The Copa America has come and gone, and the Mid-American Conference was represented by three selections. Three former Akron Zips in DeAndew Yedlin (Sunderland/Tottenham), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) and Perry Kitchen (Hearts of Midlothian) were tabbed by Jurgen Klinnsman to represent the Stars and Stripes. Yedlin was the only steady starter, with Nagbe being an offensive sub and Kitchen seeing no time on the pitch.
Many were disappointed with the USMNT's sore finish of fourth in the annual tournament between North, Central and South American national squads, but there were a lot of positives to take looking forward. Nagbe and fellow offensive sub Christian Pulisic were bright stars in a lineup that seemed dim and uninspired at some points in the tournament. (I happen to be one of the more optimistic fans that says "hey, fourth is pretty dang fantastic" but I digress.)
A lot of the conversations revolves around "why isn't America better at soccer, damn it?" The point is valid; America has some of the best athletes in the world, especially in football and basketball. Hell, even some college sports have great athletes, such as swimming or Quidditch (don't knock it until you've played it, it's labor-intensive.)
But here's the thing: ultimately, it's a matter of culture. For the last 70+ years, we've sent all our top athletic talent towards American football or basketball because 1) that's where the eyes are, 2) that's where the fame is and 3) that's where the money is.
Doesn't matter that you can be a billion-dollar man with worldwide fame like Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar Jr., the accolades are more immediate and you don't even have to leave the States unless you want to in the offseason.
Besides that, we start our soccer prospects late in their careers relative to their international counterparts. A lot of MLS' "SuperDraft" prospects or "Homegrown Products" are over the age of 18 or recently graduated from college at around 22 before ever seeing professional soccer action. Many in Europe start at the tender age of 16, when many Americans are still going to high school and two years away from considering college.
As much fun as college soccer atmospheres can be, it can be dominated by a handful of programs and (frankly) result in some terrible soccer. Just take a look at the MAC men's standings from last year. Akron ran away with 7 more wins than the next program and went undefeated in conference, with WMU, Buffalo, West Virginia, NIU, and BGSU following them in the table. Somehow, 7-12-0 WVU finished above two .500 level teams. That's bad.
I'm not gonna knock kids for going to college and getting their educations while playing sports; it's a noble thing. At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that it totally kills their professional development if they hope to advance in international club soccer.
Also, just drafting LeBron and Kobe and I dunno... Pat McAfee won't solve the problem either. They all play completely different sports, and skills aren't necessarily transferrable. The short answer is there's no short-term answer. The USA will be the New York Jets of international soccer for awhile, and we're just gonna have to live with it.
Hey, at least we're not England.
Any video game soccer managers should recognize this little ditty. By the way, FIFA has some *really awesome* soundtracks for a sports video game. A+ everytime.