For the first time in nearly 30 years, the US Men’s National Team has failed to qualify for the World Cup. Outside of that, in recent years the US has failed to live up to its potential on several occasions. The US Women’s team continues to make strides and find success against powerful international opponents.
But the Men’s team just can’t seem to catch up. From developmental issues to diversity, here’s why the US Men’s team sucks. Following is a transcript of the video.
Manny Ocbazghi: No other sport in the world garners international attention like soccer does, but as an American who grew up playing soccer, I’ve always wondered why the US men’s team kinda just sucked, at least compared to the rest of the world. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the US men’s team has failed to qualify for the World Cup. That is a huge embarrassment.
On the flip side, the US women’s team has been great, winning multiple world cups and Olympic medals. So, why isn’t this the case with US men’s soccer?
The US is the third largest country in the world. It’s not that there isn’t talent, it’s that we’re terrible at spotting it and cultivating it. Basically, there isn’t enough diversity in our elite players. We severely limit our talent pool in a number of ways.
Noah Davis: I think one of the things that limits it is pay-to-play, I mean it’s a problem.
Ocbazghi: Noah Davis has reported on soccer for ESPN and Bleacher Report.
Davis: So pay-to-play is this idea that to be a part of your local club, you have to pay for a spot on the team. In Europe, most of the clubs are free and so you don’t have to pay. The way that those clubs make money is that their professional team or their men’s team makes money and that, you know, that pays for the youth clubs, and you need money to pay-to-play in the US.
Ocbazghi: So, if your family is low income, you don’t have that great of a chance of excelling in the US. Meanwhile, some of soccer’s biggest stars like Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Neymar all come from poverty.
But Manny, school soccer is free. Why can’t kids just play there? Well, they can and do, but that’s actually another reason why US Soccer is falling behind. US schools don’t invest in their teams as much European Soccer Clubs, so as a result, the path of your typical US player is much different than in Europe.
Davis: The soccer ecosystem in the US is not as fully developed as it is in another European Country. In European countries, there are a lot more clubs, at a lot of different levels, and England has, I mean, they have 20 different levels of clubs all different professionalisms. Some are amateur, some are professional. So, in England, if a player is good, he’ll play for his local club, but that club will also have an adult team, so you can kind of, you go up the food chain in a much more natural progression than you do in the US.
Ocbazghi: To get to the NBA, NFL and MLB, players have to beat out thousands and thousands of others. Soccer competition is tough, but your chances are a lot better. That’s because there is a huge disparity in popularity. So, some American athletes that would’ve been great at soccer, may opt for a more popular sport. Another reason US soccer culture isn’t that big is because we lack coaching and scouting talent. Even if there’s an amazing kid, it takes a good scout to find him, and a good coach to train him.
Davis: I do think that one thing when you look at the US that people discount is just the sheer size of the country and if you have an emerging soccer culture, and you don’t have, you know, a ton of scouts, and a ton of teams, it’s very hard to find talent. It’s just like the sheer size of the US makes it difficult to scout and to find the best players just because you know, they’re all over the place.
Ocbazghi: Clint Dempsey, one of the US’s greatest strikers of all time is from a remote town in Texas. Growing up, his parents had to drive him to Dallas for soccer practice. That’s a six hour round trip every day. A deeper scouting pool would have allowed Dempsey to be found a lot easier, along with a ton of other players who couldn’t travel. Meanwhile, Iceland has fewer than 350,000 residents. It’s easier to find the 30 best soccer players in countries that are a fraction of the size of ours.
So, if we want to get better, the US Soccer Federation has to develop a better system. It can’t be the case that potential stars aren’t found because they can’t afford to play or that they’re just overlooked entirely.