Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

The Rise of Soccer in the US

dwyerscullion1.jpgI came across the following quote in this week’s issue of Soccer Coach Weekly.

South American soccer is renowned for the skill and quality of its players, its different styles, the interest it attracts among its fans and the dedication they have for the sport. If the South American imports are able to inject all this into MLS, as the great Pelé did when he joined the New York Cosmos in 1977, the league may well undergo such a huge transformation that its teams may eventually compete with the top clubs of Europe, both in success and popularity. Gregory Sica in Sports Illustrated

Gregory Sica is an acknowledged expert on South American soccer and really knows his stuff. However, I’m not convinced that his belief that MLS teams can “compete with the top clubs of Europe, both in success and popularity” is a realistic one.

Have you seen the movie “Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story Of The New York Cosmos”? It tells the story of how a couple of extremely wealthy record executives created the Cosmos from scratch and the story of the trials and tribulations of the team through to its demise in 1985. This is a more a tale of rock and roll glamour and excess than sporting achievement. The Cosmos were first and foremost a business venture and when it became clear that the American public weren’t interested, the club was dissolved.

The New York Cosmos featured, at various times in its 14 year history, some of the world’s greatest players, albeit well past their best – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberta, Johann Neeskins and many other legendary names. I’ve seen footage and the truth is that, despite the obvious quality of many of the individuals, the soccer played was slow, clumsy, tactically naïve and frankly uninspiring.

The fate of the Cosmos mirrored that of the North American Soccer League itself. The average attendance in its first year (1968) was a mere 4,747. By the time the league was dissolved in 1984 the average was 10,769 – clearly not sustainable.

Major League Soccer came back to the States in 1993, really in response to FIFA’s requirement that the USA hava a professional soccer league in advance of the 1994 World Cup. The league failed to set the American public alight and the standard was poor.

David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy was heralded by some as a big step forward for the MLS. I’m not so sure. I don’t believe that expensive foreign imports and has-beens are the answer (although you might argue that this process is what reinvigorated English soccer in the late 80s and early 90s).

So what’s different now? Why does Gregory Sica believe that an influx of South American talent to the MLS could enable it to compete with the European leagues?

Perhaps he believes the issue is that of quality. South American players will no doubt bring skilful, exciting soccer to the American public who, like the rest of us, want to be entertained. But it takes more than that.

I think the issue is more to do with the standard of coaching. And I think that that’s where the good news starts for the MLS. In my experience, American grassroots coaches are extremely open and keen to learn, share and develop. The US has a history of sporting excellence which suggests that when the numbers of young people playing the game reaches critical mass there will be enough homegrown talent to produce a league of real quality. I think that critical mass is here and I think that in 10 years the picture will be entirely different.

There are already signs that there is a new generation of young American players coming through who will be good enough to play at the top level. And as is the case in so many other sports, American coaches are becoming increasingly wise to the realities of the professional game.

I don’t think the MLS needs South American players to achieve success. They need the interest of the American public. That is growing but can it “compete with the top clubs of Europe, both in success and popularity”? Maybe one day, but I don’t think it will be for several generations and I don’t think it will ever have the cultural resonance that it does in England, Spain or Italy.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I agree that South American players aren’t the answer. Bringing in quality coaches, such as Klinsman who oh by the way lives in Huntington Beach, CA, will help a lot. Also I believe getting rid of the ridiculous Salary cap will help as well.

Comment by ironlion27

Thanks for replying. All the evidence I can find from US Soccer and US Youth Soccer suggests that a bright future is right around the corner – they’re certainly a lot more forward thinking and supportive of grassroots than the English FA. In the pub the other night I suggested that the US could win the World Cup in 20 years and was laughed out of court. A bold prediction, but let’s see. The US are simply better at nurturing young athletes.

All the best to you and your team


Comment by soccercoachblog

Thanks for replying ironlion27. Funnily enough, I’ve just written a post on that very subject and I’d like you to be the first to know that we are in fact preparing to launch a “football” version of all of our websites.

All the best to you and your team.


Comment by soccercoachblog

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