In the first of a series of posts on the future of soccer in the United States, Andrew Lewellen looks at the U.S. Soccer Federation's efforts to centralize the development of youth talent. Check back next week for Part II, when Andrew takes a look at a pivotal moment in U.S. soccer history — the 1990 World Cup — and how it changed the trajectory of the sport in the States.
On a hot and hazy June Saturday in Los Angeles, two high-school-aged boys' soccer teams are taking the field for their final regular-season game. One team is playing for the conference title. Sounds pretty basic. All across the country at this moment youth soccer teams are competing — kids in cleats and shin guards dribbling and slide tackling and yelling things like “Good ball!” and “Switch it!” while a team parent organizes a postgame snack of Capri Suns and grocery-store cupcakes.
But this game is different. The two teams are members of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy. The game is being played at the Home Depot Center, and the complex’s 27,000-seat soccer stadium — home to Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA — towers in the distance. The home team, the one playing for the conference title, is the Galaxy’s under-18 academy side. If they win, they’ll advance to the national playoffs. If they lose, it will be the end of a season that began 10 months ago, in August. For all that time, the boys on both teams have trained four times a week, competed in one game a week, and played for no other team — not even their high schools. And that’s the way U.S. Soccer wants it.