I’ll begin by saying that I am not arguing that there aren’t certain issues, unscrupulous practices, or problematic cracks within the pay-to-play model — there are. However, I am affirming that having a pay-to-play system in America is far better overall than not having one. Our goal should be to improve it, not abolish it.

Pay-to-play soccer is defined as paying a fee in order to play the beautiful game. It can refer to paying to join a team or league, and it can also refer to paying for access to soccer facilities. I will discuss both types of cases.

The standard argument against pay-to-play in America for youth soccer goes along the premise that it’s too expensive to play and that it should be widely available at minimal or zero cost. They often compare it to the grassroots soccer that is broadly played for free in many other parts of the world. Here are a few quotes from prominent players who have all spoken out against the pay-to-play model.

“We have alienated the Hispanic communities. We have alienated our black communities. We have alienated the underrepresented communities, even rural communities, so soccer in America right now is a rich white-kid sport.”Hope Solo

“Unfortunately the pay-to-play model, I believe, is getting worse in soccer than when I played competitive soccer [growing up]. The fact that we’ve made youth soccer in the U.S. more of a business than a grassroots sport is, I think, detrimental to the growth of the sport in the U.S. I’m not sure how to fix it but I think it needs to go back to looking at grassroots and seeing around the world soccer is not an expensive sport. It’s actually played barefoot in many countries and all you need is a ball and goal posts, and the goal posts can be trash cans or whatever is nearby.”Alex Morgan

“It has to be said that the sport [in America] is expensive, very expensive. For example, in order for my children to play in a good football team, I have to pay $3,500 per child. It is not for the figure, but for the whole concept. I dislike it very much because not everyone has the money needed and the sport should be something for everyone, because it unites people of whatever origin. Pelé became a champion without anything, he played with a ball made of rags.”Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sentiments such as these represent the often cited but wholly mistaken belief that, unlike the rest of the world, soccer is exclusive and prohibitively expensive in America and that it’s hurting the growth of the sport. This overarching idea is categorically false.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Let’s start with the first notion that soccer is innately expensive in the United States. Soccer, like all major sports in America, has both free and affordable options at the recreational levels.

Starting on the lower end of the pay-to-play system, recreational leagues such as YMCA and AYSO cost approximately $100-130 per year. Understandably, it gets increasingly more expensive as you go higher up the ladder. Competitive club soccer can run into the thousands of dollars per year, just like all of the other major youth sports.

In fact, at the highest levels, soccer may be one of the least expensive choices when compared with other team sports. In other words, all of the major sports have a similar low and high end when comparing cost. If you’re going to label soccer in the U.S. as exclusive and a “rich white-kid sport” because of the hefty costs at the high end of the spectrum, you should make that assertion to all sports across the board — basketball, baseball, hockey, volleyball, and on and on down the list.  However, no one is making the foolish claim that basketball in America is for rich white kids although it has a similar pay-to-play structure that is just as costly.

Again, why are people complaining that in other countries, kids are playing for free as if we don’t have that very same choice in America? Guess what? If you want to forego the various pay-to-play options and don’t feel like spending a dime, you can do that here too! And not only that, I’m willing to wager that our free offering is far superior than the free offerings that are available in other countries.

We have an immense number of accessible parks with plush grass, bright lights, and public facilities. I know this may be a shocking revelation to some … but kids in America can also play barefoot for free with their friends using trash cans as goal posts. You can even play with a ball made out of rags just like Pelé too. This daft argument is the equivalent of someone complaining that people around the world get to drink water from a river for free but in the U.S. a 16-ounce bottle of Evian will cost us $2. (Pssst … you can drink river water for free too.)

As I said, most other countries have grassroots soccer where their children are playing informally in neighborhoods and parks without paying. However, should young players happen to show strong ability or promise, they may be scouted and referred to a professional team’s academy. This professional training is also free to players and is paid for by the club. This is done in the hopes that the club will get a return on their investment in the future if the athlete ends up playing for their first team or is sold to another club for profit.

It is completely backwards logic to assert that America handles youth soccer as a business more so than other countries. There is much more money at stake in other countries when it comes to the potential financial gain. Foreign clubs are notorious for running afoul of FIFA regulations through the improper signing and transferring of minors by surreptitious means.

If you don’t want to pay for soccer … no problem. no one is stopping you from calling up some friends to go kick a ball around for free.

Although in America we don’t necessarily have pro scouts scouring the countryside looking to recruit players to pro academies (because that’s how ruthlessly cutthroat of a business it is in these other countries), we do have a similar pipeline to the professional ranks. Most, if not all, MLS teams have fully-funded academies that are free for the players. In addition, many of the thousands of club teams have financial aid programs that provide partial and full scholarships to those players in need.

To add clarity, in many other countries, soccer is free with only two options — informal grassroots level, and if you’re good enough, a professional academy. In America, in addition to both of those options, we have a range of pay-to-play choices in between as well as an abundance of teams to suit your individual specific tastes. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two different systems.

Soccer Options in Other Countries
Grassroots/Informal: Free
Pro Academy: Free

Soccer Options in the U.S.
Grassroots/Informal: Free
AYSO/Recreational: Pay-to-Play
Club/Travel: Pay-to-Play
Pro Academy: Free

As you can see, the reason people are getting tangled up in their assessment is because they’re mistakenly claiming we have a completely opposing system from the rest of the world — pay-to-play vs. free-to-play. That is flat-out incorrect. While other countries typically ONLY have a free-to-play system, we are fortunate to have both.

If you live in a country with a free-to-play only system and want high level coaching with organized training and games, but you’re not good enough to make a pro academy, then you’re out of luck. In America, we have an almost unlimited range of options in the middle rather than a fixed fork in the road that’s stringently determined by a child’s skill level.

I get that people don’t like paying for things — especially for something that may be freely available. But the fact that America is wonderfully privileged to have multiple tiers of options in both free-to-play and pay-to-play categories is not a negative circumstance. We are a massive country with a population of over 330 million people and have never been satisfied with a “take it or leave it” approach.

When faced with such a rigid offer, we will always leave it to create more apt choices with other like-minded folks. Other countries are only offering the choice to “play with your friends using trash cans as goal posts” OR “enter a pro academy if you can make it” … but hey, both are free!

If you don’t want to pay for soccer, no problem. Nobody is stopping you from calling up some friends to go kick a ball around for free. Also, if you want to upgrade with some coaching and matches with referees then there are affordably priced options available too. If your preference is for higher level coaching and training with stiffer competition, then the cost will go up.

It’s unfathomable to me that anyone believes it should be an inalienable right to join a competitive, organized team and receive instruction and training by qualified and licensed coaches (oftentimes ex-pros including specialists) who oversee their growth and soccer education year after year … at zero cost. Are you serious? In the software world that’s called a “freemium.” You’re essentially demanding a premium commercial product for free. Stop complaining that soccer is free everywhere else around the world but costs a lot here — compare “like” for “like.”

To add further, if a young player in America has the ability but not the financial wherewithal, there are plenty of club teams who are willing to provide financial aid. Or better yet, if they’re an elite player, they will most likely get picked up by a pro academy along with their entire soccer tab. To put it bluntly, Zlatan was paying $3,500 per child for soccer because he chose to put them in club soccer, and presumably, they weren’t good enough to make an MLS academy team.

The Harshest Critics are Hypocrites

I understand that many soccer parents and fans may have been misinformed. But I find it perplexing when some of the most wantonly brash and outspoken critics of the pay-to-play model happen to be directly involved in the world of soccer. How is providing additional and varied options to those hungry to play the game detrimental to the sport?

I counter that “pay-to-view” is hurting its growth more than pay-to-play. Why don’t we eliminate the high price of tickets to professional soccer matches and make it free for anyone to attend games? Wouldn’t removing ticket fees altogether and making the game accessible for everyone to attend also further fuel the growth of the game? (Cue the silence from the previously vocal pro players and team executives.)

There are even people working in marketing agencies who decry the pay-to-play model so much so that they go as far as vilifying soccer facilities. One marketing executive (who shall remain anonymous) characterizes facility owners as being greedy. To him, they are there primarily to “capitalize financially on the game,” and the fees they charge in order to pay rent is “getting in the way of essential youth participation.”

Unspoken but implied is that his own role in soccer, which also provides his livelihood, is an altruistic, honorable gesture. But a facility owner’s position is without a doubt opportunistically based and a negative scourge on the game. Mind you, this is a person whose job consists of producing commercials and branding campaigns for the biggest shoe companies in the world in order to entice kids to buy $300 cleats. Which I don’t have any problem with whatsoever — minus the blatant soapbox hypocrisy.

Another bewildering irony is the person who makes a living by selling soccer apparel but takes umbrage with the pay-to-play model. That’s fine as a career choice but how do you look down on someone else for providing coaching to kids or a facility for willing players? It’s even more suspect if one is maneuvering within the gray area of printing unlicensed or bootleg apparel. Those that are making money from soccer shouldn’t criticize others who are also working to earn legitimately.

No one is insisting anyone has to play at a pay-to-play soccer facility. If you enjoy playing pickup in public areas at no cost, that’s wonderful. This is simply another higher offering that’s being made available to those who love the game. Many people appreciate having a clean, safe, organized, and professionally run environment beyond playing pickup soccer on asphalt or at parks.

Let me be direct — anyone who receives compensation in any way related to soccer either from playing, performing, training others, or selling services or merchandise, but denigrates others for making a living within the pay-to-play system are shameless hypocrites. We all have to earn a living in this world somehow, and those of us who are blessed to do it through soccer in our own individual ways have chosen to do so because we are all passionate about the beautiful game.

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? I truly believe that America is the greatest country in the world because we are privileged to have so many freedoms and available choices in a free market economy.*

In the future, instead of complaining that “soccer is too expensive” in America, let’s be mindful in what we’re comparing against and be grateful that we have an abundance of options. Perhaps even say “thank you” to your misunderstood club or academy coach and staff (and especially the volunteers) for their dedication and hard work.

*I realize the U.S. is technically a mixed-market economy which includes both free market and command economies. However, we are still considered the world’s premier free-market economy.

Edit: The main point that I’m trying to drive home is that instead of thinking we should get rid of the middle pay-to-play tiers (recreational and club) we actually need to focus on growing and improving the bottom and top free-to-play tiers (grassroots and pro academy).

Next week we’ll explore the hidden ugly side and politics of youth soccer.

Disclaimer: The author is the owner of The Base LA, a popular indoor futsal facility located in downtown Los Angeles.


  1. This makes sense. I grew up playing soccer but switched to baseball and basketball in my late youth and i remember it being a financial burden on my parents. Unfortunately i was a bad investment for them. LOL.

  2. After living in Germany for 5 years I disagree with your premise. All German kids can play for $10. A month to join the sports club. On these clubs the better teams with better kids have to opportunities to play in stronger leagues against stronger teams for the same price. These local clubs also have the opportunity to play for National tournaments and be seen by scouts for the cost of the club. These opportunities do not exist in the IS. If your recreation team is good there are no opportunities to play stronger teams and advancement to national tournaments.

    • My main premise is that in America, having pay-to-play is better than not having it. I am not discounting that there are other countries that may have more favorable pay-to-play models, as your example might suggest. I’d also ask how it works for other sports in Germany?

      As I mentioned, America has 330 million people and we enjoy almost every known sport you can imagine. It would be unfeasible to provide every child the opportunity to enjoy any preferred sport for $10 … especially at a high level. I stand firm in my stance that having pay-to-play in America is far better than not having pay-to-play. As I noted in my edit, our focus should be on improving and growing the top and bottom free-to-play tiers rather than trying to blame and remove the middle pay-to-play tiers. I appreciate that you read and responded.

      • Proof is in the product on the field dude. American soccer will never equal european football under the current model, end of discussion.

        To many great athletes in the USA to not own soccer world wide.
        Emulate other American sports. Game over

  3. It’s a common argument in this country and I agree that pay-to-play isn’t going away. Who’s going to pay the $300/hour schools and cities are charging for the nice fields that parents and players want to play on? They’re aren’t going to be ok playing on a pile of dirt. Most do not have a grasp on the sheet expense of running a soccer organization in the US.

    Your side by side comparison though, is not a side by side comparison as you missed the side by side levels in the other countries. Are you saying there are no regular clubs that aren’t pro academies across Europe? Of course there are. Kids pay around $200 a year plus uniform in England, plus ref fees each game in a regular town club.

    Your AYSO comparison is 4x what you say if you turn it into a year round program compared to club. Club generally last 12 months….AYSO 3 months. Average AYSO price of $150 per three month season x4 makes it $600 a year plus travel and tournaments for extra teams etc

    All in all good pieces with some inaccuracies.

    • Sure, I understand that there are countries like England that have pay-to-play options. My side-by-side comparison was to underscore the point that our model is actually a combination of both free-to-play and pay-to-play while contrasting it against those countries that have just free-to-play only. It wasn’t to compare our system with other countries that also have elements of pay-to-play. This was to qualify the difference between the two different type of systems for those who have a problem with a pay-to-play model altogether and firmly belong in the “soccer should be free” camp.

      I wanted to break down the stark reality of what a free-to-play only model ACTUALLY is instead of the naive tranquil state of what it is IMAGINED to be. It’s kind of like when people in developed countries describe people’s lives in third-world countries with glib comments like, “Oh but they look so happy living such a simple life”. It lacks depth without any weighty examination. The truth is that not a single one of them would ever switch places with them in a million years.

      The AYSO / YMCA example was to illustrate that there are options that are less costly than club soccer, albeit at the recreational level. This was to mainly point out that pay-to-play in America is multi-tiered and to debunk the notion that soccer automatically “costs thousands of dollars”. I wanted to inspect this most often cited criticism of pay-to-play and accurately disclose that there are, in fact, other less costly options.

      Appreciate your feedback.

    • I wonder how much ayso would charge without the volunteers. For the most part the Younger kids are coached by volunteers arent they? So theres just organic costs associated with setting up structured programs unless the government will subsidize it. And for this reason its hard to compare other countries to the US. AYSO is a non-profit that gets corporate and private donations and we dont know what every other country gets for their programs. In any case, my group, we rather pay good people a good wage to run great programs for kids so anyone that goes against that, I am looking for good volunteers… hahahaha

  4. This entire argument is flawed and left out very important facts.
    Free or low cost in USA is very different from free in most countries. It’s actually complete opposites.

    Free in other countries is a reward for being good. In Germany, for example, the top youth players in each town/city spread out in Divisions 1-8 don’t pay a dime and are part of a club that invests in them to maximize their potential. These clubs only exist so their 1st teams move up to D1 level or maintain that level. Players are developed for that purpose as well as to be able to sell them to other clubs.

    In USA top players are charged more to play at the marketed “highest levels” and clubs exist only to keep parents happy and their perception of top level accommodated.
    Usa clubs do not exist to produce top level players. They have no incentive to do so.

    That is a tremendous difference that in no way shape or form makes Usa a better place to be if you are a top to mid level player in any sport.

  5. Pay to play does exist everywhere in the world but what prevails is a Pro/Rel system that rewards the best to mid level players the better they are.
    It is a much more competitive system because it provides the best opportunities to clubs and players through pure sporting merit.

    In USA all we have is pay to play. We don’t have a Pro/Rel system. Our system does not provide nearly the same opportunity as Pro/Rel does and it doesn’t reward 99.99% of the youth clubs for developing pro level players. There is no incentive to do so.

    So when compared Usa falls way short.

    If we had Pro/Rel parents and players would have 2 completely different systems to pick from and a real choice.

    My guess is that every single player offered free play at any Pro club divisions 1-8 would choose this over any pay to play club.

    If you want to write a real story with actual facts hit me up.

    • “Free or low cost in USA is very different from free in most countries. It’s actually complete opposites. Free in other countries is a reward for being good.”

      Incorrect. Our free-to-play system is the same as other countries in that it is at the bottom (grassroots) and top level (Pro academies). Free is a reward here for being good enough to make an MLS academy.

      “Pay to play does exist everywhere in the world but what prevails is a Pro/Rel system that rewards the best to mid level players the better they are.”

      Incorrect. Pay-to-play system does not exist in many of the countries in S. America, Africa and Asia. It’s actually less common than more common.

      “In USA all we have is pay to play.”

      Incorrect. I covered this in-depth in the article. Also, pro/rel is good and pay-to-play is good. They can both be good at the same time.

  6. Interesting piece, it’s not often you hear people talk positively about pay to play, or just soccer in general in the US. I guess one of the problems for me is that pay to play is inaccessible to countless kids simply because their families are never going to have the money to pay for higher level soccer.

    To provide context, I live in a rural city in the Midwest, far from any MLS or USL team, let alone a pro academy. So, we live so far from a professional team with an academy it would not be feasible to drive to training even if a child from my area made an academy. People without the means to pay for club soccer have two options: 1) pick-up games, which, while often being an incubator for creativity and self-motivation, are simply not the same as playing and training with a team week in, week out (is it necessary to have a team? No, you can certainly hang with the same group of kids every day, but would these kids like the opportunity to travel and compete?) I wish there were more pick up games happening but the reality is that, in my region, the only pick up happening is basketball, which is fine, so while pick up soccer is “technically” available, it simply doesn’t exist, which leaves option 2) local rec leagues. I grew up playing both rec and club soccer (and pick-up games once I was big enough (as a teen) to play with the adults, almost all of whom were Hispanic immigrants), and now I have kids of my own with the same options. The rec leagues are often terrible for development, and are often run by people that have no knowledge of soccer and no desire to obtain any knowledge about the sport. These leagues are detrimental to the game here, as players from kindergarten through 8th grade (and high school is often no better) play rec soccer that has little resemblance to the beautiful game.

    So, pay-to-play is a better option in my region because the rec leagues actually hurt development and pick-up soccer does not exist for kids because no kids play pick-up soccer (who’s fault is that? Well it’s the kids of course, but it’s a result of not being a soccer culture). But pay-to-play is only slightly better because the coaching and club quality is a mixed bag and in an impoverished area it leaves out a huge percentage of kids whose families can’t afford to pay.

    So I guess my main point is that, maybe pay-to-play isn’t as bad as I had previously thought, but there are untold numbers of kids who still miss out for a variety of reasons.

    So what are the solutions?
    1) More pick-up soccer where the adults organize a time to bring their kids to the fields and simply let them play- without mom or dad yelling at them from the sideline. Sit in the car and take a nap while your kid is playing, you’ll both be happier that way. Then, when the child becomes a teenager, let them get a job so that they can pay for club soccer. Oof, that’s tough, but certainly doable. Not a fix though.

    2) Schools. Can schools run a soccer club? School sports around here cost very minimal, as much as the local rec leagues, which are accessible to most, but still not all. For those that couldn’t contribute any $$, scholarship opportunities could be an option. Of course this is all taxpayer funded, but there are certainly worse ways to spend tax dollars.

    • Glad to hear that you read it with an open mind versus ignoring valid points and sticking to your fixed views. There is no perfect system and there will be pros and cons with anything. But given our large population and land mass having pay-to-play options is better than not having it – it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Appreciate you reading and taking the time to respond.

  7. One of the concerns i have with pay-to-play club soccer is that most players end up not good enough to even play D1 college soccer, but yet, many clubs have year round full-time club coaches; really? Coaching one or two teams in the spring, fall and winter, part-time hours but getting paid as if they are working 40 hours a week is a complete waste of money. Most clubs do it for the money, which is why most are ‘for profit corporations’; sadly.

    • I hear where you’re coming from about not making D1 college soccer. I feel having options is better than not. No one is forcing anyone to join club soccer and not everyone is trying to get a college scholarship out of their efforts (although it is a big reason). Clubs doing it for money isn’t necessarily wrong. They get paid to do what they enjoy doing. No one should be expected to work for free or do it out of 100% volunteerism. Appreciate the feedback.

    • I think there are definitely some negatives associated with club soccer but I don’t know about calling it a scam. It’s simply another available option for those wishing to play the beautiful game. Simply put, there are lesser ones and better ones.

  8. Interesting article with valid points all around.

    A few points.

    1.) What about inner city, rural, or small neighborhood kids that can’t afford the pay to play model that we’re so “fortunate” to have? Where does that leave them?

    2.) The Aspen Institute cites that youth sports participation has gone up by 6% in the upper class since 2012 and down by 13% in the lower class. This seems evidence to me that pay-to-play is continuing to create barriers, not break them down

    3.) Brown found that 33% of their recruited athletes will quit before they graduate, ultimately costing the schools hundreds of thousands of dollars. The top reasons for quitting stemmed from a lack of passion, work ethic, and commitment – all traits that underserved athletes live by but cannot afford to show. My hunch is that, if we could find kids from underserved communities who had the grit to persevere through anything, this number wouldn’t be so high

    • 1.) What about inner city, rural, or small neighborhood kids that can’t afford the pay to play model that we’re so “fortunate” to have? Where does that leave them?

      – I already mentioned that there are free-to-play and affordable recreational level options as well as scholarship opportunities available. How does getting rid of pay-to-play and hurting those that can and want higher level paid options help anyone out? By your same logic, what about those who can’t afford private universities? Where does that leave them? There are community colleges, scholarships, loan options, etc. They should find the best option that fits their ability and situation. Higher education in America, like sports, is a non-essential indulgence and not a basic right.

      2.) The Aspen Institute cites that youth sports participation has gone up by 6% in the upper class since 2012 and down by 13% in the lower class. This seems evidence to me that pay-to-play is continuing to create barriers, not break them down

      – I looked up the report and didn’t see the numbers you cited. By the way, in their report they specifically mention to reintroduce free play.

      3.) Brown found that 33% of their recruited athletes will quit before they graduate, ultimately costing the schools hundreds of thousands of dollars. The top reasons for quitting stemmed from a lack of passion, work ethic, and commitment – all traits that underserved athletes live by but cannot afford to show. My hunch is that, if we could find kids from underserved communities who had the grit to persevere through anything, this number wouldn’t be so high

      There are a lot of things that are worthy of concern but recruited athletes quitting before graduate isn’t one of them. I’m not saying that underserved communities should be overlooked. But if there are hungry athletes in these communities with the grit to persevere through anything as you describe them, they will definitely be able to make it onto high level youth sports through scholarships or otherwise. And if they’re good enough they will make it to college via scholarships as well. America is the land of opportunity and there is no excuse to not be successful other than their own choices and effort.

  9. The reason Pay to Play does not work is because the USA has failed again to qualify for the Olympics. Coaches find players from Club teams, not from pick-up games. Club team players are good players, but they are not the best this country has to offer. Simple, if your youth can’t compete… it does not work.

    • Yet it works for practically every other sport in America including basketball, baseball, football, volleyball, etc? Your metric for establishing why pay-to-play supposedly doesn’t work seems to contradict your reasoning.

      • Those sports at mostly played in the US. You are comparing it to soccer which is mostly played in other countries. Show me the results it works! The results that a major country cannot compete in the CONCACAF shows you the results. You have bad reason and it’s obvious that you don’t see it.

  10. I had three kids go through club soccer program paying about $2000 a year for the last several years. The oldest one is now in college and she is not playing soccer. She quit her club soccer team in senior year in high school after she realized she won’t be playing in college. Club coaches and directors often entice parents about playing college soccer when these girls first come out to their club tryouts after one year of AYSO. Parents get excited and sign their 7 year old to the club system. I have seen some girls actually make it to various universities, some with full scholarship. All these parents had one thing in common: they were well educated and had relatively high income. I saw girls slowly drop out little by little because of financial reasons, boyfriends, or just get burned out after 9 years of parents yelling at them. In her Sophomore year, we were contacted by private college recruiter company who can help my daughter to get into colleges by providing tools like highlight videos, and email addresses of current college coaches, and get updates which positions are opening up for upcoming years…. All for $3400. We didn’t sign up but one of her friends did and she now plays for college in Texas. To be blunt, most of these girls were white.

    On the boys’ side, it is actually worse. I have seen only two players out of thousands of boys make it to college in this club system; One of them made into just a local community college. Year after year, only the ones who can pay stayed on, not the ones who were good. I have seen countless talented boys who quit because parents can’t afford the club fees. For these poor kids, they can play high school soccer but that’s about it. AYSO would not be fund for them. College recruits usually pick kids from club tournaments, not high school games. Some boys who were really good made in to local pro team academy, which is free but that is very rare. He was good but there is another side to the story. There is a lot of driving for the parents between school and the academy which means if you are a working couple, forget it. His family was very well off, again white.

    If pay-to-play didn’t exist, my kids probably never played soccer all these years. Without the club system, I just don’t see my kids calling up their friends and getting together for a soccer game at the park. It is the whole package of referees, organization, coaches, fields, tournaments, uniforms, and equipment that make the whole pay-to-play systems. Unlike other countries, if parents are not involved, it is difficult for kids to play soccer in this country. Parents’ financial dedication is crucial to this system.

    • Just wanted to share a counter argument. I’ve got a son in club soccer. And his club regularly sends kids to college and it’s a mix of Asian, white, black, Hispanic. We are in SoCal so it’s a hot bed of youth soccer. It’s definitely not all rich white families here. And the star players from low income families all get scholarships and of course we’ve got several fully funded academies within a couple of hours which highest level of training (and academics) for $0. Ones outside of typical driving distance stay with teammate’s families. The girls, without fully funded MLS academies, must have a tougher road but I think pay-to-play/club works fine in light of US not having a pro/rel system (which allows tier 2 and tier 3 pro teams to have fully funded programs as they can sell players to larger clubs for a large fee).

  11. Well, at least Solo added “even the rural communities.” Thanks, Solo. How thoughtful of you. But what about the Asian kids? I bet if there was enough black and Hispanic players on the roster thinking about the poor white kids in central Indiana wouldn’t be on the radar.

  12. This is ridiculous. Having it pay-to-play is the reason so many kids give it up. Too much financial burden for the parents. If America operated more like Europe and proper youth development systems in place, there’d be funding in place to allow the kids to play at minimal cost

  13. This is the dumbest thing I have ever read. You even contradicted yourself in your own article which is hilarious. Then to say pro academies here in the U.S are free? I do not know where you get that information from my friend because that is not the case. Sure, there are clubs that offer scholarships and financial aid to help SOME players but do you not see a problem with that? I played in the D.C United Academy growing up along with many friends and only TWO people I played with were on scholarship. You are telling me to get exposure playing at a high level I have to pay thousands of dollars a year or go on scholarship? Like I am going to college or something. These are children man they should not have to pay money to play high level soccer and get a chance to make it far in the sport. You then tried to say instead of getting rid of pay to play we should get rid of pay to view?? So lets continue to charge young kids and their parents thousands of dollars to play youth soccer and then take away money from the professional athletes who are being paid to entertain YOU! How does that make any sense? Saying it will “further fuel the growth of the game”. I got an idea! how about fuel the growth of the game by giving kids better opportunity to play at the highest level without paying a ton of money for it?? Then comparing soccer to basketball or football in the states makes zero sense. In basketball you can play in your local neighborhood and go off to high school then play well and get scholarships to various colleges for FREE. The same can not be said for soccer. Unless you score 50 goals in high school a season these big colleges or professional teams are not looking at you. Nowadays you must be coming from the academies which cost a lot of money. There are other points you made that are so easily countered but I am done rambling. I mean no disrespect but I know you most definitely did not grow up playing high level soccer here in the states with the statements you made on club/academy soccer. Lol unbelievable

  14. Pay to play it’s a real problem.
    It’s a bad system for youth development. But the real problem root of this bad system is the lack of football (soccer) culture in U.S.A.

    Like it was mentioned in this article. There is usually a clear path and cost effective youth soccer development in Europe and South America. Free grassroots and free pro academy. This is by far the best system to produce good soccer players. You don’t have to be a genius to know this. It’s obvios by just looking at the results of USMNT in comparison to the European and South American National Team.

    I could go over the analysis in child development, psychology and economics but that will be too long. So here is what needs to be done to get rid of the pay to play mentality.

    Only parents and their community can change this.
    From U7 to U11.
    More futsal and small 7v7 soccer fields. paid by tax money allocation or professional teams.
    More local tournaments paid by sponsors.
    More affordable access to coaching training by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

    Only the Professional Soccer Teams and U.S. Soccer Federation can change this.
    From U13 to U19.
    Laws have to completely change so soccer academies can get a percentages of when their grassroots players become pro.
    And they can also complement this by sponsor in exchange for advertising.

    Pay to play is a bad system. But nothing is free, somebody has to pay for it. So the real question is Where do the money should come from?

    This only solve the problems for the talented kids that don’t have the resources but dream and have what it takes to become pro.

    As for kids looking to play college. Maybe the parents should invest all that money in a smarter way. Because at the end, everything that they spent in the academies will end up costing the same or even more than a 4 year degree in a decent college.

    I had played football with college and former pro players, I’m a youth soccer coach and a parent of a very talented boy. As parents and communities we can be much smarter in what we do to help our children develop their full potential in football.

  15. John –

    Found this article appreciate all the effort you put into it and keeping track of the responses.

    All you need to do is look at world football to see the impact young American players are making. All over England, Italy and Germany – some of the best talent on the pitch is from America.

    The development of players, which is the point of youth academies and pay to play, is clearly working. If the US national team had any consistency or stability – you might see these great individuals come together to form a great team. But that is on the coaching and leadership, less than any individual group of players.

    For my son, pay to play has allow him to get a level of coaching that he could not find at the local town youth level. He is learning more, thriving as a player and becoming more disciplined as a person. Whether or not he becomes the next Pulisic or Yedlin, I am pleased with what we are getting both on and off the pitch.

    Are there more talented kids than him that are not able to play due to cost? Probably.
    Does that mean our experience is less valuable ? Not at all.

    • Pay-to-play and the free/subsidized academies in the U.S. are both strong proponents of the development of players. I’m hoping we see a new generation of USMNT players that form a strong team in the near future. Appreciate your support and comment.

  16. I have family and friends, connections at the highest levels, and my own experience with football in the US and outside of it (Brazil, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England, Netherlands, Portugal, etc.).

    Football inside the US is a tool to obtain resources/money for top players and higher execs. In most of those other places, football makes money, which trickles down, depending on what we are talking about, to other clubs or age groups. This of course can be done because of a football culture that applies to quite a few people.

    In the US, the money barely trickles down from the top including at national team level. Owners, CEO/business admin are usually in it to try to make money, only to sometimes lose money because of high ticket prices, designated players, and wanting to capitalize to make money.

    Players and high paid employees/employers are supposed to have some of “their money” given to clubs/leagues so that age groups can have the maximum quality of resources given to them to develop with the least amount of stress to get in. In this case pay to play.

    The US has a problem trying to obtain money and keeping it and capitalizing on it. The MLS would benefit in trying to develop a football culture instead of a business-oriented culture, which includes money and fame and trying to be better than everyone else in the world (we don’t dominate in volleyball or baseball you can check the facts).

    This isolates millions of people from the football life in America. 150 million Americans are (and/o)r: middle/working/lower class; nonwhite; immigrants (many have a footballing culture not a business culture when it comes to the sport). Instead of paying to play, why don’t we make pitches, street courts, futsal courts, better quality balls, various size goals, and all more available to communities outside of rich (and/or) white spaces more readily available?

    Hope Solo has a great point there, the USMNT, MLS generate enough money to do so, instead it goes to designated players and owners and bonuses for Men’s National Team players. Football is beautiful because we include everyone no matter their race, religion, financial social class, or status/title.

    NISA. They’re promoting community (as well as community owned teams) and footballing culture as well as pro rel. If they do things correctly, MLS will be trying to kill them off, because of money problems later on. A lot of people are jumping in and while of course not all 150 million people are into football or will support small clubs now or even look at NISA over MLS, That’s still a lot of people coming together trying to make something happen and minimizing franchising and pay to play because of the understanding that it serves the majority privileged.

    The problem with football in America is that it caters to the privileged, thus leaving out 90% of its potential. There’s a lot of playing talent that may need polishing, and not being privileged should not take away from that. Money should not be an obstacle in the “land of opportunity”.

    But I believe that if we can fight to minimize such, MLS and the USMNT will be the best by far by the end of the 21st century. Let us make sure not to take away opportunities or throw obstacles including money, race/ethnicity, size, language barriers, etc, along the way, but rather give/create them for all Americans and those residing/those who are to reside in America.

    Way more to this, but yes. One thing I definitely agree with this article is that America can become multiple World Cup winners and have the best league in the world. Will it happen? Only thoughts and actions will tell.

  17. Is not about the costs, is fútbol… have to be free for everybody or for all the kids, after the can see if the like the game to keep going to pay


    Men this is the question for you… why that call never happen here in US??
    Fútbol have to be spontaneous, fun for kids and parents

    • I didn’t say to wait for a call though. I said you could make the call. So why are you not making the call instead of waiting for the call here in the US?

    • Are you sure they’re better? Just because a few elite club soccer teams may occasionally beat an academy team does not make them better. Developing young players and making them better players makes a team better.

      Generally, club teams have more pressure to win than do academy teams. Therefore, they will place more emphasis on winning games than developing players which is highly problematic at the youth level.

      For example, club coaches may instruct defenders to clear balls out during pressure situations rather than risk trying to build a play from the back. This is a safer approach and in the long run will probably produce more wins. But it will also limit defenders from becoming elite players who can handle pressure and create attacking plays from the defense.

      If I’m a parent, I’d much rather have my child be part of an MLS academy with a decent win-loss record where it’s fully funded vs sending to an elite club where I have to pay thousands but they have a favorable winning record. It’s better – no contest.

  19. This is a horrible take. When people refer to “pay to play” they are strictly referring to club soccer. You know what happens on a pay to play club when the parent of the kid suddenly can no longer afford to play? He no longer starts, he gets less minutes, he gets less attention. Doesn’t matter if your kid is the best on that team, if you can’t pay, he is see as less than the other players, by the coaches. I lived through it my dude. It’s terrible.

    • 1) When people refer to “pay to play” they are strictly referring to club soccer.
      – They should say club soccer then. However, they’re not arguing against only club soccer but the pay-to-play system itself. Accuracy is important. Club soccer is the most common scenario when discussing pay-to-play but people who are against the system basically want to have a high quality product without having to pay for it (or pay less).

      2) You know what happens on a pay-to-play club when the parent of the kid suddenly can no longer afford to play? He no longer starts, he gets less minutes, he gets less attention. Doesn’t matter if your kid is the best on that team, if you can’t pay, he is see as less than the other players, by the coaches.
      – What is your suggestion? Clubs accept all players who can’t pay and train them for free? They already have some type of assistance/scholarship program for those who are good but can’t afford it. What happens when no one wants to pay then?

      I understand it’s not ideal but the world we live isn’t ideal. It’d be great to have access to all sports and training at a high level for free or low cost. Unfortunately that isn’t feasible for a diverse country with 330 million people like the US. But it’s the best available option and I’m willing to hear alternative options. But no one has been able to offer one yet other than complain about the current system.

  20. The author’s argument can be used against him: he contends that America dominates atfootball, basketball, baseball, etc so why can’t pay-for-play work for soccer? But the proof isnin the pudding, we don’t. All those advantages he cites: our huge population, huge land mass, diversity, wealth — they don’t result in dominant soccer teams. At our best, we are a big fish in a lower-tier federation, and sometimes we don’t even qualify. Meanwhile little countries with far fewer natural advantages routinely make much better showings both in international tournaments and in the amount of professionals playing at the highest levels. Pay-to-play isn’t the *only* problem, but it certainly is one them.

    • That’s a misrepresentation of my argument. My contention isn’t that since “America dominates at football, basketball, baseball, etc so why can’t pay-for-play work for soccer?” My argument is why would pay-for-play ONLY detrimentally affect soccer and not all of the other sports. It wouldn’t be logical to say that pay-to-play is the main reason why we’re weak in soccer but it doesn’t hold us back in other sports or even in women’s soccer which is based on the same model. Perhaps pay-to-play isn’t the catch all root issue that it’s demonized to be?

  21. Pay to play is unforunate reality that is unfortunately showing. We are a capitalist nation and it works and I honestly like it. By the way, I don’t who you’re talking about, but I’m glad you pointed out the hypocrisy. The reality is that everything costs money, even these academies. Even Manchester City charges money for their academies. Also the United States is a federation of States, it’s like a bunch of countries put together with a total population of 330 million and growing. But these soci- I mean modern liberals would disagree, not be fair and face reality, and instead as usual demand things for free.

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