US Soccer Development – Part 1

Like all US soccer fans, we are disappointed that the US will not be playing in Russia. This starts a series of how we can help soccer development in the United States. We look forward to a discussion on this topic as we cover it for the next several months. Join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

The Aspen Institute estimates there are five million youth soccer players in the United States. There are possibly more youth soccer players in the US than 120 countries have in their own country’s population! Why has it seemed that the US has lacked in the world’s game with competitive young players?

We love to see the success of the USYNT U17s in the 2017 U17 World Cup in India. Christian Pulisic playing at Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League gives young American soccer players a tremendous role model. How can this high level continue to increase? Through the emphasis in playing young players at the highest levels that the player can attain when he/she can.

In the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the USMNT average age was 27.8, which was near the middle of the pack for the tournament. Qualifying for 2018 World Cup in Brazil, the USMNT average age was 29.4. That statistic would have put the USMNT as the oldest team in the 2014 World Cup. It shows that there are fewer young players getting USMNT senior team experience. Germany lifted the World Cup in Brazil with an average aged team at 26.3 years old (6th youngest team in the 32-team tournament). A study of the 20 World Cup winning countries, the average age is 27.5 years old. There have only been two World Cup winners that were older than the 2018 qualifying USMNT (1962 Brazil and 2006 Italy).

Das Reboot is an oft-referred to book when it comes to the resurgence of a national team. The book explains how Germany used youth development to get to the top of the world in soccer. The German “wake up call” came when their national team failed in Euro 2000 and 2004, losing to Latvia, Portugal, and Czech Republic. A major emphasis by the German federation was to get the highest-possible number of talents enjoying the highest-possible playing possibilities as early as possible.

In the US professional soccer world, only three of the top 10 oldest (average age) MLS teams made the 2017 playoffs. Yet, only two of the bottom 10 youngest (average age) MLS teams missed out on the playoffs. The average age of all MLS team rosters was 26.3 years old. In the second division, the average age for USL and NASL is 24.2 and 27.8 years old, respectively. Compare that age to the USMNT average age of 29.4 years old.

How can we replicate the German ideology into the US soccer landscape? How does it affect you as a coach? How does it affect you as a parent? How does it affect you as a player?

As a coach, can you ensure your players are playing at the level that best suits THEIR ability, regardless of age or size. If that allows them to play up, allow them to play up. If that means they need to find a new club for advanced development, encourage it and support it. We are in the development landscape together.

As a parent, it is important that your child is in an environment that encourages growth and development. Quality training time must be partnered with quality match experience. It may be “prestigious” to play up with a certain club, but if there are few minutes, maybe it is best to find the place where your child can get more minutes while also getting the training necessary.

As a player, you should want to play at the highest level possible. Get experiences with advanced levels as much as possible. It allows you to gauge where you are in development and others are as well. It may feel good to get picked at the “dream club” or varsity level. But, if you are not gaining quality match opportunities that are partnered with the training, you must find a way to get more minutes. No amount of training can replicate what match experience brings.

As a country, the soccer world should be pushing for the young talent to rise to the top as early as they can, and seek quality training that is directly related to quality competitive playing experience. We are all in the development game together, and it does not have to come into conflict with a winning mentality.

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