Soccer and Symphonies

Imagine two different symphonies in a given city, say New York.

One symphony, let’s call them New York United, is composed of some of the best American and international musicians.  Americans are still the most representative group in the New York United, but a majority of its members come from numerous different countries throughout the world.

Another symphony based in New York, let’s call this one Symphony USA, is comprised exclusively of the most talented American musicians.  Some of the American musicians in New York United also play in Symphony USA.

These two symphonies never play at exactly the same time.  New York United is in session for the majority of the year, approximately nine months.  Symphony USA gathers intermittently throughout the year for a total time that adds up to about two months each year.

There is an international musical organization, let’s call them MUSA, that decrees certain dates throughout the year are to be reserved for national symphonies to practice and hold concerts, and so when these reserved time periods come around, the international musicians in New York United who are talented enough to play for their respective countries travel home, while the top American musicians playing in the various symphonies throughout the country and the world travel to New York to play in Symphony USA.

When New York United wants to replace its first violinist, it draws up a shortlist of the best violinists in the world and recruits one of them.  It does not matter if the violinist is American, Swedish, Chinese, or Peruvian.

When Symphony USA wants to replace its first violinist, it draws up a shortlist of the best American violinists.

Question: if, speaking strictly from a musical perspective, you could attend a symphony performed by either New York United or Symphony USA, which would you choose?  New York United, whose musicians have played together more frequently and who draw from the best in the world?  Or Symphony USA, who play far less together and are drawn only from the pool of American musicians?

The purpose of this imaginary thoughts sequence is to shed light on why club soccer is played at a higher level than national team soccer, and to draw attention to the ironic fact that when the world gathers every four years to watch what is presumed to be the best soccer has to offer at the World Cup, they are, actually viewing an inferior quality of soccer compared to what is on offer throughout the year. There’s a reason Messi and Ronaldo don’t play as well with the country as with their clubs.  Only the very best national teams are able to gel at a level commensurate with the top club teams- I’m thinking Spain, Germany, and Uruguay are the only teams to consistently produce great soccer in the past few tournaments, and even then these teams would be beaten by Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, etc.

Why does this matter?  I’m not sure it really does.  The World Cup is fun because it’s natural to root for one’s country, and watching the games is a good excuse to throw a party.

But from a perspective that focuses on the quality of the soccer played, the World Cup and other international tournaments are often lacking, and as a consequence the average fan comes away aware of what the best can actually offer.  Soccer isn’t showing itself in its best light to the people it wants to convert into more serious fans.

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