It’s been a whirlwind few weeks with all the US Soccer action and happenings. Since there’s been a lot happening, I’ve been getting in all kinds of discussions, reading posts and articles, and getting all worked up. Ahhhhh.
This has led me to come up with US Soccer, My Way. Shocking, right? Especially since my last 3 posts were about that very same topic (01/16, 11/15, 05/15). Which also tells me, I haven’t written much and maybe need to get back in it more…
Anywho, a question was posed to me (and by me elsewhere) on what I think US Soccer needs to do. I’m going to attack this a few ways, mainly in terms of importance, feasibility, financially, and impact. I am not the one funding anything, so obviously telling someone else how to spend their money is easy, but not feasible. This will address the international, pro, and youth levels. I’ll try to back it up with research, but will also hypothesize when there’s no true figure to back it up.
Here’s how I would start impacting things if I could have some say in US Soccer:
1 – Solidarity Payments.
If you don’t know what these are, it’s basically a distribution of money within the soccer community. This is important for numerous reasons. But, first, how does one qualify? Money is paid to youth clubs once a player is registered for the first time as a professional player and goes through the end of the season of the player’s 23rd birthday. These payments help cover costs in the player’s training and education as a youth player.
Cost…zero. Should not cost a dime to institute this. The only ones incurring any additional costs are those clubs that are buying players. That’s it. Youth clubs actually are rewarded for aiding in the development of professional players.
Feasibility…probably can be pretty feasible. Really shouldn’t be any issues with this. It just needs to be enforced.
Importance…to me, it’s very important. Why? Incentive for clubs to do their jobs. Incentives for parents, players, and coaches to do their work. It really aids in community pride, which is very American. It allows for better financial operation of youth clubs. Really…probably one of the most important aspects that needs to happen in American soccer.
Impact…major. Look at it this way: DeAndre Yedlin got bought by Tottenham for $4 million. Yedlin’s youth club, Crossfire, should have earned $60,000 for that transfer. Crossfire received $0. That’s a massive financial impact for Crossfire. When Clint Dempsey was transferred from Tottenham to Seattle, $9 million transfer fee, Dempsey’s youth club (Dallas Texans) should have earned $157,500 from that transfer. This money puts a whole new role/emphasis in player development and incentive for all involved in the American soccer community.
2 – Limit international roster slots in all divisions of play (pro-to-amateur).
I believe this needs to be done in order to give more domestic players the potential to earn higher-level playing experiences. Spain and Germany saw their lack-of-success internationally and started investing domestically. They chose to increase domestic player pool in their domestic leagues. It worked out pretty decent for those countries. Now, we see England possibly increasing their English talent (and playing time) by 2020 AND Italy is frustrated with their identity and want changes to their leagues. It’s time for USSF to do the same with all of our leagues.
Cost…zero. Should not cost a dime to reduce international slots and increase domestic slots.
Feasibility…It’s something that is extremely feasible in doing. Doesn’t take much to make this change. Obviously, I’m not for cutting salaries and contracts right away. I don’t want anyone to be forced into unemployment. Contracts can expire and numbers be worked out. Currently, over 40% of MLS is international. Second highest (I believe) in the world, behind Cyprus.
Importance…I believe this is extremely important. Helps get players experience, in the system, and actually an opportunity to make a living playing like exists around the globe. Read about what Spain and Germany (Das Reboot) did, got more players playing higher levels because it’s important. They did this after their embarrassing World Cups/EUROs. How did that work out…Spain wins 2010 and Germany wins 2014.
Impact…this is something that may vary. Will MLS level drop? Can’t say. Could MLS gain more followers? Possibly. How long until we see its impact? Unknown. Spain and Germany saw theirs within a few years. Even fewer years if you consider how many players now get identified earlier.
3 – Split US into east and west divisions.
I believe this is extremely necessary in moving forward. US is really too big to operate one massive domestic league properly. This will be an even bigger factor with the next point of change.
Cost…zero. Should not cost a dime to split the system. In fact, it probably saves everyone a bit of money on travel. USL basically restructures their league every year depending on who is in/out.
Feasibility…probably can be pretty feasible. Downside of feasibility is, what would the structure look like? How can the current teams and added teams be “pleased” with this change?
Importance…to me, it’s very important. Keeps travel down. Less physical demands in league play. Fans can travel easier. Regional competitions are bigger. Television audiences are kept in same markets.
Impact…hard to tell its impact. I’d think it’s more positive than negative. Definitely different structure as no other country has a split league like this. Although, no one really has the travel like we demand.
4 – Institute Promotion and Relegation.
It had to go here. With adding #3, this has to be inevitable. Splitting the leagues would allow for increased first/second/third/fourth/etc. divisional setups. It’s much easier for this setup with an east/west setup. While this is #3, it may not be the easiest to institute instantly.
Cost…costs are really unknown. Doesn’t cost anything to institute it from the Federation level. But, the costs are then incurred on all those MLS owners who spent $100m for their franchise fees. What does that mean for them? They could have an option: keep your MLS franchise and operate separately, but the division 1 status has to be eliminated from it. The new USSF pyramid is completely open through pro/rel movement.
Feasibility…not very feasible. Major backlash. Major opposition. And, really, major lack of care for this. I imagine the majority of fans don’t know much about this or how it works. It’s a system that needs well thought out and planned before approached. Classifications, qualifications, initial teams, and numerous other aspects need established before instituted. Main limitation…finances. With roughly $4m going to each MLS team through media contracts, just not much money floating around American soccer to make it sustainable for promoted teams.
Importance…very important, but not as important as first two aspects. Pro/rel forces teams to produce or get out. It no longer allows for Chivas USA jokes. Robert Kraft would fail. Chicago Fire are relegated. It’s no longer acceptable to tank during the season or you’d miss out. This institutes a value of excellence. Get better. Strive to achieve higher, at all times.
Impact…major impact. Unfortunately, we don’t know if it’ll be positive or negative. Many negatives can happen — financial backers pull out due to bad business in relegation, few teams in a 1st division, too much travel for most divisions, etc. Positive impacts could bring in more investors though, better television deals due to competitive battles, a major focus on competitiveness, etc.
4 – Lift obscure rules and align with more common league rules.
Time to do away with all these “American” rules that make no sense. Gone is “free agency.” Gone is the salary cap. Gone is the “allocation” mumbo-jumbo. Setup a true transfer market and player moving opportunity. Let clubs sign who they want. Let players/agents get best deals they possibly can. Let owners grow their clubs. Time for clubs to fend for themselves instead of the top clubs aiding the maggots who are holding soccer back in the US.
Cost…shouldn’t cost anything to eliminate these rules. Costs again go back on how owners want to shell out money.
Feasibility…it’s doable, just harder to do. Certain owners like the rules because it allows them to compete without even caring. Allocation, free agency, and salary caps all help keep things “fair” and “balanced.” In the end, the whole league is built the same and true excellence cannot be reached.
Importance…extremely important. These rules are a joke and others laugh at us. Our clubs will never be able to compete with international clubs because of these rules. We will be able to keep/attract talent to grow the game more.
Impact…immediate. This can again be positive or negative. I believe it’d mostly be positive though. Negative impact is basically what we see in pro/rel leagues: at a certain point in the league season, it’s known that many clubs don’t have a chance to win. At that point, there’s less emphasis in those clubs. The battle then becomes who avoids relegation. Unfortunately, those games aren’t always good soccer. Soccer growth in certain areas may take a step back due to lack of 1st (or higher) division soccer. The big pro/rel leagues are often 1-3 horse races, this is where MLS is a positive and anyone can win because of the parity. Parity can bring excitement for those little clubs that most rule out because money doesn’t rule them.
5 – Incorporate a better/increased scouting system from USSF and professional teams.
This is one that is going to incorporate more costs, but will have great rewards. But, read how good scouting can work out (here). Or, look here (or here) on the German system — basically, 366 regional bases with 1,000 coaches, which allows them to scout 600,000+ players. Germany also has 45 centers of excellence with 200 full-time coaches, required since 2002. These programs also allow for free weekly training by DFB coaches. How is that not a good setup?! Germany has almost 28x more B Licensed coaches than England and almost 10x more A Licensed coaches too!
SC Freiburg in 2. Bundesliga is based in a city of over 220,000 people. They have 20 scouts for their youth teams and 4 for their pro team. This whole system shows, an emphasis on player development is first and then impacts the national team. Meanwhile, the US Soccer fandom complains about Jurgen Klinsmann not doing his job with the national team…it starts way before. Impact younger and we’ll see national team changes. As quoted directly from one cited link: “If you want to get an African player, or a player from Brazil, you need money, it’s cheaper to bring through your own player from Germany. And we have enough players here.”
We have enough players and talent in the US. We just have to do a better job of scouting them…and providing training opportunities.
Cost…this is somewhat of an unknown. I’m sure there’s numerous scouts that would be willing to keep an eye out locally for little-to-no money. There’s others that want to do it full-time. The land size and population in the US will increase the costs much more than it would in most other countries. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would be worth it (it was for Germany). To me, spending “seven figures” on a scouting system is more important than a crappy “rebrand” that USSF did.
Feasibility…not feasible if there isn’t a quality structure in place. And, it’ll always come back to the typical American reasoning: “it’s so political.” We would have to get scouts that can see plenty of players in numerous areas. Those scouts would also have to have their own scout networks to help ID players. It’s a networking system, that may be somewhat in place, but it’s obvious that whatever “scouting network” is in place isn’t good enough.
Importance…maybe one of the most important aspects of what I’ve listed, could/should be higher on the list. As we can see how important it was for Germany to increase their scouting system. I couldn’t find the numbers, but when they changed their system, they basically doubled or tripled their player network.
Impact…massive. Simple as that. Gives the US player pool a wider variety of players to choose from. I would say, we could even start developing a few different youth national teams that would increase our potential player pool for all competitive levels. Professional clubs scouting more, definitely impacts their ability to increase the level of their DAs and professional teams with domestic players.
6 – Increase availability of fields around the United States.
I took this from the Icelandic Football (KSI). The KSI built facilities. These facilities were used for all age groups, mainly for soccer, but also for an active country. From 2000 to 2007 (or after), there have been 150+ mini-pitches built in Iceland. They’ve also built 6 full-size indoor fields and 17 turf fields. Iceland is 1/1000 the size of the US. Iceland went from 131 in FIFA rankings to 28 in 2 short years. Meanwhile, the US is stagnant (if not dropping). Surely there’s a correlation with more facilities, more soccer, more accessibility, and a positive impact on the soccer community.
Cost…I estimate based on one figure, Beacon Soccer Field in Lansing, Michigan. This was a project of $60,000 for a free, public, lit, turf mini-field in downtown Lansing. My goal: USSF build 5-10 of these a year in various states. Start there. In 5-10 years, every state has one. Then, maybe expand and do more? It could cost as much as $600,000 per year (10 states per year at $60,000 per field). Maybe it could be done for less? But a USSF that has an estimated asset worth of $100+ million, this should be possible. Again, take the “seven figures” from a “rebrand” and inject it here…wow!
Feasibility…definitely feasible, but getting the mentality and financial support will be difficult. The other hindrance, finding the places to put the fields in. There’d be a major push/backlash depending on the cities and areas selected to put fields in. But, no reason it cannot be done. In my mind, pick locations that need facilities…not places that already are overrun with fields (Overland Park, Kansas, as an example).
Importance…this is lower on the list because it isn’t as important as the others I’ve listed…but, it’s still an important aspect of USSF, My Way. I see the impact that KSI field building had in Iceland, it can do the same here. It’s too common to see all these public facilities built that are chained off from public use or the rental fees are too high. No. We need to bring more street/rec/leisure soccer to the forefront. Get kids and adults playing more. This is how we do it.
Impact…the ability to play more, impacts the culture tremendously. The impact could be more than we’ll really know. I know it costs too much to play soccer in the US, doesn’t matter if it’s youth or adult. Free public playing space would open up the game to so many more people. It will also allow for the scouting system to have a place to work, at times.
7 – Increase soccer culture in the soccer community and general public.
I believe with the inclusion/addition/elimination of the #1-6 aspects, we are on our way, but without an increase in our soccer culture, we’ll continue lagging behind in the world’s game. There’s no one way to do this, but a variety of ways and those ways impact the American game in a variety of aspects.
Cost…no cost is incurred, but there is cost in investment in the game (sponsorships, broadcasting, etc.).
Feasibility…not very, at all. Why? We cannot make anyone be more “cultural” in soccer. We cannot force the game on anyone. There’s no true way to increase the soccer culture. It just has to happen a variety of ways. The #1 way to increase the soccer culture is through the home life. This is a major emphasis of Tom Byer (Football Begins at Home). It was also a statement by Bill Shankly, “Coaches do not make great players; mothers and fathers make great players.” In order to get more into soccer, the soccer community needs to have more of an emphasis in itself.
This means, the soccer community cannot care more about March Madness than soccer. This means, the soccer community cannot care more about video games than soccer. This means, the soccer community cannot care more about Mt. Dew than soccer. This means, the soccer community cannot care more about NFL than soccer. This means, the soccer community cannot care more about The Walking Dead than soccer. Too many times, soccer runs secondary (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.) to anything else…even within the soccer community. Because of this, we have the issues we do. Because of this, we have a pay-to-play club structure — it wouldn’t exist if moms and dads knew the game and coached.
While academies rule other countries, more soccer is taught at home, in the streets, in pubs, or anywhere else because soccer is in the culture. Soccer doesn’t get better in the country because a kid plays club 2 times a week in training and a few games at tournaments. Soccer gets better because kids get together and play it…all the time.
Importance…to me, the most important aspect. It’s not #1 because it’s not feasible or likely to change anytime soon. But, it’s so important that it CAN change #1-6 instantly. We have a culture that cares about soccer and its development. When we have a culture that cares, we can make changes. We wouldn’t be faced with the issues if we had a culture of soccer. Sunil Gulati and Don Garber aren’t full of soccer culture. They just don’t have any idea…or there’d be changes instantly. NFHS and NCAA/NAIA/NJCAA/USCAA/NCCAA don’t care or have any idea, because no one there has a soccer mindset on what needs to be done.
Change how things are done, then we’ll see major emphasis in the game at all levels. The college structure changes. The HS structure changes. The club structure changes. The national team changes. The whole system changes (which could be USSF operating all of soccer instead of all separate organizations). It all has changed because the soccer community is looking out for soccer, as a whole.
Impact…again, the biggest impact can be done here. Financially impacted. Development impacted. The whole culture impacts every aspect of the game. It’s viewed more. It’s attended more. People learn and grow more. Players focus more on what’s important through development. Soccer is more available at all levels. Soccer is no longer viewed as something people do as a recreational activity, it’s a mentality and life.
There…7 ways I would do USSF, My Way. Not very concise, but I get going…and I can’t stop. It’s longer. But, it needs to be. There need to be changes. People can impact the world through this game. The game can change this country…dramatically and immediately.
I urge you to get active in the game and don’t wait. If it’s not soccer for you, that’s fine. You can impact people, your community, your state, the country, and the world through whatever your interest is. For me, it’s soccer. It’s US Soccer, and it needs a change.
“If you look at the 209 countries in Fifa only eight have won a World Cup. Try to figure out what’s happening in those countries and why are they developing players at a ridiculous rate and most countries don’t, to me it zeroes down to not so much the coaching is better, but the culture is conducive to developing players.” — Tom Byer