Friday, October 16, 2009

The Great American Striker: Where's Our Pele?

By El Chupacabra

Charlie Davies’ accident is a terrible blow to a young man who had a very bright future ahead of him in professional football. We sincerely hope that future is still bright and that he recovers fully from his injuries and lives a full life well-lived.

But Davies' injury allows us to address an issue that has haunted El Chupa for some time: where are the great American strikers?

The American style of football is tactical and team-oriented. From our youth we are trained to work together to build attacks and to defend as a unit. The emphasis is on learning the team game and on basic skills, and attacking football is not really emphasized, certainly not in terms of developing individual talent to go at defenders one-on-one and beat them. Passing, set plays, one-touch give-and-go, but no Maradona-like runs through the other team's defenses.

When El Chupa watches the MLS and the Men’s National Team, he has flashbacks to his own playing days. The US clearly produces international-level goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders. We seem to be very good at producing both keepers and attacking midfielders in particular. The tactical and team emphasis that is the lifeblood of US soccer from the youth level on up has done very well to produce true number tens, like Donovan, players who create for others, patrol the midfield, win the ball and distribute it, but who also can create opportunities for themselves and others. They also can finish when given the chance.

But where are our strikers? Where are our Drogbas? Our Messis? Our Eto’os? For El Chupa, Davies was that striker. Not only could he finish powerfully when fed balls by his teammates, he could hold the ball at the top of the penalty area and create for others as well. We love Altidore, but he is young and needs playing time to grow--which he's not getting at Hull City. But we see great things ahead for him should he reach his full potential.

But Davies seemed set to take the world by storm and lead the US out of the recent nightmares of World Cup play and out of the group stage next year in South Africa. The loss of Davies is thus a great loss for US football and an existential blow to our football psyche. At least it is for El Chupa.

Where will Davies' replacement come from? Conor Casey? Please. He's physically strong but just a tad too slow for the international level and, most importantly, he simply can't finish. His ratio of Shots to Shots on Goal and, most importantly, Goals to Shots on Goals is average for a striker in the MLS. He muffed it repeatedly the other night against Costa Rica. He's not the answer. Beasley? Apparently his vagina hurts too much when steps on the pitch for him to man up and do his job. Adu? He's fizzled in Europe and is a head-case who has a fork in his ass--turn him over he's done.

El Chupa's point is that perhaps there is not an answer to the question looming for Bob Bradley. And for someone in his 40s who grew up playing the beautiful game, who attended an NASL playoff when just a wee lad, and who has longed for soccer to finally take its rightful place in the American imagination and for the US to earn its place among the world's great football nations, the loss of Davies is a deep loss indeed.

Perhaps the emergence of Altidore and Davies suggests that the US is finally starting to produce the strikers we need to put the MNT in to the top ten in the world to stay. We also have hope for the first great Mexican-American players, sons of immigrants who will inevitably make their way to the US MNT in the years ahead, hopefully forgoing opportunities to play for Mexico (unlike Giuseppe Rossi, the loser born in New Jersey but who plays for Italy). Perhaps the first American Pele will come from that growing demographic.

For now, we wish Davies the best, and wait with baited breath for the first Great American Striker to lead his nation out of the wilderness of defensive football.

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