Interviews

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Courtesy of Steve Gans
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Vision for youth identification and development

“I know how to fix youth soccer in this country,” Gans proclaims. “There's no question about that, in my opinion.”

He promises “huge changes.”

“I live the youth game. I'm down there, and I know what’s wrong with the Development Academy,” he says. “I know what's right with it, and I know what's wrong with it.”

The youth system isn't creating enough players who have joy in their game, he says, and that's exacerbated by the edicts from on high that often limit what players can do. The ban on high school soccer, for instance.

“What I've experienced through Development Academy is this knee-jerk implementation: 'That's how they do it there, that's how we're going to do it here,' ” Gans says. “None of these things that we adopt should be mirrors. They should be concepts that are evaluated, implemented if they make sense, but in a way that adjusts for the American mores and reality.

“You can’t just say, 'This is how they do it in Belgium, and we're going to do it exactly like that.' You have to take the elements that make sense, you have to modulate them for our society. ...  They don't look at what the consequence is to the kid. There are some ridiculous regulations and strictures that are counterproductive to creating joyful players.”

Better coaching development is needed, and scouting must improve, too. Better communication with state associations, he says, will help in that regard.

“I had the president of a state association come up to me and tell me how most of his good players are in rural areas and they will never be identified,” he said. “So we have to have more scouts. We have to have better scouts. There has to be an effective identification process at an early age so the players of great potential are fast-tracked and receiving additional training.”

What are your thoughts on pay to play?

“We have to address the pay-to-play issue, because we're not finding talented players who are shut out – and, of course, because that's the right thing to do. Any kid who wants to play soccer in this country should be able to, ideally.

“Some of the U.S. Soccer surplus should defray pay-to-play. It's the right thing to do ethically, and, practically, you're going to get more kids in the system who wouldn't otherwise be there, more talented kids in there.”

Thoughts on promotion/relegation

“I see both sides. It's a very complex issue. I salute those people that want promotion/relegation, in this sense: People who really know soccer know that it's an essential and inherent part of the sport. That last weekend [in a season], that last day, we're looking more at who's staying up, who's going down, than we are who's winning the championship. It's compelling drama.

MLS commish Don Garber

“And I will also say that there have been a lot of points made since [the U.S.' World Cup elimination] that said that maybe players who played for relegation have more of a cutting edge when they're forced to battle like that every week. And that puts it in the spotlight more, and it's an argument about why in fact it's a good thing. And it is a good thing in principle.

“But you can't just snap your fingers and it's going to happen. You have to recognize and consider the current structure of sports economy here. Anyone who says you don't have to consider that is really not doing their homework. That's what makes it complex. Some people say, ‘I don't care, if MLS owners won't buy into it, then let them pull their money out.’ I remember from 1985 to 1996 when we didn't have a top league. And so this is a delicate, complex issue.”

Gans says ...

“The overriding theme that I've heard from both the youth and adult delegations is, 'we've been ignored' and 'we've been marginalized.' 'We don't matter.' It was very clear [within] those constituencies that many, many members feel like they've been ignored by the current leadership. I will tell you I've heard that from part of the athletes council, and I've heard it in an unsolicited way from people in the professional game, leaders in the professional game who have called me and said we want change.”

“What I would say about that Tuesday [when the U.S. was eliminated in Trinidad] is it was a horrific night for everyone, but the problems didn't start that Tuesday. That result was representative of systemic issues that I've been talking about for months and months and months.”