Major League Soccer has made tremendous strides since its inception in 1993, but that isn’t enough for United States national coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
And it shouldn’t be enough for our nation’s soccer supporters, either.
Klinsmann has openly stated that he could care less about the MLS developing into a top tier league. He has stressed that his players must succeed abroad in order to become the player he needs for international competition. He has the right to say that, but he is not the commissioner of MLS.
Rather, Don Garber holds that position. Garber recognizes that MLS can become an exceptional league without the support of the United States Soccer Federation.
But for Garber to establish a respectable league, he must address the weakest part of MLS: its youth development. There are many different solutions to this problem, but one in particular could take this league to the next level.
All the teams in MLS currently have a youth academy team for each respective age group, which is a long way from the league’s original talent-development blueprint. But teams forget that the United States is a massive country with hidden talent slipping through the cracks of the development system.
Consider this: how is a 14-year-old kid from Atlanta, who has the potential to become a quality starter in MLS, going to receive the highest level of training that this country provides?
Do his parents drive him down to Orlando every day for practice? That’s a six-hour drive, and the next closest team is D.C. United.
And a young talent from Phoenix? Los Angeles is the closest city with a MLS academy for that aspiring player. That drive takes roughly 5 hours and 45 minutes.
Don’t forget the drive back home, either.
Such a system can put a financial and physical burden on both parents and players. Realistically, most aspiring athletes don’t have the resources to make such a commute, so they will turn to the basketball or baseball league hosted at the local high school instead.
My solution for this dilemma is simple. Divide the country into 5 regions and each team must have 3 to 5 academy programs within that region. However, prevent teams from establishing academies within 100 miles of each other. This revision would provide players across the nation with at least one academy program within a reasonable distance of their home.
There is no questioning that there are more layers to this problem and more ways to solve it than the one presented. Don Garber has grown this league at an extraordinary rate and the future is bright with him leading the charge.
But Garber and the soccer community must remember, we are preventing kids from reaching their full potential and that is a shame.