The Big Picture and the Future of U.S. Soccer Youth Development

USA TODAY Sports

The Revs academy has done well in producing a future superstar but the bigger picture for MLS should be better grassroots football.

I love Diego Fagundez. I loved his red hair, I love his regular hair, I love his direct approach to the game, his fearlessness, the fact that he doesn't sometimes understand that you can't dribble through brick walls and the fact that he's too young to realize his effect on the game. I also love that he's a product of the Revolution's academy, which in itself is also a product of the Clint Dempsey sale. All these things I love, and with things you love, you want to have it for as long as possible.

Soccer in America is growing. It is big now, but signs are pointing to a growth that the fans have long waited for. The national team is on an unbeaten streak, the Timbers just beat Norwich city and Eddie Johnson thinks he's Pele. These are exciting times. But with great power comes great need for investment. With the popularity of the sport rising in these here United States of America, the powers that be need to start thinking about the future and identity of the sport in this country.

As important as building academies for MLS teams and the NASL may be, there needs to be just as much, and - in my opinion - so much more effort put into the grassroots. Every world power in the sport has understood this. Spain and France built thousands of fields and institutions for their youth/Sunday league players, Germany is a master of providing venues for their youth and past-it-but-still-wants-to-live-out-their-dreams-every-Sunday-while-gasping-for-air players, and in all of these countries - along with Belgium and Holland - the results have been evident.

I have written about the outrageous cost of the grassroots in the United States as well as how it systematically alienates poor children from playing, and I believe that it is time for these issues, as well as the ambition to be a superpower in the soccersphere, to be resolved. The means to do it have surfaced and this is a chance that the United States and MLS cannot let pass. The product is built from the ground up, not from the top down.

What this will do for the state of soccer here will be much more of a reward than the immediate fix begotten from spending invaluable money on the presentation of the product. Providing these players with venues to forge their individual identities on the fields, giving some of them the opportunity to discover the sport, as well as an organized version of it, will also allow the National team to discover its own identity. Let the players dictate the tactic and style according to their strengths rather than making them conform to numbers on a whiteboard and you will have a better team.

As well as the small-time players and academies, the reform for the coaches also has to start soon. Coaches in Spain need to have 750 hours of formal training before they can receive a Pro License. 245 are required in England. America comes in at 30 classroom hours and 40 field sessions hours. That's just ridiculous. And yet, there's an absurd number of A-license coaches in Spain compared to other countries and in very much stark contrast to the low number in the United States. This can not go on like this.

It's time to not only educate the coaches - and educate them properly - but also time to provide for the children and those who need space to play. Because with these two strong pillars in the foundation of US soccer, not too much will be out of reach in the future. Unless of course, if the powers that be use this opportunity to gloss more on the product, disappointing future generations and the fans. As Zidane would say "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"

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