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Real soccer history in the United States: Team America


I have written before, here and there, about how the United States does actually have a relevant soccer history – more and more of it every day.

We still tend to see this as a “new” sport, and it is, relatively so.

This morning comes yet another example of the sport’s increasingly rich history, a wonderful piece in The New York Times Goal Blog pegged to the 30th anniversary of a fascinating idea, but one that perhaps fabulously flawed that certainly before its time.

It really was a “mad scientist” of a creation. Perhaps it was always destined to slide off into the soccer abyss along with a league whose business model was cracked to its core. To borrow the words from Jack Bell, author of today’s NYT piece: “It was a noble, novel — some would say naïve — experiment in engineering a soccer project with little precedent before or since in any sport.”

It was Team America. The idea was to form a professional club of American soccer players, which would serve as the league version of the U.S. national team. It was meant to help solve a couple of developmental conundrums, not the least of which was a lack of prime time and of featuring roles for U.S. players. In the NASL construct, they were almost universally second- and third-fiddle to better skilled, more experienced players from, well, pretty much everywhere else.

Team America played in Washington, D.C. – Where else? – as a franchise in the defunct North American Soccer League. It lasted a just a year, for the 1983 season. Team America collapsed as a wee lad; the league, limping along with just nine teams, died off a year later.

Honestly, the Team American concept never had a fighting chance. Between heavy politics within the U.S. national team pool of the time, stumbles of the U.S. Soccer Federation in marketing concept and the general ship sinking of the NASL, Team America was something of a disaster.

Of course, today we know of disasters and fiascos of domestic soccer past as “history.”

Either way, it was a fascinating exercise, worth reading about (if you haven’t hit your NYT limit of 10 stories a month, at least). Said Team America captain Jeff Durgan in the Times story:

The devil was in the details. The league was in serious jeopardy. It was a last-ditch effort to try to feature American players and energize the national team program.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.