Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

U.S. Soccer Signals "Wait 'Till Next Year" Attitude Toward World Cup

The American soccer community is all a flutter about Landon Donovan being left off the U.S. Soccer World Cup team.

I don't think the decision is about him. It's about protecting the brand.

The U.S. will be lucky to advance out of the opening round group play. Anything beyond that would be gravy but far short of a victory. Regardless of far it gets, this team will not come close to winning the cup.

So why include arguably the best player to ever wear the team's jersey and reinforce the opinion that even our "best" can't get the job done? Losing with Donovan leading the team sends a message to sponsors and television executives that American soccer is still not ready for prime time. To gauge the state of American soccer all you had to do was watch any of the English Premier League games on NBC this season and then tune in to any MLS game. The contrast is like moving from Major League Baseball to a Double AA minor league game.

Back to the subject at hand, losing by mixing in relatively unknown, up and coming younger players sets the stage for saying "the team is well poised to improve by 2018." Why else would you give the coach a contract extension ahead of the tournament when traditionally contracts are designed to be renewed right after the tournament?

The U.S. National Team and Major League Soccer are marketed as a package. That's why 15 of the 30 invitees to the tryouts are MLS players. The World Cup is being used as a means of promoting MLS players to build local market visibility in the U.S. These largely unknown MLS players will be seen by American TV viewers who normally wouldn't be interested in soccer on TV. Just maybe some of them will stand out enough to entice a viewer to attend an MLS game. After winning five MLS crowns, Landon Donovan has largely exhausted any ability he has to attract new fans to MLS.

Of course, they'd never admit it but the leadership of U.S. Soccer, MLS and the coaches of the National Team are already conceding the World Cup and trying to make the best of a losing proposition. It's actually a pretty shrewd strategy. Better to invest in the near term career potential of these MLS players and help to bolster the League's growth. No doubt the players who are chosen will play their hearts out despite the likely outcome.  Think that I'm being defeatist? Overly negative? Unpatriotic? Suggesting an outlandish conspiracy? Then you don't know the people involved or the underpinnings of the sport as well as you think.