The U.S. has about 26,000 high schools. I presume a high portion of those have soccer teams.
The U.S. also has about 1,400 colleges with soccer teams.
These are invisible to most folks when they wonder if there’s enough support for an open soccer pyramid.
My guess as to what would happen in an open pyramid is that the teams from these schools would eventually migrate to the first teams of clubs at various levels of the pyramid.
Within a stone’s throw of my house, there’s about 15 high schools and 4 college teams.
I’ve only been to a few of these games. I have no real reason to go, unless my kid was on one of these teams.
The folks who wonder where support for soccer will come from, seem to expect that my love of soccer alone should cause me to want to attend these matches just to watch soccer. But, I really have no clue who the players are and they are from all over. There’s no connection.
They miss that there’s something deeper in the support, a connection beyond just the sport itself.
For example, what if those 19 teams were replaced with about 7 clubs with a few on the 6th tier of the country’s pyramid and a couple on the 5th tier? What if my kids started playing soccer with those clubs as age 5 or 6? What if I volunteered and helped out at the club? What if I played Sunday adult pickup or league at the club, maybe sometimes against some of the first teamers?
What if, over time, I knew kids that moved up through the club to our first team, then onto higher first teams and eventually to top level? I’m be more interested in watching.
Then I would have more connections. I would be part of the club, not just a spectator. In Europe, that’s called being a ‘supporter’. In the U.S., we confuse the term ‘supporter’ with season ticket holder. We want people just to show up for the superficial entertainment aspect without understanding the connections that go with it.
We already have a lot of the elements. I play Sunday soccer at one place. I coached kids at another. They then played at school which was a whole other thing. An open system can combine all these things into one.
We demand there be the support before moving to the very model that causes there be support, and don’t even realize it.
So, talk of simply adding pro/rel to the USL or the MLS, while it might make things slightly more interesting, but misses the true magic elixir of how an open system builds support from the grassroots up.
An open system has pro/rel. It has the ability for any club to join in somewhere on the pyramid. It has a pyramid that is connected, so comparing results across competitions and levels is more meaningful. It has competitions across those levels, to help level set on the differences.
An open system has incentives for clubs to invite players in that can’t afford pay and incentives for clubs to get these players recognized so they can move up the pyramid, even if the club does not. Heck, it has the incentives for coaches to scout the playgrounds and streets for players.
It also has incentives for supporters to pay attention, because rather than just being a spectator of the sport that buys merch and hot dogs, they are a participant, a true member.
At least that’s what I see when I dive in to what makes open systems in other countries tick.