Country Last

13 10 2017

“I think there has been this rhetoric that has been spewed out over the last couple of years – players have to go to Europe. If you want to go to Europe that’s fine, but I would guess that come 2018, 80% of our roster will be made up of MLS players. It is not about where you play, it is about what you bring to the team and how much you care.” ~ USMNT Goalkeeper, Tim Howard – January 2017

The U.S. Men’s soccer team will not be participating in the 2018 World Cup Finals. That bad news was finally determined a few days ago, and it has taken me that long to gather my thoughts. While there are many reasons for this elimination and many more problems with U.S. Soccer, the statement above is at the core.

The sad trip ended on Tuesday night, but we started down this road in April 2013 when Clint Dempsey left Fulham FC in English Premier League to play in MLS. He left arguably the most competitive league in the world to come home and play in the U.S. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard – the core of the USMNT – soon followed, leaving their teams in Europe. That was the beginning of the decline that eventually eliminated our country from participating in the 2018 World Cup,

US Soccer has exhibited a cockiness that is unfathomable to me. Soccer is the most popular sport in almost every civilized country in the world, and it is played the same way everywhere. The rules of the game are the same. Professional league rules are the same. Except in the United States. Player development differs, and one can certainly argue that passion for the sport is key. But for some inexplicable reason, our players and supporters ignore a belief shared around the world – Country First, Club Second.

One of the true principles of development in soccer – or any sport – is that if you play with and against better players, you become a better player. It works consistently at the youth and professional levels.  In a list of the Top 100 Footballers in the World published by The Guardian in 2016, only five of the top twenty-five played professionally in their own country. So Howard’s belief is false to me, but he was close to right about one thing: The roster for Tuesday night’s match against Trinidad and Tobago was 72% MLS players. So we may reach his 80%, but since we won’t be in the World Cup in 2018… who really cares?

The passion for the sport is much less here, but it is growing. MLS is trending up in popularity and succeeding financially, but it will be decades before it rivals top European leagues – if ever. It has been said that part of the success is due to its close relationship with US Soccer, and I agree. But while MLS continues to grow, expected growth in domestic talent and development has not happened. That makes the relationship very one-sided.

I’m keying on one issue, but there are others. Player development must be examined more closely than ever, and many have been crying out for the heads of manager Bruce Arena or Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation. While those steps may be necessary, the core issue will remain. If our players and fans want to compete on the international level, the national team must be the priority.

By the way… the ladies understand that.

The USMNT-less World Cup will go on, and I will watch all of it. But I’ll really miss screaming and yelling and singing for my country with my son and hundreds of others at a local drinking establishment. And that makes me sad.

Our country is experiencing unprecedented conversation about national pride. Our citizens question each other daily… Do you have pride in your country? Are you American? Or more accurately, are you American enough? But looking at the last two years of US Soccer, one can see that being the greatest country in the world must be earned… it isn’t a given.

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Prayers For (Insert City)

6 10 2017

“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” ~ President Barack Obama, December 16, 2012 in honor of the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hill Elementary. 

This link contains a list of the people murdered this week in Las Vegas. Take a good look now… see their faces, and read their stories. News cycles (fake or not) in 2017 are shorter, and these people will all be forgotten by the weekend. Like the names and faces of Orlando, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.

Gone, and quickly forgotten.

We have to move on because the world is chock full of interesting stories – some that inspire, some that make you sad, and some that scare the crap out of you. North Korea will be back in the news, as well as BREAKING NEWS Russian-election-collusion stories. Khloe Kardashian’s pregnancy must be analyzed. Big World Cup Qualifier match for the USA tonight, and there’s an Eagles game this weekend! Jeez… I hope no one kneels.

My attention span is short too. When I look back on my social media this week I see posts and comments about soccer, Puerto Rico, Tom Petty, flights to Ireland… and just a few things about our President. I posted some cartoons and videos about guns too, but not to be funny.

There are lots of things going on. Who can keep up? It’s just human nature, so we should be forgiven if we can’t continue to focus on just 58 lives out 322,000,000 plus in our great country.

Umm… No.

I remember the Sandy Hook school shootings and the sadness we felt. I remember the beautiful words above from President Obama and all of the other lawmakers. And then nothing was done. Nothing. Twenty children were brutally murdered that day, and our country did nothing. Those children were just a number… like the Orlando 49, the Virginia Tech 32, and now the Vegas 58.

Are we all just numbers?

Maybe we should be honest for a change. Let’s remove those “Prayers For Las Vegas” Facebook and Twitter photos. If nothing is going to be done, we should save our prayers and good thoughts for other things.

Keep making those awesome 2nd Amendment arguments, and the classic – “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And let’s stop the sideshow Rose Garden moments of silence by the first families because their heads are dealing with spinning policy to protect their jobs, not grief.

We should keep supporting the NRA, the gun lobby that says they support gun owners but only exist because of gun manufacturers.

Since the number of mass shootings in America is so, so offensive, let’s debate the exact amount of people dying that makes it an official “mass” shooting event. Four isn’t enough for a good statistic… ten is a better number. Problem solved!

We should be posting more clever memes about how lack of mental health care and parental discipline is the real problem, and more prayer – not gun control – will stop people from being killed.

Most importantly, we should all keep our fingers crossed that the next massacre is somewhere else. Some other person’s neighborhood or workplace. And that our friends and family members are not in the next set of numbers.

Or we can speak out.

All assault rifles, ammunition, and supplies should be illegal. Automatic, semi-automatic, bump stock, tripod, high capacity magazines… everything. Immediately. Period. It should be illegal to sell them and a crime to possess these items. If you have them, too bad. Turn them in or go to jail. It is as simple as that.

As simple as pulling a trigger.

If you disagree, please say it out loud for everyone to hear. All of your friends should know and clearly understand that you have a basic disregard for human life. Not speaking out against these dangerous weapons makes you part of the problem. I will no longer be part of the problem.

And if you are denying that this is the biggest danger we face as a country, or you are actively taking a position against gun control – that makes you a murderer.