The recent World Cup has spawned a number of books that not only look at the recent past of American soccer but what the men’s national team needs to do going forward. Many of these stories are being written by journalists, but it is rare we hear from people who have experienced the U.S. soccer development system that are not on ESPN and NBC. That’s why Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet (ISBN 9781782550280, published by Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2014, www.m-m-sports.com) by Shane Stay is a different take on the question of how U.S. men’s soccer can improve.
Stay is a comedy writer and the founder of the Leaf Dressing Company, as well as being a former professional soccer player. Stay played for some of the best youth teams in the country as a teenager, fell away from soccer during his college years, then had a solid career playing in the lower levels of the U.S. soccer pyramid. He was exposed to youth systems in different countries and different styles of play, which is where he draws his expertise to make the comments he does in the book.
Essentially, Stay believes the U.S.’s struggles internationally come back to our teams – from the youth teams to the national one – modeling their play after the English. We rely too much on crossing and pushing the ball forward, when we should be modeling ourselves on the Dutch and Brazil styles of possession and individual skill. He emphasizes that this is not a crazy idea, as we have the athletes to execute such a system but we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that soccer needs to be played in such a rigid and pragmatic manner.
My major problems with this book can be summarized in two themes. The first is the reliance on Brazil as the gold standard for the style of play he thinks the U.S. should play. Yes, the United States should reconsider its hoof and chase style and under Jurgen Klinsmann it has already done so. But he is so wedded to Brazil that he says multiple times that the next U.S. coach should be a Brazilian. Looking at Brazil’s struggles in the past few World Cups, I’m not sure that’s the answer. I think an international coach that knows this style would be a good fit, but tying ourselves too closely to one or two nationalities – he also leans on Argentina heavily – is a mistake. Especially when you consider Germany’s system of player and how fluid and exceptional it is right now.
The second problem is that the book itself is haphazardly written in two ways. The first is the use of statistics outside of context. In chapter 9 on crossing, he throws out international matches played by Brazil and the U.S. as well as the number of crosses in the match. There is no correlation shown between the number of crosses and the result. For example, in the U.S.’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in 2009 they crossed the ball 21 times. If crossing is bad, why the victory? Where’s the correlation versus causation? In fact statistics are used poorly without putting them into a larger context.
The writing is also scattershot and not consistent. Throughout the short chapters Stay meanders from giving coaching lessons – which are quite useful – to criticizing the coaching system, to throwing out examples from his life. When we see a movie that’s poorly edited, we feel disjointed watching it. I felt the same way reading this – the context, not the actual word placement, was so scattershot that I had a hard time being convinced of the point.
Stay brings up a number of valid remarks as they relate to the national team and many of them I agree with. The way he conveys them is the problem. I hope he sticks with soccer writing and refines his craft because if he does we can forgive this book in the future as the beginning of a good career.
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