Regaining lost momentum amidst finding a solution is U.S. Soccer's biggest challenge post-mortem
The United States will not participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
That's a very difficult sentence to write, and one that I've stared at for several minutes before continuing on with this article.
October 10, 2017, is a day that will be etched into the memory banks of every single player, coach, executive and supporter of the United States Men's National Team. USSF, as we know, it died a horrible death on the rain-soaked pitch of Ato Bolden Stadium in Trinidad with the Yanks unable to overcome a 2-0 deficit, succumbing to the Soca Warriors by a final score of 2-1.
While supporters sit in bars across the country, licking their wounds and staring into their half-drank glasses, the question that will eventually come to everyone's mind is the same one:
"How could this happen?"
The answer to that question is a complicated one, and while we're going to hear a lot about recent scapegoats such as Bruce Arena and Jürgen Klinsmann, the problem runs far deeper than the appointment of managers. While small decisions such as Arena's failure to call up top players such as Fabian Johnson are going to loom large, there are other problems to worry about.
#1 The United States youth system is a mess
The United States is quite unique when it comes to the beautiful game, and not in a good way. Many nations around the world have youth systems entrenched with the biggest clubs in their top divisions, going as far down as the U-8 level. Players go to school and train with the club throughout their adolescence. While other countries such as England have different issues in their youth system, it can be argued that USSF and it's youth governing bodies put profit above everything else.
USSF recognises several groups, including USYS, USCS, and AYSO. Essentially, USSF allows these groups to operate independently (to an extent) which allows the groups to enlist a pay-to-play system that ultimately freezes out a lot of youth. Looking up any chapter to see what the start-up fees are, and you'll find numbers that can push into four figures just for a single season and can be as short as just four months.
Some leagues are figuring this out and find ways to subsidise the cost for players, such as getting sponsorships. However, there are plenty of instances where academies are charging for everything including travel, training, uniforms, etc. MLS is far from immune to the criticism as well, and their youth academies may be the worst offenders.
Pay-to-play is obviously the biggest issue here. Coaches that are tasked with the challenge of trying to train players and find playing time for all of them, regardless of their skill level, causes the system to fracture. Granted, MLS youth academies are far harder to get into and only the best survive the cuts. With the other leagues that are far more widespread? Pay-to-play is always going to be the model unless USSF steps up and figures out an alternative.