As recently as the early 1990s, no child in the U.S. could aspire to be a professional soccer player without having to relocate to another country. When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, and then went on to create the Major League Soccer organization two years later, everything changed. A 10-team league was formed, investors lined up to purchase franchises, cities placed bids, and the whole universe of U.S.-based pro soccer was underway. What the MLS organization has accomplished in less than a quarter-century is truly impressive. With well over 5 million attendees to live games every year, and a roster that will have 30 squads by 2023, the future is bright.
So, what do today’s youngsters do if they want to become pros with one of the U.S. pro soccer teams? It’s not easy, and in many ways mirrors what young people endure to become pro basketball, baseball, football players. If your child wants to make soccer playing a profession, and favors staying on home turf, here are some key moments to keep in mind.
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Get Good and Get Playing
The first step for young players is to hone their skills and strive to join one of the MLS Academy or other youth teams. These training organizations are the starting point for most pros, and are excellent places to gain exposure to top-tier coaching and competition. Compared to most school soccer, the youth academy squads are more structured, intense, and training-oriented.
Aim for an Olympic Development Program
The national organizations within the sport always want to know who the top youth prospects are. In most cases, all those prospects play for an Olympic Development Program (ODP). Youth players should try out and keep trying out for a chance to get on an ODP squad. Not only will they receive great coaching and instruction, but they’ll be seen by scouts and make worthwhile connections with organizational personnel.
Strategize Your College Choice
Make a list of colleges that have Division 1 soccer programs and attend one. There are D2 and D3 college squads, but you’ll maximize your chances of being seen by scouts if you attend a D1 school, play, and play well. Besides the youth academies and development programs, college is the next step for teens as they grow up and their skills begin to mature. If they’re still interested in going pro by the time they reach college, they have a much greater chance of making that dream a reality if they select a D1 school. UCLA and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are just two of the better D1 programs out there.
It’s important for aspiring pros to realize that 99 percent of players never make it to the professional leagues. It takes dedication, a true love for the sport, innate ability, hard work, and a competitive spirit. It also takes a lot of time, practicing by yourself, during the off-season, and whenever you have free time. Don’t be fooled by thinking it’s easy to juggle college studies and pro soccer aspirations. It’s not. But, if you begin the journey knowing those cold, hard facts, you’ll be better able to deal with whatever happens.