An Open Letter to Jürgen Klinsmann

Dear Herr Klinsmann,

Wie gehts! Congratulations on being named the Head Coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. Every soccer fan in America wants your style and enthusiasm to improve the team. We have waited a long time to see soccer in America played like it is the “beautiful game,” and we suspect that your hiring is a step in that direction.

Your recent statement that you want pick-up games to become a more important part of soccer culture in America was music to my ears. No other sport avails itself so readily to impromptu games. The cruel irony of soccer in this country is that it has been dominated by well-meaning and highly structured type-A personalities—yes, those lovely soccer moms of the upper middle class—for the last two decades. They have the time to helicopter over their little ones while the ball gets kicked to and fro in U6. Later, of course, these same parents have the time and financial means to send their kids to the Olympic Development Program in each state, and to make sure they are placed on the right select team, surrounded by all the right kids and all the best families.

That isn’t soccer so much as it is money and politics.

Obviously, these people have come up with “winning” formulas. There were very few surprises at any age group during last week’s National Cup in Boise, Idaho. Check the names of the gold medal teams and you’ll see the same California and New Jersey suburbs that get represented year in and year out.

But I submit to you that you’ll find much better athletes outside of those suburbs. Please, Herr Klinsmann, look in the inner cities—better still, look in rural areas of the Sun Belt—because that’s where America’s best young athletes live. Take half of the money you planned to spend in Seattle or on Atlanta’s perimeter and spend it in Mississippi or in the agricultural areas of Florida. Develop after school programs that reward kids for finishing their homework by giving them time to play pick-up soccer on the grass we grow so abundantly here. We have the athletes. We lack the investment in the infrastructure of the sport.

The town where I live has hundreds of kids from families too poor to afford cable, much less an Xbox. Our unemployment rate has hovered near twenty percent since the meat packing plant moved to Mexico five years ago. The largest current employers, other than the government, of course, use temp agencies as often as they can in order to reduce the amount of benefits they must pay to employees. Yet this town has also produced state championships in (American) football for the last two years, and the high school coach has to turn kids away from the varsity squad every year.

Why not encourage them to play soccer instead? Why not, Herr Klinsmann, divert money from established development programs and academies in the suburbs to make that happen? Those development programs and academies haven’t been producing the kind of talent needed to win the Gold Cup—much less advance past the round of 16 in the World Cup—and for a nation of 300 million that’s rather sad.

I suspect that American players don’t acquire the same grace in motion that their counterparts worldwide have because doing so would require the kind of freedom of expression allowed in the pick-up games you long to see them play—we certainly agree on that much. I am certain that our current American players are not the best athletes in the country. If you want to find better athletes, look away from the suburbs.

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