By Noah Gins
Stephen Dobson and John Goddard, in the Economics of Football, noted that the FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious football tournament in the world, as well as the most widely viewed and followed sporting event, exceeding even the Olympic Games;
Nearly half of the world’s population watched some part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, either on television or via the Internet. That’s not surprising considering 32 nations competed.
As the final match concluded July 15, much of the world was watching. Among those viewing from afar were Americans, whose stunning absence from the tournament in Russia could mark a turning point for how the institution of soccer in this country is handled at the grassroots level moving forward.
According to Jurgen Klinsmann, the former men’s national team coach, the U.S. absence in the World Cup has set back soccer here by several years. But why did a team in a country with tremendous size and resources fail to qualify? Part of the reason, according to Laurent Dubois, author of The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer, is inaccessibility to soccer on the youth level.
European countries with dominant teams like Germany, France and Belgium “all have a record of doing really sustained grassroots support for sports at the youth level so everyone has access to it,” Dubois said. “If you want to have the best national team, you’ve got to start at the roots in terms of cultivating and supporting the best talent across the board.”
In the last 10 years, U.S. soccer has earned respect on the world stage. However failing to quality for the World Cup against smaller nations has weakened our position. This disappointment has resulted in everyone looking at the soccer system with the intent of improving youth academies.
In 2026, the United States will host the World Cup, so our mission must be to develop 18 players to contend on the world stage. This means we have eight years to develop a team comprised of youth between 14 and 18 years old today in order to compete at this level. This is where our attention, energy and focus must be placed.
In order to do this, the United States Soccer Federation needs to look at its approach, structure, leadership, philosophies, coaches and teams. There is a huge initiative inside U.S. soccer development academies to restructure and professionalize clubs, while also working together more effectively.
We also need to incentivize the development of players in this country. When you incent and motivate the country to develop better soccer players, coaches will make better decisions leading to the development of world-class players. In order to compete with the European model, we must have incentives in place and a business model that will accelerate this process.
Locally, I have worked hard over the last 20 years to incorporate these philosophies in building a professional youth development academy, Albion SC, that offers the highest standards of coaching. It’s a full pyramid approach with the professional Albion Soccer Club at the top. We are working toward grooming players at every level, from youth to college to professional to national in order to compete worldwide.
This is the direction every U.S. club needs to follow. In 20 years, Albion has placed nearly 500 collegiate athletes at some of the most prestigious schools in the nation, awarding more than $30 million in scholarships for both boys and girls. We have also developed collegiate players into both national players and Major League Soccer stars such as Ariel Lassiter.
Albion SC currently has 3,000 players locally in the youth academy with extension clubs in Las Vegas, Orange County and Florida. Our goal is to advance the game of soccer in the United States and develop the best soccer players in the world to compete at every level — including the next FIFA World Cup.
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