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US Youth Development's Missing Links

Development of youth soccer players in the United States is more myth than reality. There have been a few quality players to come from within the borders, but the best talent still lies elsewhere.

US Men's National Team - Imagine how much greater it could be if we could retain the best soccer talent!
US Men's National Team - Imagine how much greater it could be if we could retain the best soccer talent!
Jamie Sabau

From previous articles, and countless others, we already know development of youth soccer players in the United States is horribly broken. We know the cogs are there, but the wheels just seem to not desire to turn, for one reason or another. Perhaps, it is as simple as too many cogs, not enough chains. If the previous analogy did not lose you, then buckle in for a fun discussion.

In the US there are approximately 9830 tiers of soccer. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but for a parent looking to help their child's development in the game it sure can feel close to that number. You have the Major League Soccer Academies, you have city and state official clubs, you have high school teams and you have college teams. These don't even account for the semi-professional clubs and leagues.

What it all boils down to is really quite a lot of disconnection in player growth and development. The early years of a child's abilities in soccer are quite vital. There is a reason Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and countless others have scouted as young as 8 and 9 years old. In the United States we simply miss the bar when it comes to developing these youths to perform adequately on the world scale.

Why do European clubs scout the United States for such young players?

European clubs want to remove the players with the most potential at the earliest ages from a development system which doesn't actually truly develop players. Sure, we see the Holden's and the Dempsey's, but where are our Messis or our Ronaldos?

Some would argue we miss out on the most athletic, the most gifted because they go play the glamour sports in high school and college. But I've always wondered why. Soccer is a global sport well beyond that of football or basketball, yet the sport in this country can't keep its best talent.

If a player is truly gifted, by the time they reach their teens or twenties, they will have been recruited and coveted by the top European clubs. They won't stay in the United States because the money isn't there, the fame and glamour aren't there.

Certainly, Portugal, Spain, France, England all have a head start on youth development. Soccer in each of those countries is the top tier sport. To play soccer in Europe at the top levels is to simply be world class. To play soccer in the US is to simply be second class.

Until the United States has a clearly defined path to success for youth players, why would they even consider it as a long term career option? Currently, they would bounce from club to club, maybe eventually landing the right fit for their level of talent and ability. Bouncing around is tough on youth players as they need to develop defined structure and relationships with their peers.

Also, keep in mind when a youth player bounces from club to club, they fall under new coaches who have their own coaching style and technical focuses (if any). Youth players need specific focus on various aspects of their game to truly draw out the most of their talent.

I know it is but a pipe dream to ever believe the US will some day have a clearly defined youth development system, but that won't stop me from dreaming about it.