As an avid U.S. Soccer fan and an individual who risked everything to pursue my dream of becoming a professional soccer player, I can not sit solemnly aside and say nothing regarding Tuesday’s result. As a lifelong supporter of the U.S. Men’s National Team and ambassador of the most beautiful game, my favorite American slogan has always been ‘Don’t Tread On Me’. I suppose it always resonated with me due to the fact that I was always a small town kid infatuated with the sport of soccer and was often ridiculed or made fun of for playing a sport too complex for my colleagues to comprehend. But today, this slogan bestows a whole new meaning to me. You see, after Tuesday’s loss, I felt betrayed. I felt pain and even resentment. For the first time in my 30 years on this earth, I felt embarrassed of my country.
As I mentioned prior, I like to call myself an ambassador to the game of soccer and an American one at that. I am able to do so because I embody everything there is to be called an American soccer player. I started playing at the age of 4. I began my select career at the age of 10 playing alongside players like Lee Nguyen and Omar Gonzalez as well as many others that continued onward into the collegiate and professional levels. I took a two year hiatus to focus on football before rekindling my love for the game. Shortly after graduating from college, I couldn’t help but to continuously ask myself if I had what it took to make it at the highest level. I was fortunate to have the opportunity at the ripe ole age of 27 to travel abroad and represent my home state of Texas and my country as an aspiring soccer player in Europe, I welcomely accepted the challenge. But this story isn’t about me.
You see, Tuesday’s debacle got me thinking … how can something like this happen? My immediate reaction was utter shock. I literally did not believe it was true. Once the unavoidable sunk-in, my emotions went from shock to anger. It provoked me to think about all of the reasons as to why or how something like this could happen. Now outside of our traditional 4-4-2 formation and completely predictable line-up full of veterans that haven’t achieved a damn thing in the last FOUR years paired with a trainer that was fortunate enough to have one of our most athletic rosters in his previous tenureship, I began to think more general, more quintessentially.
It became more and more evident that we have a complete and utter absence of the mind when it comes to how we can evolve our country as a top contender in the world’s most beloved sport. It starts at the youth level. Period! Yes we have a series of academies popping up following the European trend where youth players are undergoing and participating in similar trainings as our professionals within the U.S. and that is really fantastic. That’s not my problem. My problem is that our system expects our development to come directly from the club level where players have to pay to play once they’ve allocated their spot on the roster. This alone faults the system and in response monopolizes the successful clubs who are eager to reap the monetary benefits of our youth. That is basically cutting out 15-20 percent of our talent due to the sole fact that they can’t afford to compete. This should be criminal.
Another colossal setback resides in where we allocate our funding. The U.S. Soccer Federation pours millions of dollars into the sport, but where is it going and why isn’t it helping? How as a country are we enabling the MLS to offer our best players abroad a golden ticket home to play in an inferior league for larger paychecks while expecting our USMNT to progress in a fashion that we can hold our own against the powerhouses of South America and Europe? Where is the logic here? If anything, we should be sending our youngest players abroad earlier in hopes that our system ‘produces’ the next generation of superstars. Christian Pulisic is a prime example. How in the hell do we not discover talent like this in America. How does a player of his potential get overlooked? Fortunately for the Pulisic family, they understood that Christian had a better chance of maximizing his potential abroad and by chance, he was discovered while Dortmund was scouting a different player. Too much of our country’s talent is left to fate. For players like myself as well as another fellow Texan (Tyler Humphrey), who has also given up on our system and has taken a leap of faith to move to Germany to showcase his undiscovered talent, the dream of making it big in America bleakly fades.
We need superstars. We need heroes for our youth to idolize. We needed the World Cup. Without it, instead of the next generation recreating set-pieces and game-like situations in the back yard pretending to be, in my case, the next Cobi Jones or defensive warrior Jay DeMerit, or even attacking midfielder Clint Dempsey, they’ll be pretending to be Alexi Sanchez or Antonio Griezman, and a generation is lost. The World Cup has always bonded our country and unified support for the fastest growing sport within our culture. It is needless to say, that progression and favoritism will, without question, slowly decline in the next 5 years as we wait for the next opportunity. I beg of the U.S. Soccer Federation, do not tread on me. Do not tread on the millions of fans, supporters and players. It is paramount that we learn from Tuesday and conclude a general understanding that change is a must. You have a whole army of passionate supporters who are willing to do whatever it takes to move this system forward. I beg of you, do not take that for granted and allow our system to evolve. A new era is upon you and ready to take the reigns. Step aside and let us move forward together. One Nation, One Team.