Assessing US Player Development – Creating A Uniquely American System


Critical to America’s growth as a soccer power is improving player development. While other countries with a long footballing pedigree have massive and sophisticated development systems ingrained into their national cultures, the US is essentially building a system without much of a foundation. As the youth soccer revolution has exploded, it has also exposed some flaws and revealed a void in the later stages of player development. Youth players were dropping off once they got to middle school and high school, choosing other sports instead. Many players from poorer families were gradually losing access to the game, unable to continue playing at a high level, as traveling teams simply cost too much. And the national academy set up at Bradenton, while attracting and developing talented players, simply lacked the breadth to really make a massive structural impact.

However, considerable progress has occurred over the last decade. While there are those that disagree, I tend to think things are largely going in the right direction. But this is not a call for complacency. If the US is going to get to that next level as a soccer power, considerable action will have to be taken to develop and reform US player development.

So what needs to be done? In my view there is no silver bullet to solve the challenges confronting US player development. There is no one-size fits all system or solution that can simply be applied from on high. We are simply too large a country geographically, too diverse, and too socio-economically disparate. Instead it is about creating a layered system that will both prevent players from falling through the cracks and will give young players reasonable options in deciding their future. This means that for the US player development to start humming we will need all levels – professional (MLS, NASL?/USL), educational (NCAA, high school), and federation (USSF youth teams, Bradenton).

Professionally, MLS will have to develop its academies and reserve system and lower division professional soccer will need to serve more as a feeder system as lower divisions in Europe do. At the educational level, NCAA will need to be pushed to reform its format and High School soccer will need to grow in quality. And in terms of the federation, USSF development programs at the youth level will have to expand, as well as invest in the national academy at Bradenton.

I think in the end, America’s development system will be uniquely American. While some aspects should be borrowed from abroad (such as Bradenton), the development system that comes out of this layered approach is one that is distinct and that blends some of what we see in baseball and basketball. Major League Baseball perhaps provides the best model, as it has a mixed approach in which colleges and the draft play a large and important role in player development, but are also bolstered by a massive system of minor league baseball that enables kids to go into straight out of high school. In terms of basketball, the AAU system at the high school level allows kids to play in the offseason and serves as an important vehicle in player development, along with high school basketball. Both these systems are uniquely American and there is no reason why soccer cannot follow this model.

This will be the fist in a series of posts on US player development. Many other bloggers and writers have done similar series (here, here, and here) and we encourage you to read them as well. This series will seek to build off this work and AF’s view over what’s working, what isn’t and what needs to be done.

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3 Responses

  1. […] I also think the quality of play will gradually improve as teams invest in youth development and US talent in general expands and improves. Additionally, the league will lure some solid European players that are in the middle […]

  2. […] I also think the quality of play will gradually improve as teams invest in youth development and US talent in general expands and improves. Additionally, the league will lure some solid European players that are in the middle […]

  3. I agree. I don’t know whether it’s bad manners or just that young bloggers don’t understand the nature of the conversation.

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