Soccer, American Style

2006-06-05

Speaking of soccer, over at Samizdata Scott Wickstein points to a New York Times article about the American national team. Although I don't pretend that the Americans will even get to the round of 16 in the upcoming World Cup, more interesting to me than the team's prospects is the team's philosophy, which commenter OrneryWP at Samizdata labels "flexibility and dogged determination". Jere Longman of the New York Times describes the American approach as "applying defensive pressure, counterattacking and playing aggressively ... relying on speed, fitness, athleticism, competitiveness, teamwork and intelligence". Alex Ferguson, the coach of Manchester United, calls it "that American thing". German soccer great J├╝rgen Klinsman says this optimism and confidence suffuse American attitudes of "how to deal with people, how to look at things, how to believe in yourself, how to focus on things and also to take risks, to say, 'Let's go for it.'"

American forward Landon Donovan explains:

What we're good at and why we've been successful is that we know what we are. A lot of countries pretend to be something they're not. A lot of teams like to pretend they're like the Brazilians. Well, you don't have the athletes the Brazilians do. You don't have the soccer knowledge and skill they do. We understand that. We're not the most talented team in the world, by far. But we are one of the most competitive, with the best spirit, the fittest, and with some of the best athletes. And we use that to our advantage.

Longman writes:

The American style, as Arena sees it, is defined by an ability to adapt, to shape strategies and formations according to various factors: the players available on a particular day, the opponent, the weather. Style depends on the qualities his players possess, not on predetermined notions about how they should play. In the 2002 World Cup, the Americans sat back and counterattacked in the wilting heat against Mexico, using three backs to cope with players' injuries and suspensions, and then charged hell-bent at Germany in the next game, certain that the Germans were not the better team.

American coach Bruce Arena (tellingly, he prefers the term "manager") says "We don't have the best players in the world."

I think that's part of the American approach to sports, business, technology, international relations, and a lot more. Despite worldwide perceptions of American jingoism, we don't always think we're the best. But as we have shown in everything from world wars to retail merchandising, Americans tend to apply flexibility, intelligence, speed, teamwork, communication, and determination to continually get better and better. That doesn't mean American success is guaranteed in any particular field of endeavor, whether that be automobile production, pre-university education, or soccer. But once Americans turn their attention to something, it would be foolish to count them out.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal