U.S. soccer future bright with focus on youth development

Youth+development+leagues%2C+such+as+MLS+Next%2C+are+the+key+to+United+States+soccer+regaining+international++relevance.+

Youth development leagues, such as MLS Next, are the key to United States soccer regaining international relevance.

Following a horrible and embarrassing loss against Trinidad and Tobago back in 2017, the United States men’s national soccer team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a run of qualifying for seven straight. This humiliating result led to a coaching change, which put Gregg Berhalter in charge and began a full top-to-bottom rebuild of the U.S. men’s national team, from the pros all the way down to youth leagues.

20-year-old American Chris Richards, who plays for Bayern Munich, is one of the bright, young stars who are giving hope to an improved U.S. National Team.

The fact that the U.S. has talented players is certain, with the likes of 22-year-olds Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, playing for European giants Chelsea and Juventus, or even Giovanni Reyna, a 17-year-old having a tremendous season for German side Borussia Dortmund. 

“U.S. soccer definitely is on the rise to greatness. The changes they have made recently have increased the level of soccer,” Olympic Heights sophomore and soccer fanatic Adrian Thomas stated. “Europe has been playing the highest level of soccer for years; just give the U.S. more time and it will be one of the top nations as well.”

Although having top talent around the world is great, the U.S. can’t only focus on the present. The 2022 World Cup will be an amazing opportunity for this team to showcase what it can do, but they need to focus on a major goal. The 2026 World Cup will be held in America, and overall the U.S. men’s national team needs to make sure they put on a show in front of their own fans when the time comes. In order for the American side to have major success in the future, the work needs to start now by developing its young players and building its youth leagues.

Former Haiti national player, now youth coach Jean Alexandre told The Torch, “The most important thing is the base, and the base is youth soccer. If youth soccer is not at the level compared to the other parts of the world then the MLS (Major League Soccer) will always struggle to find the best talent. So it has to start with the youth clubs.” 

MLS is the top soccer league in the United States. In order for the U.S. to have a great, competitive national team, it needs to have a national league that can be in the same category as other major leagues around the world, such as the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga. Both of those top leagues have top-class youth leagues that develop players. Those talented young players start off at a very young age playing for their dream club’s youth academy which focuses on developing their players, and when they are ready, they get moved up to train with the pros in order to develop their skills even more.

 Although not at the same level as European youth leagues, the MLS took a major step this year creating a new, more competitive youth league, the MLS Next. Its main focus is to develop players, preparing them for eventual professional play. The MLS Next includes 119 clubs scattered around the country with over 9,000 young players. The league provides these young athletes an opportunity to play against the highest level of competition and to be coached by experienced, talented coaches.

“It is a process, it is a long process, that is why the MLS Next is being created, to get the younger generations to be able to train with A-Licensed, and B-Licensed coaches, to be able to exceed to the next level by training every single day, having a commitment to the club, working daily during practices, watching videos and more,” MLS Next coach Andres Bolivar stated. “MLS Next is the biggest and most competitive platform that we have so far in the United States, and it is able to help players get one step ahead in their development.”

In an interview released by World Football Index, 20-year-old Chris Richards talked about his experiences, stating that he hopes he can inspire other kids to follow his path. Richards started off playing for the FC Dallas MLS Academy before turning pro at the age of just 19. Just one year later, Richards made his debut for current European champions Bayern Munich. Richards’ journey has been nothing but incredible, as he is now on one of the best clubs in the world. Richards expressed, “I think that us guys have a big effect on the potential academy kids making that jump to Europe [from MLS]. I think they’re seeing that it’s very possible for us [Americans] to do it.” As Richards’ career continues through Bayern Munich, he hopes he can continue to inspire kids through the U.S. national team as well.

Although on the right path, U.S. soccer and the MLS still have their flaws. Commenting on what the MLS can do to become a top league in the world and have an even better youth league, Alexandre stated, “The MLS Next is the right step, but they still could do more. At the end of the day you look at countries who produce some of the best players, those players financially growing up they probably were not the most economically stable, the likes of guys coming from South America, Central America, and even Europe, as well. Here in the U.S., I think youth soccer is too expensive and you miss out on a lot of talent, so I think it starts there. We have to make soccer affordable for all kids.” 

Overall the United States has a bright soccer future ahead, with many young stars in the making. If the Americans continue to emphasize youth development, they can really make a push in the near future to become a successful and accomplished soccer country, getting more and more stars to come play in the MLS and make deeper runs in the future World Cups, which is always the main goal.

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