NBC 7’s Derek Togerson takes a look at the possible growth of USA soccer in this commentary
Imagine with me, for a moment, that all the best athletes in America chose to play soccer.
For years the United States has been a sleeping giant on the International soccer scene.
In most other countries, especially in Europe and South America, the best athletes gravitate towards soccer. The competition from things like American football or baseball or basketball or hockey simply is not there so from a young age the top athletes are often identified and funneled in to soccer programs.
In the United States most young men play soccer but then when they start to get really big or really fast a basketball or football coach will come steal them away. As we all know San Diego has no shortage of athletes of this caliber.
Now what would happen if those kids stuck with soccer instead of chasing NFL or MLB dreams?
What if Russell Westbrook stuck with the game he played as a youth? The Oklahoma City Thunder guard is one of the most explosive athletes on earth and would be on the level of a Cristiano Ronaldo … only two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier with the same speed … as a soccer player.
What if LeBron James, all 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds of him, with his cat-like reflexes, wanted to be a goalie?
What if Ezekiel Elliott or Amari Cooper or Adrian Peterson had decided they were going to score goals instead to running over goal lines?
These are the kinds of rare athletes, men with size, speed, agility and strength that are scooped up by other sports before they can fall in love with The Beautiful Game.
San Diego produces these kinds of athletes. That is why, if MLS does come to America’s Finest City, it could be the turning point that leads to the USA winning a World Cup.
I know that sounds like a massive stretch but no, I did not smoke my lunch so just hear me out.
San Diego has churned out four Heisman Trophy-winning running backs, dozens of MLB All-Stars, extreme and action sports pioneers, and yes, a whole lot of soccer talent, too. We can be outside playing 300 days a year here.
The youth soccer scene in San Diego is already vibrant but many of the kids go to other sports as they age. Part of that is they haven’t had a whole lot of reason to stick with it.
For example, the hotbed of baseball talent that is San Diego County. If you ask a lot of the kids who make it to the Major Leagues (and I have done just that) they say growing up going to Padres games helped their love of the game. THEY wanted to be the ones out on that field like the big leaguers they watched.
If Major League Soccer does, indeed, come to San Diego, some of those kids will see the atmosphere at those games and think, “I want to be a part of that!” Some of them will grow in to astonishing athletes who happen to be soccer players.
I would have to believe that is one of the reasons MLS wants so badly to be in San Diego. It’s also got to be one of the reasons they are trying so hard to help David Beckham in his stadium search in Miami (more than a few great athletes come out of South Florida, too, if you were unaware).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has a good relationship with USA Soccer. He understands that growing the game in America does not just mean making Major League Soccer as big as possible; it means growing the talent level across the country, turning the National Team in to an international powerhouse, as well.
Having markets like San Diego and Miami with their rich athletic heritage on board could be the catalyst to making the USA one of the greatest soccer nations in the world, right on par with our already dominant women’s team.