By Stephanie Gardner

It was an incredible event displaying US-youth soccer championship games in Overland Park, KS, this past weekend.  The talent definitely showed up.  I was elated at the thought that America is finally starting to “shoot the gap”;  the gap between kids soccer and MLS.

To be honest, in the past, it has been heartbreaking to see that the #1 kid sport is also the least favorite professional sport in America.  Why is that?  What happens between AYSO and MLS where Americans lose interest, and kids change their dreams from becoming a MLS All-star to becoming a professional NBA or NFL player?

I recently interviewed up-and-coming soccer star, Matthew Glazier, 17, playing for Colorado Ice in Denver, CO, about his thoughts on why soccer enthusiasm fades out.  He shed some great insight on the subject….

How would you compare a young soccer athlete dreaming of his future in the MLS with a young basketball player dreaming of his future in the NBA?

For young soccer and basketball players, I would say the dreams are relatively the same. They live and breathe their sport, and all they want to do is have fun playing the game they love. As they grow in the sport, that dream of doing what they love becomes the dream of playing for a living. The only difference is the game they’re playing.

What is a young soccer player’s biggest obstacle in becoming a professional soccer player in the US?

I’d say lifestyle. In the US, soccer is a game; not a lifestyle, as it would be in, say, England. As a result, kids aren’t necessarily raised primarily to play soccer; and if they don’t have parents that were soccer freaks themselves, chances are the children won’t have as many opportunities to live their game as opposed to just playing it.

What opportunities do high school soccer players have in getting noticed by MLS clubs?

Well, I come from a very small high school, so kids in high schools such as mine don’t have much of a chance. But I’ve had friends from larger schools get noticed and receive scholarships to play soccer. I’ve also had scouts at my club games, so getting noticed as a high school soccer player is not unheard of. In-state and out-of-state tournaments are also great venues to get noticed. But they are very expensive.

Are there enough platforms out there where talented young soccer players can get recognized?

The parents have to be dedicated. Getting started young in a good football club is the easiest and best pathway for a young player to take. However, good clubs can be very expensive, and the parents have to love soccer themselves to be willing to pay for their children’s club experience. Also, many high school students simply cannot be on traveling highly-competitive teams because of traveling hours and unwillingness of US high schools to comply. I’ve heard of international schools that focus on soccer as well as academics, so the students play in tourneys regularly without missing any school. Having these schools in America would be wonderful. I wish I could’ve gone to one.

What happens between AYSO and MLS that causes the soccer  “enthusiasm” to break down?

I think that, as Americans get older, they get more and more impatient. Two or three goals in a 90-minute period isn’t exciting enough to an (American) football-crazed nation anymore. It’s so easy and fairly inexpensive to start a kid in soccer that many families go for that right away. But the kids get older and peer pressure kicks in, generating more and more hype for sports such as football, basketball, and baseball; and less and less towards soccer. That peer pressure aspect also kicks in between AYSO and MLS. Many children begin to be taught that soccer is a “sissy sport”, and they quit. Also, the anticipation of MLS play is not quite as exciting as it would be for playing in La Liga or the EPL. Players in the MLS are generally lower-payed and less-heard-of. Many AYSO veterans don’t see the point in going into a career in a league as small (yet it IS growing rapidly) and inexperienced as the MLS.

Who was your soccer hero growing up?

I’d say that the one that stood out the most to me was Marcelo Balboa. He wasn’t a star in another country, he was a star for my home team, the Rapids. That made him huge in my eyes. After seeing his wonderful bicycle goal first hand and meeting him in person many times, he became my hero. He took time to talk to me and teach me things that I wanted to know about the beautiful game. His kindness to me personally, attitude on and off the field, brilliant ball skill, and the fact that he played for a team IN MY STATE AND COUNTRY made him my soccer hero when I was young.

Every MLS team has a program aimed toward training the youth of their state to become soccer players for the MLS.  The Colorado Rapids have this pyramid on their website that explains how it works.  [1]

It is not just the training of young athletes that is important through these programs.  It is also the building of dreams to one day play for this team that is giving them opportunity to become better players.  It is part of the building blocks America needs to shoot the gap between kid soccer and MLS.

The more often talented soccer players are showcased here in the US, the more fans will turn out to cheer them on. The more fans there are, obviously, the more popular the sport becomes, and maybe even local sports websites will acknowledge their MLS team as a professional sport along with NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL.

Yet, it starts in smaller avenues.   Instead of playing flag football or baseball at a family picnic, we play soccer. Making soccer not just a game, but a lifestyle.  Maybe that is the best way to start shooting the gap, starting one backyard at a time.


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