Very good post on what is holding us back. Read the comments also!

 

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

7 thoughts on “Very good post on what is holding us back. Read the comments also!

  1. Ahhh, the joys of US Soccer. Its all so “money driven”. Out of the 8 comments you made above, 6 of them are money related. I include the items on manipulative coaches and playing to win etc, because that is coaches who are being incentivized incorrectly, and are playing for their jobs. As in, if they develop players and in turn lose, they will not be coaching for very much longer.

    The “scholarship as retention tool” point is interesting. I can see the really good kids, with parents who know what they have, starting that conversation with “We will come and play for you if you give us a free ride”. If your club and team philosophy is to win, to attract still more great players, then you’re probably going to bite. Who loses? All the parents paying for their kids to play on the tier 2, 3, 4 teams. Whats amazing to me is not that this happens, but that the parents on the lower level teams dont see it.

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    • Scholarship are also used to retain promising kids that become disillusioned with the coaching and politics and atmosphere there. They don’t want a kid like that to go to the Force academy, for example. I don’t know how many kids are retained this way, but I do know there are some.

      Parents on the lower teams don’t know because the financials are not discussed and many are star-struck. They take considerable satisfaction from having their kid at Earthquakes. So critical thinking can be overwhelmed by emotion.

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  2. Good article, with lots of comments adding insights and some numbers. For me the issue is:
    1. MLS is a monopoly. They will protect themselves at all costs, whihc means there will be fewer MLS clubs which in turn means fewer Acadamies with free play for better players. That wont chnage any time soon.
    2. You dont get to an Academy team without having played a lot of soccer at a high youth level, which in turn costs a lot of money. So, just adding more free academies doesnt fix the problem. You need more “free play” of the kids (as in playiing in their own time), and you need more scholorships at youth clubs.
    3. Clubs will never get paid for players in the US – MLS has taken care of that in the courts. So, there is no “invest now for payoff later”.
    4. Who has the money in the US? The MLS. One player under full scholarship for a year costs, lets say $5000 when averaged out from U8 thru U18. Thats a cost for that player of $50,000 that someone is going to have to bear. Even if the true cost is half that, its still $25k per player.
    5. For a club with 500 players, each scholarship at $2500 a year is $5 charged to every other player. If you give a full ride to one boy and one girl at each age group, thats 20 scholarships at $100 per other player. Are other parents willing to pay that? They’ll say they are, but my experience says otherwiese when it comes time to write the check.
    6. All this is probably moot. European clubs have seen the ineptitude of the MLS and the current US system, and are coming in and taking over/rebranding US clubs. See PSA – Liverpool, AFC – Bayern Munich as local examples. They will dictate the training methodology, probably incentivize scholarships over time, and pluck the really good US players out of the US system and over to Europe – all for free. That will leave the MLS with the 2nd tier players, and relegated to medioctity in perpetuity. If the MLS doesnt see this ocming they are nuts!

    Andrew

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    • Great comments, Andrew. Thank you for sharing!

      I agree with the challenges a monopoly brings and, like Gary Kleiban, I believe that ultimately only a Pro Rel system is sustainable if we want to compete in an international open system AND deliver the increasing entertainment value that will attract more folks and dollars to soccer here in our country. And hopefully also a World Cup trophy at some point!

      However, with my business/finance/startup background I can also relate to how difficult it is to attract big dollars to something relatively new such as soccer in our country. Nothing much existed 20 years ago and even 10 years ago soccer as a professional sport that can generate a return on investment was very risky. It still is risky actually – we’re still in many ways in start-up mode….maybe closer to pre-IPO, but definitely not on sound footing yet.

      In other words, soccer here isn’t Facebook or Apple or Google…yet. But it’s also not a new startup anymore, of course.

      So the MLS model with co-ownership by the pro-club investors and guaranteed slice of any revenue generated (because clubs can’t be relegated) was probably needed 20 or even 10 years ago to make the risk-reward equation more acceptable to potential investors in pro-clubs. It’s easy to forget how underdeveloped soccer was here until recently. There was zero money to be made and even today the money from selling TV rights is small still.

      Take on example: the just announced $100M stadium project by Sac Republic, which is part of their application to get into MLS in a year or two. Would the money behind Sac Republic be willing to invest this kind money without the current MLS model?

      Now, of course, the big question is whether a monopoly like the MLS will ever want to open themselves up and switch to an open Pro Rel system. And if not then what will it take to force them to do it when the time is right? I suspect that the public pressure and pressure from US Soccer will have to get real strong and they might not be able to elevate the entertainment value enough with the existing system, which means many fewer dollars for the investors over the long-term.

      An open Pro Rel system might well make investors much more money over the long-term because this competitive system will increase the quality of players and coaches etc. and lead to better entertainment and hence more money from TV rights, merchandizing, and ticket sales etc.. Investors/owners would also have to accept the risk of relegation, of course. But at some point investors/owners will conclude that they are leaving too much money on the table with the existing closed system and are going to be willing to take that relegation risk.

      And when is the time truly ‘right’? Some folks say it’s overdue, some say ‘now’, some say soccer isn’t mature enough yet.

      So I see valid arguments from both sides. Or, to be more precise, I’m still thinking through the various arguments and facts and haven’t come to a conclusion yet. Still chewing on it.

      I’ll reply shortly with some comments on your other points.

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    • The pro-club academies have officially recently expanded all the way down to U12, and unofficially some have all the way down to U8, I believe. And scholarships are part of the way they work – a lot of of the first team kids in each age group get scholarships either because they have no money or as a retention tool.

      And it’s the (possibly delusional?) parents of the kids that are playing on the 2nd and 3rd teams that are paying for these scholarships, often without knowing.

      My understanding is that the cost of scholarships are not covered by the pro-club….it’s the other families that are paying for these. This is also why academies need a 2nd and 3rd (and 4th team) in each age group. This is shady in my view if it’s not disclosed properly.

      It’s the Wild West right now in academy-land. For sure the Earthquakes Academy is a mess below U14.

      Your last comment about MLS ending up with the 2nd tier players is very interesting. I hadn’t thought of this dynamic before. Thank you for pointing that out.

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      • James, thanks for your posts. I appreciate your effort having this blog up for all of us.

        Question – What leads you to say, “For sure the Earthquakes Academy is a mess below U14”? I’m honestly wondering as part of our club search.

        Pat

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        • Thank you for your positive feedback, Pat!

          I have a handful of good friends that are either at the Earthquakes Academy currently or were there for a while and then left. All of them in the U13 and below age groups. And I trust them – I have no reason to believe that they are making things up.

          The issues there include:

          * lack of consistent curriculum and player development philosophy below U14
          * quality of coaches varies considerably
          * infighting amongst coaches, including starting competing team in same age group
          * some coaches play to win, not to develop players – for example, guest players from outside club were brought to tourney to increase chance of winning
          * manipulative and/or misleading communications from some coaches
          * lack of transparency regarding the financial aspects – families on the lower teams not aware that their fees are being used to subsidize the first team in each age group
          * scholarships being used as a retention tool, not necessarily needs-based
          * negative culture amongst the parents on some teams, maybe because everyone is worried about their son’s position versus the other players on the team

          Overall, I have the strong impression that it’s a very political environment with a weak player development curriculum. Coaches below U14 seem to be able to do as they please. You’d expect our pro-team to be the leading place for youth development here, but apparently it’s far from it.

          I hope this helps. If you join I’d love to get your feedback at some point in the future please.

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