American soccer has a lot of decisions to make in the coming years. Perhaps it will decide to stay the course, an act that has become a decision in itself amidst mounting pressure to change. I’m not sure what the right answers will be, but I worry we aren’t approaching them properly. Before we can make intelligent decisions, we need to frame the questions the right way. When we truly grasp the depth of the questions, then we can start to find good answers. One topic that’s on everyone’s mind and that just doesn't feel right to me right is “pay-to-play.”
The present system has clearly failed a large chunk of potential players. The current model that often requires thousands of dollars to play competitive soccer obviously omits a big swath of the American population. We skip over kids who cannot afford the costs. American soccer fans can only wonder how good all of those players could have become.
But we need to remember: those players we missed aren’t commodities, they are kids. We haven’t failed the American soccer system, we have failed the children. We keep talking about how much these kids could help our national team. What about how much we could help these kids? It’s not a missed opportunity to improve American soccer, it’s a missed opportunity to provide a human being with an opportunity to chase a dream.
It's a problem pervasive throughout American society. We don't have an issue unique to soccer. We have an American issue that finally hits many of us in our home because it relates to soccer.
I realize some people only think of change in terms of revenue. Perhaps it's productive to discuss human equality and the American dream in terms of the bottom line and the potential returns on investment. I'd like to think our American soccer society is bigger than those people.
Return of investment is the wrong way to discuss soccer or kids. We shouldn't find a way to change the pay-for-play system in American soccer because it helps US Soccer qualify for a World Cup. We should find a way to change the pay-for-play system because it's at the core of the ethos our country.
When we talk about pay-for-play, let's frame the question to make sure it's about the kids, creating opportunity, and living in a society we believe in, not what the kids can do for us.
I don't have an answer on how to fix the current system. But the way we are approaching it right now feels wrong. We shouldn't talk about the system in relation to our path toward a World Cup victory; we have more at stake than that.
I'm a sucker for the idea of creating a larger purpose to ideas, but it seems that when we start to think about the questions with a deeper set of intentions we will start to find the true soul of American soccer that we have been searching for. Maybe then the answers will start to become more clear.