Sports enthusiasts have debated for decades why the United States men’s soccer team is not a worldwide force. People have pondered why a country that has produced outstanding athletes in other sports, such as LeBron James and Tom Brady, cannot accomplish the same on the soccer field. Many cited the relative lack of money in American soccer or stated that Americans found the game to be too slow and low-scoring.
According to author George Dohrmann, the reasons for the lack of excellence in US men’s soccer are significantly more complex. In his latest book, “Switching Fields: Inside the Fight to Remake Men’s Soccer in the United States,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author analyzes the intricate systemic issues that have long hindered the United States from achieving continuous success.
Dohrmann told The Post, “We were doing it the American way, and it is very evident that this has been a massive disaster.”
The book examines how the United States, a fiercely competitive nation that feeds on a singular brand of innovation, only reversed its fortune in recent years by tearing up its playbook and adopting the international model.
Eight years ago, when Dhormann first offered this book, there was little interest. There was a “strong desire to learn” after the US men’s national team’s 2017 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, which stopped them from qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 30 years.
“The shift that is occurring right now is that we are adopting the practices of the rest of the world. The current crop of players, the majority of whom play for elite European clubs, are dissimilar from their predecessors, he noted. When the World Cup begins in Qatar on Sunday, viewers should pay attention.
He stated, “Players like Yunus Musah, Brenden Aaronson, and Christian Pulisic are simply soccer players.” They are not American soccer players who contributed on the pitch. They are men who participate in the game. This foreign flavor resembles it much more. “Soccer is more attractive.”
Dohrmann rewinds the game clock to Torrance, California in 1962, to a meeting to discuss the founding of the American Youth Soccer Organization, in order to comprehend the inaugural playbook. The league, organized by Duncan Duff, a Scotsman, Billy Hughes, a Brit, and a few other foreigners, resurrected past failed attempts to bring young soccer to the region by expressly making the sport less foreign. Implementation of “The American Way,” as it was dubbed, occurred.
The entry costs were low, teams were evenly matched in terms of talent, and games were played locally. And they capped participation at 16 years of age, so kids wanted to graduate from their local league to their high school team.
“This is the flawed basis on which we constructed soccer,” Dohrmann said, adding that while it aided the game’s rapid spread from coast to coast, it had a key fault. “This was to be a suburban white sport that generated suburban white players, effectively excluding marginalized areas for decades,” he explained.
And, as competition increased, travel club teams with expensive joining fees emerged, further eliminating poor, inner-city children and Hispanic groups that were more insular. The “pay to play” concept, as it was known, effectively reduced a talent pool that should have been rich. Basketball or American football provided gifted sportsmen with a more direct route to prominence.
In terms of playing style, coaches were typically fathers who lacked a true understanding of the game’s nuances or British trainers with a rough attitude.
“In the end, we adopted a muscular, run-heavy style of play. “There is a lack of knowledge of simply playing the game,” Dohrmann stated. No, we didn’t listen to any of the inventive Latin musicians that were roaming San Diego.
Major League Soccer debuted in 1996 with its initial season. The 10 teams primarily chose college players or, in the subsequent seasons, signed a major European star in the twilight of his career, such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, or David Villa. This generated a few headlines and intrigued spectators, but it had little effect on the quality of play.
In the middle of the 2000s, MLS teams began establishing their own development academies, comparable to the minor league teams in baseball. The majority of international clubs foster and invest in young talent using this technique.
“This was a monstrous occurrence. This is the situation in Argentina, Spain, and Brazil, and essentially everywhere else. We simply didn’t have that,” Dohrmann said, adding that the academies accepted athletes regardless of their financial condition, so eliminating the pay-to-play paradigm.
“It was a movement that stated, ‘I don’t care where you’re from,'” he explained. They successfully cracked the suburban system.
As a result, teams like the New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, and FC Dallas were able to produce elite players who were then sold to large European clubs. Aaronson, a native of New Jersey, rose through the Philadelphia Union academies before being sold to Leeds United for $30.2 million in 2022. When these players returned to Team USA, they brought with them significant expertise from playing with the world’s finest.
Ironically, although US men’s soccer has been on the upswing, US women, who have long dominated the sport, are beginning to lose their advantage.
Dohrmann describes in the book how coach Anson Dorrance, who began the women’s soccer program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1979, created a winning culture and aggressive play that became the pattern for women’s collegiate soccer — and hence the international gold standard. Mia Hamm, who led the U.S. team to World Cup Championships in 1991 and 1999, as well as gold medals in 1996 and 2004, was among the top female talents he nurtured.
However, European clubs like Lyon and Barcelona are increasingly producing their own elite female soccer players. To remain dominant, the US women’s team will need to make major domestic investments.
Dohrmann stated that the US men’s national team is youthful and talented. The lineup for the 2022 World Cup appears stronger than ever before.
“The final breath of the old system has expired. “This represents the new method,” he explained. “You are not paying attention if you cannot see how bright the future is.”