We all love the beautiful game. The World Cup came to the US in 1994 and with it heralded much hope that the game would take off here. Within 10 to 15 years, there was a hope and dream that the United States would take world football by storm. While the standard of soccer in the States has greatly improved, could we ever see more than just the odd player plying their trade in the Premiership? Could we see a real top talent run out in front of the Kop? Christian Pulisic came close. But other than the odd player here and there we don’t have much representation. With a country the size of the US, shouldn’t there be more? I would argue that the current model in the USA significantly reduces the possibility of this happening.
The initial drive and introduction to the game in the United States carries great potential. But somewhere we get lost along the journey.
We have all been regaled with the stories of the greatest players playing with a coconut on the beaches of Rio or with a crushed can on the streets of Buenos Aires. While this poverty may not exist to such extremes here, there are still significant impediments and barriers for young children with soccer. The hurdles that need clearing for the elite talent to be found and nurtured are even higher.
It’s A “Business Model”
To play soccer in South Florida, a typical family will shell out $150-$200 for an 8 to 10-week program. Children from the ages of 4 to 18 will play in such programs. These initial programs are geared towards building a love of the game while fostering skill and development. For a lot of kids, this is more than sufficient. For others, they will build on those skills and perform to a high standard. If they reach that point, a travel team is the next step.
This is where the American model takes another turn. A travel team could cost a family anywhere from $2000 to $5000 a year, and in some instances that’s on the low end. For many families, that $150 to $200 is a barrier, never mind over 10x that. These exorbitant travel team fees could push out so many talented youngsters.
The sad reality is that scouts for club teams and universities across the country only go to watch these travel leagues. As a result, a whole potential pool of able players is neglected. The game of the masses only becomes the game of the elite in the United States.
How Do We Fix It?
So what can happen and what can change? As MLS continues to grow, the teams involved should be going to elementary schools and running coaching sessions. Local teams should be required to invest a portion of their revenues into grassroots endeavors. Funding more accessible leagues will only give you a deeper pool of players. If that part of the dream doesn’t come to fruition and we stick with the travel model, that money should go to funding scholarships.
Soccer is in constant competition with other sports in this country. However, every soccer-loving fan here bears a duty of responsibility to promote the game. Whether it is a recreational or competitive league, coaches that send teams out to annihilate and embarrass opponents 8 or 9 to nil every week need to be looked at. Winning and competition are great, but these types of results only hurt our grassroots efforts.
The duty of care and common sense for referees also needs a watchful eye. Don’t let games get out of hand and use your head when things start to get a bit lopsided. Also, remember that every Saturday game at 7 AM doesn’t need to be refereed to a World Cup Final standard. There are great people in every facet of this game at the lower levels, but still, common sense needs to prevail more often.
Altering The Story
With increased focus on injuries and concussions in American football, an opportunity exists for soccer to grow even more in the US. In time, rather than talking about the beaches of Rio and the streets of Buenos Aires, we could be talking about the beaches of Florida and the streets of Los Angeles. With a little bit of investment, an enhanced model (and a bit more common sense) could make this beautiful game truly accessible to all. Then and only then can we really dream of a regular flow of players crossing the Atlantic, and maybe, just maybe running out at Anfield.