US Soccer Fails to Qualify for World Cup

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A World Cup Without US Men’s Soccer

The US Men’s Soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia and now the long-term viability of the national soccer team is in jeopardy. On Tuesday night, needing only a draw to move on, the USA lost Trinidad and Tobago 2-1. Now, players including Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Christian Pulisic of U.s. Soccer will stay home as 28 other teams compete for the FIFA World Cup trophy.

The shocking result has left U.S. Soccer reeling and once again searching for answers. What exactly will it take to make USMNT a legitimate competitor on the global stage? That frustration was on full display during a 3-minute rant by former U.S. national team member and now ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman.

Money Poorly Spent

Doubters believe soccer can’t succeed in the United States because there aren’t enough ‘great’ players to fill up the national roster. The sport’s popularity on the youth level and globally hasn’t convinced athletes to choose futbol over the four major sports. So, how does a country with a huge ethnically-diverse population and resources generate interest? As Twellman noted, the U.S. has already thrown money at soccer. But, dollars are one of the biggest problems with U.S. Soccer.

By 2000, Germany’s national soccer team had lost its way. While they were competitive, they failed to win European championships and the World Cup trophy since 1990. The country’s futbol federation decided to take action. They built more youth centers to teach better soccer skills and tactics. Plus, the Bundesliga, the second Bundesliga, and the DFB (national soccer federation) showed unprecedented cooperation to rebuild German soccer.

In contrast, U.S. Soccer’s plans to grow the sport seem to have followed the model of conservative politics. The Federation has created a system that benefits richer communities rather than grows the sport from the bottom up. U.S. Soccer’s youth leagues use a pay-for-play system that essentially divides soccer youth into two groups. The first is suburban, affluent, Caucasian kids playing in expensive and accredited leagues against poorer, ethnically-diverse players from the inner-city, who rarely reach national predominance.

Pay-for-Play

A 2016 article on pay-for-play in the Guardian newspaper reported, “It continues to be seen as a white, suburban sport” says Briana Scurry, who won the Women’s World Cup in 1999 with the US and was arguably the country’s most prominent black female player. The article also noted, “…soccer coaches in wealthy communities can earn decent livings, there are few who [give] up a…“cushy job” running a league in the pricey East Bay suburbs of San Francisco to direct a program in the underserved community of Hayward.

It’s great that U.S. Soccer is investing in America’s youth, but the target seems to be off. As suburban parents would attest to, these leagues tend to encourage participation and basic soccer skills, rather than the creativity, competition, and pure athleticism by players from the favelas of Brazil, the barrios of Colombia, or the pavement of the inner city.

We reached out to FTS’ futbol guru, Mike Leon for his perspective on U.S. youth development, “top U.S. youth players who are ready to play professionally in the MLS shouldn’t be forced to attend a four-year college soccer program before being eligible for the MLS SuperDraft.

Leon added, “I completely understand emphasizing education over sports at a young age. But European youth academies provide similar educations to top private high schools in the U.S. Those players will be far ahead of us in futbol aptitude as well as in the classroom. For example, Gerard Piqué, who graduated from Barca’s ‘cantera’ La Masia, is intelligent enough to earn a Master’s degree from Harvard while playing for seven years against top-tier futbol competition and earning a World Cup championship.” This should be the model U.S. Soccer implements.

Roots

The future of North American soccer is eerily similar to the state of public education in the country. U.S. Soccer needs to be re-designed from the ground up. If U.S. Soccer continues to throw bad money after good, the sport will languish. How competitive can the USMNT be if our youth teams are mediocre and our professional league, the MLS is ranked 18th among the professional leagues of the world? Even promising 19-year American striker Christian Pulisic left the U.S. at 16 to play in the German Bundesliga. Why? Pulisic knows he has to learn soccer overseas in order to maximize his talent.

The money and desire for U.S. Soccer to succeed in the World Cup is there, just like resources for public schools. But does a suburban district in California need another immaculate soccer academy or would Latinos, African-Americans, Asian, and Eastern European kids growing up in major U.S. cities benefit from top-tier coaching and great fields? The answer is to spend money in the U.S.’ inner cities to build up youth academies that combine top education and futbol skills. How great would it be to see as USMNT made up a diverse roster that reflects the numerous ethnicities that call the U.S. home?

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Children playing soccer in the streets of Colombia | Photo by International Needs