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Mr. Rogers On Soccer

Soccer increases its imprint on U.S. public.

By Andrew Rogers

SUNBURY ON THAMES, England (Thursday, April 5, 2006) -- Soccer is slowly establishing itself in the United States as a game that grabs more than a passing interest from the average sports fan. It may not be liked or known about, but it is on the radar.

When you then add the Beckham factor, TV contracts and stadium developments, the future certainly seems bright. However, as guardians of the game, we as fans should never lose sight of the fact that performing at the World Cup is the true acid test of the vitality of a nation's soccer.

In the United States men's recent friendlies, they showed some promise, but ultimately there still pervades a sense that the team feels it can outwork and outmuscle sides to victory. These are commendable qualities, but cannot be relied upon to get to the last four of the World Cup. The likes of France and Portugal will not be affected by such issues when it matters.

Nothing changes overnight and at the national level, given soccer is a results-based business, moving too far from being a hard-working and organized side could lead to a potential lull, or lack of confidence, in the U.S. men's. The sport can ill afford that.

The practicalities of playing a possession-based game might not be there for the Americans. The players are competitive at the top level but. under pressure, most look to pass sideways or backwards. Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey are capable of creating half a yard, but are they really out and out dribblers?

In reality, not much more can be expected, given the relative youth of the sport in the U.S. This will change over the time, but in the short term, how far can the Americans develop their game. What players are capable of lining up against a European or South American heavyweight and playing the opposition as footballers, not athletes?

What lineup would you suggest that could compete now and in 2010? And can the U.S. move toward a more cultivated game over the next three years?

Andrew Rogers, a regular contributor to the United Kingdom's League Paper and Non League Paper, lives in Sunbury on Thames in England. Formerly the director of communications for the Long Island (N.Y.) Rough Riders, he is a UEFA 'B" license coach and plays semi-professionally with Spelthorne FC.

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