Like most New World soccer fans, I’d lived most of my life under the assumption a FIFA World Cup champion from the New World was inevitable. Particularly in the US and Australia, we’re raised to assume a certain degree of sporting success. For decades, the head honchos in charge of the direction and impetus of our version of the beautiful game had assured us they had obtained a copy of the blueprints to international soccer success, and we believed in them. The notion New World soccer was headed along the most expedient bearing to our desired destination was regarded as a given amongst its supporters. All New World soccer required of its devotees was to stay the course.
Once my hopes for a presence beyond the round of 16 in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa for either the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) or Australia’s Socceroos were resolutely dashed, I found myself running out of excuses to continue to believe in such a future. A splinter of doubt had worked its way beneath the surface of my belief in a World Cup champion from a New World nation. South Africa 2010 was my sixth FIFA World Cup, and tangible evidence of a brighter horizon for either US or Australian soccer remained a figment of my own and many others’ imagination.
Then, as the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil unfolded, I became aware of the presence of an odd sense of déjà vu in the New World soccer narrative. A familiar discord. The optimism and sense of inevitability of the fresh-faced recruits to the New World soccer campaign contrasted by the grizzled resignation of mediocrity, bordering on outright pessimism, expressed by veteran supporters of New World men’s national teams. For the first time in my history of support, I found myself isolated from both camps. Long shots don’t win the World Cup, and long shots in the groups Australia and the US found themselves in don’t venture far into the tournament either. The newly adopted chant of “I believe that we will win!,” designed to inspire greatness from the USMNT and bellowed at every opportunity by the throngs of enthusiastic digital millennials and hipsters across the country in expectation of FIFA’s trophy soon to be delivered stateside, rang hollow in my ears. Whilst a very good team–and arguably the best the US had ever fielded at a World Cup–they weren’t about to trouble the likes of Germany or the Netherlands.
When I first set out in search of an explanation for the delay in New World soccer’s ascension to World Cup Nirvana, I had no idea of the magnitude of the mouthful I was about to bite off and subsequently would feel compelled to chew. The state of soccer in the US and Australia bear an uncanny resemblance. The prevalence and diversity of sports in both countries is spectacular–each is truly a sportsperson’s paradise. Soccer resides amidst a multitude of athletic distractions few other nations can rival. Both countries enjoy massive participation at the junior level of the sport. Each country’s men’s national side enjoys remarkable levels of support at the World Cup, and yet their senior domestic competitions draw bleak attendance figures. Each is a feared adversary amongst their respective World Cup qualification groups. And, despite their devotion to sporting excellence in general, neither has yet to prove to be all that great of a menace at the tournament itself. Something within the machinations of the game within these New World soccer nations has to be screwed up. For a sport, as well supported as soccer is in countries with culturally high athletic expectations, to fall so far short of the mark something must be amiss. Things do not add up.
My search for an acceptable answer exposed me to an incredible volume of informative, intelligent and insightful soccer expertise from around the globe. I proceeded to absorb every soccer-related morsel I could find. Books were read, podcasts were listened to, conversations were had, matches and conferences were attended, and the same conclusion rose to the surface time and time again. We’re all under the impression that the Old World way is the best way, the only way. Whether it’s the Germans, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Italians, the Brazilians or the Argentines. In the New World, we’re convinced they hold the sacred secrets to the game. Conventional wisdom seems to have mandated that the only way forward for New World soccer is to summon the necessary resources in order to best the Old World at their own game. What I’ve learnt is, this approach hasn’t worked out at all–for anyone, anywhere. This notion has been tested extensively, and the results of a great deal of hard work, time and resources has been incredibly unspectacular.
This one flawed assumption lays at the heart of The New World Soccer Conundrum. Every single commonly lamented inferiority present in the New World version of the sport, when compared to the best of the Old World, can be traced back to this self-imposed condition of New World soccer existence. This systemic fault has been the overlooked handbrake stalling the progress of New World soccer development, domestically and internationally, for the better part of thirty years. New World soccer is treading water.
This book was an accident. I stumbled into it. Due entirely to the inability to find a more agreeable means to communicate what I’d uncovered over the course of the past four years. I start by offering a brief summary of the New World soccer journey so far, so all who feel compelled to get involved in a conversation regarding the future of New World soccer can do so from an equal footing. Thereafter, the intention is to encourage a conversation among those in the New World with an interest in this wonderful game. To grease the wheels of communication between all those who possess a kernel of knowledge or insight they’d like to share for the betterment of New World soccer. People much like myself, who aren’t necessarily ensconced in the machinations of the official soccer channels in their countries. The single greatest treasure I’ve unearthed in my rummage through New World soccer is the vast reservoir of unutilized energy the sport has at its disposal. The cumulative passion, intelligence and desire of the tens of millions of soccer fans–prepared to throw their weight behind the sport they love–the moment New World soccer is prepared to open the levy and truly let them in.
Since the age of ten, I’ve experienced the gamut of New World soccer at many and varied levels of proficiency. As a young lad, I lacked the knowledge and experience to question the opinions and intentions of the adults charged with my soccer education. In retrospect, I’m astounded by the fact it wasn’t until well into my 30s before I examined more deeply the sport which I have been passionate about for almost three decades. An education, irrespective of the form it took, is a terrible thing to waste, and there are millions of us who’ve received the New World’s soccer version of it. I am one of many who would wholeheartedly support a quality domestic competition but who in good conscience cannot commit to an enterprise indifferent to my ability to discern the wheat from the chaff. Until such time, we continue to wait for the call to arms. The ball’s in your court New World soccer.