Who knows, I might go on forever. I've got plenty of time on my hands. I'm just going to let this post come off my fingertips, straight from my brain to you...pretty much unfiltered.
I'm going to write about Soccer in America. I will begin with a confession.
I am confused. It's my own fault, but I am confused. I think I'm confused because, even at my advanced age, when I should be smarter, I've gotten distracted by the noise.
The noise, as I call it, comes from all directions. Most call it "social media." The noise, in my opinion, can - if we allow it - give us a really distorted picture of reality. The noise has, at different times, made me feel universally beloved, and universally loathed.
Neither is the truth.
So, apply that line of thinking to Soccer in America. It sucks. It's great.
The U.S. is mediocre. The U.S. has made no improvements since 1990. The U.S. system needs to be overhauled. The U.S. system is a joke. Major League Soccer is crap. American coaches are a joke. American players are...
You get the idea. Blanket statements that cause arguments, create debate, whatever. If you allow yourself to get sucked in, the noise will take you to places that are illogical.
I guess you can have fun taking part in these debates, but if you begin to think that the noise is even half as loud as it seems, you begin to take yourself way too seriously. You become the guy with all the answers. And we all know, no one has all the answers.
It's been a struggle for me, embarrassingly. I see a guy, maybe two or three guys, who take a hard line stance on something about the American game, and I get really angry.
Here's what I know. I've been involved in the game of soccer, in one way or another, for as far back as I can remember. I grew up in a town that had a lot of kids playing soccer in the early 70s and went to a high school that won a lot of state championships in the 70s. A bunch of us went on a bus to Randall's Island one summer day to watch Pele play his first game for the Cosmos and, for a few years following that event, we'd pile into station wagons to go to Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium to watch the Cosmos.
I remember during our summer practice sessions, we'd actually have a radio so we could listen to Cosmos games and keep up with the scores. It was a big deal. Then it was gone.
But the game wasn't gone.
When the NASL died, we focused more on college soccer. When I went to college at UNC, I went to practically every home game. I saw some really good players on Fetzer Field.
At least to my eye, they were really good.
But there was something that was really far-fetched back then, and that was the notion that the United States would ever play in a World Cup. It was a pipe dream. Seriously.
So, as all people over 50 will tell you, the years start to fly by. And a lot of stuff happened really quickly. Quickly, in my opinion, because...did I just say I'm over 50? Holy crap.
My brother, who loved soccer more than any person I'd ever met, became a college coach. But I'd soon learn he was doing more than preparing Princeton for a three-month season. On weekends, he and other coaches, were trying to push players, any players they could find who took the game seriously. Any players they could find who had some blend of skill and athleticism and competitive drive...and push them to become better.
I'm not talking about pay for play.
Truth be told, I think my brother and his contemporaries were paying to coach. God knows they were giving up time, driving all over creation, to work with players and teams.
Meantime, things changed. Quickly.
I was working as a reporter at Sports Illustrated when Paul Caligiuri scored that goal, which we read on the AP wire on a computer the size of a Smart Car. Later, we watched some sort of replay on a little TV in someone's office. And the U.S. was going to a World Cup.
Really? I'd been watching college soccer. Watching Virginia with John Harkes and Tony Meola. Watching N.C. State with Tab Ramos. Watching Rutgers with Peter Vermes.
And, damn, these guys were good. So I remember thinking, maybe they'll hold their own in the World Cup. Maybe...maybe...we're good at this game, but no one's noticed?
We didn't have noise-making mechanisms back then. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, the U.S. was awarded the 1994 World Cup, which many predicted would be a colossal failure.
But I digress.
So the 1990 World Cup came and went and the U.S. had this one moment, when Vermes had a chance to tie Italy in Rome, and Italy's goalkeeper Walter Zenga stopped the shot with his ass. And then it was over. But we'd had a taste. Then it was back to college soccer and a little bit of amazement that Harkes was playing in England for Sheffield Wednesday.
But it wasn't very noisy. You know why. Onward.
I remember watching Alexi Lalas...one day playing in front of a thousand or so folks in a Princeton-Rutgers game. Rutgers had some players that, to my eye, were really amazing. Lino DiCuollo. Jeff Zaun. Steve Rammel. There was no soccer on TV, so it wasn't until the Final Four came to Rutgers that I got to see Meola and this left-footed guy with long hair named Jeff Agoos. But Santa Clara had these guys, Paul Bravo and Jeff Baicher.
I was pretty excited...but looking back, it was quiet. Really quiet. Probably a good thing.
So, the World Cup came along and it wasn't a flop. Fans flocked to stadiums, paid top dollar for tickets. And the U.S. competed in every game it played, advancing to the knockout stage before losing to Brazil on the Fourth of July.
This is when I started to hear some rumblings. Remember, this is 1994. It wasn't really noisy, yet. But I started to hear the critics coming out.
DISCLAIIMER: I don't think I had an email address until around 1996, so I was not privy to some of those North American Soccer Lists. Plus, I was a baseball beat writer for the New York Daily News and I was much more a soccer observer than a junkie.
But I started to hear some things. What? Well, the U.S. was ignoring the Latino player (Paul Gardner wrote and re-wrote this column a thousand times in the following years and continues to write it to this day). We have better players in the parks than we have on our national team. Our coaching is substandard. We only look for athletes, not skill. Kids are playing on teams at too young an age. Kids need to play small-sided games. The reason the U.S. is no good is because soccer is a rich kid's game. We don't have street soccer.
And then in 1996, I went to work for the MetroStars in Major League Soccer, a league that, in 1996, was Major in name only. But, it was hard to be totally down on it because, well, from 1984 (when the NASL folded) until 1996, we had no pro soccer.
Well, at least, we had no pro soccer that the general public knew anything about, Now, at the very least, we had some teams to follow and some games to watch. We started to get acquainted with the American player on a much higher level as we got to see players like Eddie Pope and Chris Armas. We began to wonder if, for example, Jason Kreis could score goals for the national team. Love it or hate it, MLS 1.0 was a game-changer.
But the league as a business struggled and I really thought it might just fold in and around 2003, when it seemed Phil Anschutz had to hold the whole thing together for a spell.
To me, what's happened to the game in the U.S. since 2000...a decade and a half...has been remarkable. The number of teams. The number of stadiums. The fact that I can watch games...pretty much any game I want...at any time...seriously? Amazing.
But, the noise.
The noise is both amazing and annoying. The noise can educate and it can misinform. More than anything, the noise, if you let it, will distract you and keep you from thinking clearly.
Not everything is a crisis. And not everything is an inspiration. Things happen. And then something else happens. Get caught up in the noise at your own peril. Things aren't as bad as they seem when you're in there. Or as great as they seem when you're in there.
Soccer in America. Oh yeah, that's what I set out to write about.
I can hardly believe where the game has come. When I step away from the noise, I can hardly believe what's happened with this sport in my lifetime.
That's not saying it's great. Not saying it can't get better.
But I'm not into absolutes. Not into broad strokes. Not into black and white.
Once in a while, not always, I'll try to observe in silence.