Ibrahimovic Talked About Youth Soccer
Current AC Milan player Zlatan Ibrahimovic talked about how expensive youth soccer is in America. Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA Today Sports Images.

With this pandemic there has been more talk about how soccer is set up in the U.S. There is a huge problem with not having the proper system to bring kids up to the pro level. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic talked about youth soccer in America.

“It has to be said that the sport is expensive, very expensive. For example, in order for my children to play in a good football team, I have to pay $3,500 per child. It is not for the figure, but for the whole concept. I dislike it very much because not everyone has the money needed and the sport should be something for everyone, because it unites people of whatever origin,” Ibrahimović said.

Everywhere else in the world, the system is built to ensure that kids with little opportunities can still play soccer. The major component of this is the promotion/ relegation system. The idea that teams have the opportunity to move through different leagues, means that player development is a major aspect of the sport.

With this system, there is a larger portion of the money that can be handed down through youth programs. By the bigger teams providing the services and equipment, children with little opportunities can still play. The child’s focus is based on their development to be able to stay in the sport, rather than being able to afford it.

With this particular system, it allowed players like Pele, Lionel Messi and Marcus Rashford to get to the pro level. These players came from communities with little opportunities and were able to still play soccer because of their skill and the system. Their emphasis became their development as a player and a person.

In America, the sport is funded by participating families. This means that any kids that can’t afford it, will fall from the sport.

Alejandro Moreno, a retired Venezuelan player and current ESPN FC commentator, touched on how soccer is set up here. He says that everywhere else soccer is a “sport for the masses”. Kids play together in the street and it is culturally embedded into the communities. While in the U.S. it is a “suburban sport.”

When kids are younger, many families can afford to put their kids in soccer. Almost every kid uses soccer as a gateway to other sports. When the kids are young, the sport is more accessible because so many people play it. However, when the kids start getting older families have to take into account travel expenses on top of spending hundreds each season.

Since the system is built for families that have the financial means to play, that means that there is a large portion of the population that is being skipped over. The kids may be extremely talented in soccer, but if they can’t afford it, they will fall out of the system.

A major change that MLS can take on is changing to a promotion/ relegation system. This would be able to mirror everywhere else in the world to allow everyone to play.

Although it is easy to say that it should be changed to that, the execution would be extremely difficult. The MLS team owners and players would all have to agree to take some type of pay decrease to fund the new system. There has to be a way to fund the youth programs and everything that comes with it.

With the pandemic, MLS reported a $1 billion revenue loss this season. This means that they can change the system, but the people would have to be willing to do it.

If they changed the system then more people would be able to play. This would also be great for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT). There would be more player development that would allow the USMNT to be able to compete against any team. We could eventually win a World Cup.

With Ibrahimovic talking about youth soccer in America it will hopefully continue the conversation on how we can help kids with fewer opportunities. Sports is a way for people to connect and it should be available to all. We just need to get enough people to support it to turn the system around.