Category: Sports

Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story

Jay DeMerit grew up in Green Bay, about two hours north of me.  He was a high school star at Bay Port and went to University of Illinois Chicago to play soccer.

After he graduated, MLS didn’t want him, so he left the US with $1800 in his pocket and moved to England, joining a 9th division team, basically a sunday beer league.

After a year, with no money left, he got a trial with a 7th division team.  Watford’s manager, then in the 2nd division, was in attendance to scout two other players, but really liked DeMerit and gave him a 2 week trial.

After the two week trial, he signed a one year deal and played for Watford all season.   He scored the winning goal at Wembly that promoted Watford to the premiership, earning him legendary status with Watford’s fans.

He was a starter in the Premiership, playing with Watford for 6 seasons, scoring 9 goals as a central defender.  He made the US National Team in 2007 and led the US to a 2-0 win against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup.  He was named to the World Cup 2010 roster and started all four matches in South Africa.  Now there’s a movie about him coming out in November.

DeMerit’s story in unreal.  It shows that determination plus talent equals success.  He wanted something so bad that he was willing to go broke for it, move to another continent and devote his time to it to make sure it was a success.

Be like Jay DeMerit.  If you have a dream, go for it, work hard and give it your very best effort. Don’t make excuses.  He could have easily said “im from a tiny town in the US, Major League Soccer doesn’t want me, im running out of money” but he didn’t.   He didn’t whine, he just was determined to get better each day and found success beyond his wildest dreams.

Give it your best effort.  If it doesnt work, its better to have lived and tried than to have given up without a fight.

DeMerit’s goal to take Watford to the Premiership

Why Doesn’t US Soccer Produce Homegrown Strikers?

Soccer has been gaining popularity in the US ever since World Cup 1994.  Soccer is the most played youth sport in the US.  The MLS now averages over 17,100 fans per game, about the same as the NBA and NHL.  Seattle’s average attendance is now 36,350 “and would have ranked ninth in the English Premier League, sixth in Spain’s La Liga, second in France’s Ligue 1 and fourth in Italy’s Serie A.” The national team has made some great progress and has started to get better results, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002 and winning the group in 2010, plus 2nd place in 2009 confederations cup and a win over Spain.  But what’s holding the US national team back?  The most glaring deficiency is a world class striker.

There has never been a truly great US striker.  The closest is Brian McBride, a great player, but not truly world class.  The US has produced tons of world class goalkeepers (Casey Keller, Tim Howard, Brad Friedal, Tony Meola), a few midfielders (Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey) and good defenders (Alexi Lalas), but no strikers.

It’s maddening to watch many US games.  They have a decent buildup, good passing, but then the finish is just lacking.  In the US’s 2-0 win against Jamaica today, a real world class striker would have scored at least 4-5 more times.  It happens time and time again.   The US team is as or more athletic than any team in the world.  It has a good midfield, an amazing goalkeeper and a decent defense.  The biggest thing missing is a world class striker.

The US has not produced a striker with a nose for goal in the mold of Messi, Rooney, Torres, Teves, Drogba, Eto’o or even a Berbatov.  The last goal by a US striker in a World Cup was scored by Brian McBride on June 17 2002 in a 2-0 round of 16 win vs Mexico.   Since then, all 8 goals have been scored by midfielders.  Charlie Davis could have been that forward, be he almost died in a car crash and is still not back in form 2 years later.  Jozy Altidore shows flashes, but does not seem to have that killer, striker instinct.

So why is this?  I’ve been playing my whole life and reffing for 12 years now and i have a few theories.

When we start playing in organized leagues at age 4 or 5, the rest of the world is still playing in the park.  We play way too many full sided games way too early, don’t practice enough or play enough pickup games.  Even when kids are 4 or 5, the point of games is far too often to get a win, not to develop your skills.  We are always playing on grass, while the rest of the world grows up playing on pavement, tennis courts, gravel, dirt or artificial surfaces.  When young players in the rest of the world move to grass, the ball moves slow and they can do anything.  We have too many coaches who stifle our imagination with tactics that work when we are young, at the expense of true technical quality.

The other issue is sportsmanship.  When a striker scores a ton in an organized league, the coach takes him out, or puts him in on defense or midfield and tells him not to run up the score.  In other countries, the goal scorer keeps on scoring in pickup games.  He’s picked first when people are choosing teams.  An example.  When I was 10, I played on a team with a bunch of my friends.  We were really good and rarely lost.  My friend Jeremy and I were the leading goal scorers.  Every time we got up by a few goals, our coaches would put both of us on defense, or as the goalkeeper.  Obviously, neither of us had the talent to be an international, but imagine the true top players in the US who are stopped from scoring at a young age.  It kills their killer instinct that strikers need.

So how do we fix it?  If i were in charge of youth soccer in the US, here’s what I’d do.

1.  Don’t start with organized soccer until kids are older.  Instead, get kids together and have them play semi organized pickup games.  At the end of the “season” break kids into teams for a quick 2-3 week season to get them used to playing on a real field.  Scale back coaching.  They mostly stifle creativity.

2. Force young kids to practice on tennis courts, dirt and other artificial surfaces.  These surfaces are way faster, so when you go onto grass, everything is slow and you have amazing touch.  The typical soccer moms will hate this.

3. Get rid of the sportsmanship excuse.  Have less of a focus on winning and losing when kids are young and let a great goal scorer keep scoring to keep developing their skills.

The Superbowl, Chilean Style

As soon as I moved out of the country, Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl and the Packers went to the Superbowl.  I watched the end of the season on my computer on the free streaming websites (which the US government just shut down) and then watched the the NFC Championship game at an American bar close to my apartment.  It’s strange being in a place where you’re one of the only people who cares about the sport.  I’m used to it though, after watching the Champions League and other international soccer in the United States.

It’s been fun to share American Football with people who normally wouldn’t watch.  Jesse and I watched the the Packers/Patriots regular season game with one of our friends from Portugal, who left saying “I would love to try that game.”  We watched the NFC Championship game with friends from Chile, Israel, Portugal, Ireland and the US.  There were hardly any Packers fans and a few Bears fans, which led to a fun atmosphere.  After the Packers won, I led our group in a Go Pack Go chant, which some of my friends changed to “Go Back Home” to some of the Bears fans.

I’m heading over to the bar in about 30 minutes to watch the game with friends from Chile, Israel, Germany, China and the US.  It’s 85 and sunny, which isn’t quite Superbowl weather, but I’m excited.  Although I had to walk over to the mall to get a green shirt, I can’t wait for the game.  I’m predicting 34-24 Packers.

Russia, Qatar Show FIFA’s Corruption

Sepp Blatter: Bond Villain Look Alike
Nobody should be surprised by FIFA’s selection of Russia and Qatar as the next two hosts for the World Cup.  FIFA, along with the International Olympic Committee are among the most corrupt organizations in the world (see Jack Warner).  It’s clear that England was by far the best host for 2018 in terms of attendance, overall revenue and atmosphere.  A world cup in England would have rivaled Germany in 2006, but it’s clear that’s not what FIFA wants.

I don’t buy FIFA’s insistence that they’re trying to spread the game around the world.  All they are about is pulling off a decent tournament and getting rich themselves.  Before the final vote, FIFA president and Bond villain lookalike Sepp Blatter spoke of the “evils of the media,” referring to a British press investigation that caused 6 delegates to resign amid corruption charges.  According to the head of England’s bid delegation:

Robertson said: “One of the rumours sweeping Zurich last night was that there are 22 Fifa exco delegates as you know, and the rumour was that only three of them bothered to call for the technical reports and two of those bothered to call for those technical reports so they could release them to their own bid teams. If you have 22 exco members and they’re not bothering to read the technical reports, I think that probably tells you it’s not a football-based decision.”

At a news conference in Zurich Anson, asked if England should bid to host the tournament again, said: “I would say right now, ‘Don’t bother until you know that the process is going to change to allow bids like ours [a chance] to win. When you have the best technical bid, fantastic inspection visits, the best economic report, and, from what people told us, the best presentation, it’s quite hard to stomach that all that seemed to count for absolutely nothing.

“Having only 22 guys only voting gives them too much influence. Running two bids together was clearly a huge mistake. Everyone who had a vote and a bid clearly wanted to trade that vote for something that helped them get over the line in that campaign. Australia had a very good bid and they got one vote, we had a very good bid and we got two, the USA had an unbelievably strong technical bid and got three. Six votes in the first round between those three, there’s something not quite right.

“You have to open it up to all member associations and have transparency and open voting so everyone knows who voted for whom. With 22 guys having so much power it becomes very, very difficult.”

Wikileaks recently revealed a cable calling Russia a mafia state, so it’s no stretch that their government/oligarchs/mafia found a way to funnel into FIFA’s welcoming hands.  I actually think Russia will host a fairly good tournament, just like South Africa did, especially if they do the grouping so that you don’t have to travel huge distances.  Russia has good night life and the climate will be great for a summer tournament, but I think FIFA took personal gain over the potential to have one of the best tournaments ever.

Qatar is another story.  They have oil money and want to get on the world stage.  Again, it’s no stretch that they were able to funnel some into FIFA’s open arms.  I just don’t see how Qatar will be able to host a decent tournament in June and July.  I know they’ll have air conditioned stadiums, but the best part of the tournament is seeing the country and hanging out with people from all over the world.  With temperatures peaking at 50C, I can’t see it being very fun.  A Qatar travel site says “anyone who can leave Qatar in the summer does.”  Add in the fact that it’s close to terrorist hotspots and doesn’t allow Israelis to enter, I can’t see Qatar being able to pull off a really fun World Cup.  I understand why the US didn’t get it since we just hosted in 1994, but Australia would have been a really good choice, too.

FIFA delegates may not have accepted bribes (I think they did, but I don’t have evidence), but FIFA has other reasons for picking developing countries. In South Africa, FIFA basically rented the country out for 6 weeks.  They got the government to change laws and make new ones to restrict advertising.  They got South Africa to allow “blue lights” to drive as fast as they wanted and ignore traffic laws, and even got the police and organizing committee to sweep all sorts of misdeeds under the rug.  See my post about FIFA’s corruption from July for more details.

The last World Cups have been held in South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Qatar, all developing countries without extremely strong rule of law.  All four are willing to sacrifice rule of law for the chance to be on the world stage.  I’m not sure that I blame them either.  I just don’t think we’re likely to see a World Cup or Olympics in a developed country any time soon.  Sepp Blatter FIFA would rather take money and make their own rules, far away from the prying eyes of the British or American press.