Amid MLS playoffs, U.S. men’s soccer still has a long way to go

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With the Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs now in full swing, the top soccer programs of the United States are vying for the MLS Cup. Among the favorites are the New York Red Bulls — winner of the 2018 Supporters Shield — Atlanta United, Sporting Kansas City and my personal favorite, Seattle Sounders FC.

One of the more exciting aspects of the development of the MLS is easily the expansion teams. Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), despite losing 2–3 to Real Salt Lake in the knockout round last Thursday, has made an incredible impact in its first season in the league, placing third in the Western Conference and fifth overall. Since joining the league in 2009, the Seattle Sounders have made the playoffs every single year. And this trend of successful expansion teams is bound to continue, with David Beckham announcing Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, or “Inter Miami” just this year. Despite the horrid name of this club, which is a discussion for a different day, the level of investment in the MLS by individuals such as Beckham has significantly increased the league’s potential for attracting better players and more fans.

And while the MLS has, for the most part, flourished in the past few years, the national team program of U.S. Soccer cannot make the same claim. The U.S. men’s soccer team somehow managed to not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia on account of an embarrassing 1–2 loss to Trinidad and Tobago Oct. 10, 2017. A country with 300 million people and the largest economy in the world must do significantly better, especially when the women’s team has found incredible success in international play, consistently challenging and beating elite teams such as Germany, Japan and Brazil.

U.S. men’s soccer still doesn’t have a head coach — although one is projected to be announced this month — and holds the 23rd spot in the FIFA Rankings, compared to the first place ranking of the women’s team. And Jurgen Klinsmann, the most recent head coach, cannot be considered solely responsible for this failure. Klinsmann guided Germany to a semifinal finish in 2006, but when presented with the coaching and scouting tools of U.S. Soccer, he failed.

While many argue that U.S. Soccer has strengths in players such as Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic and Paris Saint Germain’s Timothy Weah, these players are simply not comparable to the young talent of other elite international teams. Weah and Pulisic are by all means incredible players, but the two of them simply don’t stand out next to the world-class European talent in players such as Kylian Mbappe, Youri Tielemans, and Leroy Sane. U.S. Soccer lacks the developmental infrastructure to succeed in international soccer, as top athletes are continuously pulled towards more lucrative sports such as football and basketball. What U.S. Soccer needs is not just a great coach — they need a reformation and reevaluation of their entire program and soccer philosophy.