Is Soccer Undeveloped or Wrongly Developed in the United States?

ZEE Goalkeeper Academy Florida - Goalkeeper Training, Camps and Clinics > Blog > US Soccer > Is Soccer Undeveloped or Wrongly Developed in the United States?

ESPN released a survey recently indicating that soccer is now the second most popular sport (behind Baseball) among 12 to 24 year old’s. The United States stands also in second place for adults playing soccer (24.3 million). 32% of households have at least one person playing soccer in a competitive league.

With the best infrastructure in the world and millions of athletes to choose from, it’s to no surprise that the United States leads in most team sport.

Every past Olympics games (winter or summer), the US out shines all competitors and brings home the gold medals to prove it. The United States has more medals than any other nation in total and consistently rank at the top in teams sports that our nation takes seriously.

The US however doesn’t come close to the best on the international stage, even though we have more registered youth soccer players and competitive travel youth soccer clubs than any other country in the world. 

Many “so-called” soccer experts argue that, in comparison to other nations, soccer is pretty much something “new” in the United States. This, a pathetic excuse as the game of soccer was actually introduced and played in the United States since. The earliest known game of organized soccer in the United States was played on October 11, 1866. The first football match played in Brazil was in April 1894!

People not that familiar with the sport will often highlight that soccer in the US is a female sport since the Women’s National Team is ranked number one in the world and has been among the top three for over 40 years.
However, by taking a closer look, we can see that the reason for the US Women’s National Soccer Team’s dominance is a direct result of the NCAA to allow American Football programs to close down men’s college soccer programs to snatch the scholarships for themselves!! Since 2001, the NCAA men’s soccer program has seen 48 teams dissolve in favor of American Football.

I’m not saying that the US Women’s National Team are not amazing athletes because they are “Truly Amazing” – their work ethic, raw talent, the crap they have to go through (non-Equal Pay…) and reputable skills are the result of being the best at what they do.

More “Wannabe-Experts” claim that soccer is played a lot but not taken very seriously at the youth level, but this counteracts the fact that soccer mom’s and dad’s all over the country are investing thousands of dollars ( in some cases up to $20,000) each year for their kids to play at the top level. We spend more money on our children’s soccer programs than any other nation worldwide. Yet, this is still not translating into soccer players that could be feeding into the MLS and national team.

This however could take a sharp turn with the MLS Next program, my son is playing in the Pre-MLS academy program and as parent/coach from the inside I can see something is already moving into the correct direction.

However there is a serious issue at place:
Unlike the rest of the world, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) do not allow MLS teams to participate in FIFA’s Laws regarding Training Compensation and Solidarity Payments. The average MLS soccer player salary is $180,000 compared to Mexico that is $400,000 and the United Kingdom at $3,100,000.

In other nations, when a soccer player signs his first professional contract, the purchasing club MUST pay training and development costs to every club that helped develop that player from the age of 12 to 21. Additionally, training and development costs are paid each time the player is transferred between clubs of two different associations until the end of the season of their 23rd birthday. Italian Serie C club Lodigiani cashed in roughly $2.3M from AS Roma for developing (age 12 to 17) Soccer Forward Francesco Totti.

5% of the total compensation, not including training costs, is allocated by law to the club or clubs that developed the player.

In the US, youth soccer clubs can’t be financially rewarded for the players that they produced that move on to sign professional contracts. Therefore, clubs have zero incentives to invest in the long-term development of their players. Once again this is where the MLS Next comes in…

MLS NEXT will provide the best player development experience seen yet. MLS NEXT players have access to the highest level of competition in the country.
Current membership includes 113 clubs, 489 teams, 9,000+ players across the U.S. and Canada and features over 90% of the current youth national team player pools.

This is not like the “Failed” DA program that US Soccer used the Covid-19 excuse to close down. This is a lot more serious and it’s organized by the Major League Soccer.

It’s fresh, so no early judgement! Let them work and hope this is a true game changer!

However, the MLS Next program could be a starting place where people in the future could attend a local MLS game and witness world-class soccer played, not just by close-to-retired international stars but, by American grown players, amazing players.

Getting back to Training Compensation:

Growing up playing in academies in Italy, the most I had to pay for a full season was around $80 (1987 – $170 today). This included my home and away kits, bag, tracksuit and 3 pairs of GK gloves, coach/train rides, tournament fees and dorms.

American youth soccer competitive programs should be seeking out and training the most qualified and deserving athletes who can most benefit from organized soccer. However, without training compensation, the priority for most of the youth soccer club’s is to get as many players as possible to sign up to their program (US average: approximately $1,200 per season) and dominate lower league titles and easy tournament trophies with low or non-licensed coaches. These are Non-Profit Organizations that are actually very profitable commonly known as “Trophy Snatchers”. They don’t compete in State tournaments or important showcases where they would find themselves playing against top clubs like Weston, Pinecrest, Tampa Bay United, JFC or Orlando City (referring to the state of Florida). The trophy snatchers wait to sign up to a tournament at the last moment, thus after they’ve seen that no competitive club is listed.

This emphasis on winning at any cost is extremely damaging to player development at a young age. Instead of encouraging teams to pass to distribute the ball and getting in as many touches as possible and yes… taking risks to lose the ball, or pushing the limits of their abilities everyday, coaches resort to preaching to reach the outside of the 18 yard box and scream at their players to “shoot!!!”

Passing and moving to keep possession increases the chances of a mistake being made by the passer or/and the receiver, since a team player is a lot much smaller target than just “shooting on goal” all the time. Mistakes can lead to conceding goals and losing league games or tournament finals, which in turn leads to frustration among the players (and some parents that don’t live by long-term player development).

The “shooooooot!” low style of play reduces the contact between players and it’s benefitting players that are more fit and physically developed. While it may help win games, leagues and tournaments at the youth level, it does not stand if you want your child to eventually play at the professional level.

Then educate the coaches!!!
United Soccer Coaches and United Soccer Federation Coaching courses in America are incredibly expensive. A UEFA A Goalkeeper course in Italy costs $950, in Germany it costs $465. In America, the equivalent course, U.S. Soccer B Course, costs $4500. Why? Are the instructors that lead these courses better than their European counterparts? Simply take a look at the amount of professional A Licensed coaches present in the US. European coaches 22% vs American coaches 3%. Coaches are understandably reluctant to further their coaching qualifications (unless the club pays for their education), resulting in not improving their coaching methods and aren’t as knowledgeable. Many clubs that are seeking for quality and licensed coaches are looking out of the US. That is why you have so many non American coaches, coaching in the United States.
What if it were free? That’s something Iceland did, paying for hundreds of coaches to go through the respected UEFA licensing program. I mean US Soccer has unused billions in the bank…

Development can be a problem, the result is generally not positive because it takes passionate coaches to pull it off and many parents want immediate results because they truly believe that their kid is the next CR7 as far as they are concerned. Demanding parents need to do some homework… They don’t see the long (very long) journey that professional soccer players had to go through to get where they are today!

Then till the age of 12 there is the 50% play rule:
Playing time should be earned not served on a sliver platter. It creates a fake illusion that some don’t need to try as hard as their teammates because they are going to be rewarded the same time regardless of their behavior/effort. Also, if a player is performing well, there’s less incentive to continue, as they will be substituted regardless.

More than half of the English Premier League is comprised of Non-British players, yet only 3 US Citizens actually play in there.  The German Bundesliga is 60% Non-German, yet again features only 9 Americans – and 6 are the offspring of American servicemen, born in Germany.

Most player in the MLS have an equivalent in salary and talent to the English 3rd tier of pro soccer. Let’s say if Serie B team Ascoli were to play a season in the MLS it would most likely win every single game 5-0 or more.

Back to grassroots:
Youth players don’t have as much knowledge of the game as young soccer players in the in Europe and most of Central/South America do. Let’s take for example, I once was talking among a group of my grassroots students (8 to 11 year old’s) about Gigi Buffon and none of them knew who he was. That’s the equivalent of a 10 year-old in a top youth basketball team not knowing who LeBron James is. I can’t name you a same youth soccer player in Italy who wouldn’t know who Manuel Neuer is.

I was talking to a coach at Orlando City about the importance of young soccer players to watch the pro-games on TV and we both agreed that it is a big slice for the child’s development. But when he asked how many watched the Champions League final, only 3 out of 16 raised their hand! Or for example at my Goalkeeper Academy I’ll bluntly ask some of my students, “Who did you play last weekend” or “Who will you be playing this weekend” and 90% of the time they don’t know. When I was a child I would go to the pinup board at the youth soccer club and write down the whole season schedule and knew it off the fly months in advance!

Times have changed? No, not at all! It’s the mentality in the US that needs to be changed!

We will continue this discussion for sure!!!…

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