Breaking the stereotype: US Athleticism

Discussion in 'USA Men: News & Analysis' started by Nutmeg, Jul 13, 2005.

  1. Nutmeg

    Nutmeg Member+

    Aug 24, 1999
    For years, it was the backhanded compliment the US received anytime we got a result, particularly against Mexico. "They are so well organized and athletic." We've heard it for so long that when you think of US soccer, you attribute those kind of strengths to our teams - organization, discipline, hustle, size, and athleticism. Notice a key ingredient that for years was rarely, if ever, thrown into our bowl of soup - skill. But that's a different thread for a different day.

    It is time we blow out of the water the misperception that the US is an exceptionally athletic or big team. We are not, and that's the point of this thread. Somewhere along the way, those traits were either devalued, or they were always overstated to begin with. Because reviewing the US playing pool today, including youth teams, and you see a lack of athleticism that is holding us back from being an elite team.

    Let's look at the Gold Cup roster. Beasley, Donovan, Onyewu, Hejduk, and maybe Cherundolo can all be considered exceptional athletes in terms of speed, quickness, and endurance. We have a few players that do OK, and then we have a group of players who are below average athletes at the international level. Vanney, Ralston, Armas, Olsen, Noonan, and maybe even today's Sanneh fit that description.

    Or how about the U20 team? Wynne is an explosive athlete today. Adu is very quick in short spaces, though not exceptionally fast over longer distances. Eddie Gaven is a pretty good athlete, but I wouldn't call his speed or quickness explosive.

    The bottom line is that we cannot afford to field a team of pedestrian athletes. Why? A few reasons:

    • International Soccer today is as much about explosive athleticism, nonstop pressure only the fittest can apply, and physical domination as it is about skill. Don't like that? Don't watch International Soccer.
    • The style of play the US is best at requires good athletes, and it is at its best when it has explosive athletes in key positions. We're at our best when we apply pressure at the very top, beginning with our forwards, and continue that pressure through the midfield. We need guys who can fly around the field, give opponents very little time on the ball, and create turnovers. After we create those turnovers, we need frontrunning burners who can go towards the goal in a hurry.
    • We still don't have the skill. Sad to say, but it's still the truth. You see a Ronaldinho or Robben on this team? Neither do I. Those guys (not to mention a few of their teammates) have freakish skill, but compliment that with explosive speed and quickness. We don't have the skill to break teams down with a slow, build-up style of play.
    Is there some help on the horizon? Not if Bruce isn't looking in that direction. But there are some kids out there who are really starting to play well in MLS that may warrant a look prior to 2006.

    Justin Mapp - Damn this kid is good, and explosive, and skilled. And he's leading Chicago to the best record in the East. He's turned that 20-year old corner and is starting to put together consistent performances and embarassing MLS defenders. Could be a real option at right midfield.

    Ricardo Clark - Remember him? One great year, one year marred by injuries and getting bounced around the field, and then traded to San Jose. Well, he's back. He is strong, fast, physical, and leading San Jose to a surprising record in the west. Should be considered at DMid.

    Tim Ward - Yep, I'm crazy enough to talk about a rookie here. An injured one at that. But we are hurting that badly for a left back, and Ward showed all kinds of promise before he was hurt. Fast, fit, and skilled. Can cross with either foot.

    Chad Marshall - At 6'4", he can physically dominate opponents. He's the MLS-proven version of Oguchi Onyewu, and I have a hard time understanding why he doesn't get stronger consideration, unless Bruce is afraid of Andrulicooties.

    Nate Jaqua - Another 6'4" player, Nate's finally found a consistent spot in Chicago's roster at forward. I haven't seen a defender yet who can physically match him in the air, and he's athletic and skilled enough to turn and face defenders. But what sets him apart is the physical presence he can provide up top in front of the goal.
  2. dude8

    dude8 Member

    Apr 2, 2002
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    good stuff-
    i don't think you have to worry, though, about sanneh, armas, vanney, et al making the final roster for germany.

    i agree with your "not athletic" statement, especially after watching the gold cup matches. it seems we either have "skilled", "fast" players, or "somewhat skilled and somewhat fast" players. we don't really have an exceptionally skilled and exceptionally fast player. for example-dmb is very fast. dmb looses the ball often. donovan is very fast, but doesn't really take on the last defender with "moves".

    maybe some of those players you mentioned just might make it there in 06. nobody heard of dmb really until close to japorea.

    i, to, really like marvell wayne(sp).

    i do trust in dabruce, though. he good.
  3. Elninho

    Elninho Member+

    Sacramento Republic FC
    United States
    Oct 30, 2000
    Sacramento, CA
    Los Angeles Galaxy
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    The idea of big, athletic US players should have been blown out of the water at the 2002 World Cup. Of the 32 teams there, we had the 4th-smallest average height. (The teams below us: Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica. Interestingly enough that made us the tallest CONCACAF team there. Even the Japanese were taller than us.)
  4. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Nutmeg -

    Fully agree. I have been beating this drum for a while myself.

    I don't know the answer. At the younger youth soccer level, I can tell you that the club coaches certainly want speed, and that the good clubs are getting such players. I see a lot of fast youth soccer players ... guys who can show up to a Junior Olympic track meet and do just fine, thank you very much.

    Why don't we see more of these guys becoming Justin Mapp? Don't know. Call me back in 7 years; I'll have the answer then. :)
  5. swedust

    swedust Member+

    Aug 30, 2004
    Nutmeg's first comments about how the "organized and athletic" remark was just a nice way of saying "they have no skills" rings true to me. Very true. However, I don't think any American sports fan who is also a soccer fan ever had delusions of our teams being athletic. Other than tennis players the soccer players I liked were always the only athletes I followed who were less athletic looking than I was.

    Speaking of other sports, anyone my age who followed/played hockey as a kid remembers when only a few NHL players were over six feet: guys that big just couldn't move well enough to play at the top levels. Now, you could probably find a half-dozen teams with entire lines over 6'2" (well, if there was a league). Remember when a big NFL linebacker was 205 lbs.?

    Our good players will get bigger and more athletic. It almost can't not happen. Building effective skills and tactics (especially among coaches!) is what we can control and focus on. The athleticism will take care of itself. But, to avoid complacency, lets do kill the myth.
  6. sidefootsitter

    sidefootsitter Member+

    Oct 14, 2004
    Capped "athletic" players formation:






    Tony Sanneh is over the hill but was a very good athlete once. Replace him with uncapped Rico Clark and you get an immediate upgrade.

    John O'Brien was a good athlete, though perhaps falling a tad short of the "spectacular" level.

    Otherwise, the above formation would have a ton of speed on the flanks and extra large size up the middle.

    Should Arena play this way?

    If this can become the "gelling" ingredient, then why not.
  7. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I don't buy Hejduk as an athlete, aside from fitness.

    His speed is more legendary than actual; those guys from Grenada were blowing by him. And Lord knows, we learned when he faced up against Arjen Robben that Frankie ain't cat quick. Finally, he's not particularly large or strong.

    Tough bastard, though. I like him a lot. The man gets the absolute most out of what he has.
  8. soccertom

    soccertom New Member

    Jun 2, 1999
    Great post!
  9. Ronaldo's Idol

    Jun 13, 2004
    Sorry but in my opinion Donovan is both athletic and skilled. Possibly #1 in both aspects for the USMNT.

    Beasley too.

    EJ too, except I'd question his skill before I'd question Donovan's.

    And for those Wynne lovers...skill is certainly a problem for him at this moment. He'd be exposed at the full international level IMO.
  10. nobody

    nobody Member+

    Jun 20, 2000
    Yeah, good post.

    I think our main strength has always been organization and the desire to play as a unit and subliminate individual egos for the good of the whole more so than athletic ability. While, as you point out, we do have fewer athltes than elite teams, it's not like we had a surplus of international class athletes in the past.

    Better athletes will certainly help. But, if we really want to be elite, we need better athletes with high levels of skill as well. Beasley and Donovan show how well it works out when players have both. Gooch looks ready to do the same.

    Elite teams have great athletes with high skill levels. Worrying about one aspect over the other doesn't really get us anywhere.
  11. england66

    england66 Member+

    Jan 6, 2004
    dallas, texas

    great research...and I've been basically saying the same thing for two years...the USA just has to get BIGGER in midfield....just has to...otherwise will have no chance (thats NO CHANCE ) of getting past the group stage or at best round of 16 at WC 2006....

    ...and please no more crap about how "skillful" Landycakes is...please...
  12. okiebear

    okiebear New Member

    Mar 28, 2005
    Bucks County
    Nutmeg For President. And Reps.
  13. sidefootsitter

    sidefootsitter Member+

    Oct 14, 2004
    Speaking of which, is today a "reload" day?

    I am seeing a lot of posters, myself included, with far fewer green nipples than only yesterday.
  14. brittkamp

    brittkamp Member

    Nov 22, 2003
    New England Revolution
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I remember seeing an british? commentary about the england-US match and they said that the US style of soccer is "Huff and Puff".

    If we could find a striker who could regularly finish I guarantee "Huff and Puff"
    would be the new "total football"

    It seems obvious that the fitness level of the US team is better than our opponents. If you don't believe me remember the Germany game in 2002.
    If it had lasted 10 more minutes the German team would have collapsed as one.

    I know people think "Athleticism" is a slap now but it is something "American" that we are building off of.
    Once we add as we are now talent our athleticism is what will set us apart and someday!! A pompous english commentator will say "England could not keep up with the Athleticism and skill of the Americans!"
  15. DutchFootballRulez

    Jul 15, 2003
    Baltimore, MD
    FC Barcelona
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Yeah it was reloaded yesterday evening I believe. Which is weird that somepeople STILL have HUGE REP points. I think somebody said 1000 points.
  16. DMunited

    DMunited New Member

    Jun 19, 2001
    Austin TX
    I was thinking much the same thing, particularly in regards to Ralston and Noonan. Why? Because these are players that certainly do have substantial skill (unlike say Armas or Olsen) but they simply don’t have the athleticism to make a real impact at the international level. There are exceptional players out there who have enough skill make for their lack of athleticism (Riquelme, for example) but we are a long, long, way from producing such a players. But we can go a long way, with a team of players who have a Noonan/Ralston level of skill but are also great athletes.

    I don’t think we’ll see this team in 2006, (partly because of a simple lack of options, partly because of Bruce’s conservatism, though he could surprise us)

    But I can see us fielding such a team in 2010.
  17. Bajoro

    Bajoro Member+

    Sep 10, 2000
    The Inland Empire
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Good stuff! I look at some of the Europeans, Africans and South Americans and wonder, how the heck can we compete with guys that big, strong, quick and skillful?

    But the organization and discipline has served us well over the years. It was always the thing that gave me hope as an under-skilled player (though with speed and good defensive understanding) playing against foreign-born players. Somehow, our group of American players always seemed to either win or surprise the crap out of Mexicans, Germans and Englishmen we played.

    Same1 for the USMNT. When it comes to pure skill on the ball, it seems like we've only been able to compete up and down the lineup for a few years. Yet we've won games with the dreaded organization and discipline for years.

    We've been the underdog for quite a while. Now that we have some honest-to-god players ("word-class", even?), we're no longer the underdog, and it's a different game.
  18. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago

    He's come over the the Dark Side!!

    Anyway, all true.

    Athleticism is absolutely critical. I will say though there are three other "non-skill" components that have to be yoked with athleticism:
    1. Mental toughness
    2. Positional discipline /soccer smarts
    3. Fitness
    If I had to give up a smidgen of athleticism by taking player X over player Y, but get back + marks in the three above categories compared to player Y, I'll take player X every time.

    Why? Because Player Y is a much bigger liability, all things considered. Player X may get burned once or twice a game because of a give up in athleticism...but the other qualities will allow him to recover in ways Player Y won't be able to do.
  19. auf Amerika

    auf Amerika Member

    Jul 11, 2004
    We are short and less "athletic" because America's greatest athletes do not play soccer. Our best athletes play football, baseball, and basketball... or run track.

    Ghetto kids don't play soccer like ghetto kids in South America play soccer.

    Marvel Wynne plays soccer cause he comes from the suburbs and was introduced to soccer.

    This problem isn't going to change anytime soon either.
  20. Brownswan

    Brownswan New Member

    Jun 30, 1999
    Port St. Lucie, FL
    If he can get away with 12 players taking the field, more power to him.
  21. K.P.

    K.P. Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    Philadelphia Union
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
  22. K.P.

    K.P. Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    Philadelphia Union
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    How much speed does Marshall have? I think that might be his achilles heel. I'm not saying he doesn't have enough to play for the USMNT, just that might be what holds him back from being a real easy pick.
  23. Bajoro

    Bajoro Member+

    Sep 10, 2000
    The Inland Empire
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Speed isn't such a big deal for a center back.

    otoh, I have seen him provide great cover for teammates of his that got beat on the run.
  24. RalleeMonkey

    RalleeMonkey Member+

    Aug 30, 2004
  25. RalleeMonkey

    RalleeMonkey Member+

    Aug 30, 2004
    I think it's changing somewhat. From what I can tell, the #'s in the youth soccer leagues are growing geometrically. This increase will bump up against the ghe-tto, even if it won't soon penetrate it. So, kids on the "shoulders" of the ghe-tto will be playing. A concurrent issue is keeping kids playing soccer when they get to H.S. age. It has always been that the real good athletes would drop soccer when they got to H.S. I think that's changing.

    Anecdotally, the local H.S. football team (which, admittedly, is a looooong way from being ghetto) recruited 2 kids off the soccer team to play receiver. That never would have happened 10 years ago.

    Lastly, the ghetto's are becoming increasingly Latin American.

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