By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 29, 2012) US Soccer Players – It's easy enough to allow Sunday's lopsided Euro 2012 final to overshadow the entire tournament. Yes, Spain once again showed it's them and everybody else at European level and likely the world. We get that, but what else can we take from the European Championships?
What makes the enthusiasm surrounding the success of the European Championship so interesting in the North American market is the lack of control. The event is never going to be overly concerned about making it as easy as possible for an American broadcaster. There's no direct connection. Last I checked, our country isn't eligible and only a handful of American players holding the requisite passport can even theoretically appear in the tournament. Yet we're presented with another soccer success in this country.
What does this mean in the big picture sense? Well, the next time the rights to this tournament are on the market the price will likely be higher. Other than that, is American appeal for a big time tournament really all that surprising? For that matter, if properly marketed would the Copa America tournament also attract viewers interested in seeing some of the best players in the world in games that count? One would assume so.
Taking that for granted, let's consider what this means in practice. Tournaments with the best teams and players will attract an audience in a country that isn't directly involved. Again, go figure. After all, this is the United States where multiple sports have demonstrated the market for a major event.
The Revolution Will Wait
We saw very little over the course of this tournament that suggests we're seeing yet another innovation in style of play. In fact, we had enough pundits describing the limit of tactics to suggest a trend. As that line of thinking goes, the highest level of professional soccer has reached a point where the game is canceling itself out. That's an easy enough point to make when score lines stay low.
At the same time, there was an equal insistence that we were seeing amazing games. Though half the semifinals didn't live up to that standard, there were enough examples to support playing up the quality. Even when the games weren't producing a barrage of goals, enough was happening to suggest something special.
What this lacked in revolutionary moments that would cause coaches all around the world to reconsider their options, it at least somewhat made up for in style. I might be in the minority here, but I think we will see the next step in pro soccer fairly soon. The Spanish pass around isn't an end, it's a suggestion and someone somewhere will take them up on it. There's the chance that we see another opening of the game tactically as teams adjust their style. Though it would be nice if this was more than simply finding yet another passing lane to crowd, it's still likely going to be up to the skilled teams to prove their game over and over. We haven't seen that from our European friends, an understatement if there ever was one.
Teams and Players
What I do think is becoming even more of a cliché is the insistence that the best player be there in the crucial moment with his foot on the ball. This is more than Cristiano Ronaldo waiting to take a penalty. It's the basic insistence that at this stage of the game's development it will be that one breathtaking player that will be the difference. Soccer rarely matches the commercials, where games are decided on that one breakaway where the great player deftly avoids a disparate sliding tackle to blast a shot that forces everything a goalkeeper has and still ends up in the back of the net. This is a sport of attrition, after all.
The problem with tournament play is what comes next. Even when a player manages a breathtaking game, there's the next one and potentially the one after that. Though it's tough to talk about role players when those playing the roles are among the best in the world, that's what is distinguishing the top European teams. They have options in ways that in previous iterations would be limited as they worked to get the key attacking player the ball.
There are, of course, very good teams that still play that way but their influence is beginning to wane. That should be the bold type lesson from the semifinal stage of both the Champions League and the European Championship. It's hardly the end of the superstar among stars, but expectations need to be adjusted.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
More from J Hutcherson: