With its fractured soccer player development system, the United States always seems to be on the lookout for something better. For example, U.S. Soccer was so impressed with Germany that it handed over control of the men’s national team to former German head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Now that France has won the World Cup with a young, talented squad, it’s natural to ask what France is doing right, and how the United States can borrow it.
Major League Soccer is ahead of the curve on this. But there’s only so much it can do.
Since 2013, MLS has partnered with the French Football Federation, France’s soccer governing body, to train its academy coaches. France is famous for its elite soccer academies, which are scattered around the country. The most famous, in Clarefontaine, has trained the best of soccer-mad Paris, including current French superstar Kylian Mbappé. MLS’ program, the Elite Club Formation License, tries to train directors and coaches in the same methodology.
Three things hold back the United States from transplanting the entire French system to this side of the Atlantic. The first is its sheer size. France runs a dozen elite academies in a country the size of Texas, with players training at the academies during the week and then going home on the weekend and playing for their home clubs. To duplicate that in the U.S. would take hundreds of elite academies, a cost U.S. Soccer can’t possibly afford.
The second is the fragmented nature of soccer in the United States. Youth players here are confronted with a bewildering array of academies, club teams and school-based programs. Meanwhile, every player on France’s World Cup roster followed a similar career path, starting in the youth academy of his local club, while also sometimes training in one of the elite academies.
From there, he graduated into the reserve or first team of that club, or moved to another team in France or elsewhere. There’s an established pathway to the top, including to the top clubs in Europe, something the United States does not have.
The third thing that holds back the USA is finances. French clubs develop players for their own teams and recoup any transfer fees from selling those players. They also receive payments when those players are transferred to other clubs. These “solidarity payments” are FIFA-mandated but ignored by clubs in the United States. In fact, the question of their legality here is tied up in the court system.
Teaching French methods to American coaches will help MLS academies greatly. It’ll help MLS teams develop better players, and it will be a benefit to the players as well. But it’s impossible to expect that coaching alone can replicate France’s system in the United States.
The USA can borrow from other countries, as it does with France, but eventually it’s going to have to produce its own system to overcome its challenges to developing top-tier soccer players.
• The Premier League season starts in only three weeks. This year, English clubs will be able to sign new players only up until the beginning of the season (previously, the window would go through the end of August). This has touched off a mad scramble, post-World Cup, as teams try to figure out what they need and complete their deals in a compressed time period.
• The latest sign that maybe North America doesn’t need to import every part of world soccer culture happened this week in Ottawa, where Toronto was playing a Canadian championship game against the second-division Fury. Visiting Toronto fans smuggled flares and fireworks into the stadium and, in the second half, lit them off in the type of display that can be seen around the soccer world. Unfortunately, the fans’ fireworks set the group’s banners and flags ablaze as well and burned part of the section the fans were sitting in.
• Miami residents will vote this fall on whether to lease a city-owned golf course, adjacent to the city’s airport west of downtown, to the David Beckham-led MLS Miami group. The group would build a 28,000-seat stadium, pay rent on the land and turn much of the rest of the golf course into a public park.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Friendly: Bayern Munich vs. Paris Saint-Germain, 9 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2. The World Cup ended a week ago and already European club soccer is back, albeit in an exhibition game. If that seems ridiculous, PSG’s first Ligue 1 game is just three weeks away, and Bayern is only five weeks from its first Bundesliga game.
MLS: Atlanta vs. D.C., 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Univision/Twitter.com. This game is in Spanish on Univision, but Twitter.com will broadcast the game with English-language audio. It’s a chance to see Atlanta’s young stars take on Wayne Rooney and his new D.C. teammates, who need a win to climb into the playoff picture.
NWSL: Seattle at Orlando, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime. Three points separate Chicago, Portland, Seattle and Orlando in the standings, but only three of the four can make the playoffs. Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe is having an MVP-caliber year. But can her teammates deal with Orlando’s offensive firepower?
Liga MX: Chivas at Tijuana, 9 p.m. Saturday, FS1. Chivas won the spring-season championship in 2017, then quickly plummeted, finishing 13th and 17th in the two halves of last year’s season. Now manager Matías Almeyda has departed and the club travels to Tijuana, one of the more difficult places to play in Mexico, to open this year’s schedule.