Another View, Mine: December 2017

John Nieman

In any other country, the failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia next year would call for the complete overhaul of the structure of the federation. Here in the US, it does not even merit a mention at the top of the newsfeed. The coach, who is certainly not the main problem or even close to it, has resigned, but the rest of the power position holders have no intention of leaving.

The United States has more registered soccer players—individuals who pay money to the federation to be able to play—than any other nation in the world. And yet, while we put a lot of that money into funding and compensating the men’s team, what do we have to show for it? Much less money goes to the women’s team, and they are world champs many times over.

In my view, the problem lies with money. Here in the US, our soccer is “pay to play.” The overwhelming majority of youth teams—if not all—are funded entirely by money from the players themselves. Therefore, only players with money or, more specifically, families with money, are able to play our sport. And the higher the level of the competition, the more money is required of the player. The pool of eligible players is thereby greatly diminished. You don’t see organized soccer teams in the public grade schools in most areas, and when you do, the coach is often a teacher with little or no knowledge of the game. My first coach, at Asheville Catholic High School in 1966, was the basketball coach, who used the soccer team to get his basketball players in shape for the up­coming basketball season. The better the player was at basketball, the more likely he was to start and have playing time.

When I was the administrator for the Rainbow Soccer Camps in the mid-to late-80s, we provided the only USSF-approved coaching clinic in the State. We were fortunate to attract more than a dozen coaches from around the region interested in getting licensed.

It must begin at the youth level. Each State organization needs to fund free youth leagues coached by qualified individuals. If that’s not feasible, then we need to encourage soccer teams beginning in the grade schools, again, with qualified coaching. Certainly with all we are learning about the dangers of Amer­ican football to our kids, we should be diverting the money spent on those teams to the much-less expensive sport of soccer.

We need to get to these kids early before their only experience with the sport is a FIFA video game. (Our country also boasts of having more people playing soccer video games than any other. Perhaps if they were also playing in the real world, we would not be sitting at home next summer watching Pana­ma, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and Iran competing in the World Cup.)

I realize that I am writing this while most of the country is deciding whether Ohio State or Alabama should be playing in the National Championship tournament, and agonizing over the benching of Eli Manning for the Giants.

But I just can’t get interested. The game no longer holds my attention. And if Geno Smith is a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick, than I really don’t have any understanding of the game anyway.

The only American football that held any attraction for me was UNC football and, well, you know . . .

Which puts me in the position of relying on soccer and stock car racing for my sporting obsessions, for the most part.

I wrote in this space last month that I felt it imperative that Martin Truex Jr. win the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championship. To my delight—and, I am sure, the relief of the powers-that-be at NASCAR—that is exactly what happened. The race was exciting and the finish was pleasing. From a purely personal and emotional perspective, it was fitting and proper.

But there are some important questions from and objective view.

Clearly, the Toyotas had significant engine and body ad­vantages over Ford and, especially, Chevrolet. All four finalists in the Xfinity Series were Chevrolets. None of the final four in the Cup series were Chevrolets and the Chevys were not even close.

It will be, for those of us who care, the most closely-watched story of the winter as to what changes will be made.

On a personal note, a very close friend of mine for over forty years, Pat Weaver, is retiring at the end of the year from his position as engine builder at Hendrick Motorsports. He built the engines that powered the Xfinity Champion and runner up this past season. We all talk about going out on top. That’s the definition.

Since last I appeared at this space, I’ve undergone a hip replacement of my right hip. 14 years ago when I had the left hip replaced, I was flat on my back recuperating for 6-8 weeks. I am now three weeks out and walking without a cane. If I thought Martha would allow it, I would likely be trying to play goal for our indoor team next week. But then, the fact of Martha is why I have survived these many years.

Trying to eat right and do my rehab exercises, so it’s not so bad. Fat Boy Index: 284.