The men’s national team vs. the media

I’m late getting to this intriguing Jonah Freedman piece about the rise in scrutiny on the U.S. men’s national team, which Freedman posits as a sign that we’re finally getting serious about this soccer thing.

That sort of phenomenon is alien to U.S. Soccer circles. The coaches and players aren’t called out onto the carpet on a regular basis. And as a result, we don’t have enough of a critical soccer culture here in the US. …

The point is, when the press starts taking risks – questioning the status quo, and truly holding people’s feet to the fire – that’s when we truly start to change as a culture.

“This country needs that exposure,” continued (Herculez) Gomez. “This country needs football to matter.”

Michael Bradley may disagree, of course. The Bradleys may include a terrific journalist (Jeff) in their immediate family, but they’ve long been wary of the media. Bob Bradley was cautious to the point of saying virtually nothing. Michael can be downright snippy when asked perfectly reasonable questions.

(Quick aside: Bob Bradley’s reserved nature should NOT stop major news outlets from doing substantial pieces on what he’s doing with Egypt. An American coach keeping things together amid the chaos is a fascinating story that the U.S. non-soccer media should step up and recognize.)

On the men’s side in particular, U.S. Soccer has kept a steady ship. Older players set the tone. Newer players know their place. Reporters who deviate from the team’s internal narrative may get a polite but firm talking-to.

But the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann rocked the boat. He is an international icon who will, on occasion, speak candidly. He has brought in new players and new methods. We can’t write about the team without recognizing the changes or at least asking what the heck is going on.

And that’s not such a bad thing.

Every national team coach has to remember one thing: The team belongs to all of us. It’s a national investment. The media have a watchdog responsibility.

I’ll disagree with Jonah on one point. We haven’t progressed that much as a soccer nation because the reaction to Brian Straus’s comprehensive story was based simply on the fact that the story was written.

When we start talking about the substance of such stories, we will have progressed.