When I decided to write a piece on youth development, I immediately started focusing on the same questions that many of us have been debating and discussing since Bruce Arena and the US Men’s National Team were eliminated from World Cup Qualifying:
- Why don’t we have promotion/relegation yet?
- How can we make youth development academy programs more affordable?
- Are kids better off going to college and MLS, or going to Europe at a younger age?
And so on.
But after spending countless hours reading articles online, listening to podcasts, reading Tweets, and listening to others debate the same questions over, and over, and over again, it made me wonder if it’s actually possible for me to sit here and write a piece that says “here’s what’s wrong with US Soccer, and here’s how we fix it”…. nor would I want to come off as, in the words of Claudio Reyna, “arrogant” enough to actually think that I know more than the fine coaches, scouts, and administrators throughout the country who dedicate a large portion of their day-to-day lives to help kids get better at playing the beautiful game.
So what I decided to do was ask the opinion of those who are involved with youth development efforts on a day-to-day basis, as well as those who have actually lived it as a coach and/or player.
Thanks to the following contributors who were nice enough to give us a few opinions on youth soccer development in the United States, in alphabetical order:
- John Ellinger– Former U-17 US Youth National Team Head Coach, former Real Salt Lake Head Coach, currently Director of Technical Operations at the Soccer Association of Columbia and Baltimore Armour.
- John Harkes- Former US Men’s National team captain. Won 2 MLS Cups with DC United, also played in England for Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, West Ham, and Nottingham Forest. 90 Caps for the USMNT. Still actively coaching with Mclean Youth Club.
- Ryan Martin– Former Wake Forest and FC Cincinnati Scouting Director, currently DC United Academy Director.
- Bill Moravek– “A”-License coach who has previously served as an assistant for the Jamaican National Team, former academy coach and scout for Southampton and currently a head coach in Bethesda Soccer Club’s Development Academy, as well as a current scout for Fulham FC in England where he and his sons spent 5 years abroad before returning to the United States.
- Matt Ney– “A”-License Head Coach of Bethesda Academy U17 Team who has been involved with the Development Academy for a number of seasons. Coach Ney’s U-15/16 team made it to the quarterfinals of USSDA playoffs last season, only to be eliminated by a very talented Atlanta United team 4-1.
Each of these coaches bring a unique perspective to the youth development conversation, and I’d like to thank each of them personally for taking the time to participate.
It should also be noted that I spoke to John Harkes on a number of these topics. His responses were dictated and sent to him for review, we hope to add his contributions once his official responses are received.
I interviewed each coach, and the first question I asked each of them was:
More kids are playing soccer in the United States than ever before. Do you believe some of them are falling through the cracks?
Ryan Martin, DC United Academy Director
“Yeah, definitely. Some of the best players we’ve been able to bring over to DC United we found playing on a middle school team or in some sort of rec program. One of the biggest responsibilities that we have at DC United as an MLS Academy is to discover and develop the best talent in the area, but it isn’t always the players who are playing in organized travel programs.
So since I came on board, Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper, and myself have made it a priority to improve our scouting network. We’ve scouted over 700 players between the ages of 11-15 so far this year. We’ve promoted John Bello to Full-Time Scouting Director, and we’ve added 8 part-time scouts to the program who are out there helping us to identify more talent in the DMV.
Our goal is to discover and develop the next Andy Najar (who DCU discovered at a tryout). We plan to constantly improve our scouting network, as well as our relationship with other local youth clubs by continuing to establish partnerships.”
“Yes I do, but this does happen around the world. It just happens at a slightly higher rate in the US, due to our size as a country. I think we need more scouts, and more organized opportunities and sessions for top players.
Also, what is the criteria for a scout in the US? I don’t think it should be based on someone taking a low salary or per diem just to fill the role.”
I went on to ask John about how scouting played a role in his success as manager at FC Cincinnati:
“I had been fortunate to have coached at all levels in the US, so I had a massive network of players from youth, PDL, college, USL, NASL, and MLS that, when combined with Ryan Martin, we knew what we wanted when we were scouting players. Ryan’s experience and the conversations we had while he coached Ian with Jay Vidovich at Wake Forest were great. We were on the same page.
The final decision on many talented players came down to character. We discuss technical ability for a possesion-style attack, physicality, speed of thought, and pure speed, but the deciding factor was character.”
Matt Ney, Bethesda Academy Head Coach:
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any question that there are masses falling through the cracks. I think this will continue to be the case until we have more clubs. I think we have to get to the point where there is a youth club in practically every neighborhood, and in every different pocket of the DMV. I’m talking about a kid in Bailey’s Crossroads not having to go play for Alexandria or Arlington, but a home club in his actual neighborhood. A kid from a Baltimore suburb not having to travel to play for Armour or one of the traditional Baltimore-area clubs, but they have an organized and competitive club in their actual neighborhood or general area.
I think we need more clubs popping up, either under their local YMCA or through other means. And as more clubs develop, it benefits the USSDA clubs like Arlington, Bethesda, Baltimore Armour because they’ll develop partnerships with more local clubs and improve their scouting network as a result. But I don’t think there are enough clubs offering kids the option for competitive club soccer. Take Gabriel Jersus, for example. Started off in a small, tiny youth club in Brazil, and is now playing for Manchester City and the Brazilian National Team.
So as more clubs begin to form, and the bigger clubs like DC United and other MLS Academies start going after their talent, the question becomes….what incentives do these smaller clubs actually have to develop players from ages, say 8-14, and then just let them leave for DC United or Philly Union? They get nothing. The players play in a youth club for however many years, DC United comes in and offers them the chance, but then what do the clubs get in return?
That’s what we have to start figuring out.”
(We’ll expand on this below)
John Ellinger, Former USYNT Coach and Current Baltimore Armour Director of Technical Operations
“I don’t know if it’s a case where players are falling through the cracks. US Soccer’s youth scouting system is very good.
The only thing I would add is that I feel that more players who are scouted as potential National Team players should be given the chance to participate in camps with current National Team players, instead of just saying ‘well, they are close, but not there yet.'”
Bill Moravek, Current Bethesda USSDA Coach
“I think the obvious answer is, yes. Between the costs usually associated with playing USSDA, and even competitive USYSA travel programs, as well as the amount of travel involved, it’s a huge commitment that isn’t affordable for everyone. There are scholarships available for some players, but the amount of paperwork and the overall process that’s involved can be rigorous, at best.
And it isn’t just an inner-city or lower-income problem, either. It has to do with the landscape of our country.
In London, you could have 10 youth clubs within walking distance. Here in the States, everything is more spread out. There is a lot of travel involved just to make it to your training sessions every night. And in terms of cost…growing up, all you had to pay was a small fee to cover insurance, you got your kit, and you’re off. But now it’s a lot more of a business. Clubs have to cover field rental fees, referee fees, lighting, uniforms, coaches, etc. the list goes on.”
“One of the biggest issues in the USA, and Reyna touched on this, is perhaps the arrogance and smug demeanor of so many in high level coach/admin. positions. We cannot go on speaking about developing players in this country and comparing non-USSDA to MLS USSDA or even worse, comparing either of those to top academy programs in Europe, as there is no comparison or overall frame of reference.
It just isn’t possible.
And unfortunately, there in lies the problem. We need more ‘cultured’ coaches/scouts who have a broader spectrum, a realistic perspective of just how different the environments are, and how best to gather methods to catch up with more advanced footballing nations.
How may we do that when none of our top has experienced anything of the sort from a coaching or scouting perspective outside the USA?
For me, unless you have lived that side of it, it is impossible to know. Granted, these opportunities are hard to come by, but we have many capable coaches/scouts here in the USA who would really benefit from more than just a 1-2 weeks trip to a club overseas. I don’t have all the answers, but do believe this would be of benefit to so many. We have so much potential and talent in this country, we are on a good path but the system needs some fresh ideas and implementation.”
My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:
My conclusion to this question is going to basically summarize what I think about youth development conversations, in general, over the past week… and that is that everyone has a different opinion, and everyone has a different point of view.
This is why I was excited to get so many different opinions, from so many different viewpoints.
Ryan Martin is an MLS Academy Director. His job is to do whatever he can to identify and develop the best players he can, and to help DC United become the top youth development club in the region.
John Ellinger is a non-MLS Academy Director who has experience coaching one of the country’s most successful youth national teams ever.
He’s also been a head coach in MLS. I know, from my experience as a former volunteer assistant at Baltimore Armour, that Coach Ellinger is extremely involved in the US Soccer landscape, participating in National coaching seminars and attending USSDA Showcases. His opinion, as both a coach and USSDA administrator, hold a lot of weight for me, because his day-to-day activity revolve around youth development.
John Harkes, who has made 90 appearances for the USMNT during his playing career, has played in Europe and also has a son coming through MLS, believes (based on his past experiences in the overall US Soccer landscape) that we are hiring scouts who are affordable, versus US Soccer having a set procedure when it comes to hiring scouts.
Bill Moravek, currently a head coach of a non-MLS USSDA program who has experience in the youth soccer landscape in Europe, also brought an interesting perspective to the conversation.
But what resonated with me the most was my conversation with Matt Ney, and here’s why:
I was lucky enough to be involved in the US Soccer Development Academy for 3 seasons: Baltimore Bays USSDA U13/14 for 2 seasons, and Baltimore Armour U15/16 for one season. In fact, here’s the first ever post on the site from 2013, Bays U14 vs Richmond Strikers, Brady O’Conner (now playing at GW) with one of the goals.
There is a lot of pressure to succeed when you’re a player or coach in USSDA, and the term “succeed” isn’t necessarily defined as “developing promising youth talent”. Making the playoffs, winning records, and style of play are three things, from my experience, that many define being a “successful” player or coach in the Development Academy.
Is USSDA too results-oriented? In my opinion, yes. But it’s hard for me to say this when I’ll be Tweeting out two weeks later that a club is struggling because it’s lost it’s past 2 matches, so there ya go.
The point of my story is this. As a coach of a non-MLS Academy Club, it’s hard enough to compete week in, week out…keeping all of the players’ start percentages as high as they should be, keeping all of the parents happy, four training sessions a night, countless hours of travel, late night training sessions, etc. without also having to worry about losing your best players to another club like DC United.
When you’re coaching kids in the Development Academy, you’re spending a LOT of time with them to help them develop. So I understand if it’s a bitter pill to swallow if you’re Matt Ney or any other USSDA coach, you’ve spent years coaching the kid (4 sessions/week, traveling every other weekend, etc.), you’re helping to develop the player, and when DC United approaches the player and convinces him to switch teams, the developing club has lost their best player, and has received nothing in return.
This can be especially frustrating when you look at how much youth players are worth in England and other European countries, and you wonder how big of a problem it is that our youth players hold practically zero value in the way things are currently structured.
This is from the England FA’s website:
If a 12 year-old who is being developed at a Category 3 club is sold to another English club, the training club is entitled to £12,500.
Now obviously this sparks the debate, do we want to be selling kids to and from youth clubs? US Soccer will inevitably say “absolutely not”, and I can’t say that I blame them. Here’s an interesting article from the Telegraph in England:
How youth players are being left on the scrapheap thanks to exorbitant compensation fees
But we do need to figure out, in my humble opinion, how our youth players can build and maintain some sort of value, and how we can give youth clubs the INCENTIVES to develop players who will later go on to play college or professional soccer. I’ll come back to this later in the article, I want to go through a few more questions first.
The next question I asked everyone was related to how US Soccer can help non-MLS USSDA clubs evolve and thrive, a conversation which came up in my interview with Philly Union U-18 head coach Jeff Cook this past summer.
Does US Soccer or MLS need to do a better job helping USSDA clubs, especially non-MLS clubs, financially?
Ryan Martin, DC United:
Ryan Martin was at Wake Forest before going on to work with Harkes at FC Cincinnati. He later would later take over at DCU Academy.
“I think MLS has done a lot to help expand youth development efforts. The Generation Adidas Cup, the partnership with Liga MX, I think MLS is doing a great job.
But I think US Soccer needs to follow suit.
I think different clubs need different scouting, and I think we need more scouts, to be honest. There are too many kids slipping through the cracks, and our country is so big, geographically, that one Academy Technical Adviser can’t be expected to cover a territory as large as ours- from Richmond to Southern NJ, among all clubs and all different age groups- and not expect kids to slip through the cracks. I think if anything, US Soccer needs to start adding more scouts.
You look at Germany, and I bring this up because we’re completing our second round of evaluations from DoublePass, but a country like Germany has over 300 scouts who are evaluating youth talent on a daily basis.
I think that adding incentives to the Academy setup would make sense, similar to Germany and other countries. Each club gets a rating based on different criteria, and maybe US Soccer adds a financial incentive for each club who are able to meet different standards, but also penalize clubs who fail to measure up.
In terms of facilities, you look at Atlanta, Salt Lake, LA FC, obviously our new training facility which is being constructed….all of these clubs are all pushing the envelope when it comes to building world-class training facilities. Improving facilities is an obligation for every MLS USSDA club, but it takes money.”
Matt Ney, Bethesda Soccer Club
Matt Ney’s Bethesda U-16 team made it to Quarterfinals of USSDA playoffs last season, before losing to Atlanta United 4-1. Atlanta United brought a number of players down from their U18 team for the game, after that squad was eliminated.
“Do I think US Soccer should be helping Non-USSDA clubs more, financially? Absolutely.
Do I think it will ever happen? Not really.
A lot of people believe that the best players should be playing for MLS USSDA clubs. But if you look at some of the current U-17 players- Josh Sargent isn’t playing for an MLS USSDA club, nor is Timothy Weah. There are tons of players out there who have the quality, but it would be silly to say that a player isn’t good enough if he doesn’t play for an MLS youth club.
You could look at our result in the USSDA Playoffs last season- we lost 4-1 to Atlanta United- and say ‘well that’s why our best kids should be playing for an MLS Academy’, but tell that to Jeremy Ebobisse (who played for Bethesda-Olney) or Gedion Zelalem, or Joe Gyau, or Chris Odoi-Atsem, or Jalen Robinson, or Bill Hamid, all of whom developed at our club.
I always compare it to Chelsea, how many youth players who they develop or young players who they purchase actually crack the first team at first? Not many. De Bruyne ends up being sold, Lukaku, Matt Miazga had to go out on loan, the list goes on. So if an MLS youth club dangles the chance of playing for the first team in front of the parents, and then the club ends up with 33 kids on each USSDA side, isn’t that a little stifling for their development?
As DC United and other MLS clubs pursue players that we and other Non-MLS youth clubs have developed, I think tensions will continue to rise. If US Soccer had a compensation plan in place for acquiring players, it becomes a different conversation.
But there isn’t a plan, so tensions are extremely high between clubs, as we all believe that we’re the best option for the player to develop. It’s arrogant to think that a club helps develop players at a higher rate just because the club has a professional title. If the system is open, and everyone is on an equal playing field, then development becomes more competitive, the best will rise, and those who can’t compete will fail. Just like in any other business sector today.”
Father and Son- John and Ian Harkes
“Youth clubs are generally doing a good job developing players. It is vitally important for the youth club to provide opportunities for all players to have the opportunity to be included. Our country is massive, we need clubs in every community if possible. If a club develops a player to pro level, the club should be compensated. That compensation can be used to lower costs for families, and pay coaches. Discussions with US Soccer regarding a proper business structure are needed.”
“There is no question that supplements from US Soccer would help the non-MLS DA Academies.
The pay-to-play v. free play model in the older DA age groups is a difference maker.”
My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:
I don’t think that we need an open market where youth players can be sold to other clubs. There’s enough pressure on our youth players as it is, what happens when they find out they’re worth a few thousand dollars if they’re sold?
But I do believe, in my humble opinion, that US Soccer could consider implementing an incentive-based structure where all clubs (not necessarily only USSDA clubs) are rewarded for developing a player and helping to funnel them into the College/MLS pipeline, or if the player goes on to play professionally elsewhere. If DC United goes after a Bethesda player, and the player makes the switch, then Bethesda is awarded some type of financial incentive as a reward for developing the player.
I, personally, in my humble opinion, believe that this could be a way for clubs to reduce the astronomical fees associated with competitive travel soccer. They can charge less if they know that they will be compensated for developing players who will later go on to play professionally or at a competitive collegiate level. Instead, what seems like the short-term solution to a long-term equation…clubs have to charge parents thousands of dollars each season to cover field rental fees, insurance, etc.
I also believe that an incentive-based structure could be a way for more coaches to become interested in getting involved with youth development efforts. If a coach makes $6k per season, that seems to be the short-term solution.
But if the clubs and coaches are compensated based on how many NCAA division one-caliber players they’re developing, or if they’re able to help develop a player who later goes on to play professionally, the coaches then have the ability to earn more money based on their performance, and are more invested in the player’s development process. Would the youth coaches put more effort into helping introduce players to potential college programs? I believe so.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be cash that is awarded to the clubs based on meeting certain incentives, either. The impression I got from Matt Ney, and the impression that I’ve gotten from many within the USSDA landscape, is that they want to expand their clubs. They want to eventually be able to offer a professional option to their youth players, which would almost certainly benefit the overall youth development efforts in our country. It might be possible that US Soccer could help these clubs reach their goals, but the constant question of US Soccer’s relationship with MLS might make this a more difficult conversation than we think.
The next question which we asked everyone was about coaching education. Currently, US Soccer and the State Youth Associations are responsible for hosting and offering coaching courses.
Philly Union U-18 head coach Jeff Cook told us this summer that he believed that the MLS clubs in each market could eventually evolve into the federation-figures that help out with coaching education efforts in their markets.
Should US Soccer be responsible for all coaching education, or should MLS clubs become more involved?
Ryan Martin, DC United
“As an MLS Academy, it’s our duty to help improve coaching education efforts. Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper, and myself make an effort to put an emphasis on coaching education, and we’ll continue to improve and expand those efforts.
We currently have partnerships with 17 different clubs in our area who we help offer coaching education courses to. We have 9 DC United players working on their ‘B’ Licenses, and are actually serving as assistants in the youth development training sessions. 2 of our guys are in the French Federation UEFA class, and we’ve been working with coaches from clubs like Inter Milan and Benfica to learn even more.”
“US Soccer is doing a great job at the moment with coaching education. They are currently running some B License courses for MLS players at the club level, which is a fantastic opportunity for those players.”
“I think we do a pretty good job educating our coaches. We have 2 outside coaching consultants who help us with continuing education courses and we make an effort to get more of our current players involved in coaching education courses.
I think the bigger issue is, can US Soccer bring in more scouts, and can we do a better job working together? We need to do a better job improving the number of players that US Soccer is actually scouting.”
“Yeah, coaching education can always improve, but the bigger issue is scouting.
I’ve said this for years, US Soccer isn’t scouting enough players. You might see some guys getting looks at the USSDA games, but US Soccer sends practically zero scouts to some of these bigger USYSA tournaments and events, which is a shame. There is still a lot of quality talent at the USYSA level, but US Soccer seems to only be focusing on the USSDA clubs and players.”
My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:
Scouting seems to be a big void when it comes to developing youth players in our country. It’s an issue which has come up across the board, with everyone I’ve spoken to.
I agree 100% with Bill Moravek’s comments regarding USYSA players not getting enough attention.
I’ve heard one local Division 1 assistant coach who is very active in the local recruiting scene imply that, while USSDA programs do a good job teaching kids how to “play”…aka play out of the back, keep possession, stretch the field and play a more attractive brand of soccer, it’s the USYSA players who are actually becoming more accustomed to the physical style of play that is similar to that found in a lot of Division 1 college soccer.
Which brings me to my next topic: youth players moving overseas at an early age, versus the college and MLS track.
If you’re a youth player, are you better off overseas at a younger age, or playing in college?
“I feel experience has shown us that it depends on the individual player. Everyone jumps on the go to Europe bandwagon when our players are actually getting useful minutes in first team games, but the moment they stop playing, you hear that they should have signed in the MLS. College v Home Grown, again it depends on the individual. Some players are not mature enough to deal with the demands of being a young professional player and then should make the decision to play in college.”
“I think that a change of scenery is great for any youth player. If you play in the same environment your entire youth career, you’ll only know what you’re familiar with. We were in Europe at Fulham, and I thought it would be a good move for the boys to come back home and play for a few seasons in the States. That being said, it’s not the same for everyone. You have to be ready to learn a new culture, learn a new language at times, be away from your family and friends. I don’t think there is one right or wrong answer, it depends on the individual player and what’s best for him.”
While it’s true that Pulisic, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and others have found success at younger ages playing in Europe and other countries, the majority of our best USMNT players have come up through the college and MLS system. These include:
- Brian Mcbride
- John Harkes
- Clint Dempsey
- Geoff Cameron
- Carlos Bocanegra
- Tab Ramos
- Claudio Reyna
So I tend to agree with Coach Ellinger that the “Move to Europe early” bandwagon is easy to jump on when a player like Pulisic is thriving in Germany, but are we looking to develop one world-class player (a needle in the haystack), or a USMNT team of guys that compete in World Cup Qualifying?
The college game can still improve. I’ve watched countless NCAA soccer games this past season, and there’s no question that it’s making progress. But let’s not just assume that we need to send all of our kids over to Europe for our country to succeed as a soccer-playing nation, in my humble opinion.
The last question I asked each participant was about promotion/relegation.
Many think that a structured second and third division of MLS would help offer younger players more first-team matches. Do you believe in promotion/relegation?
“Yeah, I think it would be a good thing. But I don’t think it’ll ever happen. When you look at the MLS franchise fees and what some of these MLS owners are paying, versus the USL franchise fees, there’s a huge gap there.
We have a USL team coming soon, and I’m excited about our younger guys getting some first-team matches. But do I see promotion/relegation happening in the US anytime soon? Probably not.”
“Personally, I like the addition of USL clubs like Red Bulls II, Monarchs (RSL II), etc. It allows the MLS clubs the opportunity to sign their young players to pro contracts, so foreign clubs cannot get away with signing American players for zero development fee.”
So, as I mentioned in the beginning of the piece, there isn’t one overall consensus or solution to the question “how do you improve youth development in US Soccer.”
Many believe that we’re developing the talent, but US Soccer isn’t doing a good enough job hiring and developing scouts who will go out to the USYSA events and non-USSDA games to identify potential talent. Scouting was something that almost every participant mentioned as something that US Soccer needs to improve, whether it be hiring more scouts, or reviewing the process that is currently in place for training and developing current scouts.
Many believe that US Soccer should do a better job when it comes to helping our youth players become more valuable, versus allowing them to pick and choose their clubs, free transfers, etc.
When someone says “youth travel soccer is too expensive”, that may be the case. But if club fees are lowered, and US Soccer helps us to transition into a system where youth players are being sold for large fees, are we adding pressure on the youth players when a 14 year-old finds out he was sold for thousands of dollars? Do we want an open market where teenagers are being bought and sold? Probably not.
I do believe, personally….in my HUMBLE opinion….that US Soccer could consider implementing an incentive-based program where clubs are rewarded for developing players who go on to MLS Academies, professional clubs both domestically and Internationally, and competitive Division 1 NCAA programs. While many would say that “NCAA soccer is not a revenue-generating sport, why should US Soccer reward clubs who go on to play NCAA soccer?”, it’s hard for coaches to develop players who go on to compete at the NCAA level, which is what US Soccer seems to be hoping for (players who play a few seasons of college and enter the MLS Draft), without the clubs receiving any type of incentive for developing the talent.
Another huge issue which seems to be ignored is the amount of money that clubs spend every season on field rentals and facility fees. If we’re comparing youth academies here in the US to those overseas, and we look at facilities…the idea of a Category One or Category Two youth club in England playing their home games at a local high school or State Park would probably be laughable.
If I really wanted to get carried away with a radical idea, it would be that US Soccer needs to partner with top youth clubs on a long-term basis to help improve facilities nationwide, versus offering grants to local municipalities and organizations to build more fields or improve current fields.
You can build all of the fields you want, and these programs are an amazing solution when you talk about making the game available to everyone.
But are we really doing a good enough job helping youth clubs who have a track record of developing our country’s top talent develop club facilities that our youth players are excited about every night on their way to training, and that are comparable to the facilities in other countries?
“If only I knew a millionaire”….is that what top club administrators should have to think to themselves when they’re trying to improve their facilities, applying for a number of grants and still having to organize additional fundraising efforts on top of it all?
Again, if we were talking about radical ideas…US Soccer has partnerships with some of the country’s top corporations.
Taken from their 2016 Guides to Grants document on the USSF Website, they have partnerships with:
And hundreds of other corporations.
If we were talking about radical ideas, why can’t US Soccer purchase land in certain areas? They can help introduce the clubs to potential sponsors, who would want to be involved with improving each club’s facilities based on the projects being backed by US Soccer.
US Soccer owns the land, and helps the club build more fields. US Soccer offers financial incentives at the end of each season to the clubs based on the players they are developing, who go on to play for MLS Academies, college or professional programs, etc. Each season, with these incentive funds, the clubs can increase the amount of stake that they own in the land, help develop facilities by building additional fields, clubhouses, training centers, etc. and everyone is working together to improve development efforts.
Clubs can eventually offer professional first-team options as they secure additional corporate sponsorship, and the youth coaches now have incentives to focus on developing players who will be prepared for the next level, whether it be professionally or at the collegiate level.
Again, this is a dream world, radical idea.
But one of the main messages that I’ve come away with, between Claudio Reyna’s “we’re too arrogant” statement, and John Harkes saying when I spoke to him that “we need to do a better job working together” is this: while it may be true that competitive travel soccer in the United States may be too expensive, and while club administrators and coaches may become nervous that parents will be hesitant to continue to invest thousands of dollars every season in their child’s soccer development, it appears to me….in my HUMBLE OPINION…that we can all work together to make youth development efforts more profitable for top clubs to expand, top coaches to continue to develop talent, and top players to play in an atmosphere that prepares them for that next level. As clubs continue to expand, similar to franchises, they can partner with additional youth clubs in their area, or even help to launch more clubs in additional neighborhoods, with those clubs’ coaches having incentives to develop talent and introduce them to a higher level of soccer.
But no matter what that answer is, can we ALL….US Soccer, youth clubs, parents, and players….work together to come up with a long-term solution to a LONG-TERM problem.
Because, as it appears in the current landscape, all that we’re offering right now are short-term solutions.