Like you, and like fans across the country, I was disappointed that the United States did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Those feelings are natural and to be expected. Soccer has become an inextricable part of the fabric of American life. Participating in this summer’s games would have added additional excitement and momentum to the incredible growth of the game. Although that won’t happen this cycle, it is important to pause and note two things.
First, the game’s decades-long growth trajectory will continue. Tuesday night’s setback won’t stop that. Second, the work of the U.S. Soccer Foundation becomes even more important as we create access and opportunity for children from underserved communities to play our game. The strategy and goals being pursued by the Foundation to make soccer accessible to all youth who want to play, no matter who they are or where they live, are a pivotal part of a national effort to advance our game to the next level.
One of the most consistent and heated narratives in traditional and social media during the last 36 hours has centered on the pay-to play model in youth soccer. Put simply, pay-to-play excludes too many children. The Foundation has recognized that for some time. Our long-term commitment to ensuring that children in underserved communities have free access and opportunities to participate in our game is a critical part of the path forward.
That’s why we are providing free, quality soccer programming right in underserved neighborhoods where our youth live, play and go to school. We are building mini-pitches in urban areas, transforming the national landscape with small courts that are perfect for organized soccer programming, neighborhood pick-up games and skills development. We place an emphasis on coach training – eight hours of training for every Soccer for Success coach. Our ‘coach-mentors’ are trained role models who help children ages 6-12 develop the skills needed to succeed both on and off the playing field.
Yes, there’s disappointment, but this is a defining moment and opportunity for soccer in America. It’s an opportunity to change the narrative. Soccer can’t be a sport only for those who can afford pay-to-play. We must grow the game for everyone — and make sure all youth have the opportunity to play. Some of those children will have the talent and drive to one day wear a National Team jersey and help lead us to victory. More importantly, all of our youth and our communities will benefit from Soccer for Success programming that develops a love for the game and helps every kid reach his or her potential.