Three reasonable goals for U.S. Soccer

Twenty years ago if soccer supporters in the United States were to make a list of things that they would like it would probably be rather simple:

1) To have a club league

2) To have the chance to consistently appear at the World Cup for both men’s and women’s soccer

3) To have the chance to actually watch soccer on a consistent basis

Although these seem like simple goals the truth is that all three at the time were highly unrealistic or difficult to obtain.

It goes to show how much the culture has shifted over these past twenty years and despite the consternation of many how much things have improved.

The question is now what are three goals that U.S. Soccer supporters could lay out and expect to be resolved within 20 years time.

 

There are certainly many goals to choose from, whether it is promotion and relegation in the club system for the United States and Canada to an American player lifting the European Champions League trophy to the United States Men’s National Team winning the World Cup.

Of course there are certain roadblocks to achieving these goals. Money, resources, time, are all variables that could impact the success of these goals.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being optimistic and it is certainly beyond the scope of possibility of any of these things occurring. But often when has to make projections one has to be realistic and neither of these three situations seems feasible for the foreseeable future.

So what are three reasonable goals for the U.S. Soccer community? Let’s take a look:

1) To build a stronger U.S. Open Cup

The U.S. Open Cup, the American version of the F.A. Cup, has always felt like a bit of a Cousin Oliver in the North American football landscape.

Despite it being the oldest soccer competition here in the United States and holding great stories about the game’s past it has yet to really make a footprint during this current soccer boom. It is a real shame.

There are two main reasons for this. First, Major League Soccer’s interest in the product is at best tepid and at worst annoyed at the prospect of playing in these matches. Teams often use players who are on the lower rungs of the roster and even coaches have been known to skip out on matches.

This lack of interest will only be worsened this year after it was announced that Major League Soccer-owned affiliates will not be playing in the tournament, thus freeing up the senior sides to play academy players.

Second, the coverage of the tournament is very, very poor. Matches in the early rounds often do not have any television or online coverage. Even when MLS sides enter the tournament games are often only shown on the team’s website.

That Open Cup coverage was not included on any of the recent television deals that U.S. Soccer and MLS struck through IMG  is a bit of worrying sign for what the federation truly thinks about their club competition.

Building up this competition seems like a no-brainer. There is nothing more that Americans like more than sports tournaments and the idea of an upset. Watching last year’s derby match between New York City FC and the New York Cosmos gave viewers a glimmer of what could possibly be a great tournament.

Who wouldn’t want to see Sacramento Republic FC take down the Los Angeles Galaxy in a prime-time match?

There are some short-term solutions to the coverage problem. Major League Soccer already offers the Voyageurs Cup coverage on their MLS Live package so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the league could work with the NASL, the USL, and the other lower division sides.

Even at the lowest levels matches are being played at high school facilities which already house television matches for other sports. It is just a matter of U.S. Soccer working with these sides to help finance it.

2) Improve the quality of soccer coverage 

Twenty years ago, soccer supporters in the United States would have taken a match from anywhere in the world just to get their fix of the beautiful game.

The situation was so dire that more often than not indoor soccer would serve as a proper substitute for the lack of European, South American, heck even North American coverage. My how things have changed.

Whereas in the past it was difficult to get even one match on a weekend supporters have the chance to watch or read about hundreds of matches from around the world.

The removal of communication barriers in the early 2000’s due to the internet and Fox Soccer expanded Americans soccer horizons and exposed them to matches and ideas from all around the world.

The problem is that while the quantity of coverage has improved the quality of coverage still has not caught up. When one goes to watch a UEFA Champions League match on Fox Soccer 2 Go and gets no commentary and no graphic explaining the time or the score it makes the whole product come across as a bit cheap.

This unfortunately seems to be a running theme with Fox who certainly cover a plethora of matches but often put little effort into the final product.

 

There is also an unfortunate truth that many who cover the game here in the United States face on an everyday basis: that this is not a full-time gig. While in other countries soccer journalism is a full-time business here in the U.S. it is mostly on a volunteer basis.

Writers and photographers who do not work for a major publication often have to miss out on training camps, practices, and games due to having full-time jobs.

Many websites in particular do not offer the opportunity to be credentialed, instead asking their writers to write “reaction pieces.” The overemphasis on slideshows and catchy titles over fetching interviews and hard-hitting pieces has hampered the industry.

The bullish attitude that Major League Soccer (who have their own media site that acts as a quasi-independent source) and U.S. Soccer One of the biggest questions that always seems to be asked on social media is why soccer reporters do not ask the hard questions.

The answer is simple: they are not given the tools or the medium to do so.

The good news is that both of these issues seem to be changing. With NBCSN and Fox signing new television deals there seems to be a bit more of an emphasis on attention to detail in media production.

These deals are also a good sign for the soccer journalism industry as it is providing more opportunities for young and aspiring writers to work in more professional environments.

3) Make the NWSL profitable

Women’s soccer has perhaps made tremendous strides over the past twenty years and in many ways the game is more successful than men’s domestic soccer. Having won multiple World Cups and Olympic Gold Medals helps.

That being said, the one area where the game still needs work at the club level. After two unsuccessful tries, the National Women’s Soccer League is attempting to build off of the success of the United States Women’s and Canadian Women’s Soccer teams.

With more modest expectations than its predecessors, the NWSL has seen some success particularly in the Cascadia region with the Seattle Reign FC and Portland Thorns.

But salaries are still very low ($6, 842 is the league minimum) and most sides are forced to use unpaid academy players for league matches when international matches conflict with the league schedule.

 

Despite U.S. Soccer bankrolling the league it often puts international friendlies against league matches. It is one thing when it is a World Cup Qualifier in May but a completely different issue when a “World Cup Victory Tour” match is scheduled against  a playoff match.

It is difficult to figure what a successful model looks like for women’s soccer given that there really isn’t a league in the world where success has been seen over a long period (leagues in Europe are just about as old as the NWSL, and most leagues in South America, Asia, and Africa are played at a semi-professional level).

While it means the league is breaking new ground in terms of women’s sports that can be a bit  scary for investors.

As with the Open Cup it comes back to better coverage. Given the success of the Women’s National Team it is apparent that there is an audience for women’s soccer.

The question is now how can the NWSL get people interested in players who might never make Jill Ellis’ starting eleven.

Author Details

Sean Maslin

BPF Columnist, Washington Spirit/D.C. United beat writer and general editor-Prost Amerika, Columnist-Playing for 90. Radio MLS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-mls/id979377624?mt=2

9 thoughts on “Three reasonable goals for U.S. Soccer

  1. MLS soccer doesnt pay well enough to get good international players. The best paying club in MLS , Toronto pays only about $20M for the entire team . The lowest paying team , Red Bulls pays about $3,5M for its
    Roster.
    The league should require higher minimums. Stars palying the their prime on good fields in well designed stadiums will attract interest fans and media.The league must require invesments. The fans will follow.

  2. Forgive me, I don’t believe these three goals are anywhere near ambitious enough. Although more difficult to define, I think the next steps require a true integration of soccer into American culture. Symptoms of that would include more consistent advances through the World Cup rounds, and MLS building clubs that can compete with significant European clubs (if LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders could compete with the likes of West Brom, or VfB Stuttgart or Torino, that would be an indication the US has arrived in World soccer).

    The profitability of NWSL is the most ambitious of the goals above, and would mark a cultural acceptance. It would also be interesting in that we would be creating a unique soccer culture, not replicating someone else’s. I do think, however, that it is the only of the three listed above that are worthy of being called “20-year goals”.

  3. Just give it the same media coverage like the NHL, NBA, MLB gets, so that the fans don’t have to look through hundreds of web pages to find out about the games.

  4. Regarding TV coverage of international games:
    Because of time lag, most of us record and watch the games later in the evening, and probably watch multiple games.
    Stop displaying and mentioning scores of parallel games being played, like the UCL games, played at the same hour.

  5. You kind of have to acknowledge that he have hit sort of ceiling here interest-wise in MLS. Don’t let the large number of kids playing the game in the US fool you. This is not a spectator friendly product…yet. Interest will be capped until there is some new catalyst to bring in more local fans to these games. Wouldn’t be great if there were more US players on US clubs? Wouldn’t it be even greater to have on the squad players who were born and raised, went to HS, played in local clubs or went to college in the same area as these MLS squads? Can you imagine how many friends, aunts, uncles and tremendous local pride would drive excitement and help provide part of the answer to attendance issues? Just as important, can you imagine how many talented high school and college players would stick with the game if they knew they had a greater chance of playing pro ball? Conversely, only die-hard fans can get hugely excited about a local MLS squad filled with so many 2nd\3rd tier players from outside of our country? I believe there is an anti-US player bias at work here as well. Straight up the foreign players may be more talented than the average US player (now), but when you have a certain number of mandatory spots to fill with local players, the US feeder programs will automatically get better to seize this new opportunity. From an evolutionary standpoint this would take us back to a time in the 70s\80s\90s with the English clubs that worked very well where world-class talent was nurtured and developed and played at the highest level on the weekend. Split this country into 4-6 zones (arguably as large if not larger than most countries) and mandate all teams to have some reasonable percentage of players come from these local areas in a phased approach. Once the quality of play improves and the league gets more profitable there is no need to follow the next evolutionary step that has gone too far in the BPL with an over reliance in foreign players and weakened their national team. We actually have a chance here in the next 10 years to build our sport to unprecedented levels and avoid some of the obvious pitfalls along the way.

  6. How about stop trying to make the US league owner-oriented socialistic like the “only in America all-powerful brain-damaging” NFL and adopt a relegation system like the rest of the WORLD.

  7. I think that you are 100% correct in re-thinking the USOC. Make the MLS play in the opening round as Germany,does in their Cup, having Bundesliga clubs play away to the smaller clubs. There are always upsets in Germany every year when this happens and a 3rd or 4th division side bags a win over a Bundesliga side — plus playing the games away at the smaller clubs brings in much-needed revenue for the smaller clubs and the thrill of seeing the big stars like Lewandoski, Muller, Aubameyang playing at their local stadiums.

    A knockout competition should create a great deal of excitement, but apparently the USSF aren’t interested in making the USOC everything it could be —- all we have to do is look at March Madness or the FA Cup to see the potential. With all the money accumulated by the USSF, one would imagine that the financial prize for making the latter rounds of the USOC could easily be increased.and provide some motivation. But in the end, it’s up to the USSF to make some effort..

  8. I really do not care to watch older former star players being the team leaders and the best players on the pitch. I would rather see our youth move into those roles. The MLS plays on artificial turf and that changes the complexion of the game to the point I simply cannot stand to see any more ball skipping way from players trying to cope with it. The result of this is I would rather watch the US women’s team play rather than run the gambit of frustration with the men’s national team. I am one of those that played soccer back in the day when there was simply no coverage. The game I love has moved away from the purity of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*