We need to figure out how to provide a strong education for players in the US, and it begins with continuing to grow our soccer culture
The question Christian Pulisic tried to answer in his Players Tribune article this week is the million dollar one: how do you grow more Pulisics? This is not a new question. Weve asked ourselves the same question about the Perezes, Hamms, Ramoses, Akerses, Reynas and Donovans. Weve been producing great players in the US for decades including Pulisic and several other promising young players we watched debut against Portugal on Tuesday night. But we havent been doing it at the rate that can make us a consistent world power on the mens side.
I commend Christian for speaking his mind and agree with many of the things he said. Ive been a fan of his since I first saw him with the youth national teams and now feel fortunate I will be able to watch him grow into the incredible player hes destined to be.
Christian makes a compelling case for the importance of pushing ones competitive limits between ages 16-18, and I agree thats important. But of all the arguments on how and where to grow great American players academies, residency, domestically, abroad the one constant for every talented player Ive come across is the many hours logged in unstructured settings. Either alone in a basement or on a field without a coach in sight. Every year the Ballon dOr list is filled with players who cultivated their skill and fueled their competitive spirit in this way.
As Malcolm Gladwell explains in Outliers, a lot of what makes a player great is just the luck of where and when you were born. Being born in the US doesnt preclude you from becoming a great soccer player; it just makes it more challenging. But the other takeaway from his book is that mastery of a craft comes from logging 10,000 hours honing it. Thats what young athletes playing pickup in other countries get and what were lacking.
Part of the reason we dont have this pickup culture is that the US is not yet a soccer country. I agree with Christian that we are becoming one, and that prospect fills me with so much joy especially as someone who found and fell in love with this game against the odds. I didnt grow up in a soccer house. We watched Notre Dame football; my dad wanted me to grow up and become Rocket Ismail. Now kids like Christian and Gio Reyna (another phenomenal young talent) grow up in soccer homes raised by soccer parents. But we still have a long way to go, and miscues like missing next years World Cup leave us standing still when we should be gaining on other sports.
We also have major strides to make in the way our youth development is organized. Thats not to say that there arent a lot of promising things happening, and lots of dedicated, talented coaches and club managers who, with little support, put in hours of often thankless work to help develop young talent. But the entire system lacks the cohesive vision and investment needed to ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction and to make sure that no talent is priced out of the game.
We have the ability and the resources to make a soccer education in the US commensurate with one abroad, and we must. Going abroad to play in Europe is a great path for some players, but its not a path we should bank our future on. We need to figure out how to provide that environment here, and it begins, as Christian highlighted, with continuing to grow our soccer culture. That, and, as we did last in Portugal, with pushing our young talent on to a big stage and trusting them when it counts.
Sir Matt Busby said it best: If youre good enough, youre old enough. Its time to step up.
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