All eyes locked onto Jordan Morris after an unusual deflection gave the U.S. Men’s National Team rookie an opportunity for a debut goal. A slick touch of the ball and a cheeky nutmeg of the goalkeeper later, and the college boy turned international wunderkind was pulling off his best FIFA 16-inspired fist pump celebration for his first international goal, against bitter rivals Mexico, no less.
Morris has never played a professional game in his life, because he is too busy going to classes at Stanford to sign for a team. As a die-hard supporter of the USMNT, I bear a lifelong sour taste in my mouth from seeing young starlets wasted in a nation that seems determined to never compete in the beautiful game.
The juggernauts of World Cup history, such as four-time winners Germany and Italy and five-time winner Brazil, start their players in soccer academies as soon as they demonstrate star potential. The U.S., meanwhile, encourages the importance of balanced development as a person, rather than allowing a soccer player to focus on his trade from a young age.
The U.S. must put talented young players in soccer-specific academies if they ever hope to win a World Cup. Until they wise up and do so, we are doomed to continue our legacy of underachieving against nations who have established youth soccer programs.
With the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle already underway, it’s time to start demanding something of the U.S. soccer player pool. Why are other countries pumping out iconic superstars in bulk while the U.S. struggles to find young talent who help their cause more than hurt it?
The United States discovers their talented players at the college level, like with Morris, or occasionally earlier if a young player makes an impact at an international youth tournament. At the world’s most famous soccer academies, such as Barcelona’s famed La Masia or Ajax’s equally praised De Toekomst, kids are recruited to join at ages as young as 7 or 8, according to a New York Times article.
From that point on, the youngsters eat, sleep and breathe soccer. They have academic classes and teachers at these academies, but the workload is much lighter to allow for plenty of training time. After a year of rigorous work, they find out if they have been invited back for another year of development, or if they’ve reached the end of their road. It sounds cruel and maybe un-American, but it has succeeded in breeding countless legends, including the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Dennis Bergkamp.
While it breaks my heart to admit, our beloved hero and former USMNT captain Landon Donovan doesn’t hold a candle to soccer players of that caliber.
I would never say that receiving a regular high school or college education is a bad choice. That route helps soccer players learn skill sets to fall back on after their careers end. But a soccer player simply cannot maximize his potential in the U.S. youth soccer setup. Not when the competitors around the world are demonstrating how much more serious they are about improving their game.
The notion that soccer players who don’t make it as professionals live fruitless lives after retirement is a farce. Systems have been put in place to help athletes find their way in their post-soccer existence. The Professional Footballers Association education department works with young players to find careers within soccer, such as coaching or getting their medical qualifications to become team doctors, according to a BBC article.
There is little doubt that the U.S. should be a soccer powerhouse based on their continuous success in almost every other world stage athletic event. The nation dominates the Olympics and has tallied the highest medal count for five consecutive summer games.
Morris, our golden boy, may be the exception that makes the rule. He is the first player to receive a call from the Yanks, as the fans patriotically refer to their national team, before ever playing in a professional game since the formative years of the domestic Major League Soccer in the mid-1990s, according to an SB Nation article.
Prioritizing athletic excellence above personal growth is controversial, but the U.S. must get their athletes to commit young if they want to produce American legends and take home the illustrious World Cup trophy.