For me, talking about soccer is a whole thing. A parade of blah blah. It’s my religion and my “soaps”. Growing up, I did not have Boy Scouts or church activities. I had soccer. My teams were my friends and my brothers.
At seventeen, I realized a stark reality that all of the time I had invested in everything that was not school was for naught. Dreams of pursuing soccer professionally were squashed. Over the course of three games, two different college scouts came to watch my team of sixteen-year-olds play. Before each game our coach notified us these scouts came to watch two particular teammates of mine.
We were told to pass to and promote these two players as much as we could. One of them eventually went on to play soccer at an American university, play in the MLS, and go on to represent the US national team.
Every week I ignore the MLS and remain uninspired by the performances of the men’s national team, I think about what happened for all of the players on my team when we are all collectively at our peak and the career trajectory of my old center-back.
As Geoff Cameron wrote in the Player’s Tribune after the US failed again to qualify or leave any sort of impact on the most important game in the world, “Our best young players need to be playing in the top European leagues. Period. It shouldn’t be looked at as a negative thing. It should be a huge source of pride to send a 20-year-old American kid to play in the Bundesliga or the Premier League. Even better if they came up in MLS for a few years”. Read the full article at The Player’s Tribune.
Soccer in America is different from soccer in every other country. Still considered a secondary, minor sport by American media companies, it models itself against distinctly American sports like football and basketball. Only in America do kids have to pay to play soccer at the highest levels and do they dream of being recruited by a college that they will have to pay for. During the best years of the lives of the most promising American soccer talent, most spend time at an American college.
In nearly every other individual and team sport Americans demonstrate that they can compete, if not dominate. However, with soccer, Americans still cannot universally agree that is even worth broadcasting on television. The NCAA and MLS are the biggest institutions holding back progress in American soccer. The biggest hope for American kids is Christian Pulisic. The only way he grew to have an influence on kids is because he left America to play at the highest level at his most dominant age, his teens and now twenties.
As Cameron writes, “If you want to see what’s wrong with U.S. Soccer in a single image, just go out to one of these fancy suburbs some weekend and spot the coaches of the fancy club teams strutting on the sidelines. Half of them are carrying themselves like they’re Pep Guardiola. I mean, the arrogance. It’s unbelievable.”
On this grassroots level and on the professional stage, there are gross oversights made by people who do not really love nor understand the game. There is no concept of relegation or promotion in the MLS, there are playoffs, the league is controlled by outside interests resulting in teams leaving cities without notice, all teams wearing the same jerseys, and fan chants being composed before teams ever play a single game—looking at you, Austin F.C.