I decided to write this article the moment I finished watching Costa Rica beat the USA, 2-0, so it was written before the Honduras-USA game. The USA might have beaten the Catrachos, tied them or lost
to them. The content and the realities of this article will not be changed with one game.
It will require a small miracle for the USMNT not to qualify for Russia
. It has been qualifying for the
World Cups since 1990 thanks to the recent soccer developments in this country and its unique positioning at Concacaf.
If you consider 1994 World Cup as the genesis of modern soccer in
the USA, then other than 2002 -- when it played in the quarterfinal in 2002 -- the USMNT either dropped out of the race at the round of 16 or after the group stage. (Its average World Cup ranking
after 1990 is 18.3.)
You might think that the World Cups might not be the only metric to measure global success. The other metric is the FIFA rankings, which includes all MNT games.
According to that metric, the USMNT is currently ranked 26th and on average is ranked 20th since the inception of FIFA rankings.
On the other hand, the U.S. youth men's national teams
have not done much better. Since the genesis of modern soccer in the USA, only the U-17 team in 1999 played in a World Cup semifinal. Although the USA has proved to the world that Mexico is not the
sole soccer power or giant in Concacaf and it has won the Gold Cup in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2017, still its goal should be the domination of soccer on a global scale.
bottom line is that the USMNT is a second-tier MNT in soccer. Its longtime rival, Mexico, with a current and average ranking of 14th might be considered border-line first-tier MNT. My standard is that
in order to be a first-tier MNT in the world, you have to be in the top 10th or 15th rankings. I realize that this is subjective but if you look at the top 10-15 MNTs you might agree with me.
What is more disturbing is that a consistent improvement in the rankings for the USMNT since the “genesis” has not been observed. Whereas if you follow countries that were once
second-tier MNTs, like Wales, Belgium and recently Switzerland, you can see a gradual improvement.
I understand that in soccer one has to be patient. It takes at least 10 years of correct
development schemes to harvest the results, like one has witnessed in Germany.
This country with its resources -- both human and financial -- deserves to be in the first tier of MNTs. In
my article some months ago, I have summarized the four pillars on which soccer stands in this country. We are still waiting for the 5th pillar
. I do not think that time by itself will
be the cure for our ailment. One should not do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
In the 1980s, I was in this country and observing the birth of a new era of
soccer development. Boys and girls were playing soccer in big numbers like in no other place on earth, albeit without standards, without good coaching, without pro leagues …
returned back to USA after 30 years, I realized a lot of things have changed. There are 4 million registered soccer players now -- only second to Germany -- better coaches, better refereeing,
two-tiered professional leagues ...
But I also noticed the idiosyncrasies of our soccer world. We do things in a way that no other FIFA member -- or very few -- does or even thinks about
doing. I sat down to think about it and came out with a list of 13 applications which are unique to this country and that list might not be exhaustive.
The purpose of this list is not to
discuss the pros and cons of each one of them, but rather list them. 1. No promotion and relegation in the professional leagues.
I realize that very few countries like Australia
and India also have closed leagues. These countries have similarities to the soccer landscape of the USA. I know that this is brought to the attention of CAS by Miami FC from the NASL.
Unfortunately, my rather limited sports law background and my vast experience with dealing with CAS tells me that CAS will not even consider this case. 2. Single-entity ownership
The first-tier professional league MLS has a single-entity ownership model. 3. Different pro leagues have different structures.
In Division 2, the NASL is owned by the
owners whereas USL is owned privately. 4. Very loose standards for Pro leagues by U.S. Soccer.
U.S. Soccer defines very
loose standards for pro leagues
, whereas everywhere else that I know of, the federation defines through national club licensing system -- or for UEFA through their own club licensing system - the
rules of each tier of professional soccer in great detail. For example, any EPL team will have to be first licensed by the FA to compete in the EPL. Those documents are more than 100 pages long
whereas the U.S. Soccer league standards are only 12 pages long. 5. No training compensation and no solidarity payment for youth clubs.
I know that some clubs took this decision to
FIFA. We will see what happens in the months to come. 6. Pay-to-play system.
The prominent model of youth soccer is based on the pay-to-play model. It is big business. It is also a
chicken-and-egg problem when you consider item No. 5. Without training compensation and solidarity payment the youth clubs’ only source of income is the pay-to-play model. U.S. Soccer and MLS
say that youth clubs charge players so there is no need to pay compensation fee or solidarity payment to them. 7. Different college and high school playing rules than FIFA’s
8. No heading allowed for U-11 players.
9. Unaffiliated leagues.
Due to the pay-to-play system and
relatively high costs of registration, there are a number of unaffiliated leagues. Since no official record is kept, one cannot know the exact number of unaffiliated leagues, but it is a significant
number. One of the reasons for being unaffiliated might be the fear of being undocumented for some leagues and players. But the bottom line is the system does not embrace the whole of the country and
its population. Some of Latinos who have a great soccer culture and talent for soccer are excluded from organized soccer. In other countries, there might be unaffiliated leagues though the
exclusion is not at this proportion. Also the talented ones get a chance to play organized soccer for free. 10. PRO/MLS relation.
There is an organic relation between PRO
(Professional Referee Organization) and MLS. Actually the offices of PRO are in the MLS building. This kind of league and referee organization you will not see elsewhere. 11. Salary
cap and allocation order.
MLS has salary cap and an allocation order for the transfer of players. 12. Fragmented youth soccer organization.
Although all of them are affiliated
with U.S. Soccer there is more than one youth organization for soccer: USYSA, U.S. Club Soccer, AYSO and a few others. 13. Playoffs.
All Pro leagues in the USA use playoffs to
determine the winner of the league. Although MLS also gives a Supporter’s Shield, everyone knows that the real champion is the one who receives the MLS Cup. There are a few countries in the
world that uses playoff system -- e.g. Belgium, Mexico -- but the great majority uses the league standings to determine the champion of the league.
Some of those 13 unique applications
might be very beneficiary to soccer on a global scale: no heading for kids, salary cap/allocation list. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin
said that UEFA might consider a salary cap instead of
Financial Fair Play rules, so some of those unique applications might eventually be exported.
The others might be the result of Law of the Land and/or the American professional
sports’ approach. I have written several articles showing the differences between the classical American professional games -- football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey -- and soccer. There
are more differences than similarities. Basing the professional soccer model on the four major American sports so far did not bring in the results for the USMNT. It might be a successful business
model -- although I have doubts about it -- but U.S. Soccer should primarily be worried about the developmental side of soccer.
Every country has a Law of the Land, but they find ways to
circumvent any obstacles that hinder soccer development. Sometimes they even use the stick of FIFA statues and change the Law of the Land.
I have listed 13 unique applications that are
different than the rest of the world. So far these applications did not move us to the first-tier of MNTs. Maybe it is time to reconsider some of those unique applications. With very positive and
encouraging developmental approaches like the Development Academies and the mandate for small-sided games, maybe time has come to change the governance structure of U.S. Soccer and its approach to the
professional game. Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of
the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a
soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.