Following the USA’s shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, fans of the men’s national team are desperate for any shred of hope. Mostly, fans want changes in leadership, in the hopes of promoting wider changes. Germany, which re-organized its youth development and national team system following some late-1990s struggles, is often cited as a model to follow, but a shift in American soccer is not going to be as easy as just copying the German plan.
There are huge differences between soccer in Germany and soccer in the USA.
Germany had a far more unified system, with the Bundesliga at the top and a regional network of clubs developing youth players beneath it. The country required every club in the top two divisions of the Bundesliga to set up performance centers; it also set up hundreds of regional training centers so that every youth player in the country, in theory, would have access to well-trained, paid coaching. It took big investments, but they paid off.
American soccer, meanwhile, is not a unified system — it’s a hodgepodge network of schools, fledgling (and in some cases struggling) professional and semi-professional leagues, a few professional teams that can afford to fund their own academies, and a vast network of club teams, many of which charge huge fees to parents and youth players. The incentives for these various groups don’t line up, and schools and clubs aren’t always rewarded for developing players.
Take young American striker Jordan Morris, for example. Morris was a high-school All-American at Mercer Island High School in Washington, but he also played club soccer for Eastside FC. Later, he was a college All-American at Stanford. Every one of those teams had a different way of training and a different way of playing. Every one of those teams had to fund its own program. And not one of those teams got a dime from MLS or U.S. Soccer when Morris, after being called up to the men’s national team, signed for the Seattle Sounders out of college.
Fixing what’s broken with the men’s national team is going to take un-self-interested thinking from all parties, to figure out how best to organize youth development and the professional game in an enormous country where soccer is still a growing, under-funded sport. The best place to start is figuring out how to get more well-trained coaching for youth players from all corners of the country — especially for players, and clubs, that can’t afford to fund themselves.
Germany had the organization, and it had the money, and a history of international success, and it still had to reinvent itself in order to climb to the top of the soccer world. The USA is starting without any of that, and the best-coached, best-paid, best-funded generation of American players in history just failed abjectly. Getting to the top of the soccer world, for the U.S. men’s national team, is going to be a lot more difficult.
• The National Women’s Soccer League final (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Lifetime) matches up the league’s best two teams across the whole season. Portland overwhelmed Orlando in the semifinals 4-1 while regular-season champion North Carolina got a last-minute winner to beat Chicago 1-0. With Tobin Heath back in the lineup, you have to give the edge to the explosive Thorns offense.
• In Qatar news, Paris Saint-Germain Chairman Nasser Al-Khelafi has been charged by the Swiss government with offering bribes to disgraced FIFA official Jerome Valcke, allegedly in the hopes of getting FIFA to award TV broadcast rights for the World Cup to Qatar-owned beIN Sports. It’s a good example of how Qatar, PSG and beIN Sports are all parts of the same whole.
• The North American Soccer League’s lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, charging that the governing body conspired with Major League Soccer to kill the NASL, has reached the “name-calling” stage. The USSF filed a motion to dismiss the suit, calling the NASL’s claims “nonsensical.” The motion summed up all of the ways in which NASL was a failed league, incapable of continued existence and therefore incapable of being the victim of a conspiracy.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Manchester United at Liverpool, 6:30 a.m. Saturday, NBCSN. It looks like United will be locked in a dogfight with Manchester City for this year’s title, but after a couple of recent disappointing draws, the pressure is on Liverpool. Does the home side still harbor dreams of a title? Or is fourth place good enough?
Bundesliga: RB Leipzig at Borussia Dortmund, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, FS2. This is probably all the advantage Dortmund can hope for in the German title race — a five-point head start on Bayern Munich, which fired manager Carlo Ancelotti after a disappointing start. Leipzig, meanwhile, still hopes for a top-four finish.
La Liga: Barcelona at Atletico Madrid, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, beIN. Atletico moved into a new stadium this season, which took away all of the cramped seating but also much of the charm and home advantage. Now the team needs to find a way to deal with Barcelona, which is undefeated, untied and barely scored upon through seven games this year.
Serie A: AC Milan at Inter Milan, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, beIN. AC Milan spent big in the offseason, but thus far it’s Inter that’s challenging at the top of the league, boasting the league’s best defense. The first Derby di Milano of the year will be a marker for the rest of the season. Which side can keep pace with Juventus and Napoli?