“Fiddler on the Roof “is a musical based on the story of “Teyve and His Daughters “by Sholem Aleichem. Teyve is a poor Jewish milkman who has five
daughters. “If I were a rich man” is a very famous show tune from this musical. Teyve in this song tells what he would do one day if he were rich.
I will tell you instead
what I would have done “If I were the president of U.S. Soccer." Not that I intent to run for it but just to share my thoughts with the candidates -- if they care to read it -- on how to make
U.S. Soccer one of the world’s best based on my years of international soccer experience.
One thing is clear, the Sunil Gulati-Dan Flynn team has been
exceptionally successful in raising the budget of U.S. Soccer. The income of U.S. Soccer has
increased three times (324 %) in 10 years. (2006: $ 39,102,876 and 2016: $126,685,090). This is phenomenal.
Like any smart president would do, if I were the president, I would keep
the organization (staff and projects) intact that succeeded this economic miracle. Without sustaining such an increase, you will not be able to take the correct developmental steps to make USMNT one
of the best in the world.
It is also a well-known fact that money does not necessarily bring happiness and in this case success in soccer. I can quote the budgets of
England and Turkish FAs and their corresponding MNT FIFA rankings and you will understand what I am talking about.
For success, it is obvious that having a soccer culture in
a country is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. A country that lives and dies with soccer like Italy did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Pulisic, who is only 19, said in a Players Tribune article, “The path to the U.S. winning a World
Cup -- it doesn't start with having 'more talent.' It starts with developing the talent that we already have, in the right way." He nailed it.
So if I were the President, I will
concentrate on the development of soccer.
- If I were the President, the first thing I would do is to bring transparency to the Federation so
the administration can be accountable. Right now when you Google you cannot find the number of registered players, licensed coaches and referees. May be it is somewhere hidden, but those numbers
should be clearly visible on the website and real time online. Similarly one cannot access the Strategic Plan of U.S. Soccer. Without knowing the yearly strategic objectives of the Federation neither
the AGM nor the public can measure their success or progress.
- If I were the President, I will ask my legal counselors to find a solution to the
compensation fee and solidarity payment problem. Reading a lot of articles about this dispute, I am inclined to think that such a solution exists in our legal system. This is a critical step in
removing the pressure of pay-to-play system on our player development system. The same legal/financial solution should also give the option to youth development clubs whether they will choose the
pay-to-play system or rely on future earnings from applying the FIFA statues. But not both. This choice could be on a player basis.
- If I were the
President, I will restructure the youth development system. Break it into three categories: Recreational, Competitive and Elite. Although we do not know the exact number of registered youth
players – millions for sure – we also know that quantity does not always yield to quality. We choose the MNT and WNT from a very small percentage of those registered players. That group is
defined as the Elite group. U.S. Soccer should be directly responsible for the development of these Elite players. The Competitive and Recreational soccer and the associated leagues could be run by
USYSA, US Club Soccer, AYSO and others as long as they abide with the Laws of the Game and Player Development Initiative.
- If I were the President,
I will restructure the Developmental Academies (DA). DAs will represent the Elite player level. Right now, there are around 20,000 players under the DA umbrella. It should be expanded to cover more
players and more geographical areas. The objective should be to reach 100,000 players or more. All DA players should play tuition free. The non MLS pay-to-play clubs will
find ways to subsidize the DA players’ expenses. Especially with the new training compensation and solidarity payment system being applicable this will be an easier task. The DAs should be
categorized into two: DAs could either be full-fledged (U12 through U19) (DA1) or U12 through U14 (DA2). The DA1 should be encouraged to have a number of DA2 as their pilot / feeder clubs. The non
MLS/USL DA1s should be asked to affiliate themselves with an adult league (PDL, NPSL, Local Adult league etc.) so that players after the age of 18 who do not turn professional or go to College can
still play competitive soccer under the same club. The standards for DA1 and DA2 should be slightly different. There should also be another level one can call Pre DA. This category is for smaller
clubs with talented players and for clubs at disadvantaged locations. Through this level U.S. Soccer will be able to access geographical and demographical areas it couldn’t access in the past.
Naturally the requirements and standards of Pre DA should be less stringent that the DAs. Once the Pre DAs reach the requirements and standards of DAs they could be promoted to DA status. U.S. Soccer
should elevate its standards and quantity of the scouting staff in parallel with expansion of DAs and Pre DAs. U.S. Soccer should only scout the DAs and Pre DAs. The DAs and
the Pre DAs can scout the Competitive leagues in their region to find talented players. In principle the DA and Pre DA umbrella should be covering all the “Elite” players of this country.
In order to minimize traveling, the DA1s’ leagues could have a North and South time zone–range, the DA2s’ league could be more regional and Pre DAs leagues should at most cover one
state (maybe 1-3 for northeastern states).
- If I were the President, I will develop an eight-year development plan applicable through the
organizational structure outlined above.
- If I were the President, I will approach NCAA and try to convince them to have their leagues both in fall
and spring semesters. Although colleges are not the only or main resource for our MNT and WNT, unlike other sports, still they are an integral part of our system. The development of the players in
colleges should continue in spring semester with competitive games.
- If I were the President, I will ask my staff to carry out a research with
the help of universities to diagnose the reasons why underprivileged communities do not affiliate with U.S. Soccer. There is great talent in those communities. We can see the symptoms -- they stay
away from U.S. Soccer -- but unless we diagnose the reasons we cannot cure the problem. Once the diagnosis is made then U.S. Soccer should find models of how to integrate these leagues and players
into the system. The premature diagnosis of accusing the pay-to-play system and the undocumented players do not reflect the whole reality; there are other reasons behind this
- If I were the President, I will work closely with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and support their mini-pitches project for the
inner-city kids. I will also work closely with major cities so that they take the necessary actions to promote street soccer, especially in areas where the population predominantly consists of
immigrants coming from countries with a soccer culture.
I will continue on my thoughts about the leagues, coaching and refereeing in my next
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of
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, TX.