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The Future Of U.S. Soccer

The fierce fight in American soccer over high school teams and the best way to go for Olympic gold.

Boys varsity soccer game January 7, 2011 at Basha High School, Chandler, Arizona. (nooccar/Flickr)

Boys varsity soccer game January 7, 2011 at Basha High School, Chandler, Arizona. (nooccar/Flickr)

News flash, if you haven’t heard:  United States men’s soccer will not be going to the Olympics this summer in London.  A stumble and tie with El Salvador last night in regional preliminaries – El Salvador! – means the U.S. men’s team has not made the cut.

No gold, no bronze, no silver.  No Olympic play at all.  After all these years of American soccer pushing up.  A new push in youth soccer aims to raise the bar.  But it would do that by pulling the best young soccer players right off their high school teams and into elite club play only.

This hour, On Point:  high school dreams, soccer realities.

-Tom Ashbrook



George Dohrmann, writer for Sports Illustrated.

Tony Lepore, director of scouting for U.S. Soccer Federation’s development academy.

Dan Woog, head coach at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut since 2003. His teams have won four FCIAC (league) championships, and one state championship.

C-Segment: U.S. Olympic Preview

Jason Stallman, deputy sports editor for the New York Times and he is in charge of the paper’s Olympics coverage.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Professional sports leagues in the United States have long relied on high schools to help cultivate the country’s best athletes. Rosters in Major League Baseball, the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. are filled with former scholastic stars, many of whom hold tightly to their quintessentially American memories of homecoming, letterman jackets and games played under the Friday night lights.”

The Washington Post “Three days ago, the U.S. under-23 national team had set its sights on London. Today, as the Americans prepare for a must-win match against El Salvador, they’re just hoping for a flight to Kansas.”

Tropigol “They will have to choose one way or another. They will have to make a commitment to a full season with their Development Academy club or remain with their high school, according to reliable sources in the U.S. soccer community.”

Video: El Salvador Ends U.S. Olympic Soccer Hopes

Last night, a 3-3 tie with El Salvador ended the U.S. men’s national team’s hopes of earning a spot in the Olympics. The U.S. has missed the Olympics for the second time since 1976 and second time in three games.


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  • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

    Clint Dempsey

  • Yar

    I bet soccer players have much lower rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than football players, and possible basketball players.  Soccer, other than heading the ball, does what the human body is made to do, run.
    We should adopt soccer as a national inter-mural sport for health reasons.  Sitting in the stands or in front of the TV and drinking beer, that is unhealthy, no matter what is watched.(The sitting is worse for you than the beer.)  When we were a nation of labors, it may have made sense, now it doesn’t and we are killing ourselves with our entertainment choices.

  • Victor Vito

    Soccer is the perfect sport and will eventually eclipse all other American sports in popularity.  When is the only variable.

    Why?  All you need to play soccer is a patch of flat ground, a ball, and a bunch of kids.  For the price of one new football helmet, you can equip an entire soccer team.  In a depressed American future, this will be the sport that most of us play, and EVENTUALLY watch and follow.

    Soccer is inevitable.  By the way, I hate soccer!

  • Chris B

    Soccer is the game of the future and it always will be.

    • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

      soccer is actually the game of now for all but 300 million (us) people in the world

      • BlitzSpiele

        Last year, MLS eclisped the NBA and NHL in attendance per event.  That view is tired, ill-informed and doomed to the tar pits that swallowed the dinosaurs.  I don’t think it will ever be as big as American football, but there will a significant place for it. 

        • Chris B

          I have no doubt it fills venues, but where’s the TV coverage?  Advertising is what brings in the big bucks for sports, and at this point I think the market in the US is just too saturated for another sport to  make a lot of headway.  Maybe in 20 years, when the NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB born and raised generations die off somewhat and a new demographic that had involvement with soccer from childhood comes of age.  I can’t see it until then.

    • Gregg


  • Markus

    Part of the problem with American soccer is people like me. I coached kids soccer for 7 years, but never played a game. My assistant coaches had similar limited experience. We did the best we could, but the kids can’t have developed like they would with experienced coaches. I think that problem is gradually being fixed as people who played in high school and college have kids and become coaches.

    But it’s hard to see soccer ever being better than 5th in the US. Great athleticism, brilliant artistry and I even like the complex patterns used to bring the ball up. But it’s largely wasted motion as so many games finish 1-1 or 1-0. Other sports have a reward (a score) for doing well. Soccer leaves it too much to luck. Picture basketball with all it’s athleticm but a rim so small that it only goes in once or twice per game.

    • BlitzSpiele

      As far as the youth are concerned…people of the Pele generation and later are coming through the coaching ranks.  They played from an early age andthey have have access to excellent soccer (MLS, EPL, and LaLiga) so they have become more sophisticated about tactics and technique.  The coaching is getting better and not just in traditional hotbeds like Jersey, St. Louis, Chicago and LA–it’s spreading throughout the country and in unlikely places. 

      About soccer being the 5th most popular sport in the US…Don’t look now, but last year the MLS eclipsed per game attendance of NBA and NHL games.  That is huge.  We have soccer specific stadiums now and there is a growing fan/supporter culture.  MLS is established and rooted.  Sorry if I get a little misty, but huge strides have been made. 

      One final note, it used to be until about 2002 you could record a World Cup and watch it after work and it would be a live event to you.  But no more–in-game updates are now common in mainstream US sporting and news media. Soccer news is everywhere now.  Media would not be pushing information if they didn’t think it would draw eyeballs. 

    • Anonymous

      You’re spot on with your first paragraph.  It will take time, but new coaches are a lot more likely to be former players.  Just look at MLS – Oscar Pareja, Robin Fraser, Jason Kreis – all head coaches in MLS who were former players.  

      I really disagree with your notion that soccer leaves too much to luck.  If that was the case, Manchester United, who has won something like 15 of the last 20 English Premier League titles, wouldn’t be nearly as successful. And besides, a lot of the most famous plays in all sports have had a bit of luck to them (though usually bad luck).  David Tyree’s catch, Steve Bartman, Bill Buckner, the Immaculate Reception, the US beating England in the World Cup in 1950 – luck sometimes happens.

      • Markus

        Fair point about luck. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was more scoring? Nearly all the highlight videos are of scoring. I understand the interest in good defense, but sometimes I just want to see the ball go in the net.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, I can understand that point of view. I personally like that goals in soccer mean so much.  Overcoming a 3 goal deficit in soccer means a lot more to me than, say, overcoming a 15 point deficit in basketball, or a 5 run deficit in baseball.  But again, I can understand why people would dislike the lack of scoring in soccer.

  • BlitzSpiele

    Kudos to Tom and team for having this topic as the U-23 Men’s Team takes a victory lap after their game with El Salvador.

    Wait, what? The US didn’t win a must-win match on home soil?

    No, they gave up a tie (3-3) in stoppage time to El Salvador. It was a “break the remote” type result for those of us watching on Mun2.  That tie only felt like a loss.  The press has assigned the US keeper the goat horns for not making the stop on a long range dipping bouncer of a shot.  Yeah, he could have done better, but he should have never faced a late shot.

    I see it another way, actually.  The goat horns need to go to the manager, Caleb Porter.  He was the one who made the decision to pull his center-mid (Joe Corona) in the waning seconds to get a standing O from the fans (he had the presumed game-winner and a hat trick against Cuba).  Corona was controlling the central midfield at that point.  Once the center of the US midfield was unbalanced ES attacked, the US backed down and let them get that lethal shot off.  Porter is a manager with huge potential, but this should be a learning moment him.  You cannot do that crap with a one goal lead in a must-win situation.  That decision let his team down–and dare I say it, the country, too.

    If you want to see a US team win gold, you will need to watch the women, AGAIN.  Not that I mind, I luv ‘em. 

  • Hidan

    Soccer is one of those sports it’s okay to play as a kid but boring to watch as an adult.  Watching  so called stars fake being hurt just adds to it to the perception of it being a weak sport. Add in the World Corruption in the sport(like Qatar bribing official’s to win it’s bid).

    • BlitzSpiele

      Want to talk about boring.  Watching March Madness on the TV live.  All those timeouts.  If you DVR it you can at least forward through it.  Soccer has a flow to it.  I love the fact that it’s not interrupted by ED and car insurance commercials.

      • TFRX

        All those timeouts! Every ten seconds of play in the last couple of minutes, it seems. I cheer when the trailing team is out of timeouts.

      • Hidan

        I tend to DVR MM games or watch the highlights online.

        But the ohio game was great last weekend. I do follow world news and FIFA. And anyone that has been following the bids for the FIFA will know about it’s corruption and Qatar bid. 

        I had a friend that was along the lines of semi-pro who I used to go to the games to support him but still found it boring even when I played it as a kid.

    • Christine

      Have you watched the NBA lately? I can’t stand fakery in any sport, but it would be silly to say that soccer is the only culprit here.

      I think the primary issue is that Americans don’t really understand the sport– how it is play, what makes for strategy, what in heavens an offside call is… Once you get that under your belt, soccer is one of the most beautiful and exciting sport being played.

      Keep in mind that MILLIONS of people around the world love soccer. There is something about American expectation of sports as entertainment that prevents it from taking off here.

      • TFRX

        It was in the NBA playoffs almost 2 years ago that someone was egregiously fouled, but didn’t “sell the call”, and that not-flopping cost him 2 FT attempts and therefore the game.

        That was followed by days of discussion by sportsyakkers, and even a magazine article (SI or ESPNTheMag, I forget which). But nobody complains about flopping, or the need to in sport, like American broadcasters about soccer.

        The prevalence of video everywhere may bring the fakery down.

      • Hidan

         Never said soccer the only sport that does this.

        Though soccer seems to be the sport that engages in this the most. While often after faking jumping up like nothing happen.

        Millions like Cricket but I and probably millions of Americans find cricket just as boring.

      • Roy Mac

        You’re correct:  I don’t understand soccer/futbol, and Lord knows, I’ve tried.  There is just something wrong about an insurmountable 2-0 lead with 20 minutes of game time remaining.  Or 2 hours of players running back and forth, only to have the game decied 5-4 by a shoot-out.  I think this is just one of those sports better played than watched.

        And I won’t even start on European games that all seem to end in drunken brawls.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Yet again, we find out what Hidan doesn’t like.  He’s not even being consistent, since this time, he’s criticizing Arabs.

      • Hidan

         Asinine comment once again from Greg.

         We already know your views about arabs so..?

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           No, you don’t know my views.  I hold them to the same standard that I hold everyone.  You, on the other hand, show favoritism.

          • Hidan

             You present your views quiet well dear bigot. Sometimes you can manage to go a step above asinine but it’s rare.

            As for Favoritism it’s a joke for you to claim you don’t.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             I’m far from quiet, Hidan.

      • Hidan

        You probably have no idea what i’m talking about. All arabs are not the same dear bigot. 

        Just another uniformed comment from Prof Greg.

  • Patrik

    I absolutely love watching Football (Soccer). Unfortunately I only watch EPL or South American Football.  The difficulty in scoring goals and the near misses builds up the anxiety that will be released in celebration, by viewers and players, when there is a goal.  Helped by a few pints. : )

    • Patrik

      P.S. Im a Gunners fan. (Arsenal)

      • TFRX

        Do you understand enough Spanish to follow South American broadcasts?

        I don’t, but certain members of my household think I watch enough football already (a quantity I don’t recognize as existing) without my changing the channel to Univision or Telemundo.

        • Patrik

          I don’t at all but I understand the game and  I just enjoy watching their fast-paced play.

          • TFRX

            Good for you on that. I can’t do without the commentary, because I want to know the players and the hidden play which isn’t immediately on my screen that second. Maybe I don’t have enough of a “game eye” to figure things out.

      • HDMZ

         Gunners for life!!!

  • Anonymous

    First of all, Tom, I hope you note that the Olympic men’s soccer tournament is a U-23 tournament, so our very best players weren’t allowed to play.  It’s basically a youth tournament, and youth success has rarely led to World Cup success for countries, so while failing to qualify hurts, it’s not nearly as big of a blow as, say, failing to qualify for the World Cup.

    In terms of development, pretty much all the teams in MLS have youth teams at this point, and they have incentives to develop their own players.  For most teams, the youth teams are fairly new and the infrastructure is just now developing, and as noted in an earlier post, the coaches aren’t as experienced as their foreign counterparts either.  But it won’t take much time at all for this to change and we’re seeing former players become coaches (see Jason Kreis, Dennis Hamlet, Oscar Pareja, Robin Fraser), and the quality of American players has already dramatically improved since MLS started.   

    In addition, by pulling these players from their high school teams and focusing on the elite club teams, these players are training with the best players and pushing themselves further.  High school soccer coaches are usually pretty terrible.  Focusing on the elite club teams may also be healthier for the players in the long run, too.  High school coaches tend to focus a lot more on athleticism than skill, and a low-skill, aggressive defender can easily injure a talented opponent with a clumsy tackle that a more skilled defender would never attempt.

    Lastly, with MLS surviving (if not thriving) financially, American youth can now more easily see soccer as a financially viable career.  If they’re multi-talented, they’ll more likely go to other sports to make more money, but soccer as a career is no longer a pipe dream.  That fact alone will help develop better players.

    The future is still bright for US Soccer.  Minor setback, yes, but still a lot of potential.

  • TFRX

    <a href="http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/soccernomics/"This book is a must read, if only for being the first in its field.

    And this is one more vote about not confusing Olympic soccer (as PSLong9 says, basically a U23 tournament) with, say, Olympic basketball. The latter is about the most major thing a national team can win.

    The World Cup is still without peer for football.

    • TFRX

      …and close link (sorry).

  • http://twitter.com/saabrian Brian

    I hear a lot about how there needs to be better coaching education. And that’s true. But as a youth coach myself, there also needs to be more parent education. Coaches can’t do their jobs if parents are on the sidelines cheering the kids when they do the wrong thing like booting the ball as far as they can or complaining that a game involving 9 year olds doesn’t look similar to a game involving 16 year olds. Parents also have to realize that soccer is a totally different game than football or basketball or baseball. Too many think that if the coach is not yelling at the kids constantly what to do then he or she is not doing his job or doesn’t care; in reality, he or she is letting them learn how to make their own decisions on the field, one of the major weaknesses of the US player.

    • TFRX

      The overcoaching which works in basketball and football–a coach telling the whole team what to do every 15 seconds or so-up through the college level, does very little for developing soccer players, I think.

      There may be a link to the US team’s higher success from set pieces (if that still exists) than in the flow of play.

      • http://twitter.com/saabrian Brian

        Agreed… it’s not just that it does little for developing soccer players. It’s that it’s actively and aggressively harmful to developing soccer players.

      • Anonymous

        BB and American football have made the coach the game, hence their large numbers, salaries and and accolades. I say give sports back to the players get the coach out of the game, their role is preparation and then cut the ‘umbilical cord’ to let the players play the game. I say the game/competition is for the athletes, that is why they ‘play’. It empowers them to make decisions, think tactically and take the credit for their performance. Soccer, rugby, rowing and many other sports embody this concept of the coach being the facilitator not the whole show. In fact Association (corrupted to Soccer) Football elsewhere have managers NOT coaches. Kids in other nations live the game and play the game all the time without any coaching (often unavailable)and learn to play skillfully and tactically for themselves.

        Former professional coach in non-game sport.

  • http://twitter.com/saabrian Brian

    I didn’t tear my hair out when El Salvador scored. I was too stunned to move.

  • BEEZ

    As to the question Tom just posed, we certainly need to focus on education, and not make a sport more important than it is. Having said that I think soccer is a great game, a cerebral one that requires great conditioning. I’d love to see my son play soccer. I played a bit, and it really gave me exposure to a different social environment than I had playing basketball and football.

    • Patrik

      I agree, an education comes first.

  • Pffefer

    As long as the American public at large remains indifferent to the beautiful game of football, as long as Americans kids still prefer other sports because there is simply lack of interest, money and passion in football, football in American will not go anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you send them to “soccer academies” or not. The lack of interest will kill the sport in the US. The US will remain the last hold out of the football frenzy that has swept the whole world. The MLS is a laughing stock, a league that attracts only aging players who have a few years left before they retire.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Genuine football–a game played primarily with a ball and the feet!–is an elegant game:  forty-five straight minutes of fluid motion and teamwork to set up or to block a goal.  There also isn’t point inflation.  A one – nil game is good work.

  • NV

    Academy teams aren’t everything that USF has tried to make them seem to be.  Our HS team here in Central Mass was a State Champion last fall.  We lost one player to an academy team.  He’s a good player.  But from where I’m standing (town coach for more than 15 years with several state level finalist teams in the town soccer program) this young man isn’t as good as he and his family think he is.  Every other player, including a state level player is returning to play for the high school team.   I think this was a poor decision by USF.  But it doesn’t change the result, that soccer is catching fire in the US.  Just look at this weekend’s offerings on the NBC Sports Channel.  Two MLS games, back to back!

  • Joe+G

    I’ve always been a supporter of USMNT/WNT, but have really gotten into it much more since the WC in 2010. I now know the players, the youth players and much more about the teams. Mostly, it’s that I can watch games online (I don’t have cable) and keep up through the various discussion sites. Because of the (relatively) smaller number of top-flight US players scattered around the world, I can see and follow their careers. Just yesterday, I watched the NE Revolution U-17 team play in a tourney in South Africa, Fulham-ManU in England and the U-23 games.

    Not all fans are going to fit the standard profile. I have always watched bits and pieces of soccer when I could, I never played in an organized game, didn’t grow up anywhere near where soccer is played normally in the US, didn’t have immigrant parents or grandparents or spend much time overseas. Yet, this result will bother me for a while (almost as much at the final of the WWC).

    The toughest part about following soccer as a Yank? Understanding the business and structure side — transfers, loans, reserve teams, relegation, promotion, multiple competitions going on at the same time — make it really hard to dissect what’s happening if you are on the outside looking in.

  • Terrance

    This type of thing has already happened in American basketball. The most highly regarded high school recruits will often attend so called “prep schools” or elite private schools. These “schools” are essentially basketball academies and are direct pipelines for star basketball players to be recruited to the largest college programs and eventually the NBA. These players don’t play for their local basketball. Their focus is not the normal high school experience, but instead is on being seen as a four or five star recruit for colleges. Along with these types of schools, there is also the AAU system, in which the basketball players travel around the country playing with and against the other top level players. This system is treated with much more importance by college recruiters than the regular high school system is.

    • BEEZ

      I played AAU basketball. Almost every player went on to at least Division 2 college. The stands were filled with scouts, but the problem I noticed, it gave players a false sense of success. They thought they were stars already. What happens when (like me) you blow your knee out and those AAU coaches and invitational camps stop calling?
      We already have way too much emphasis on sports in the country…WAY too  much.

      • Terrance

         I completely agree that the AAU system and the prep school system is a problem. I just wanted to point out that there are already systems in the US that take star athletes away from their local high school teams. What’s happening in soccer doesn’t seem much different than what has happened in other sports, specifically basketball. As a former high school and college athlete, I think that the whole amateur sports system needs to be reexamined. 

  • Carla

    This is a wake up to our athletics  statis in US- No PE in school shame on us. As a country we must make athletics part of all who are able to participate in. This is a national health issue.

    • Shoshonecreek

       You’re correct….the schools cut PE to preserve funding for the kids on varsity sports.  This is plain wrong….all kids should be getting PE…their parents all pay taxes.

      Move the varsity sports to private club teams….this should not be tax payer funded.  Period!

      The obesity epidemic in our nation…because most kids no longer get PE in school…they cut PE and fund the varsity teams.  Enough already!

  • Lauren

    I think one of the most significant factors in the success of US soccer is the fact that American kids grow up with a much wider variety of sports to play than some of their international counterparts.  The US can certainly aim to be competitive with these teams, but I think it is unreasonable to expect that Americans can dominate globally in every sport they play.

  • GirlsSoccerDad

    The only gender I have heard mentioned so far on the program is male. Does the Academy support girls soccer equally to boys? Or doesn’t women’s soccer in the U.S. need it?

    • Joe+G

      Men only. The US is a net exporter of women’s talent (see the Mexican women’s team). Without a real likelihood of professional careers, there just isn’t the support and the money (much like men’s vs. women’s basketball).

    • Anonymous

      The USSF does support girls soccer and they do so quite well compared to the rest of the world, though I don’t know if it’s equal to the boys programs.  Quite simply, money talks, and without the professional support (much smaller woman’s league within the country, much less interest in women’s international soccer than men), the girls programs probably don’t get as much financial support.  But I am aware that some of the most talented youth girls players debate whether or not to even play high school soccer, just like the boys do.

  • Carlos Bahena

    The “All or nothing” mentality has to be fundamental if you want to be successful at any international level.  Playing soccer for you national team is a privilege for young players that see soccer as a PROFESSION in other countries, more than just wearing your highschool colors. The U.S. has to continue developing players in a professional environment to shape their craving to play for ManU, Barca, or other big teams. We ought to look at this as a benefit for the U.S., if we want to be competitive we need to nurture our players in constant contact with other professional players that do this for a living. Taking a HS star and being sore about that is just too narrow and shorthsighted, what happens to the player after the highshool crowd is satisfied after his/her senior year? 

  • Mike Z

    The discussion has been about the quality of the players, but in my opinion the failure of the U-23 team to qualify for the Olympics is a result of tactics. Caleb Porter deployed an aggressive 4-3-3 that his players were not prepared to play. At half time of the Canada game everyone in the stadium knew they were being overwhelmed in the mid-field and should have switched to a 4-4-2. Porter did not manage to his players strengths and paid for it in the end. If he would have made the adjustments needed there is no question in my mind that he had the players to qualify and probably make a run in the Olympics.

  • Anonymous

    Also, to the most recent caller – the culture is growing.  See 30k+ constantly going to games in Seattle.  See the Kansas City  stadium selling out constantly.  See the Philadelphia games selling out constantly.  Just because that caller isn’t aware of it doesn’t mean that the rest of us are oblivious.

    • TFRX

      And the strangest thing is, financially speaking, less is more.

      A team owning, controlling, its own ~20-25k seater stadium, is on more secure footing than when they’ve got the same number of fans rattling around in a 65,000 seat NFL venue they have to rent. (Coownership, such as in Seattle and New England, is different.)

      And it makes for a much better playing environment. Plus it blows away people watching on TV who can’t figure out why the fans onsite are singing and chanting without being prompted by a PA system playing music.

      • Anonymous

        Absolutely.  I was at the Colorado – Philadelphia match a week ago, and it was rocking.  Again, the Olympic qualifying debacle is a setback, but I really think the future of US Soccer is bright.

  • Shoshonecreek

    How do the other countries develop their soccer game and their soccer players?   I don’t see Germany, the Dutch, the French, the Brits, or anyone else relying on PUBLIC education to fund athletics and in this subject…soccer.

    The US needs to change…it’s time to get competitive team sports out of our schools and out of our tax payer funded programs.  Let soccer and all other competitive sports be left to the private sector…club teams.

    I want my tax dollars going to ACADEMICS in our public schools….not to athletic departments.

    This isn’t about winning and going to the Olympics….this is about tax payers funding the NEEDS in our schools and NOT the wants.  It’s time for all high school sports to be left to private clubs.

    • Anonymous

      I went to high school in the UK, everyone played sports (no choice) and the best kids played in the school team at every year level. Everyone had PE, both gym and swimming. Physical activity is essential to good brain health. The idea that sport should be confined to the people best at it is as alien to me as dropping, music, art, PE or the humanities from the school curriculum.  If you want better academics you need HS graduates who are physically fit and versed rigorously in the arts and sciences. The human endeavor is the whole of these parts.

  • Sohaila zanjani

    In most US cities, towns…you can see people from many different cultures play pick up games and scrimages.  This elite American sport should lose its upper-class mentality and take it to the street.  These Sudanese, Ethiopian, Iranian, Mexican…..play when ever they have a chance. what a way to educate kids and adults about cultures represented on the field, not through the biased medis

    • Mister Jones

      Fair comment.  The sons of immigrants are great players, but I see them looked at askance time and time again on the premier fields. 

  • Dena

    Does the women’s national team work the same way? Seems to me that they may have a pretty good system producing great results.

    • Anonymous

      It’s similar, but the women’s team has a big advantage compared to other countries due to level of support and history.  Soccer took off in other countries for the men starting as early as the 1910s, 1920s, but it didn’t get a solid footing in the US until the 1990s.  That’s a lot of time and culture to overcome for the men.  Women’s international soccer simply doesn’t have that history.  The US women’s team was one of the first women’s national teams, and organized women’s soccer has been around in the US longer than in other countries.  As other countries have caught up, the US women have lost a bit of their dominance.

      • Anonymous

        Nice post, this constant comparison between men’s and women’s game/events in all sports is not relevant. As you state – different circumstances different histories. 

  • Frankd

    the joke thirty years ago about soccer was that; “it’s the game of the future, and always will be”

  • MJ

    With some exceptions, high school teams are a poor training ground for promising soccer players.  The better players who play for travel or select youth teams get far superior training, practice and skill development on their travel/select teams.  Their high school teams are more than a step down/back and often teaches poor tactics, skills and reading of the game.

  • ARB

    What the discussion did not get into is that many sports are going the same route, especially those on the international level.  High schools simply cannot gather the higher talent nor teach on that level. The USA will simply never be able to compete on the higher stage without some form of team coaching like the club academies like Ajax, Man City, Inter or Barca, etc, etc.
    The fact that El Sal won, could be for a few other reasons that are aside from the main fact that the principal problem for US soccer is the lack of high-level coaching, competition for athletes with better organized/popular sports in the US (basketball, football, baseball, hockey, even Lacrosse seems better organized on the HS level), and lack of re3lative pay compared to those other prof sports.

  • Jackson

    I don’t know why so many commenters are obsessed with saying that soccer is not popular in the US every time the subject comes up. It’s the oddest response. Especially when this is NOT the focus of today’s program. It’s like a bad joke folks tell when they have nothing useful to say. In my personal experience in Boston, NYC, DC, Philly and Chicago areas whenever the US is playing in a big tournament, there’s a lot of fan activity in the streets, particularly near pubs. Or just listen to the crowd at Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia, Kansas City games. The MLS outdraws the NBA in attendance. It’s definitely a popular sport in this country. These commenters must miss a lot of things.

    • http://twitter.com/saabrian Brian

      Obviously they know it’s growing more popular or else they wouldn’t so feel insecure as to have to make comments like this.

  • Mister Jones

    U.S. Soccer Federation is delusional if they think they will fix American soccer by pulling the best players off their high school teams.  Soccer succeeds everywhere else in the world because it’s the national pastime in all those other countries, not here.  The best athletes will play their favorite game, and the best athletes play in America play for their schools. [OK except for a handful of tennis players maybe...]  This plan will only further ghettoize the sport, and takes advantage of the parents that can afford to pay for their talented-but-not-pro-material kids to play.

    News flash! Elite youth sports are already year-round, including soccer.  The days of the three-letter man are gone.  Baseball, football and basketball players all train year-round,  and so do soccer players.  What the Academy wants is for their players to avoid the three month fall soccer high school season.  Big mistake.

    My experience with the Academy [I'm a longtime soccer fan, former youth coach and step-dad to a pre-Academy player] is that it is sucking the fun out of the game.  Our team exists only to provide fresh meat for a handful of elite teams to beat up on.  The training isn’t that good, nor enough, and the games and tournaments all involve hours on the road without any tangible benefit.  Maybe some kids from NY’s Red Bulls academy team will make it to the pros, but for the rest it’s a sucker’s bet.

    • Cliff

      Not true. The best youth football players do not play for their schools, they Pop Warner until they weight enough to play for their high school’s JV team. The best basketball players play AAU and couldn’t care less about high school hoops.

      In fact, AAU basketball might be a good model for U.S. soccer to follow.

  • NV

    Here’s the problem with  “Academy Football”.  Soccer coaches in the US make next to nothing.  HS coaches may make a couple of thousand, maybe even 4 or 5 thousand dollars for a season.   Premier level Coaches typically earn a stipend, a couple of thousand dollars.  Barely enough to cover expenses in some cases.  And of course, town level (travel team) coaches earn nothing.  And Academy coaches?  If they earn more than $30K for a season, I’d be surprised.  A friend of mine happens to have won the Addidas National Youth Coach of the year award.  He coaches at the Premier level, and our local Varsity team.  He HAS to have a full time job because there is no money in it.  Another friend of mine was a former stand out from one of the military academies in the early 80s, nearly made the US Olympic team, and now coaches a local University’s womens’ D2 program.  He definitely does not earn enough to feed his family.  There is just no money for the best and brightest coaches to pass this along, except/unless they do it for the love of the game.  And that’s what we are passing to our kids.  Coaching for the love of the beautiful game.  How much more could the best and brightest coaches do with out working a full time job?  We don’t know the limit.  But Academy soccer isn’t going to be the answer.  There has to be a change in culture.  And that is going to take time.  The game grows in US, and sooner or later, will grow out of the shadows, but its slow.  We need to be patient.

  • Gladys Tapia

    In order to create a  soccer culture  kids  have to play soccer  for fun  with friends and neighboors .I am originally from Peru and  all the kids play soccer on the streets all the time,so thats the practice . Here is only about academies and  win ,it’s a lot of pressure when you play soccer only  1 or 2 times a week.

  • Cliff

    I grew up playing soccer and now my daughter’s heavily involved in the sport, just at the age of 7. This might not mean much for professional soccer in the U.S., but it will have an affect on our players who go on to international leagues and return to play on the National Teams (U-23, World Cup, etc.). The talent pool has to be growing and these developmental academies help identify and cultivate young talent.

  • Saiid Lewis

    For any player to improve, they need to play with people above their level,
    Not merely at it or in high-school often times below it. Thus young talent isn’t
    Growing and being developed. Hs soccer needs to stop being regarded as sacred. HS soccer coaches are crap, compared with counterparts in academies overseas. I find it particularly demonstrative thatthe experts on this show
    had No top level experience at all. Mediocre soccerplayers in their day can’t be expected to raise the level of the us game

  • Cliff

    Something also needs to be said about the opponents of U.S. Soccer’s plan to make young player choose between their club and their high school. It seems to be high school coaches and parents who make up the detractors. Don’t they have a biased opinion here? 
    U.S. Soccer wants to develop better players. High school coaches want to keep the good players to themselves. Parents want to hold on to the nostalgia of being a teenager and “winning the big game” so your classmates love you. Let’s be real, though. If your kid is good enough to be on a developmental club, he or she has a real shot at going to the Olympics or World Cup. Those are once in a lifetime opportunities. That’s worth the “grueling” (hardly) schedule and missing meaningless high school games. And if they don’t make it through their developmental training, chances are your kid is good enough for a college scholarship. 

    It sounds like parents are too busy trying to live through their child and not thinking about these amazing experiences their child has in front of them. 

    • Mister Jones

      Actually I’m an Acadamy parent.  The problem here is that the talent pool is spread way to thin to support multiple academy teams.  Just calling it an academy does not make it comparable to the European soccer academies, which as I understand are boarding schools for full-time soccer training.  The American soccer academy teams are poor imitations and just trading on the name.  To be sure, there are some powerhouse academy teams, but for most it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.

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  • Mike

    In any given year there are maybe 4 players who will get to the national team- so all of this is to identify/develop four players per age group.  The best players do need to play with the best but to mandate that for 12 months a year instead of 9 seems very shortsighted.  Why doesn’t USSF get more serious about developing the skills/abilities of varsity soccer coaches around the country?  It is very difficult to get good on-going training unless you are doing A or B license- and these are as much about being a player as being a coach.  

  • Treefingerstx

    Even if 4 kids per year make it to the national team, they need to grow up competing against better competition (the hundreds of kids who won’t make it to the national team). this is how we get better as a country. otherwise, we will never reach the top 10 in the FIFA power rankings. And winning a world cup… Ha.

    If that doesn’t matter to you and your kid, let them play high school soccer and get them out of the academies. As a US soccer enthusiast, I’m ready to see us step up our international game. That doesn’t happen when our kids are playing at the high school (and even college) level. 

  • Ehender2

    Yes, the American men have struggled in international soccer. So what?

    As an orthopaedic surgeon I am constantly troubled by how much emphasis parents place on sports. Yes, they are fun, they teach teamwork, but why must this type of debate even take place? When did sports become so important that we would fathom creating a system to remove children from school to prove something on the international stage.

  • guest1

    High school basketball increasingly must deal with elite players transferring to private schools specializing in their game.  It has been that way for years now.  Looks like soccer is poised to follow suit.  It’s not necessarily good or bad.  It’s just the direction our society has tended to move for years with many of our youth sports.  Players and parents want scholarships.  For soccer, the US wants to win internationally.  Apparently, it’s important to a significant portion of our society or we wouldn’t do it.


  • FutbolMarketer

    I m on the business of soccer marketing and I disagree with the caller who said that soccer is not a big deal in the US. 

    * There are more kids playing soccer than beisbol or Football in the U.S.

    * A recent ESPN survey indicates that Soccer is the second favorite sport among kids 12-24 (only behind Football)

    * MLS is the only professional league that is showing steady growth in attendance.

    * Just look at the average age of fans of all professional sports in the U.S. and you will clearly see where the future is going

  • Yonkers

    Losing first to Canada then to El Salvador in such a way was unfortunate but not necessarily any indication that the US is losing ground on the international level. The sky is NOT falling “chicken little”, contrary to the implications noted  at the beginning of the program. The MNT has improved steadily in international competition over the last 8 years and the younger levels overall have seen a lot of success. This recent move by the USSF Academy to ask players to commit to a 10 month schedule shows the level of seriousness which the organization and the players are willing to go to in order to improve. 

    For those of those who know and fully understand the Academy experience, it is an improvement over other youth soccer programs (HS, premier and travel) in many ways. The coaching, playing formations, refereeing, practices and games are scripted by the USSF for uniformity based on successful programs in other countries. The culture is supported with an emphasis on teamwork and friendship amongst players. It’s both formative and fun for the players and coaches.

    Of course it’s unfortunate that some very talented kids will miss out on all of those fun things that go along with HS sports (not all of those being legal) but they still are full time HS students who can participate in many social and educational activities in their free time. The HS coach’s comment on today’s program portraying the Academy as being unyielding in their ultimatum to players is misleading. Many state interscholastic athletic commissions have mandated that HS players are not even allowed to practice with their club teams during the HS season. Isn’t this stance just as absolute and wouldn’t that contribute to the Academy’s decision to ask players to choose?

    At any rate, this Academy train has been rolling for a few years now and it ain’t going back. It’s not a surprise for either party,HS or Academy, so y’all might as well sit back and enjoy. It might take some time for the US to catch Espagnol but at least we are on the right track.

  • Tommybecker314

    American soccer is dominated by players who come from an affluent socio-economic status. If soccer program’s established themselves in a simular way as football and basketball have done in the U.S., then we would one of the better competitive teams in the world.

  • American soccer fan

    I disagree with Mr. Woog about High School soccer being pivotal for growing the game. We’ve tried that system for decades and it has not gotten us very far. The best way to grow interest in the sport is to play quality soccer and win games at the international level and the best way to do that is to develop our best players in elite academies, just like what is done in Holland, Spain, and other European countries. Most of the best players in the world have come through youth academies, including Messi, Ronaldo, and Rooney. Removing the best players from High School will also reduce the number of our most athletically gifted boys that are funneled away to other, more popular sports, like football and baseball.

    • Dankustura2000


  • Anonymous

    El Salvador, a third world nation with the population the size of Massachusetts and a GDP 1/6 of the U.S. A rally to beat El Salvador is not going to inspire anyone. I think we already have enough sports.

  • guest

    There were about 8,000 people in Nashville to watch the US vs El Salvador, about half were El Salvador supporters.  Americans care about NASCAR, college basketball and UFC.  Until the average sports fan here can relate to soccer beyond their 9 year old daughter US soccer is going nowhere on the international level.

  • guest

    Cannot compare the women’s team success to the men’s.  There are very few countries where women play at any level beyond the school yard.  We are politically correct in the US so we have women’s soccer in high school and college, but world wide women’s soccer has almost no audience.  Pro leagues have tried and failed here many times – there is no significant audience for women’s soccer.  

  • thegreengrass

    It’s a shame that at first glance the title of this show appears apocalyptic. The international stage isn’t the only thing going on in US soccer. If you wanna see how soccer’s a game that’s only getting more popular, go to MLS cities like Philadelphia, Portland, or Seattle. Those places regularly sell out games in 18,000+ seat stadiums.

    Not to mention it’s the 3rd most watched sport in the US as of late last year: http://www.examiner.com/soccer-in-national/soccer-attendance-overtakes-nba-now-no-3-sport-usa?cid=dflo-facebook-110311-MLS

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  • guest

    The podcast for this show was not uploaded to Itunes. Thank you. 

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  • Mister Jones

    I don’t believe that the overseas academies compare to U.S. Soccer’s academies, except for the name.  Sure, Barcelona and Real Madrid pluck the next Ronaldo or Kaka from a village and put them into a full-time soccer academy which includes some sort of schooling.  I’d guess that the closest comparison is the baseball “academies” in the Dominican Republic.  The US academies are a fancier version of premier soccer.  For some, it’s terrific.  If you are playing for the subsidized Red Bulls, drawing from a huge talent pool to play for free and travel on a nice bus, that’s one thing.  But for us in Connecticut, we have two mediocre academy teams that exist only to take parents’ money, to say they have Academy teams, and to provide fresh meat for the good teams to beat up on.

    I’ve seen good and bad soccer coaches, both in high school programs, premier leagues and the academy teams.

  • Silver Eagle

    The last comment is interesting with the observation that the Red Bulls seem to be that much better than the two mediocre Connecticut academy teams. Perhaps it is partly because the Red Bulls Academy adopted the 10 month season a while ago and the CT teams have not yet done so. 

    The academy system is a no-brainer for the USSF and it will only improve as time goes on. The difference between what you see on the pitch during an academy game and what you see in high school is night and day. College coaches recognize that as well….. many more scouts at academy games than at HS games, which is great for kids that want to play in college.

  • Anonymous

    Great show and was very surprising to see OnPoint cover this topic as I’m both a huge fan of your show and soccer. My worlds collided.

    Here’s the number one problem with soccer in America. I’m a very well paid young professional, but am extremely passionate and knowledgeable about soccer (even to the point of reading soccer strategy books). 

    Last year I was somewhat at a bit of a crossroads in my life and I seriously considered quitting my profession to become a youth soccer coach. I did a lot of research and it unfortunately turned out that there was no way for me to make a decent living doing it. I would not do it for the money, but for the love of the game yet the enormous changes to my lifestyle that it would entail were just too much. There is just no way to make a decent living being a youth soccer coach in America. 

    According to my research you can make about $50K at the top level when you get a job as a coach of a good college team. Obviously that’s not easy to do and it takes years even for very talented coaches to get to that level while they’re toiling away at the edge of poverty. High school coaches don’t make jack which is why the level of coaching is so low. It’s not really a job. It’s more like a side hobby because you simply can’t support even yourself (forget about a family) on the salary they get. 

    Even elite club coaches don’t make very much. As I said, I wouldn’t do it for the money, but I just decided that I couldn’t take a 70-90% paycut. As long as youth coaches in America get paid less than it takes to support even a single individual the level of youth soccer will stay relatively low. There’s just so many talented people you can attract based on pure love for the game who are willing to do this as their second job because they simply must have another one to support themselves.  

    The situation is completely different in other countries. Youth coaches may not be rolling in doe and have a posse, but they make decent wages and have the opportunity to become a professional coach with a very high salary ceiling. Naturally this attracts many more talented people to the occupation.

  • Colorado Coach

    4000 is too many.  How many kids would be a realistic number?

    In the Denver market there are three clubs with Academy teams.  If you assume about 20 kids on each team and two age groups for each club, that is 120 kids just in this market. How many of those kids are future pros? I would guess that perhaps 10% of those have a realistic shot and perhaps 3 or less will make it. 

    The reason these markets have three teams is that US Soccer didn’t want to exclude some of the top clubs for political reasons. 

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