Why The United States Isn't Great At Soccer And Never Will Be Without Your Help

Why The United States Isn't Great At Soccer And Never Will Be Without Your Help

May 18, 2017 17 Comments

[UPDATED]** Big thanks to everyone that signed our petition! We have sent it to the appropriate contacts, and have reached out many times, but have not heard anything back yet :/ We just got back from touring Europe, and we received tons of respect from all the big clubs out there... If the US adopts their systems, we could be unstoppable! 

Soccer coaches, parents, players and fans: This article is for you and here’s why you should keep reading…

One simple decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Major League Soccer Players Union would allow the US to become a reputable soccer nation.

- Some initial stats
- Why we have the wrong model
- How the US could fix it
- What you can do about it (petition & individual training on your own)

By Santiago Vélez, Cofounder of the Futsolo Experience

 

With some of the best infrastructure in the world and an abundance of athletes to choose from, it’s no surprise that the US dominates in almost every team sport that we pride ourselves in.

Take for example the last Olympics in Rio, where the US out shined all competitors and brought home the gold medals to prove it. In fact, we have more medals than any other nation in total and consistently rank at the top in teams sports that we take seriously like Ice Hockey, Volleyball, Water Polo, Baseball, Softball, American Football, Basketball, and Lacrosse.

BUT WHY DO WE STRUGGLE ON THE PLANET’S MOST BELOVED SPORT OF SOCCER?

Why do we not come close to the best on the international stage, even though we have more registered youth soccer players than any other nation in the world

Some argue that it’s because, in comparison to other countries, soccer is relatively “new” in the States (an excuse and false argument as soccer was actually introduced and played in the United States decades before Brazil, Argentina, and Chile).

Others argue that it’s because our top athletes are divided among various sports during formative years and throughout high school. But what defines a top athlete? Someone who is stronger, faster, and can out run the rest?

Well, our Men’s National Soccer Team is known for their athleticism. We ran more per game than any other country in the 2014 World Cup. Of course, high levels of endurance, agility, and coordination are necessary to play the sport professionally, but athleticism is not the defining factor. Look at Xavi and Iniesta (two of the greatest Spanish players of all time), they are not big, fast, or strong. Rather, they are intelligent, nimble, and technical on the field. Having great awareness, technique, and consistency outweighs the importance of strength, size, and speed on the pitch. As Italian legend Andrea Pirlo puts it: “Football (soccer) is played with the head. The feet are just the tools”.

A handful of Americans will highlight that soccer in this country is a female sport since the US Women’s National Team is ranked number one in the world and has been for decades.

us soccer

However, upon closer analysis, you’ll see that the underlying reason for the US Women’s National Soccer Team’s dominance is a direct result of legislation passed in the 70's that provided women's sports with increased financial investment (programs such as Title IX). This allowed US women’s sports, including soccer, to progress more rapidly than that of other nations.

This is not to say that the players on the US Women's National Team are not incredible athletes because they are - their work ethic, raw talent, and reputable skills are extraordinary and they deserve those W’s. The point is that other countries are beginning to support women’s soccer and with effective developmental systems already in place, these countries may soon surpass us and take our reign as the best Women’s National Soccer Country in the world.

Some mention that soccer is played often but not taken very seriously at the youth level, but this counteracts the fact that soccer parents across the nation are investing thousands of dollars each year for their kids to play at the top level. They spend more money on their children’s soccer experience than any other country in the world. Yet, this is not translating into effective soccer players feeding into a thriving professional league and national team.

  • People also echo the above by saying that soccer is unpopular in the United States.  The current facts below dispute this:
  • ESPN’s recent survey indicates that soccer is now the second most popular sport among 12 to 24 year olds.
  • The US has more adults playing soccer (24 million) than any other country in the world besides China.
  • 30% of households have at least one person playing soccer.
  • MLS teams are averaging greater attendance per game than the NBA and NHL and TV viewership continues to rise
  • Over 100 million people tuned in to watch the Copa America this summer which was held in the United States for the first time ever. Attendance at games surpassed every other year since the tournament began a century ago.
  • 105 million people in the US watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the third largest audience in the world behind Brazil and China.

SO WHAT IS THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE HOLDING BACK US SOCCER?

Unlike the rest of the world, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) and the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) do not allow American club teams to participate in FIFA’s Laws regarding Training Compensation and Solidarity Payments.

In other countries, when a soccer player signs his first professional contract, the professional club is obligated to pay training and development costs to every club that helped develop that player between the ages of 12 and 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.

us soccer sucks

Solidarity Payments come into action when a player transfers to a club before the expiration of his contract. Five percent of the total compensation, not including training costs, is then allocated to the club or clubs that developed the player (for more details, check out Articles 20-21, Annexes 4-5 in FIFA's regulations on the status and transfer of players).

Meanwhile, in the US, youth clubs are not allowed to be financially rewarded for the players they produce that move on to sign professional contracts. Therefore, clubs have zero incentives to invest in the long-term development of their players.

This issue has taken the spotlight in the recent case with Dempsey, Yedlin, and Bradley who filed a class action lawsuit in a federal court in Texas against the MLSPU, an ongoing attempt to recover thousands of dollars in precisely what we’ve mentioned, training and solidarity fees. As mentioned in the highlighted article, “a win or even a settlement between the parties could force a dramatic restructuring of the US youth soccer system” - precisely what we are calling for.

BUT THE MLSPU IS DECLARING THIS A “SHAKEDOWN FOR MONEY” AND THE US SOCCER FEDERATION CONTINUES TO SWEEP THE ISSUE UNDER THE TABLE. NO SETTLEMENT HAS OCCURRED SO IT’S UP TO US TO DEMAND THIS CHANGE.     

WHY IS ALL OF THIS SO IMPORTANT?

Without training compensation and solidarity payments, the priority for a youth club is to get as many players as possible to sign up at a high price (approximately $1,000 per season) to play for their club and rack up league titles and tournament trophies with whomever is willing to coach (regardless of their experience or knowledge of the game).

 

This emphasis on winning is extremely damaging to player development at a young age. Instead of encouraging teams to pass the ball around, taking risks to beat defenders, and pushing the limits of their abilities everyday, coaches resort to preaching “kick and run” (kicking the ball upfield and chasing it down, relying on the other team to make a mistake).

A pass to keep possession increases the chances of a mistake being made by the passer and the receiver of the ball, since a teammate is a much smaller target than “up-the-field”. Taking on an opponent with a new skill move or testing out a new creative deceptive touch also increases the chances of a mistake being made. These mistakes can lead to giving up goals and losing matches, which in turn leads to frustration and uncertainty in a team that doesn’t understand and live by long-term player development.

The “kick and run” style of play significantly reduces the contact that each player gets with the ball while benefitting players that are, at the time, more physically developed (Malcolm Gladwell wonderfully explores this topic in his book Outliers). While it may help win games at the youth level, it does not stand a chance at the professional level.

The alternative to “kick and run” is possession and total football - the kind of game that you see Barcelona and Germany beautifully master on the pitch. This playing style requires specific skills that must be developed at a young age.

If the MLSPU and US Soccer Federation were to remove the ban on training compensation the following would begin to occur as it has in other successful soccer nations:

Clubs would start focusing on the long-term development of players into well-rounded, savvy, technical, and effective footballers and nurturing the proper habits and skills that will benefit them later in their careers.

The top development-focused clubs would be able to hire better coaches, improve their facilities, and enhance their entire organization.

Registration costs would go down and scholarships would go up allowing lower-income players to participate.

The level of soccer in the US would rise as the next generation of players start playing professionally

CLEARLY, THE US SOCCER MODEL IS BROKEN. OUR NATION FOCUSES ON IMMEDIATE GAINS WHEN IT COMES TO YOUTH SOCCER, INSTEAD OF ACTUALLY TAKING THE TIME TO INVEST IN EACH PLAYER FOR THE LONG-TERM.

As soccer coaches, parents, players, and fans, we have to demand change in order for the US to become a top contender and win a World Cup. Imagine living in a country where youth clubs become the birthplace of the next Messi, Pogba, or Ronaldo. A nation that proves to the rest of the world that Americans can master the beautiful game.

A place where people attend a local MLS game to witness world-class soccer played, not just by retired international stars but, by American phenomenons. A home where you, your children, and your children’s children can admire the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams. All of this is possible.

Needless to say, the future of US soccer depends on YOU to join us in taking action.  Ask yourself - Do you want the United States Men’s National Team to win a World Cup and the Women to retain their reign at the top?

Even more so, do you want young people in the US to have access to outstanding coaches and clubs that exist to foster the long-term development of soccer players?

In the spirit of democracy, we have created a petition letter demanding the US Soccer Federation to comply with FIFA’s Law of Training Compensation, allowing youth clubs to be financially rewarded for the players they produce that move on to sign professional contracts. We have sent numerous emails and reached out to the appropriate people, but have still not heard anything back. It is up to you to share this post with as many people as you can! Let's make a difference:) 

But sharing our thoughts is not enough - We need to lead by example as players, coaches, parents, and fans. By becoming a student of the game, we can all make an impact and create change within the system. Below are 8 essential habits and skills, brought to you by Coach Santi, for being an effective soccer player that likely have not been addressed or emphasized enough by your coaches:

  1. Check your shoulder and see what’s behind you before receiving a pass.
    • This will allow you to know whether you have space to turn or not  
  2. Create space for yourself with deceptive and decisive movements before receiving a pass.
    • This will give you more time on the ball to make the right decision
  3. Have a purpose with your first touch. You can train this by yourself with the Futsolo Sidekick.
    • Direct it where you want it to go
  4. Move your feet in-between touches.
    • This allows you to have many options with your second and third touch.
  5. Lift your head up in between touches to identify teammates and spaces.
    • This allows you to see your options to keep possession of the ball.
  6. Be comfortable receiving on the half-turn and outside foot turn.
    • Turning while receiving will open up the entire field for you
  7. Pass the ball with pace.
    • This gives your teammates more time on the ball
  8. Constantly move into open space when you don’t have the ball.
    • This will allow you to always be an option for your teammates on the ball

By practicing these habits every day, I guarantee you will see a huge improvement in your game. Thank you for joining the movement to improve the quality of US Soccer. With all of our efforts combined, we stand a chance of winning a World Cup in our lifetime. Let’s make it happen!

For more analysis, updates, and training videos to help take your game to the next level, sign up for the Sidekick Training Academy.

 



17 Responses

Vasilis Papavassiliou
Vasilis Papavassiliou

October 24, 2017

We should not overreact after a loss and we should not over react after a win. Football changes all the time. Argentina almost did not qualify for Russia. Italy has to go to the second round of qualification and they may yet not qualify. That is the beauty of football. We had a great team last world cup but after a couple of bad results we demanded change. I have seen house, travel and premier teams as my son plays. The first issue in my opinion is coaching and developing the right coaches for youth who place development over winning. If you need monetary rewards to do that no system can change you. The second is the parents. Let the kids play do not worry if they make the A team or the B team these things will change over time. My son has moved from travel A to C back to A then after a B travel team last year he is playing premier this year. Next year who knows. I am happy he is not in front of an i-screen all the time. Yes it costs money but relative to US incomes … Hockey, tennis are more expensive and ballet even more (I have a ballerina too). We have great facilities and with the right coaching we will produce great players. Once Pulisic gets the $100MM transfer to Real or M. City or whoever everyone will forget Russia and try to model after him and the kids will have an example to emulate (he looks like a good kid too). Enjoy the game.

Shawn Allee
Shawn Allee

October 19, 2017

Man this is spot on. I grew up in a middle class fam. in Missouri and love the game of soccer. I had the opportunity to play in high school and college and loved every bit of it. But this article rings true. Much like the AAU, soccer needs a revamp in the country. Having clubs invest in the students and pay for the training and team play is a huge deal. I was on 1 competitive travelign team in my younger years (10 years of age)… We paid for jersey’s, bags, training gear, gas for travel, plus any other additional fee needed (some times to help offset the cost of a tournment and team fees)

Bruno
Bruno

October 15, 2017

A lot of these articles have a lot true about our US soccer at the top level of our academies we are still seeing the big kids the strong kids and the coaches love to play them you want to force it to the goal out of all these articles that I just read so much true one big thing we are missing I think one of the most important things to start the new change is we need to involve our midfielders and all the plays da Academy always says this isn’t High School soccer boys. But yeah I see high school soccer in the most professional way our defense rotates the ball very nicely our Midfield checks and pulls out and moves great off the ball but yet the ball is delivered to the four words 7 out of 10 times and leaves the midfielder’s to do nothing but run up and down the field and if they want the ball they have to fight for it every time which gives us no room to make the game the beautiful game and let it flow nicely we have some of the best athletes in the world but the way we choose to not involve our midfielders we burn them out fast while other teams could just pass the ball to the goal. And if we want to start the change we can very simply start it I stopped coaching the long-ball play the midfielders

Amir
Amir

September 22, 2017

Another BIG problem as is pure bussines is that “rich” paranets or parrents with influance demanding that their kids play in top (premier) teams regardles of real capabilities of their kids) and because that players who would be worth foxusing on simply can ot okay as their parents can not end up in “premier” youth teams but instead in 2nd, 3rd or even in 4th team in same age group. High school soccer is another instance of same problem wheree high school coaches are"told that this and that kid "must be in Varsity
regardless
that is the problem with our youth soccer in US a lot of coruption and influence which put real talent and passion behind to make room for egoist parents which makes their kids in top tier teams, ODP etc. ODP and youth soccer is so corupted in certain States to the point that we having kids who are real talents, who in young age get to be “tatget” from europen proffesional clubs but yet they are not good enough for lets say U15 or U16 Premier Academy team , must play in 2nd or so as coaches are obligated to accept and place kids after"tryouts" in teams that in reality they do nit belong. Result, going out of state and play and get whiped by 11:0, 15:0 or so
Midveat, Particulary Iowa is one of the biggest samples and Des Moines Area is all but not what should be
some kidas are in all “best teams” simply mom and dads are Doctors, loyers, work with govermant etc
until that is changed we will never develop people who got talent
Talent is important but you need to keep developing but instead we satisfying parents of kids in youth age

Pedro Rita
Pedro Rita

September 04, 2017

I agree with the article as well as the comments.
Parents pressing coaches and clubs to give more opportunity for their kids. 4-6 hours training per week (fall/spring) and 1 hour in the winter. A few professional coaches since most clubs wants to make big box, short college season, very expensive academies programs, and MSL with out a free academy program.
We need to change the whole system to grow.
The US Soccer need to open up with us to find and implante the solution to make us great like Brasil.
Bruce Arena is not going to change anything as he didn’t do it before.

Robert Burch
Robert Burch

August 28, 2017

Maybe we should just have professional clubs sign all potential youth stars at the age of 13 and give them HGH injections for 4 years like they did Messi? What a better way to protest the commercialization of soccer in America then to advertise your own product. To say that the US isn’t any good at soccer is a bit wrong. For instance in Mexico, where futbol is the KING, we’ve beaten them pretty handily for the past 10 years. As soccer is still tied strongly to the University system, it will always be a bit different than other countries. I do agree with the relegation system but that doesn’t happen in any sports in the US which would make things more competitive. However, as only very very few kids actually make it to the pro or the national stage, I’d take a scholarship and a degree playing at a University than a practice player for a professional team and no degree.

John Morell
John Morell

August 13, 2017

As the boy’s soccer director and a coach of a premier program, I would like to comment that Santiago hit the nail right on the head (bullseye). The recipe is to develop a technical, tactical, creative (at the youth level) US soccer player and we will be able to compete at the highest level. US Soccer needs to understand and adapt to FIFA’s law of training compensation and solidarity payments. I also would like to add that clubs (US Soccer) are not doing enough to find talent, especially in our inner cities because they do not have the means to participate because of cost. The US has the wrong model, but we have the ability to correct it.

Larry B
Larry B

August 08, 2017

Disagree with the problem identification. Professional football, basketball and baseball teams don’t reimburse youth clubs for player development yet the US still dominates. The reason we don’t dominate at soccer is kids don’t grow up in the US with a ball at their feet working on their skills in unstructured play with their friends. Sending development or solidarity payments to clubs won’t change that.

RelegationDave
RelegationDave

July 20, 2017

Good points. Relegation has to be a part of this concentration also…without a promotion/relegation system, football will never elevate in the United States.

Maurice Zarate
Maurice Zarate

July 13, 2017

I lived 20 years in Argentina and here are the main reasons 1-Soccer in the US is pure business 2-Coaches are missing the point of the game, with too many cones, activities. I never saw a cone in Argentina, do we see here in the US young basketball kids practicing w cones? and look at the talent we have here in bk. 3- in Argentina every small place is transformed into a soccer field, they play everywhere, I use to ride my bike afterschool every day to play soccer. Here u have to drive the kids to practice and they get only 2 practices a week. Finally for the Men’s National Team to get better, until the MLS get’s more competitive (if ever) US players need to be playing in a better league. That will make the difference.

Chima
Chima

July 11, 2017

I believe coaches should take pride in developing players regardless of compensation. Let it first be said " look at all the great players we have produced and were not compensated for". Coaches or clubs will not all of a sudden become good just because they are being compensated.

I believe the probem is the type of player America is cultivating. Are we or do we want to cultivate the iniestas and Xavis? Even if the clubs were compensated what kind of player will they produce?

Travis Woodham
Travis Woodham

July 05, 2017

Hey Santiago Velez,

Thanks for sharing this with us! I’m an American myself that loves the beautiful game. It’s refreshing to see people who are like-minded in the sense of improving the game in the USA specifically. I’m going to start a soccer podcast in the next couple months or so with one of my friend’s from work who is also a soccer-head.

Will there be any chance that I could interview you for my show? The show is not up and running yet, but is there an email address I could email you about setting up a time for a quick phone interview?

Thank you for all you’ve done to spread proper content that US Soccer needs in order to go in the right direction.

Thanks!

Jason
Jason

July 03, 2017

Well said. As a coach of a competitive youth team, I teach possession. The problem is the result is generally not positive because it takes mastery to pull it off and the parents want immediate results because their kid is the next Messi as far as they are concerned. They don’t see the long (very long) journey that these pros had to go through to get where they are. Meanwhile, the clubs fill the kids with lies saying that if you work hard enough you can make the pros. You can’t and you won’t because the clubs don’t really teach soccer. They teach American football with a round ball. Forward at all cost, kick and run, gaming the built-out line (at least u7 – u12). Play the balling into space and not to the player. Juggling is a cool trick but not required to play the game. Don’t take risks on the field instead play it safe and get the win and the worst of all, put big kids in the front so they can use brute force to score goals as opposed to using technique. The problem is everyone who coaches soccer knows that we are training wrong and everyone knows that 90% of the kids in competitive programs shouldn’t be there but we do it anyway because we need money and ignorant soccer parents are willing to pay big bucks so their kids can live the [impossible] dream. The good news for my players is I don’t need the club’s money, so as long as I’m the coach they will learn to play the game right. Case in point, last year I taught a U10 rec team. Because the parents were not competitive, I was given the ability to teach them how to pass, possess and touch the ball. The result of this training was we beat the top competitive travel team in a scrimmage by 5 points. 4 of my 10 boys are now playing on a DA team directly from rec! It works, but as you stated in the article, it requires us to do something differently, and transfer, training compensation, and solidarity payments are directly related to this. The best players in my area are not even in a club they are playing pickup games in the city park because they can’t afford to join the league. I really don’t get why we are rebelling against doing what we KNOW works! 1/2 of all MLS athletes are from other countries. The MLS champions this by saying they are the most diverse league in the world. We are because our athletes suck! We have 9 top-level players in the sport of those most were trained in other countries because they were Army Brats! Our system is not broken, it was never right in the first place!

Walter C Pericciuoli
Walter C Pericciuoli

June 28, 2017

I could not agree more. It is a concept I have called for, for over twenty years now. Always falling on deaf ears. But, as long as there are for profit academies, it will become more and more difficult to change. I say, only professional clubs, as defined by US Soccer, should be allowed to have and must be mandated to have Academies. All should be free for the players. All other youth soccer clubs should be part of a pryamid system that scouts for, develops and funnels players to the professional academies. If there is fair compensation in place, I believe this system can become a reality. Of course there will always be outliers who disagree, but at least there will be a system in place where all yout soccer can work together.

Gonzalo
Gonzalo

June 28, 2017

This article is spot on. Had growing up in a top soccer nation like Argentina, I can tell you first hand that everything described in this article does not only occur st the youth level but is a sad reality of college and pro soccer.
A system that do not allow promotion or relegation….
A college system with a 4 months season, unlimited substitutions and prioritizing best athletes over real soccer players….
A system that only allows the wealthy to play top youth soccer…. (academies charge up to $3000 per season to play for an academy team… sad

Alejandro Galeano
Alejandro Galeano

June 25, 2017

Great article

Trevor Garbett
Trevor Garbett

June 11, 2017

I totally agree with this article

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