U.S. soccer’s cluttered amateur/semipro/youth landscape

Summers are getting shorter all the time, aren’t they?

If you’re a soccer player or fan, they certainly are. My county’s school system only wrapped up its school year 30 days ago. And already, a lot of our local soccer teams have finished their seasons.

That’s the reality today for the W-League, WPSL, PDL and NPSL, which try to squeeze competitive seasons, national playoffs and the occasional cup competition into the 10 weeks or so between the end of the college academic year and the time their players are due back on campus for preseason training.

The teams all have different goals. Some are offshoots of youth clubs giving their oldest players another opportunity to play. Some are official or unofficial reserve teams for the pros. Some are Changing the Way You Will Think About American Soccer! That’s a tough task in a 10-game season. (Actually, Nashville FC’s grass-roots ownership plan is a noble experiment.)

There’s no such thing as parity. BCS Clash finished its NPSL season with a goal difference of -105. In 10 games. In the WPSL, Lion Soccer Club (known as Lions Swarm last year) lost a couple of blowouts and was dismissed from the league, with all its games recorded as 3-0 forfeit losses.

Attendance is erratic. Some NPSL teams play in utter obscurity, while Chattanooga FC drew 2,800 for a regional final. The PDL averaged 590 fans leaguewide, driven by nine teams with a median over 1,000. (See Kenn.com’s typically comprehensive figures.) The W-League, which Kenn notes as less of a marketing force than it used to be, had a few teams drawing over 400.

The USL operations (W-League, PDL) are generally sound from operations standpoint. The WPSL is far more chaotic. (“Skipped the playoffs in a dispute with the league” was my summary of FC Dallas in the power rankings two years ago.)

It’s not as if each player gets 10-12 solid games. These teams list anywhere between 25 and 40 players on the roster.

And in some respects, that’s good for players. They might have multiple responsibilities. Braddock Road’s W-League team was basically their Under-18 national (USYSA) title contender with a couple of key additions. Ashley Herndon scored a crucial goal for VSA Heat in the USYSA national championships this week, then another for the Washington Spirit Reserves in the W-League semifinals. VSA Heat played for (and won) the U-19 national title without her Saturday night. Where’s teleportation technology when you need it?

Want to make these seasons even shorter? That’s what would happen if college soccer plays a full-year schedule with a championship going into June, like college baseball.

That college reform plan probably won’t happen — personally, I’d love to see more meaningful spring soccer, but I’d wrap it up at the end of April. As chaotic as summer soccer leagues might be, they serve a valuable function, giving players another opportunity for elite play during their developmental years and giving a few adults (especially grad students) a chance to stay in the game. (Update: Some people are backing a college championship in May rather than June, and the schedule would start later in the summer.)

The problem with all of this — we’re obsessed with national competitions when they’re not necessary.

That mentality has seeped into youth soccer, too. Development Academy, ECNL (Elite Clubs National League), U.S. Youth Soccer national league, U.S. Club Soccer premier leagues and Super-Y League not enough for you? Form your own national league. We’re seeing that now with the formation of another national league, which SoccerWire commenters find quite amusing.

Several WPSL teams already played a national championship this summer, one that was also open to W-League teams. Now they’re playing the league championship.

So some teams are cramming two tournaments into the brief summer window along with league play. Some have been sitting idle for a couple of weeks.

Take away the insistence on national competition, and things get a lot simpler. One national cup per age group should be fine. Then teams can use the rest of their seasons with league play and perhaps a showcase tournament or two.

We can all agree on that, right?

Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

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