COLUMNS

Football vs. Football

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

The United States rules the world in many different areas. Soccer isn't one of them.

The U.S. national team had their inspired World Cup run come to a bitter end last week as they were outlasted by Belgium 2-1 in extra time. It was their second straight loss in the round of 16.

It shouldn't be a huge surprise; the World Cup has always been unkind to America.

Since the tournament began in 1930, the U.S. has only finished in the top 10 three times, and they have never won it.

In fact, we experienced a 40-year drought between 1950 and 1990 where we didn't even qualify for the event.

The United States' best finish came in the inaugural 1930 event when they finished third. However, you must take into account that there were only 16 teams in the field at that time. Today's World Cup contains 32 qualifiers.

Though they couldn't break through, star goalkeeper Tim Howard says that the U.S. is on the right path.

He said, "We're getting closer. It takes time; some of these countries have been playing the game 100 years longer than we have. We need to keep producing young talent; clearly we've shown we can."

Howard's right; the sport has grown here in America over the past couple of decades, and there are always going to be very talented players out there, but the odds are still undoubtedly stacked against the country in regards to winning a World Cup.

Like Howard said, we are still so far behind the rest of the world, and we have more obstacles stacked against us than all of those other countries that we have to compete against.

In almost every country outside of the United States, soccer is king. It's not just a sport, it's an obsession. It's a religion.

It's a way of life, and they take it very, very seriously. In fact, for many countries, their love for the game crosses the realm of serious and enters the zone of insanity.

Picture LSU fans on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium and multiply that by 20.

We've seen stadiums explode into mass brawls between rabid fans. We've seen players and referees threatened and even killed because of their in-game blunders.

Heck, a 1969 World Cup game between already feuding El Salvador and Honduras led to a riot that birthed a war. It has been nicknamed the "Football War" or as Americas know it, the "Soccer War."

In the United States, we have a much more casual, non-psychotic approach to the game.

I guess that gives way to the main reason why we haven't been able to compete with the rest of the soccer world: lack of talent.

I'm not saying we don't have talented players.

Look at what Howard just did in that quarterfinal game against Belgium. The man had 16 saves--which was the most in a single World Cup game in 50 years.

Along with Howard, the U.S. has established guys like Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The problem lies in their complete roster. Though they have some very talented individual players, they just don't have the depth and top-to-bottom talent as a lot of the elite soccer powers like Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France and so on.

This is a problem that is going to be extremely hard to remedy for the United States because in our country, football is king--"our" football that is.

Our best athletes end up in the NFL or the NBA. After that, soccer has to compete with so many other sports for the great athletes that remain--whether it's baseball, track and field, boxing, mixed martial arts, tennis or hockey.

The rest of the world doesn't have that problem. Soccer is their top sport, so it gets the top athletes. Every kid grows up wanting to be a soccer player that will one day lead his country to a World Cup.

Some countries may have great interest in baseball or basketball as well but at the end of the day, most of them hang their hats on soccer.

If America took the same approach, I think it's safe to say that we would rule the world in yet another sport.

We have the best athletes on the planet. I've always believed that a truly great athlete can excel in any sport they put the time and effort into playing.

That's why I think if America's best grew up with World Cup dreams instead of visions of Super Bowl, NBA Finals or World Series glory, we'd win the World Cup every four years.

Could you imagine if guys like Adrian Peterson, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Calvin Johnson, Richard Sherman, Johnny Manziel, Michael Vick, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Bryce Harper chose a career in soccer instead of their current professions?

Instead of calling it the World Cup, they'd just have to go ahead and name it "America's Cup."

But this trend isn't just hurting soccer, it's also hurting sports like baseball and boxing.

Baseball used to be America's pastime but for the last few decades, the top talent that would have made their way to MLB is now trickling its way into America's new pastime: the NFL.

Boxing used to be huge because of a stacked heavyweight division full of top Americans. Now, those guys are playing football instead--forcing the heavyweight division to be surrounded by Eastern Europeans that Americans just don't care about.

As long as "our" football is king here, "their" football" will always be king of the rest of the world.