So the World Cup is fast upon us. Perhaps the most surprising entry into this year's field is the Iceland National Team. What a delight to have a team from a country that is home to around 400,000 people, and how wonderful that they actually have a shot....
One of the things I love most about soccer is that it's not a race that goes to the biggest and most wealthy. The US, arguably one of the wealthiest countries that has ever been, has a difficult time fielding teams - our US Women's Team is phenomenal and a perennial powerhouse, but the men's team is lackluster. I'm honestly more surprised that they go at all, ever, to any World Cup.
Here's the problem - and it's been a problem for years. Soccer in the US doesn't get the attention that other sports get. I'm talking about the big three - football, basketball, and baseball. We do well in the Summer Olympics, generally in the flashy sports like swimming and gymnastics... But in other events and in the Winter Olympics, it's a different story, and it's literally anyone's game.
Soccer, like these other sports, is a fairly low-cost sport. All you need is a ball (of whatever kind) and a couple of goal posts and you're in business. It's why countries that aren't super rich can do well - the infrastructure that's required to play a football game (especially the NFL) is just prohibitive for other countries to consider.
Sadly, the other issue facing soccer in the US is the lack of good coaching. My brother recently started in as a girl's soccer coach for a local high school. While there's no doubt that he's an amazing guy and probably a fantastic coach, he's not been groomed like the Icelandic teams' coaches have been.
Here's a link to an article on what I'm on about:
So, the US, which has 1000 times the population of Iceland (literally) and which should therefore have no problem finding players or coaches, finds itself behind the ball (pun intended) when it comes to this sport. Part of it is that we have other sports that provide diversion and FAR better salaries. That's where our priorities lie, and I don't see that changing.
So in the meantime, I'm rooting for Iceland. They've got a tough group/bracket... Here's hoping!