Will the U.S. ever win the World Cup?
Editor's note: The following is excerpted from "The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet's Biggest Sporting Event," copyright 2010 by David Hirshey and Roger Bennett. Reprinted by permission of ESPN Books and Ballantine Books. Available in bookstores May 4.
ROGER BENNETT: America will win the World Cup in my lifetime. I have no doubt of that, even though I'm the co-author who's English. The country that won the Battle of Saratoga, put the first man on the moon, and persuaded the world to part with five dollars for a cup of coffee will find a way to win. It just has to turn its mind to the task.
DAVID HIRSHEY: Much as I've been praying to the Landon Donovan shrine in my home -- wait, you must be referring to the U.S. women's team. Sure, they'll win the World Cup again.
BENNETT: Careful -- you sound like you've internalized the worst of American soccer low self-esteem. The collapse of the NASL in the '80s taught us one thing: American soccer success cannot be fabricated overnight. Its growth will be slow and steady. I draw confidence from the way the game has evolved in this country. Not from Major League Soccer, but from the number of Americans with the skills to compete in the major leagues across Europe.
HIRSHEY: I'm sorry to be so unpatriotic, but name me one American player other than Donovan who possesses the speed and guile to carve open a world-class defense. You need game-breakers like Messi and Kaká to win the World Cup and the U.S. just doesn't have them despite all the promises over the last decade that we were creating a master soccer race in our youth academies. Remember good ol' Project 2010? It was U.S. Soccer's rose-tinted blueprint for the national team that they unveiled to great fanfare in 1998? Can you guess what the goal was? To win the World Cup in 2010! Project 2030, anyone?
BENNETT: How many Turks or South Koreans could you have named before they reached the semifinals in 2002? It was their organization and work ethic that took them so far. But, with or without a good American run deep into this tournament, the sport's American profile will improve, courtesy of the unprecedented exposure the sport is receiving, thanks to ESPN's investment (in HD no less, and excuse the product placement). For the first time since Pelé's New York Cosmos -- and for all the right reasons -- soccer is no longer considered a dirty little secret to be buried in the back of the sports section. What impact do you think that will have on younger viewers watching at home?
HIRSHEY: Perhaps your job history at Best Buy has you a bit confused but raising a remote control, even if it's for HDTV, is not the same as raising the World Cup trophy. A good Cup showing by America and all that media coverage will spike soccer's popularity, but, for the sake of American soccer, I sure hope that a good percentage of your imaginary kids watching the U.S. run riot on the small screen also possess a mean left foot.
BENNETT: And, I might add, a good dose of the old American profit motive. Soccer stars are now among the highest paid sportsmen in the world, and as the great American philosopher Gordon Gekko once said, "Greed captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit."
HIRSHEY: What salaries are you looking at -- the hundreds of millions that Ronaldo and Kaká make? The last time I checked, some of the Americans who were playing alongside David Beckham when he came to the Galaxy were pulling in a whopping $12,500. The bottom line is, flashing a wad of bills is not the answer to making the U.S. a World Cup contender. There are some goals, like saving the planet or marrying Gisele, that can take generations to achieve.
BENNETT: Mark my words, ye of little faith: The United States will bring home the World Cup before they ever win the World Baseball Classic.