With all the issues plaguing FIFA right now, US Soccer Federation needs to conjure up a way to bring more positivity into the game.
There are a lot of frustrated parents, players, coaches, and fans around the country with how soccer is “done” in the United States. Whether it’s about the “pay-to-play” club system. Whether it’s about the lackluster high school development system. Whether it’s about the restrictive college season. Or whether it’s about the single-entity structure that MLS has in negating anyone else from becoming a true first-league professional without hundreds of millions of dollars (yet another pay-to-play scheme).
Complaints are never ceasing. But, no one really does anything to fix it. Club won’t change, people will continue to pay because they think it’s the “way” for development, college scholarships, and winning. High school athletics won’t change because everyone gets to play. College won’t change because no one cares about development there, it’s about education. And…MLS won’t change because of USSF.
So…how can we do something else to grow the game and make positive moves in a country of complaints? How can we develop players and avoid the out-pricing of possible talented players entering the game? Well…we need to make it more of a culture. A soccer culture needs to be developed more. There’s really no easy way of doing this though. No one can truly “make” someone develop culture. No Federation can force soccer people to be more “soccer.”
But, I do know…media has done a tremendous job of pushing certain things into the consumers to ensure “culture” is forced. College football and basketball got major pushes from television that forced it to the forefront. MLB, NBA, and NFL all got the same. American soccer is slowly getting there…mainly due to the World Cup and the NBCSN showing all English Premier League games — now, yes, those aren’t “American” but definitely a positive impact on the game here. ESPN FC actually has a talking-heads show now about soccer, granted it is about 5-10 years behind. MLS is still struggling with television ratings and attendance (my poor Crew SC are second-worst in attendance so far this year and sit 4th in the Eastern Conference right now).
What’s next? What can be done differently to change? I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe we need to get back to leisure play. We need to remove the “structure” of coaching, training, organized leagues, etc. Soccer is one of the biggest “active” sports that people of all ages participate in. We need to continue developing that culture. In order to do that, we need to make the game more available.
That’s where USSF and their near-$100 million assets can come into play.
It wouldn’t take much. Check out what the Capital Area Soccer League in Lansing has done — Beacon Soccer Field. Simply a $60,000 project to bring a free-play mini field into Lansing, Michigan.
So, USSF, invest $600,000 a year in building fields like this. Pick 10 states a year, build the fields in locations that can utilize them even more, and see an impact those have EVERY year. It works out? Then, decide after 5 years…start building an indoor facility in other areas of the states. Make an impact in EVERY state over the course of 5-10 years.
I guarantee it, you will see a positive soccer impact for the country and game. Read about the impact it’s had in Iceland. 320,000 people live there, 20,000 play soccer. Iceland has the longest preseason in the world (read: more training — 7 months) and the shortest playing season (read: less games — 5 months). Iceland has produced over 90 current first-division players around the world (not including their domestic league). How competitive is Iceland? Their U17s are one of the top 28 teams in Europe (out of 48), their U19s are top-28 (out of 50), and their senior team gets good results consistently (drew Spain in 2006 0-0).
Outside of investment in coaching, which is important, Iceland’s soccer federation (KSI) built facilities. The facilities are used by all age groups, and with their weather, needed to be indoors. There were 6 full-size indoor fields built since 2000 (this was a report from 2007). They also put in 17 astroturf pitches all around Iceland (uh oh…turf…gasp!). Then, from 2004-2006, they built 76 mini-pitches ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY! That wasn’t enough, so in 2007, they decided to build 35 more mini-pitches. Today, there’s an estimated 150 mini-pitches across the whole country.
Building more facilities doesn’t always equate more “street” or “pickup” soccer being played. But, it could help! The better the facilities, the more accessibility, and the more opportunities can allow for more players playing…which hopefully means more players getting better. Current FIFA rankings, Iceland 38 and USA 28. Population differences: Iceland 320,000 and USA 318 million. The US has 1000 persons for every 1 Icelandic person. US is 10 spots higher in the FIFA rankings (I know, probably not 100% accurate ratings, but it’s what we have). But…Iceland went from 131 to 28 in FIFA rankings in 2 years.
Grow the game. Make it accessible. Encourage free-play. Get kids, adults, brothers, sisters, friends, strangers, neighbors, and enemies active. Joga Bonito.