Feetball in America
Part II: Availability
“Its finally happened.” On a warm night in the famed Maracanã, football royalty, led by its young Prince, at last achieved what had been the unachievable. The kid, from a poor neighborhood in Mogi das Cruzes, with the weight of the nation on his back delivered the only prize Brazilian football had yet to win. Neymar, helped realize the dream, and today every Brazilian around the world can feel that winning synthesis coursing through their veins. Neymar is now KING. Where is the Neymar in America??? Now before you answer that question, don’t think about it from a talent perspective, but on a socioeconomic level, and that’s what we look to delve into.
Football is seen around the world as the beautiful game, yet it is also nicknamed the sport of poverty. Many kids learn the game barefoot, on dirt field kicking a round object that could pass as a ball by definition. However, in the United States, football is the sport of the ruling class, the middle/upper class, overwhelmingly Caucasian.
Football is very expensive to play at the youth level in America. FC Barcelona offers camps and clinics all across America, with them frequently costing over $500 just to register for the 2–3 day training sessions, with their bigger clinics upwards of $2,000. At this price it pushes a lot of potential talents away from the sport as more than just a recreational thing or a precursor to choosing basketball, baseball or the more popular version of football stateside. A talent like Clint Dempsey, who I feel never realized his full potential, but that is another story for another day, was almost priced out of the sport. After being scouted, Dempsey’s family needed support of the families of fellow teammates to help with the costs of the sport at the youth levels.
This is just an example of a story likely told many times everyday across the country. In the case of the NFL and NBA most of the supremely talented players come from some of the poorest areas in the country. Many USMNT skeptics state, “if only our best athletes played…” well that likely cannot happen as it is too expensive for our best athletes to play. American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), one of the leading youth outlets in America is in short a mess and outsources many of its camps to various corporate entities, colleges etc who also have bottom lines to meet. The US Development Academy (DA) is only ten years old but gave birth to many of the MLS academies which are still in their infancy and only take on handfuls off kids. The DA’s mission is to develop World-Class players; we’ll give that one a little time. A DA graduate, DeAndre Yedlin seems to be doing alright so far. However due to limits in space most players are left with the one option that drives up the cost, TRAVEL Football.
Anyone that has lived in America knows how massive the country is and if you have played sports for middle school or high school outside of the big cities you also know how far those bus rides to away games in your conference can be. Now think about your family footing those travel costs every weekend, over multiple seasons a year. This is all considering if you ever live near one of these travel teams or a US Soccer Youth Development Academy. You are almost sh*t out of luck If you live outside the known soccer hubs in America or you have the money to move about freely. In the end some of the better players are left behind for those who can afford it, and those left behind look to one last outlet.
College soccer is the last gasp attempt in development for a youth player, unfortunately there are three things that can hinder meaningful development. Cost is still a big factor, as college athletes aren’t paid, and a scholarship may be full or partial and college is EXPENSIVE. Developing into a great player at the college level is difficult due to NCAA athlete restrictions on practice time and needing to balance your play with term papers and stoichiometry. Can Cristiano balance an equation? I do not know but what I do know is he can go top bins on command. Lastly, is development compared to age-mates. College roughly doesn’t start until 17/18 years old in the US. At 18 Marcus Rashford was bagging a 1st half brace against Arsenal in one of the most famous soccer grounds in the world. In college you are already behind the curve.
We need to amend the Box Tops for Education in America to include footy. Give the youth a chance or continue with the current system and be on the proverbial cusp forever.