Something is changing in soccer. Something for the better.


The first signs came immediately on the heels of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s failure to qualify for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup. Suddenly, there was an intense change in narrative on social media and in the broader soccer community: a vibrant discussion about the downside of pay-to-play. Of greatest interest to me, however, were equally passionate calls to focus more time, energy, and resources on providing opportunities for kids in underserved communities to experience the joy and benefits of our game. 

As candidate after candidate for U.S. Soccer President entered the fray late last year, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the major point all eight candidates “agree on is the importance of improving player development, particularly in regards to including players from lower-income backgrounds who can’t afford to participate in the current pay-to-play youth system.”

A few days after the final ballots were tallied at U.S. Soccer’s Annual General Membership meeting in Orlando, I had the opportunity to meet with Carlos Cordeiro in New York. The newly-elected U.S. Soccer President made it clear that he is committed to creating access and opportunities for “kids not registered, kids from underserved communities, [and kids from] more diverse communities.”

In the days and weeks since, individuals and soccer organizations from coast-to-coast have reached out to us here at the U.S. Soccer Foundation to explore ways we might work together to bring our game to children growing up in less fortunate circumstances. For example, the husband of a leader in Oregon’s adult soccer community wants to work with us to bring programming to low-income children in the suburban school district of which he is a board member. Kyle Martino, a TV analyst and recent candidate for U.S. Soccer President, shared his continued commitment to help create safe places for kids to play our game in underserved communities during a recent phone conversation. Leaders from Maryland’s MSI, a 15,000-player youth soccer powerhouse, recently visited our offices in Washington, D.C. to explore ways to reach kids in underserved communities in their county.


And here’s the kicker: none of these conversations focused on finding the next superstar. These conversations were about extending access to our game to children and communities that are not currently part of the broader soccer family. 

Something is changing in soccer. Something for the better. I am incredibly hopeful that we—members of the soccer community at every level in this great country—are beginning to think differently about the game we love. We have begun the process of reimagining what success looks like, and not a moment too soon. 

Most youth sports, not just soccer, are at a critical juncture. Participation numbers are stagnant or dropping at a time when the country is growing. There are a wide range of factors at play that include the increasing cost of participation. Just as important, data collected by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and others suggest that one of the biggest drivers behind the numbers is that children simply aren’t having fun. Too much competition. Too much pressure. At much too young an age.

The elite player pyramid that leads to increasing levels of competition and ultimately produces the young men and women who make up our national and professional teams will always exist. As it should. We want our best players competing at the highest levels. However, soccer leaders from the grassroots to the national level are now giving much needed attention to the 99 percent of youth players who won’t reach those heights. While they may never don a National team or MLS jersey, they are all future fans of our game. They are the people who will make up the teams in local adult leagues. They are the future parents who will enroll their kids in neighborhood soccer programs. They are the consumers who will buy the soccer gear and equipment from the businesses that support our sport. They are the ticket buyers and television viewers.

That’s the business case.

More importantly, youth sports are a key component of any healthy community. That extends beyond physical health. Youth sports connect neighbor to neighbor. Youth sports help children understand the importance of perseverance and to develop the grit that will help them grow and achieve on and off the field. Team sports like soccer provide a fun and engaging informal classroom where children learn leadership, teamwork, accountability to others, and how to win and lose gracefully. Put another way, they learn skills that are directly transferrable to their futures as members of a global workforce. 

When we expand our lens of what youth sports can be—a key component in healthy, vibrant communities and a tool to develop the next generation of leaders—we not only nurture and grow our sport, we nurture and improve our communities.

That’s what excites me most about this emerging conversation in the soccer community. It’s people embracing the idea that by expanding our vision and pursuing additional opportunities to grow our game in every community, we can also leverage soccer’s ability to deliver meaningful and measurable social impact. 

The media caricature of youth sports parents and coaches emphasizes the hyper-competitiveness that sometimes leads to bad behavior. I believe, however, that most soccer parents are just like you and me.  They are people who care about children and about creating an environment through sports that allows them to have fun and that helps nurture their development. That care naturally centers first on our own children. However, based on hundreds of conversations in the last few years, I am convinced that sense of care extends to all children in the broader community. It’s simply who we are as Americans. 

The question now is how do we tap into that sentiment to drive the game forward and to expand opportunities to play, learn and grow for children in underserved communities as well as for our own? We begin by showing people how it can be done, by showing the other side of our game. We remind people what really matters when it comes to youth sports.

At the U.S. Soccer Foundation, our Soccer for Success program will engage more than 65,000 children in underserved communities this school year. But we aren’t stopping there. We’ve set ambitious goals to reach 1 million children and build 1,000 new mini-pitches in underserved communities by 2026.

In addition to getting more kids playing our game—kids who previously did not have that opportunity—independent evaluations have validated significant positive health and youth development outcomes among Soccer for Success participants. While there are other viable approaches to engaging children in underserved communities, we have found that evidence of positive outcomes associated with Soccer for Success helps generate critical support from funders, elected officials and policymakers—and from regular people like you, people who believe that all children should enjoy the health and social benefits of soccer and sports in general. 

There is no secret sauce. Soccer for Success and the work of the U.S. Soccer Foundation is but one part of the solution to creating access and opportunity in underserved communities. We must collaborate with non-traditional partners. We must educate policymakers about the pressing need for more safe places for all our children to play. If our game is to reach its full potential in this country, we must look beyond the needs of our own communities and play whatever role we can to ensure that children growing up in less fortunate circumstances have the opportunity to play. We must make sure that soccer is everyone’s game.

We have a lot of work to do. But we can and we will do it. Let’s get going. Join us at and add your name to the growing list of people who believe.  

Ed Foster-Simeon is the President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.


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  • adidas


    adidas, the Foundation’s Safe Places to Play – Mini-Pitch Partner, supports providing children in underserved communities with safe play spaces nationwide. adidas strives to be the globally leading and most popular sporting goods brand. Dedicated to innovation,  adidas embraces creativity and seeks to be socially responsible in all facets of its brand. For more information, please visit

  • APT


    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit

  • CHA


    CHA Sports, the Foundation’s Supplier for Soccer Facility Design and Planning Services, provides community partners with expertise in soccer facility design. CHA Sport’s full service approach allows the company to build world-class projects without breaking budgets. For more information, please visit

  • The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    DICK’S Sporting Goods and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation believe that participation in sports makes people better. Since 2014, DICK’S and The DICK’S Foundation have pledged more than $100 million to support youth sports teams and leagues in need.  Through our Sports Matter initiative we strive to increase awareness for underfunded youth athletics nationwide and provide much-needed support through equipment, uniform and monetary donations. For more information on Sports Matter, visit

  • Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit

  • Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal, the Foundation’s Official Supplier for goals, seating, boundary equipment, training equipment and coaching accessories, will be supporting a variety of Foundation programs and initiatives including: Soccer for Success, National Training and the Safe Places to Play program. Over thirty years ago, Kwik Goal was founded on the revolutionary concept of providing transportable goals for coaches at all age levels. Since that time, Kwik Goal has continued to focus on helping coaches and soccer programs create safe and dynamic learning environments by supplying high quality, safety tested soccer goals, field equipment and training equipment to the domestic and international market. For more information, please visit



    MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS WORKS is committed to improving the communities where we live and play our games by executing national programs and legacy projects, charitable giving campaigns, and undertaking various initiatives in underserved communities.

  • Musco


    As a proud corporate partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco is dedicated to helping the major charitable arm of American soccer create new opportunities through high-quality sports lighting. Their Total Light Control—TLC for LED™ technology is engineered as a system with lighting, structural, and electrical components designed to work together for streamlined installation and long-term reliability. TLC for LED delivers superior field lighting while eliminating glare and spill from impacting surrounding neighborhoods. And Musco’s long-term warranty covering parts and labor means U.S. Soccer Foundation partners don’t have to handle any maintenance on their system, or pay for it, for 25 years. Visit to learn more about the grant program and application process.

  • SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports, the preferred provider of shin guards to the Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, is a family-owned and operated business specializing in sports equipment, uniforms and apparel. SCORE is an industry leader and has been involved in the sports community for over 40 years. SCORE outfits athletes with high-quality uniforms that SCORE develops, designs and manufactures in the U.S. SCORE takes pride in working with various non-profit groups and causes to give back to athletes who may need some extra support to play the game they love. SCORE is environmentally cautious with the materials it uses for its products and does its part in minimizing our environmental footprint. SCORE proudly offers a wide variety of products to provide customers with a one-stop shop for all your soccer needs. For more information, please visit

  •, the Foundation’s National Partner for Soccer Equipment and Uniforms, was founded in 1984 to provide high quality soccer gear at reasonable prices through its nationally circulated catalog. embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit

  • Target


    Target announced a national partnership with Safe Places to Play in 2017, along with a $6 million commitment to build 100 new soccer play spaces with the U.S. Soccer Foundation by 2020. This is the latest initiative in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s multi-dimensional approach to the sport of soccer, bringing the game to more kids and families across the country, and unlocking access and increasing involvement at all levels.

  • TGI Worldwide

    TGI Worldwide

    TGI Worldwide, the Foundation’s National Partner for Visual Branding (Signage, Event Décor, Pageantry, Sponsorship Activation), Perimeter Field Board Systems, Creative Services and Event Operations is proud to support a variety of initiatives and programs throughout the United States. Headquartered in the U.S., TGI is an internationally recognized sports marketing company delivering high profile Visual Branding, Live Event Management, LED, and cutting edge Digital Sports Applications to enrich the experience at major events and deliver commercial impact for sponsors and partners. The company has a 20-year history in providing its various solutions for many top-tier domestic and international events, organizations, teams and companies, with proven success and turn-key solutions across 1000+ events, 160+ cities and 50+ countries globally.

    For more information on our services, please visit or contact Mike Squire at / Phone: 312-371-5852.

  • World Soccer Shop

    World Soccer Shop

    Launched in 2001, World Soccer Shop is an online soccer retailer based in Birmingham, Alabama. It carries one of the world’s widest selections of officially-licensed products from the sport’s top brands and teams. World Soccer Shop is passionate about soccer and endeavors to spread the beautiful game around the world, especially to those in areas of need. For more information, please visit


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