Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Where is our soccer superstar?

In anticipation of Sunday’s Gold Cup game vs. Jamaica, The Wall Street Journal asks an interesting question: Why can’t the U.S. build a soccer star?

The article notes that the U.S. has won more than 1,000 Olympic gold medals. It has produced 26 British Open champions, 14 No. 1 tennis players and two winners of the Tour de France. It’s the birthplace of swimmer Michael Phelps, volleyball legend Karch Kiraly and chess master Bobby Fischer.

But no soccer players that have been superstars on the international level.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Tommy Smyth, the television analyst, in the article. “I go to my local park and there’s 10 games going on all day on a Saturday, and you mean to tell me you can’t find one jewel in there?”

Smyth noted that his native country, Ireland, has produced plenty of top players (Shay Given and Roy Keane among them) even though it has a population of just six million.

Then there are countries like Trinidad (home of Manchester United’s Dwight Yorke), Togo, (Real Madrid’s Emmanuel Adebayor), Cameroon (Samuel Eto’o) and Ivory Coast (Didier Drogba).

With an estimated 15 million kids playing soccer in this country, you’d think someone would have broken through by now.

It’s not that the opportunities aren’t there. Of the 23 players on the roster for the U.S. team at the Gold Cup, 16 play at the club level internationally, at places like Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Rangers, Fulham, Blackburn and Wolverhampton.

Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said he would have expected a U.S. player to become a stalwart for one of the world’s top clubs by now, but that he’s not “shocked” it hasn’t happened. “There are so few players at that level,” he said. “I believe it’s something that will happen over time.”

In some respects, Gulati is probably correct. When you think that soccer has only been a viable American sport for what, 30 years or so, while it is firmly in the DNA of almost every other country, it’s pretty impressive that the Americans have had the kind of success they’ve enjoyed.

***

Only 57 more days until the start of the Premier League season and what we hope will not be the only football we will be watching this fall.

Liverpool opens at home against Sunderland as the Reds look to continue the momentum they had from last season under manager Kenny Dalglish.

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