Watching the 2012 UEFA European Championships is both entertaining and illuminating for American soccer fans. It gives us a chance to see some of the best teams in the world face off against each other, but it also highlights why it's so been so hard for the American national team to compete against the best in the world.
The vast majority of the best soccer teams in the world play in Europe, and the sheer number of them has allowed for the development of the European championships. Started over 50 years ago, this tournament is played every four years and falls in the midpoint of the World Cup schedule (also held every four years). It allows for European national teams to continually compete against each other at the highest level.
The United States, in contrast, plays in the Gold Cup every summer. The Gold Cup is a much inferior tournament that doesn't offer the Americans much in the way of quality competition outside of Mexico (to whom it frequently loses to). Instead, the Americans have to rely mostly on friendly matches to try and get some playing time against the world's best outside of the World Cup. Friendlies can be good, but the best national teams (when playing the Americans) usually won't play their regular starters. An example is last month's friendly against Brazil in which the Brazilians played many of their younger national team players and still beat the Americans 4-1.
With the Americans beginning World Cup qualifications this past week against Antigua and Barbuda, attention is once again being given to soccer in this country. The contrast in the lackluster play the Americans showed against Antigua and the much higher standard of play in Euro 2012 is startling. While it's still early in qualifications, the American team should be playing much better against inferior opponents.
In any case, I highly encourage anyone interested in soccer to watch Euro 2012. On display are some of the best players in the world playing for their home countries. It's everything that makes soccer one of the most exciting sports in the world to watch. Outside of the World Cup, the European Championships offer the best learning opportunity for American fans to understand what is needed to become one of the best in the world.
Julie has been following the United States men's national soccer team for the past ten years. While she has grown to love the team, they also anger her in a way that no other sports team ever has when they don't play up to their potential.
- Sports & Recreation