Shoeless Soccer

Turning the game on its head will give American soccer a leg up in the World Cup

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News As the sporting world turns its gaze toward Russia and the final games of the World Cup, the United States is on the outside looking in. The U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the tournament at all after a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago last year. That’s the first time the team missed out on soccer’s biggest showcase since 1990. Yet even then only once did the U.S. advance as far as the quarterfinals. The failure of the men’s team (the women’s team, a dominant force in the world’s game. is another story) has cause plenty of head scratching and advice on how to improve. Most focus on training at the elite levels. Two local men Nathan Richardson and Carlo Celli, both on faculty at Bowling Green State University as well as youth soccer coaches, administrators and parents, have other ideas. Those ideas sprang from their experience here in Bowling Green as well as around the world. Celli is a native of Italy, where he continues to summer, and Richardson’s scholarship has meant stays in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. The result of their passion for the game and frustrations with its state in the U.S. have resulted in a broad prescription in book form, “Shoeless Soccer: Fixing the System and Winning the World Cup.” The book has garnered attention on Fox News and the authors wrote an opinion piece in USA Today. The epiphany came in Bowling Green. Richardson was leading winter training sessions for Bowling Green Soccer Club players at the Community Center. During one practice, one of the young players’ shoe “exploded.” There was no way to fix it, so rather than exclude the boy, Richardson suggested they all play barefoot. Setting fear of stubbed bruised, even broken, toes aside, the kids played on and Richardson realized being shoeless forced the youngsters to play with more care, and with more technique. No toeing the ball with a bare foot, rather they were forced to have the soft touch every soccer player wants to achieve. They were learning without coaching. Another revelation came, said Richardson, when the younger sister of a player showed up and wanted to participate. Richardson always welcomes other players so he let her join. That meant no drills, just a game. As these sessions continued they used different sized balls, even a tennis ball as a way of emulating kids who sometimes had to make their own out of rags. He observed that the youngsters playing on the hard surface…