French players celebrate winning the World Cup. (Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Congratulations to France for winning the World Cup, its second world championship in 20 years.
Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
And congrats to Croatia for becoming the smallest nation to finish as runners-up in the World Cup. While Croatians and their supporters are sad today, what the national side accomplished in Russia was astounding.
It was a reminder that big things can come from small packages — Croatia’s population is around 4.1 million — and that great soccer nations don’t necessarily have to have big populations. If that was the case, the United States, with 330-plus million people would be a world power.
You have to have big-time soccer players.
All you have to do is look at the rosters of the two World Cup finalists to understand where these players toil day-in and day-out in their day jobs for some of the best soccer clubs in the world.
You don’t believe me?
Then take a gander at France:
Samuel Umitti — Barcelona
Raphael Varane — Real Madrid
N’Golo Kante — Chelsea
Blaise Matuidi — Juventus
Kylian Mbappe — Bayern Munich
Antoine Griezmann — Atletico Madrid
Olivier Giroud — Chelsea
Paul Pogba — Manchester United
Hugo Lloris — Tottenham
Croatia was pretty well represented as well:
Luka Modric — Real Madrid
Danijel Subasic — Monaco
Dejan Lovren — Liverpool
Ivan Perisic — Inter
Ivan Rakitic — Barcelona
And on and on it goes.
Yes, there are a few Croatian players who perform in their domestic league. No problem with that, but the team’s core has been challenged and grown elsewhere.
Until the United States gets players on the top teams in the top leagues in Europe, hopes of becoming a world power will be fleeting.
Yes, there are many ways to become a world power in soccer but the common deminator always seems to be the same — challenging yourself in the best competition possible.
At the present time, Major League Soccer doesn’t do that for American players, especially the ones whose charge is to create and score goals. And quite frankly, there are few indications that the league will be in position to do that in the foreseeable future because fewer Americans with attacking abilities are getting an opportunity to play regularly. MLS’s goal is to make money, not necessarily the best possible players from North America.
The U.S.’s best will have go overseas for find that competition and challenge and even if a player joins a team that doesn’t mean he will see playing time at mid-table sides.
Christian Pulisic? He’s a talented and a special player. He performs for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, one of the best teams on the planet. He is the future of the U.S. national team.
But as lethal as the 19-year-old midfielder can be, Pulisic cannot be a one-man show. He needs help.
Perhaps Josh Sargent will emerge with Werder Bremen or perhaps Tim Weah will at Paris St-Germain.
Until there is a mini-army of Christian Pulisics, the U.S. isn’t going anywhere.
As well as he played during World Cup qualifiers, Pulisic couldn’t take an underachieving side on his shoulders and lift the team into the World Cup. The blame doesn’t like with him, but on many factors in U.S. Soccer.
Today, Sunday, July 15, I don’t have the time or patience, to talk about that. I will in future columns because if we don’t start now — I take that back — start yesterday — we will never catch up to the world’s elite.
Winning the World Cup as some soccer officials like to talk about?
That’s a pie-in-the-sky hope and hype.
Right now, getting out of the CONCACAF hex in one piece would be a start and then we can go from there.
Today, let’s celebrate some entertaining futbol played by France, Croatia and many of the 32 finalists in Russia.