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Are we seeing a US National Team Crisis?

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by user Thecrookedcap

The US Baseball team didn't advance past the second round of the World Baseball Classic, losing to neighbors Canada and Mexico along the way. USA Hockey was downright mediocre in Torino, crashing in the quarterfinals. The Dream Team is no more, as America's basketball teams have not won a men's international tournament since the Sydney Olympics, and the aura of invulnerability has officially been destroyed. The Ryder Cup has been in Europe's hands in all of the last five tries with the exception of the Miracle Sunday at Brookline in 1999. The Davis Cup has been elusive for more than a decade, with America's last win coming in 1995.

Is America losing its touch?

As much as many would like to say that American sports teams are doing poorly in international competition, the issue lies in the expectations placed on the players. Often it seems that pundits think simply sticking a uniform with "USA" attached is an automatic win. The fact is, our expectations are not realistic.

Here are some reasons why:

  1. Other countries have gotten better- In the events that have existed for long periods, American teams have dominated competition. Previous to the Athens games, USA Basketball had two losses: both to the Soviet Union, one of which was a royal screw-job. Before the Soviets came along, US hockey was the second banana behind Canada. And surely if a World Baseball Classic existed 20 years ago, Americans would have probably won without much trouble. The bubble has burst; whatever advantage we held by inventing these sports and playing them with greater vigor is gone. Basketball is clearly the second place team sport on the planet behind soccer. Baseball might not have the same appeal globally, but where it is played the going is great, as anyone who watched the WBC can attest. Everyone is playing our sports, so of course they'll get better!

  2. We're not putting out our best athletes- This is particularly true in Basketball and Baseball. Our teams were not the best they could be. To many great players opted out for whatever reasons. And when the rosters were built, they were frankly disappointments. USA Basketball in particular did poor jobs of assembling rosters; frankly the 2004 Olympic teams seemed to be built for jersey sales, not winning. Remember: The Dream Team was the Dream Team because it had the best players; if Jordan, Bird, and Magic had decided not to play would it still been a "Dream Team?"

  3. The Fundamentals- Warning: this topic will temporarily transform me into a crumudgeon old man. Our sports culture has become highlight based, a result of round the clock coverage, Sportscenter, and the idea that only "edgy" plays are worthy of mention. Too bad most of these ideals are not useful in creating better players (the only good exception I can think of at the moment is baseball defense). But guess what other national teams are doing? Not imitating Sportscenter.

  4. Jack-of-all-trades, Masters of none (anymore)- Look on the bright side: what other country in the world has a top-flight team in nearly every major sport? Dominicans can play baseball, but last time I checked Santo Domingo doesn't have ice to skate on. Brits play great golf, but basketball? Not so much. Our talent pool is spread much thinner than everyone else's. Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Golf, Tennis, Soccer, Lacrosse, Track, so on and so on. We play them all, we're good at all of them. So what if we don't win?

Dominance is so boring anyway.

Frankly, the idea of a USA team crisis is poorly constructed. It doesn't apply to all sports. Soccer has been a smashing success in the last 16 years, with the US reaching the top 5 for the first time ever this month. And women's sports are absolved as well, although as a whole our women have a head-start on everyone and they'll eventually be caught up to as well. But for now, take solace that they'll have to win again eventually. After all, if a team called the Sox can do it...


Tue 03/21/06, 2:20 pm EST

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