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Germany Today, U.S. Tomorrow

I’ll take Howard’s bait. I think it is OK to both admire and root for Germany, and I’ve found myself doing both. Yes, my father was the first mate on U.S. Merchant Marine ships running supplies to Normandy, and the Nazis did occupy his native Greece. But that was quite some time ago. In my well-postwar lifetime, personal bias against Germany has involved disdain for the country’s efficient, machine-like, insert-backhandedly-complimentary-adjective-here character (and caricature), and with their soccer. My earliest football memories involve watching the then-English First Division and the Bundesliga on public television in New York the 1970s. The English kicked and ran. The West Germans were stolid and tough.

We admire beauty in soccer, of course, and people have disliked Die Mannschaft, pre- and post-Wall, because beauty has been in short supply. Indeed, Germany often was cast in the role of deniers of beauty, most starkly in 1974, when the Total Footballing Dutch took the lead in the final before the Germans had even touched the ball but wound up losing, 2-1. Germany in 1990 won on a late penalty in a sour final. In 1998, Jens Jeremies inserted his elbow about six inches into Claudio Reyna’s chest cavity. And then there was Torsten Frings’ clear handball on the line against the USA in the 2002 quarterfinals. Maybe there’s something subconsciously political at work, but, ugh, Germany. 

So now. I could just be a sucker for a good PC storyline, but the combination of its pleasingly offensive-minded and aesthetically beautiful play and its rainbow coalition roster make the new German national team not only likable but downright enviable. And by that I mean that in Germany, of all countries, I see America, and the future of American soccer. 

A roster with a Podolski (born in Poland), an Aogo (Nigerian father), an Ozil (Turkish parents), a Khedira (Tunisian father), a Boateng (Ghanaian father), a Cacau (born in Brazil) and a Gomez (Spanish mother) looks a lot like an American roster with an Onyewu, an Edu, an Altidore and a Gomez of our own. Germany’s overhaul of its youth development system in the past decade, after its embarrassing exit from the 1998 World Cup, looks a lot like the U.S. Soccer Federation’s nascent (and more challenging) efforts to reorganize how it identifies and nurtures talent. And then there’s the game itself. American players, obviously, need to and will improve in both skill and tactics. But players like Michael Bradley, who is employed by the Bundesliga, and Maurice Edu certainly look like German footballers: big, strong, running machines with sensible instincts. Steve Cherundolo: a poor man’s Philipp Lahm? Controlling the ball in midfield, deploying superior speed and strength, exploiting opponent weaknesses -- sounds like a desirable and attainable model for American soccer to me.

So that’s it: I like Germany today because I see the U.S. tomorrow. Be Germany, then beat Germany.