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We've allowed our game to be shaped by elitists

I recently caught a podcast on which I was interviewed over the summer about the state of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team in its preparations for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
 
In it, I said the Americans would likely be par for the course — that qualification and advancing out of group play would be sufficient for a successful World Cup run.
 
Yet here, more than 30 days since Sam’s Army famously crashed out of qualifying despite playing in a relatively weak confederation, I realize even my lowest realistic expectations were too lofty.
 
If you pay attention to such things, you’ll know that the fallout was immediate. The Americans’ arrogant second-term head coach Bruce Arena quickly resigned. Sunil Gulati, the longtime president of U.S. Soccer, has several challengers already lining up for the next election cycle.
 
And everywhere you look, people are questioning just what went wrong and more accurately who is truly to blame.
 
For those of us who’ve invested much of our lives to the game in America, I think we all bear some responsibility.
 
That’s because we’ve all played a role in doing what Americans do best: taking something that’s good and pure and milking that sucker for every last dime we can squeeze from it.
 
Think about it. Soccer is one of the few sports that transcends cultures. It’s played in all corners of the Earth, regardless of socioeconomics, climate or topography.
 
Yet here in America, a good number of our young children aren’t able to participate. Why? Because their parents simply can’t afford it.
 
Just over a decade ago, my friend and mentor Ian Holford quit his high school coaching job to launch a soccer club in Wooster. At its crux was the idea of making it accessible to all kids, regardless of economics.
 
Coaches are still paid, and the instruction is still quality, but the club keeps fees and associated costs low to ensure that cost won’t be a limiting factor.
 
After all this is Wayne County. The bulk of our young athletes are coming from the farm. And in case you haven’t noticed, farming isn’t exactly lucrative. But Wayne County is only a small piece of the greater puzzle.  
 
We’re in a country where kids already have a plethora of sporting options to choose from and often have parents guiding them to those sports that are more akin to what they grew up with.
 
As soccer people we’ve allowed our game to be shaped by elitists, excluding vast numbers of kids for reasons other than ability. This is problematic.
 
And although it may not be noticed in the upper echelons of U.S. Soccer as a reason the American men will be sitting at home during a World Cup for the first since 1990, make no mistake about it: The athletes who were never given the chance to place a ball on their foot at a young age are just as telling of our predicament as the ones who were.
 

Published: November 27, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171129964