WHY ARE WE SO SURPRISED? by the United States failure to qualify for the Finals of The World Cup in Russia this past summer? True, it took a “Perfect Storm”, a convergence of events with a 1% probability of happening on the same day, for us to be eliminated. However, the reasons for our falling short have been there for many years so that such a disastrous result would be inevitable. There is accountability and responsibility to be shared, on all levels:
- MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER HAS LOST ITS WAY: Wasn’t a goal of MLS to “develop American soccer”? How is this going to happen when nearly 75% of all the players in the league are internationals?
- THE COLLEGE GAME HAS GONE BACK TO THE PAST: In the early 70s, the rosters of most of the national powers were dominated by players recruited from overseas. That changed, and over the next 20-30 years, Americans became the cornerstone of most programs. In the last ten years, there has been an enormous influx of imports. In many cases over 50% of the roster is foreign and 8 or 9 of them are starters. Are young Americans going to improve significantly by watching others?
- THE DEVELOPMENT ACADEMIES DRIVE AWAY THE ELITE ATHLETE: At ages 12-15, the most talented youngsters are generally proficient at several sports and enjoy them all. If a young athlete is told he must choose only one sport and drop all the others or he can participate in several until he finds his niche, which choice is he going to make?
- YOUTH SOCCER DOESN’T SERVE THE YOUTH: Watch the end of any match for children 6-12. Who is the most concerned about the outcome? Only the coach, whose ego is at stake, is affected beyond the boundaries of the parking lot. The youngsters care about winning (as they should), but only in the moment. What they most want to do is HAVE FUN. If it isn’t fun - and a self-absorbed coach guarantees that it won’t be - they will sooner or later turn to some other activity. There are plenty of other options in this country.
There are, of course, many other factors. The point is that the American model as currently constructed is NOT working. We can point out that 2018 was an aberration. We can say that this was a “WAKE UP CALL”. However, it is not enough to simply wake -up. One has to look in the mirror as well. A recent survey showed that participation in youth soccer in this country is down over 30%. Unless there is a thorough examination of the way we do things this trend is likely to continue. What does that say about the future of the United States in soccer?