Shockingly, the USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – a country with a population of 326 million could not navigate a successful qualification campaign. Panama, population 4 million, did qualify for the World Cup, the first time in its history. I’m no Albert Einstein but it’s clear to see that something is not right with this. Following a successful World Cup in 2014, taking a much-fancied Belgium to extra time in the round of 16, it was predicted that this would be a catalyst for USA soccer. This has not been the case, so what can the USA soccer do to get back on track?
1. MOVE AWAY FROM AGEING STARS – In the 2017 MLS all-star game David Villa, Kaka, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Sebastian Giovinco all started. It’s debatable if these players were selected as a result of performance, what is not debatable is that these are the biggest names in the MLS. For me, this is a bad indicator of where USA soccer is. There needs to be more promising USA talent included in this team which will be tested against the best in the world.
2. FIND A WAY TO COMPETE WITH EUROPEAN TEAMS – This may be a fantasy but the MLS needs to collaborate with the European League to organise an equivalent of the Champions League. A yearly competition where the best teams from across the globe compete for a trophy would be an amazing spectacle but also a fantastic opportunity for young American players. They would get the chance to play in a competitive environment rather than a pre-season friendly. Competing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar would be huge for the growth of players.
3. A REVIEW OF THE COLLEGE SYSTEM – The MLB is the only league in America which does not require years at college to become pro – all other major leagues do. The NFL is a unique case because college prepares players for the pros. Players will be competing against the best young talent in the country. This is not the case for soccer because it is a global game. The best young players in the world will be representing first teams from the age of 15. The best young American players, unless they are in Europe, will not be playing against a high enough standard and lose valuable learning years.
4. MAKE IT A PRIORITY SPORT – The USA has some of the most talented athletes in the world. Imagine the possibilities if Lebron James had dedicated his time to soccer. With recent concerns about the safety of other sports, parents might be inclined to encourage their children to consider prioritising soccer. The USA could quickly become a major world force if the best of its young athletic talent could be persuaded to choose soccer over traditionally popular sports such as football and basketball.