Reshape Soccer in America
MLS Soccer team Chicago Fire. Photo by Daniel Bartel

Reshape Soccer in America

There is a lot of current problems with American soccer right now. I am not talking about the U.S. Women’s National Team’s court case getting denied, but rather the fundamental problems of how soccer is set up in the United States. Certain changes can be made to reshape soccer in America, but it will require altering everything.

The Problems

One of the most important issues to address is how much it costs to put your kids through soccer. Between the equipment and paying for fees, parents look at spending at least a few hundred dollars a season.

This pushes out families that don’t have the financial ability to participate. In turn, this means talented kids may never get the opportunity to play if they can’t afford it.

Another major issue is the lack of education about the sport in America. Soccer is arguably not embedded in our culture the way that football is. What this can lead to, is kids not getting the right nurturing to further themselves in the sport.

Parents may not be aware of what coaching styles may hinder their child’s growth. This primarily can come from coaches that put the need of wanting to win, over the need for developing skills.

A primary factor in why soccer in America is fundamentally built wrong is where the revenue is obtained for clubs. Taking a look at how Europe’s youth programs are built, they are opposite to what it is in America. Here in the U.S., the families have to buy their way into the clubs so their children can play. In Europe, the money for youth clubs comes down from major teams (i.e. FC Barcelona, Liverpool, Arsenal, etc.). In other words, this creates more opportunities for kids that can’t afford to play here.

Another factor is not having relegation here in the U.S. If there were multiple tiers for teams to fight for, this would get people more engaged with the sport.

Lastly, there is a lack of connection for many. Since soccer is not covered like football or basketball there is no sense of connection. There also aren’t lots of professional teams that people can feel connected to since there are only 26 MLS teams in the whole country.

Community and Education

For many people, we can argue that sports changed our lives. So many people are drawn to it because of the sense of connection they get.

Chris Kessell, Coach, President of West Side SC, President of Kanawha Valley Soccer League, and WVSA Board Member, spoke about how soccer is a rich kid sport.

“At the very young ages, soccer is accessible,” said Kessell.

He explained that for younger kids, there are more options for where to play (i.e. the recreational leagues). But as they get older it becomes more expensive and demanding through things like travel. Even for mediocre competitive teams, the parents are still having to pay hundreds for their children to play.

Another major factor in making sure that you find the right coach for your kid. There needs to be a priority in making sure that the nurturing of skills are being met through all stages of playing.

Kids that play can feel like there are “adults that care… outside of their parents or family. That’s so I know that there are people that care about me, I know I belong here and it helps them grow… so they can be successful adults,” said Kessell.

This fundamental feeling of community is what can translate to reshaping soccer. By providing youth programs for all, even those not financially able will help nurture kids to being successful.

This can’t happen without the proper education though. Kessell’s local soccer organization helps provide a coaching education. This helps make sure that the parents are fully invested in the community. These kids are benefitting from being coached by people that care about their growth.

Revenue and Relegation

This is where it moves to how bigger clubs will be able to help reshape soccer in America.

As I touched on before, the money for soccer in the U.S. is backward to the rest of the world. Each team is running as an individual company rather than an asynchronous organization.

Daniel Workman, Host of The Daniel Workman Show, has an idea to connect everything. As of right now, the leagues like MLS and USL, are independent of each other.

“Until everyone is connected into one unified system… then we can’t get the money flowing,” said Workman.

In other words, since the leagues are disconnected this leads to teams fighting for money like a business rather than an organization. If the teams were connected under one revenue umbrella, where the money would be shared between bigger and small clubs, this would ensure that teams are fighting to be the best rather than making money. This would cause teams to focus on developing their players.

It is a cascading effect that is created when clubs can help provide for smaller teams or youth programs. If the money were shared like it is in Europe, there would be opportunities for all kids to be able to play.

Another effect of having connected leagues would be the ability to have relegation. The first step would be making sure that there are more professional teams throughout the country. By connecting all the teams, it creates more opportunities for everyone involved.

Workman talked about if the leagues were more regionalized and were allowed to play in a national playoff, like college sports, then there would be more engagement with the sport. This would create a “tremendous positive impact” on the sport and the community.

He brought up the possibility of having players from around the world wanting to come to the U.S. to play because of the competitive market.

The idea of changing the revenue and adding relegation in America would help change soccer so there would be more opportunities nationally and globally.

Creating Stories

Along with changing the fundamentals of how soccer is organized in the U.S., giving recognition is a big key to the story.

A primary example is Steve Bayley and Chris Reid’s Non League America. Multiple different soccer leagues go unnoticed. A personal favorite of mine is the Vietnamese league in Houston, Texas. These leagues have amazing stories about how soccer has impacted their lives and communities. However, these stories are going unnoticed by the lack of media coverage.

Kessell talked to me about how all lower-division leagues are robbed of storylines. The fans of these teams are deprived of things like transfer news. The lack of coverage also robs the community of bringing in more fans and keeping track of the history of their local teams.

Workman played on a similar idea of telling the stories of lower-division leagues. By highlighting the community that is built through the sport, this allows for a “cascading effect” of engagement by people. Covering the stories of the people impacted by the soccer can impact the future of the sport itself.

Although reshaping the sport to create more opportunities for current and future players is the key, the cultural impact is the biggest factor. Human connections draws people in. If there is a chance to reshape soccer in America in a way that will have a lasting cultural impact, then that is something that should be done. We aren’t just changing the sport; we’re changing the human connections that come from this community as well.