Turn on a Major League Soccer game on television these days and you will see stadiums with singing fans that create atmospheres that aren’t too dissimilar to clubs in Germany.
Despite the United States men’s national team failing to make the 2018 World Cup and the country still unable to create a player American’s can identify with, the sport is going strong in the 50 states. Or is it?
U.S. soccer’s falling numbers
According to a 2018 Forbes.com article, soccer in the U.S. is in decline. Between 2015 and 2018, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported that the number of six- to 12-year-olds playing soccer in the U.S. dropped by 14%.
The numbers should be worrying to MLS chiefs, who are ready to push the league to 30 teams across the U.S. and Canada by 2024. But declining domestic players and possible lack of interest in the sport could be devastating to the league.
Soccer had been on a meteoric rise in America following David Beckham’s 2007 arrival. However, those days of Becks stateside are long gone. Although soccer is still a popular sport, the fourth or fifth depending on who you ask, it still remains to be seen if it can sustain popularity like the rest of North America’s top sports.
What’s wrong with American soccer?
The argument around soccer in the U.S. is full of opinions with everyone taking a stance using well chosen and ignored facts.
Perhaps the biggest reason kids (and parents) are now shying away from soccer is due to the cost it takes to play. For decades, soccer was seen as a middle and upper-middle class sport in the U.S., which is quite different from England. That view of the sport hasn’t changed.
Many young players have to pay to compete on teams with one of the incentives of playing being that clubs travel to various locations in the country to play tournaments. The amount of money it takes to fund a player can be taxing on families.
The idea behind the “elite” teams and tournaments is that players will play top talent and improve. That is a debatable claim.
Pay to play
The model of “pay to play” has forced good players without funds to sit on the sidelines. Meanwhile, players who aren’t as capable make squads due to the fact they can afford to play. In the end, the best players are not competing against one another. The old saying of, “to be the best, you have to play against the best”, does not apply to American soccer.
Of course, opponents of the soccer system in America want changes to the pay to play model. The best way to alter the situation lies in MLS teams and high schools. However, opinions are many with agreeing on solutions in short supply.
More schools with soccer programs should be working to develop players like American football, basketball, and baseball programs do. In addition, MLS teams should have more of a local impact working with local talent.
America is far behind countries in Europe and South America in developing players. The problem is, the U.S. has always been behind. Whether they can catch up is anyone’s guess.
But there are people in positions that like the current system and don’t want to see it change. Moreover, there is no guarantee that if the system changes, the country will be any more competitive at the top level.
While American players may struggle to get to the top level, there are still plenty of opportunities for players from abroad in the country.