What’s Wrong with American Soccer Development
Interesting take: Editor’s note: This story appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Howler.
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that you are an octopus. Your sinewy tentacles are extended before you into the jet-black deep, your movement clearly directed in a general heading, but there is something awkward about your progress. Each tentacle operates entirely on its own, dragging you in directions sometimes congruent with the goal you’ve set and sometimes on an errant course.
Now imagine the holistic apparatus of soccer in the United States. There is a head—that is, the United States Soccer Federation—and there are tentacles branching off from the nerve center, each carrying the ganglion to vaguely defined destinations that may or may not be what the brain had in mind. This is the organism responsible for youth soccer development in America today, and it is every bit as slippery, complicated, and prone to working at cross-purposes as that octopus groping its way through the darkness.
When the U.S. men’s national team wins, we’re happy, and when it loses, it’s because Jozy Altidore went missing, or the center backs are new, or Jurgen Klinsmann played Michael Bradley too high up the pitch… again. But a U.S. men’s match day is much too late to begin searching for the real reasons for our national shortcomings.
It’s far more valuable to look inside the process of how Michael, Jozy, and those center backs arrived on that field in the first place—to look at the system by which they were developed—and that, unfortunately, is not easy. Our system is immense and fragmented. In reality it is a collection of systems that encompasses youth clubs, academies, high school and college sides, and youth national teams. This essay will map that landscape and identify the three biggest issues confronting American youth soccer in its push to develop better players: money (there is too little), space (the country is very large), and time (we simply need more).