There’s No “U” or “S” in CREATIVITY
Last weekend I went to visit one of my best friends who’s the head coach of the soccer program at little Lake Erie College, located just outside of Cleveland. Poor chap! Ol’ Jimbo got stuck trying to show me around the area, while at the same time trying to recruit and earn his one millionth coaching license at the Brad Friedel Premier Soccer Academy in nearby Lorain, Ohio. Before I go any further, if you’ve never been to the academy, you’ve got to go. It’s super impressive. Anyhow, I managed to sneak into one of the coaching license seminars during which a “hot” topic came up, that for me, is one of the biggest problems of players produced here in the U.S.: no creativity. Take the U.S. National Team at the Confederations Cup for example. Watching Brazil and Italy play our Yanks was like watching a greased-up otter wiggle his way around logs in a river. Yes, I know those teams are amongst the best in the world with players we only wished we had, but my point is that instead of creating “foosball table players” we should encourage our lads to become more freethinkers on the pitch. Name ONE U.S. player with flare, pizzazz, that “je ne sais quoi” with the soccer ball at his feet? I’ll save you the waste of brain cells, we don’t have one. Yes, guys like Maradona, Valderrama, Xavi, Gascoigne and Zidane were born with that magical trait, but it seems as if here in the U.S. it’s frowned upon, players are discouraged to develop that train of thought. Maybe that’s why the only player on the U.S. Men’s National Team with an ounce of creative flare on the team, Freddy Adu, can’t get a whiff of the starting lineup. Ask yourself, when was the last time we had a player on the U.S. national team that gave us pure confidence going into a crucial game? The one player, the “quarterback” that would open the field for his teammates? The one that made his teammates better? The one player that the opposition “really” had to worry about? The one player that looked as if he had a “yo-yo” on his foot? The answer. Claudio Reyna. Before that. Tab Ramos. Before that. Hugo Perez. (BTW for me, whenever Bora paired Ramos and Perez on the pitch together, it was pure heaven. Ah, the good ol’days). Folks, were talking about 3 players. 3 players in the span of 25 years! And what’s their common denominator? They all grew up in cultures where free-flowing, creative soccer was encouraged: Argentina, Uruguay and El Salvador, respectively. A few years back I talked to a former NY/NJ MetroStars official who said that he was stunned to see the team’s head coach at the time tell Amado Guevara not to get so fancy with the ball, to just do what they tell him to do. Needless to say, the current Toronto FC star wasn’t too happy with the coach’s attempt to “pass” on his god-given talent to handle and create with the ball of joy. Instead, the coach wanted the Honduran international to play “manual-book” soccer. You can easily figure out who the coach was because I keep talking about his current team. And yes Miami Fusion fans, I do remember Ivo Wortmann’s battles with Carlos Valderrama. What a joke. The Brazilian coach would basically tell Mozart to play the piano with hockey gloves. In the end, the owner chose the coach over the soccer magician. “El Pibe” was dealt to Tampa and Ivo was fired a season later. I’m not suggesting that we should loosen the reigns on all of our players, but what I am saying is that we should encourage those with the “gift” to sharpen those skills in order to become better and stronger leaders on the pitch. After all, our last great generation of soccer players, the Mc Bride’s, Wynalda’s, Balboa’s, and Harkes’ of the world were led by guys such as Ramos and Reyna who weren’t molded by the well established soccer academies that we have today. We didn’t win them all, but at least with that group, we always felt as if we had a chance in every game. You can blame Bob Bradley all you want for the U.S. National Team’s current form (and yes, he does make me want to pull out all of my hair) but I do realize that he’s working with what our system has built for him, an “American model”, not the creative, sexy one that most people crave (enter Detroit car industry joke here). I’m not saying we should totally revamp our system, because we do produce very good players. However, just being “good” won’t win you a World Cup. At least most of us can agree that back in Korea/Japan 2002, Captain America “created” something we had never felt here before in the U.S., and that’s the bizarre notion that we actually had a shot, albeit a very small one, to win soccer’s biggest prize. Will the U.S. change its train of thought on the thinking of its players? Probably not, but we should at least keep in mind that throughout human history “freethinkers” have inspired many people. In turn, that inspiration has driven countless more to believe that anything is possible, such as winning the highest honor in any sport, when others had no belief in them from the start.