seth Vieux, December 20, 2019 at 2:05 p.m.

    Our biggest issue IMHO comes down to coaching. While I certainly appreciate Frank's focus on pick-up games (I spent considerable effort establishing one for our small community last summer - more on that in a minute), there are still so many coaches that have little to no real experience playing the game. Outside of latino communities, the chances of a youth recreational team having a coach that played even in high school is is near zero. In smaller clubs there is still a very good chance your child's coach will have little to no playing experience. Larger clubs have the resources to ensure at least some level of playing experience for most/all of their teams, but smaller clubs generally only have a few coaches with some useful playing experience for teaching youth the technical aspects of the game. In the absence of pick up games, that leaves so many of our young players spending all of their time playing soccer either not being taught the requisite skills, or even worse, being taught incorrectly. 


  12. Seth Vieux replied, December 20, 2019 at 2:06 p.m.

    On pick-up, I tried to get players from my U13-U11 teams to establish their own pick up game, but it just wasn't happening so I decided to take steps to at least establish a time and place where I would bring equipment (balls, PUGs, cones, pinnies). Still took some time, but eventually got to a twice a week game where we'd have anywhere from 10-20 kids show up on any given day. I tried hard to not coach at all during these 90-120 minute games, and for the most part was successful. I let them decide teams, whether they wanted one large game or multiple smaller games, etc and from a coaching perspective usually only intervened to help them set field sizes appropriate for the number and skill level of the players when they were way off. Not a smashing success, but a good start that I hope to build on this coming summer.

  13. Gary Levitt, December 20, 2019 at 2:49 p.m.

    Seth, that's really good stuff that you are trying to do. It does not have to be a "smashing success" - it just needs to be small-sided games (to Frank's point) so that each player gets their time ON THE BALL....not sitting in the back of a full-size field only touching the ball once every few minutes. Think 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 pick up basketball.  Being on the ball, running off the ball, passing and shooting...it should not have to be a 'coached' session.   Kudos to you for making that happen.  

  14. Seth Vieux replied, December 20, 2019 at 6:02 p.m.

    Gary I try to keep them no more than 5v5 for the reasons listed; same reason every one of my practices spend the first 30m with each player on a ball maximizing touches before we get into opposed activities. Technical warm up and rondo make up roughly half of our practice time.

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