US soccer stinks!

The three reasons why Europe is (and will always be) better than the USA 👎 🇺🇸

Club Des Sports De Chamonix has teams as young as U7

I’m currently on vacation in Chamonix, France (not to brag), where I stumbled across a pick-up game at the local park during my afternoon walk. The kids playing couldn't have been more than ten years old, but they were incredible by my lowly American standards.

Now Chamonix isn't exactly a soccer hotbed, but these kids possessed the technical ability of a high-schooler in the States. Their cohesiveness, tactical understanding, and utilization of all parts of their feet a far cry from the toe poke seen on playgrounds across the US was so eye-opening that it got me thinking: What makes these kids so damn good? Can Americans ever be this good?

Why can't the world's richest country that also produces some of the best athletes compete in the world's most popular sport? 

By no means am I offering a scientific explanation to this conundrum, but I've unpacked a few factors below that might explain America's shortcomings compared to our European counterparts. 🇪🇺


A crowded pitch in a suburb outside of Paris

I'll start with the most obvious explanation of why Europeans are better at soccer than Americans: the sport is simply more popular in Europe. Duh. 

While we couldn’t find exact numbers, there are certainly more soccer players among Europe’s ~750 million people than the estimated 24.4 million soccer players in the States.

This means that any kid from Lisbon to Bucharest is practically guaranteed to find a pick-up game by simply heading to their local park. This is less common in the States, where in New York City I have to sign up on an app in order to play. Sports like American football, basketball, and even baseball are far more common, and many elite athletes opt for these over soccer in their developmental years.

Soccer’s pervasiveness in Europe means more people playing, which naturally increases the level of competition and develops more talent. The best example of this is probably in Paris's banlieues, where the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba, and N'Golo Kanté grew up.

A mural of Kylian Mbappé in his hometown of Bondy, reading “City of Possibilities”

Iron sharpens iron: Kids from neighborhoods like these – which are often home to large immigrant populations and plagued by lack of opportunity – practically live on the pitch, finding refuge from the struggles of everyday life in their local youth teams.

And these are no ordinary youth teams, either. In banlieues like Bondy, competition is fierce for a limited number of roster spots. Local scouts search for talent as young as 11 years old, and are now accustomed to fending off Premier League teams who have come to Europe’s most fertile scouting patch in search of the next Mbappé.

“We have the best young players in the country confronting each other every weekend.”

Sarcelles manager Mohamed Coulibaly

This hyper-competitive environment not only begets talent on an individual level, but also collectively broadens and deepens the base of the talent pyramid in cities across Europe:

It’s this level of competition and the sport’s popularity in Europe that makes kids dream of becoming professional footballers, leading to the next step in their development process: academies.

Development academies

Barcelona’s La Masia academy, often regarded as the best in the world

The most compelling explanation for why the US is inferior to Europe when it comes to soccer is their lack of focused development academies in terms of both quantity and quality.

European academies employ full-time scouts, whose sole mission is to find local youth talent. In London, for instance, this dude attends match after match to find the next Bukayo Saka. As such, standout players can be more easily discovered than in the US, where there are fewer academies with fewer scouts.

Once a European child lands at an academy, their experience compared to that of their American counterparts is night and day.

Take La Masia, for example. Barcelona's youth academy boasts state-of-the-art facilities where players live full time. They are literally eating, sleeping, and breathing soccer, under the instruction of world-class coaches whose mission is to develop players under one cohesive unit instilling Barça DNA in every child.

Compare this to America, where although academies do exist, the primary means of youth development is club teams. The intensity and level of coaching is sure higher than in school soccer, but a child might spend only 10-20 hours a week training and playing with their club team. After practice, American kids go home to their family, while La Masia youth are with each other 24/7.

Another factor hampering American youth is their coaches' obsession with winning. Club teams in the States tend to prioritize winning over developing a cohesive playing style, which usually stymies player development and favors bigger, stronger kids in lieu of those with soccer brains. How 'Murican. 🇺🇸


How shocking to see this in a piece comparing the United States to Europe! 💵 

One of the things I love most about the beautiful game is its simplicity and few barriers to entry. The primary reason it's the most popular sport on the planet is that anyone can play all you really need is a ball.

The Beautiful Game in Benin

This isn't the case in America, where we've somehow managed to make the sport more expensive than our healthcare premiums. Participation in clubs and camps can cost thousands of dollars between sign-up fees, travel, and gear, practically making soccer in the States a sport of the upper and middle classes.

In Europe, academies are subsidized by clubs’ first teams, who benefit from having emerging talent in their ranks; Families of PSG's U11 girl's team only pay the club $200 to attend the academy for a year. Top academies even offer scholarships, so underprivileged youth can attend world-class academies for completely free.

Countless footballers have dragged themselves and their families out of poverty thanks to the willingness of clubs to take a chance on them. Imagine if Sporting Lisbon had never taken a shot on Cristiano Ronaldo.