Kansas City is on the cusp of becoming the epicenter of soccer in the United States. With the opening of the National Training and Coaching Development Center, the future development of elite players, coaches and referees of all ages will be happening right here.
But whether the problem with the pipeline to feed those elite players into the training center gets fixed or not is dependent on the outcome of the election for a new president of U.S. Soccer. This Saturday, 550 delegates — including representatives from Kansas — will vote on a candidate. And thankfully this time around, the election of the next president is no longer a coronation.
The field features non-establishment candidates who came forward because the loss of the men’s national team opened their eyes to the fact that for far too long, the system has been rigged: rigged against underserved youth, rigged against female players and rigged against lower-division leagues.
The Star’s Vahe Gregorian wrote in a November column that an “epic breakdown almost needed to happen to trigger a reformation.” He’s right, but this is the question that needs to be answered: Can delegates resist pressure from soccer’s money men and take this opportunity to vote for change?
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Leaders at the United States Soccer Federation are actively working to cement a system that focuses more on growth in their boardrooms than on American fields. USSF has created a system that stacks the deck in favor of establishment candidates through the unequal allocation of voting power, by cutting back room deals and pressuring voting blocks on behalf on candidates like Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro, who have both been part of the USSF machinery for decades.
On the other end of the spectrum are candidates like former players Eric Wynalda and Hope Solo who represent the vision necessary to take U.S. soccer, and its national training facility in Kansas City, to the place where we need it to be. One key part of that vision is the investment in talent and coach development — something Kansas City knows is crucial to the future of the game.
A quarter of a century into America’s soccer boom, growth hasn’t happened equally up and down the economic ladder. Soccer has thrived in wealthy communities, where the cost of organized soccer or getting coaching licenses and training, has become outrageous.
The result is a system more attuned to identifying the best payers than the best players.
Youth coaches across the country have been looking for an answer to the problem from U.S. Soccer, but have yet to find it. Recruiting talent and developing players who can win world titles takes dedication and money, neither of which have been provided by the establishment at USSF.
Under a Carter or Cordeiro presidency, the siphoning of money is likely to continue. At the recent national coaches’ convention in Philadelphia, Carter flat out admitted that her presidency would be a continuation of the current philosophy at USSF, saying that she is “in favor of what will drive the most revenue.” A focus on more revenue is good if it’s used to benefit the grassroots growth of the game. But what we’ve seen in the past from Carter and Cordeiro is that they’re not interested in growing the pie for everyone.
The failure of the men’s team is reflective of the systematic failure by the establishment at USSF to grow the game nationally, and at all levels. Men’s soccer will never be able to compete internationally as long as it is enmeshed in a class-restrictive youth sports system. A bigger talent pool equals better teams; a smaller talent pool gives you the exact opposite.
When Clint Dempsey’s shot hit the post rather than going in the goal during the World Cup qualifier, it was heartbreaking. But it was also a gift. Because of that missed goal, delegates from Kansas’ youth and adult leagues have the opportunity to vote for change. As one candidate so rightly put it, this election is “an incredible opportunity to take a low point and make it a pivotal moment.”
Let’s hope the Kansas delegates feel the same way.
Brian Hess is the acting executive director for Sports Fans Coalition and has been a sports fan his whole life. Sports Fans Coalition is the nation’s largest sports fan advocacy group that work in the fans’ interest, including actively opposing the public financing of stadiums and media consolidations.