Mac Engel

America’s price point for youth model hurts U.S. men’s soccer

A young England supporter reacts at the end of the Euro 2016 soccer match between England and Iceland in Nice, France on Monday.
A young England supporter reacts at the end of the Euro 2016 soccer match between England and Iceland in Nice, France on Monday. AP

The Viking-led nation of Iceland gets its soccer one-shining moment but the best we can settle for is having our brains beaten in by Messi’s now-retired national left foot.

Only a few days after the English embarrassed themselves by voting the nation out of the European Union with the “Brexit” vote, its prized national soccer team one-upped its citizens in the dangerous drinking game of self-inflicted humiliation.

Iceland, the speck of a nation whose previous zenith was a banking scandal that would make the founders of Arthur Andersen and Bear Stearns brim with pride, eliminated England from the Euro Cup in the knockout stage on Monday.

England is basically the Dallas Cowboys of the international futbol scene: A global brand built on success from generations ago but beset by unrealistic expectations from a fan base that cannot come to grips that their dynasty is dead.

Meanwhile, us Yanks are celebrating a fourth-place finish in the Copa America, which concluded with the U.S. losing in the third place match over the weekend to Colombia.

For Americans over the age of 35, the current state of U.S. soccer is inconceivable. We have a viable pro league, and our men’s national team is no longer an embarrassment and we can beat Mexico.

But unless we change a few things, un-embarrassing is as good as we’re gonna get, and we will never have such an Iceland moment, which is exactly what the game needs here.

As long as U.S. soccer insists on a pay-for-play youth model that is on the backs of parents who dream of their child earning a college scholarship to offset some of the developmental costs, we are in the golden age of American soccer.

The U.S. needs to beat an Italy, a Spain, a France, a Germany, an Argentina or another international big boy in man-on-man competition to inspire the masses and convince the rest of the world we are better than this. As evidenced by the 4-0 loss to Argentina in the Copa America semifinals last week in Houston, we are not close to that day.

You could make a strong case that no team from NAFTA is close to the best teams in Central or South America.

How is this possible? Only in America can we make the single least-expensive sport ever ungodly expensive. This is absurdly stupid —you have to be rich to play soccer in America.

The average price moms and dads are paying for their kids to play youth soccer is about $3,000 per year; sometimes that price tag can hit $7,000.

That’s insane. The financial commitment required to play youth soccer at the higher levels has created a level of entitled expectations by parents that because of their investment their kid should be on scholarship at a four-year school.

In the U.S., parents pay to develop the kid. In foreign countries, the clubs foot the bill. The Major League Soccer teams all have youth academies, which none of them pay for; parents do.

Sometimes a kid may get a “scholarship” or “assistance,” but that usually breeds resentment among the other moms and dads on the team.

As long as this is the paradigm, U.S. soccer will drive away young athletes to other sports where the price tag is not so high, or there is assistance.

It’s not a problem on the women’s side for two reasons: We remain a sexist-pig nation and don’t care about women’s sports as much, and because the U.S. women’s team has been dominant with multiple World Cup titles.

The perception has been for years that our best athletes are not playing men’s soccer. Snobby U.S. soccer fans insist that is not the case.

It is the case. It is not too different than what is going on in baseball here, too. It is not a coincidence some of the best players in baseball are imports.

Sports is supposed to be a meritocracy, but this is the collateral of capitalism.

As long as we are OK with pricing out the cheapest sport in the world, then we should be completely satisfied with the state of the game in this country.

Considering where we started by hosting the 1994 World Cup, fourth place in Copa America and the knockout stage of the World Cup is admirable. We all know there is more to be had.

The U.S. needs to defeat Argentina in the semifinals of the Copa America, and then Chile in the finals. U.S. men’s soccer needs its “Miracle on Ice” equivalent, or in today’s soccer language, it needs Iceland over England.

U.S. soccer has reached a plateau, and the view is not too bad, considering the previous depths of irrelevance, but as long as we price out good players we are “stuck” in the midst of the golden age of American soccer.

Listen to Mac Engel weekdays on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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