The Game Planners Blog
USMNT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF ELITE PLAYERS
The Importance of Club Development (Part 1)
BY AHMET GUVENER Partner, The Game Planners, LLC
About a month ago, I wrote an article about the current roster of the USMNT and its implications to our elite player development. To narrow the gap between the leading MNTs on the planet and to play a semi-final in the World Cup 2026, I suggested the following based on my analysis of the recent USMNT roster.
- Enhance our professional leagues and our system of professional leagues so that we have more players choosing local clubs for their elite development.
- Nurture local youth clubs so that they can develop more talented elite players within the confines of our pay-to-play system and its lack of training compensation and solidarity payment for player development.
- Integrate talented but underprivileged players coming from a strong soccer culture into the system so that we have more players coming from families with a deep soccer culture who are eligible for the USMNT.
While the first two points above reflect the current nature of the top and bottom of our soccer development pyramid, for this article, I will concentrate specifically on youth soccer clubs - the bottom tier of our soccer landscape.
Let us have a look at our youth soccer club scene:
- There are about 6,000 youth soccer clubs in the country registered with U.S. Soccer. There are also a good number of unaffiliated clubs – it is difficult to quantify them exactly but, anecdotally, we know that these represent a very large number – many whose players fly under the radar of scouts. This is a problem U.S. Soccer recently promised to rectify.
- Very few of them are multiple sports youth clubs if you exclude YMCA and church sports organizations.
- They range from recreation clubs with less than one hundred players to ‘super’ clubs with thousands of players.
- They can be roughly categorized into rec/community clubs, travel clubs, and elite clubs.
- They are all pay-to-play clubs with the exception being MLS Next teams which are affiliated to MLS teams.
- There is no training compensation and/or solidarity payments to clubs for players they developed that eventually rise to the professional ranks.
- There is very little interaction between clubs and school soccer – which is free to play. In fact, Development Academy (or DA) players, in the past, were prohibited, almost without exception, from playing soccer for their high schools.
- Most youth clubs are non-profit organizations formed as a 501 (c) (3)s.
To summarize, the youth soccer club system is unique to the U.S. soccer landscape and cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. We must live with this reality.
So, what can be done at the club level to develop elite players here in the U.S.?
(To be continued)