I have been involved with the US Youth Soccer system since the late 90s. As a player I entered travel soccer very early and would travel to tournaments weekend after weekend, for years. Even when I was younger I realized how many people’s help was needed to keep a strong team together. The system is broken, the youth clubs are profiting off kids and parents dreams. Nothing is wrong with establishing a good business model, but when we get to the point of denying talented players the opportunity to play at the highest level due to money, there is a major problem.
When you look across the soccer landscape, America is literally the only country that has a soccer system setup for failure. We already have to compete with the “cool” sports of basketball and football which our top athletes flock to. Not to mention in the urban communities were most of our top athletic prospects are, they are going to be drawn into those “cool” sports. We need to look to the rest of the world as the model of what to follow.
The system is built for profit at the youth level, clubs need wins to attract not just talent but parents with a fat wallet. Facts are facts, competitive soccer clubs need a wake up call. Our US Soccer Federation needs to really get involved at a granular level and help these clubs come up with system that are not just pay to play. Some clubs offer sponsorship and comps to a player or two, but even that becomes more of like a financial aid thing. Nobody really wants to have that stigma on their kid.
From my point of view, I think each club in the US Soccer system needs to have a minimum amount of free play teams for boys and girls. Let’s say you have 20 teams paying you are required to formulate at least 1 team that includes players that don’t have to pay. This would force clubs to put together their strongest teams not based on just club fees from parents but talent. Tryout advertisements would be much more appealing to parents who think they can’t afford travel soccer. You would quickly see an increase in participation and clubs would be able to reward their top talents, removing the financial element from the parents. Jürgen Klinsmann said it himself, our most talented players are not able to pay for the best coaches. That’s terrible. The US will continue to be mediocre if this is not addressed as soon as possible.