By Ramsey Judah
The United States is a very athletic country. We play sports here. We play a lot of sports here. We also usually play them the American way with American rules no matter what their origin.
Playing the American way works for sports like basketball and baseball because the sports started in the US before becoming international sports. But doing so will never work for soccer and this stubbornness needs to end otherwise no one will take our game nor our players seriously. Our men’s soccer is failing miserably.
HOW THE REST OF THE WORLD DOES IT.
The rest of the world, where soccer was invented, has a masterful recruiting system for young talent. Teams at every level and league have youth development systems where they seek out the best in their countries and recruit them early to develop their talents.
The children still get an education and there are rules as to how much time they can dedicate themselves to the sport. But this is a vital time to develop these players.
Many countries also have national tournaments where anyone can put a team together and play their hearts out to get some fame and possible fortune if the team churns up some very skilled players.
The FA in England, for instance, is a nationwide tournament where for a few hundred bucks, hundreds of teams enter the competition in the hopes to be “giant killers” and make headlines for taking out some of the professional league teams. Talented players also get the chance to showcase their skills in this tournament and the exposure could possibly give them an opportunity for a more professional sports career.
Almost all of these players do not need millions of dollars to play. Give them a comfortable middle-class salary and they’ll be incredibly happy to play the sport they love.
HOW WE DO IT.
The United States, on the other hand, treats soccer recruitment like it treats any other American sport and recruits from college.
These college kids most likely played park district soccer as kids and got fun orange slices at the end of their games. They also most likely had parents pay a lot of money and kiss a lot of behinds to get them into a youth soccer “club” in the hopes that it would lead to a scholarship for college. And then, almost like magic, they show up on the roster of the national squad.
Yet we have a population of 300 million people in this country with tens of thousands of people playing the sport every week, if not everyday, in parks and city leagues. Hundreds of these players would blow any college player out of the water, but yet, they don’t even exist to the US soccer recruitment world.
HOW WE SHOULD DO IT.
If we want to take on the world, we have to play like the world. No one takes Major League Soccer seriously. It has become a comfy retirement home for the world’s players.
If you want to get serious create a first, second and third league. Each league has 18-20 teams and a relegation/promotion system.
For those who don’t understand relegation/promotion system, the bottom three teams at the end of the season get demoted to the lower leagues and the top 3 from the lower leagues get promoted to the higher leagues. This will create a truly competitive nature among the teams and fans that will build deep roots for future generations.
Create a national tournament that will allow players to showcase their abilities and possibly be recruited by professional teams playing in the country. It can be done by state or by region and could be as simple as a knockout tournament.
There needs to be a complete overhaul in US soccer in general. We cannot stubbornly hold on the notion that we are doing it right when the rest of the world passes us by at almost every turn. There is no reason why a tiny country of 3 million, like Uruguay, can produce a team to win a Copa America trophy and yet a country with a population the size of ours struggles to make the semi-final, if even that.