The euphoria in Spain hasn't come close to subsiding. Its much-deserved win in Sunday night's World Cup final has sent the entire country into what might turn into a month-long celebration. Much like a cold shower that hits you after a festive night, I thought it was time for a brief moment of cool, rational lucidity.
There's no question that the United States was struck with soccer fever during this World Cup. Our nationalistic pride took over for a few weeks, as Bob Bradley's squad dazzled us with its tenacity and clutch play. Landon Donovan carried us all on his back on a couple of occasions. And our usually high national office productivity sunk as a result.
But those events are already in our collective rear view mirrors. The hangovers have rubbed off, and an evaluation period of USA Soccer is upon us. The most compelling question that has yet to be answered about these recent events in USA Soccer is this: will this latest performance change the way we cultivate soccer talent in this country? If this nice run into the World Cup round of 16 is to ignite a rise in soccer in the America, then that question will have to be answered favorably. Sustained talent and skilled play needs to keep coming up through the ranks if the US is likely to build on this year's accomplishments and stay relevant on the world stage. Will this latest achievement enhance the production of top soccer players in our homeland?
The first component of talent development is the actual raw material you input into the funnel. Before this World Cup, many children inside our borders played soccer early on. We've either partaken or heard the stories straight from suburbia. Saturday mornings, minivans, cut up oranges at half-time, overzealous white collar parents. The true issue has long been the churn of these children away from soccer to other sports like football, baseball, or basketball. This transition usually occurs around high school age. Athletes, who might have been playing soccer earlier, now want to take part in the more sought-after high school sports.
Forget about LeBron James to the Miami Heat. How about as your striker, picking off well-placed balls by a mid-fielder named Reggie Bush, into the opposition's goal? More satisfying than a thunderous slam dunk? Perhaps. Those football fantasies have been conjured up and discussed amongst American sports fans, as the U.S. team was qualifying for knockout rounds.
It's utterly obvious to the most casual of sports observers that our best athletes are not going to soccer. How can we expect this to change, when soccer doesn't make headlines until we get to the international stage every four years? And is there a chance that this latest exploit might motivate young athletes to either remain in soccer or opt for "The Beautiful Game" as they continue to make their way to adulthood? Sure, a sparse few kids might now look at soccer differently due to Donovan and Co's heroics. It might not be viewed as the attractive thing to get into or stick with in their latter teen years. But the increase in numbers won't be significant. A marginal impact at best.
So if the talent pool is not likely to get much larger based on the events of the past few weeks, can we at least hope to see a better "manufacturing process" for soccer skill in the good Ol' US of A? From afar, USA Soccer doesn't seem to know what they are doing. When hearing U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati talk of the current state of USA Soccer and its general direction, I hear good insight, but I also perceive lack of direction. Coach Bob Bradley's fate remains in limbo, because a proper evaluation hasn't been conducted, yet.
As fans of the sport, we are not given a road map for success. No plan of attack. Not sure about USA Soccer's identity. The fact of the matter is we shouldn't be scared of hiring foreign-born talent. We should humbly acknowledge our below-par track record in the sport, and try to learn as much as possible from countries that have a history of success. In the business world, what happens when a company is lacking a certain type of specialized expertise? It usually hires someone away from another corporate entity known for that specific trade. Recruit the Capellos, Platinis or Klinsmanns of the world. That type of domain knowledge is what the United States needs most, as we continue to grow into a hopeful soccer power.
I'm skeptical that what happened on the South African soccer fields for the U.S. team will have any effect on our system for developing talent. One is a happy instance, a favorable result on the soccer pitch. The other is a structural system that has been put together over several decades. If anything, the U.S.'s round of 16 appearance in the 2010 World Cup will only bring validation to a system that has long underperformed. What we must protect ourselves against is the sort of complacency that will return USA Soccer to mediocrity.
So what are we to make of this latest foray within the last eight? If the overall soccer talent pool is not to grow much from this recent knockout round appearance, and the structure is not likely to change, where does that leave us? Think of it this latest episode for Bradley's group as a spectacular one-night stand that doesn't go anywhere. Yes the highs were great, the emotions were strong. But in the end, in the hopes of building something more sturdy and long-term were soon dashed by the realities of life. USA Soccer can certainly construct on what has been established in 2010.
But if history is any indication, things will largely remain the same. Let's not forget that the American team had reached the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup, only to follow it up with a 1st Round exit in 2006. No clear upward trend has been established by USA soccer in its entire history of Cup play. Until it is able to take a foothold in past success and demonstrate an upswing in results on the international stage, this latest effort will be considered an aberration. A flash in the pan, for a nation that hasn't yet shown any sustenance in the world's most popular sport.
Paul Gassee is a writer and radio host of "Your Sports Night Cap"