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Alex Morgan believes pay-to-play youth model is “detrimental to the growth” of U.S. soccer


Youth soccer in the United States usually comes at a cost, and typically not a cheap one, which is why U.S. Women’s National team star Alex Morgan believes that it’s severely hurting the growth of soccer domestically.

Morgan, who along with her USWNT teammates recently won the FIFA Women’s Cup in France, recently engaged in the Sports Matter panel as part of a collaboration between DICK’S Sporting Goods and the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation.

The event was designed to announcement the two entity’s goal of providing youth sports access to one million young athletes by 2024.

“Unfortunately the pay-to-play model, I believe, is getting worse in soccer than when I played competitive soccer (growing up),” Morgan said. “It’s a very inexpensive sport and 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.”

With the growing costs that are associated with playing for club teams, as well as travel fees, lodging, food and apparel/equipment, accessibility to the sport for children that come from lower-income families is greatly limited.

Morgan says she’s not sure how to fix the current root of this problem, but that there is a definite need for change.

“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,” Morgan said. “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.”


  1. You think?!?!?
    I am glad she spoke up. My friends daughter is rich and athletic. Most are not, cause it is a such a limited talent pool to be able to afford the fees associated with playing sports like soccer.

  2. Utterly hilarious the misogyny on full display here. USMNT fans have been calling attention to this obvious problem for years. But a very influential woman stands up and says “This is a problem”, and all anybody has to say is “Shut up you dumb b*tch and give us a solution!!!”
    Be thankful that the problem is being voiced by somebody who people listen to, and understand that yes, it’s a difficult problem and we shouldn’t be looking to a center forward from the USMNT for a solution. This is a problem for Cordeiro et al to address. An active and valuable US player is simply adding her voice to the pool. She doesn’t manage the federation, but we all know the criticism is valid.

    • Not sure where you’re finding misogyny in the other comments. People are legitimately asking what Morgan’s solution is. We all know travel soccer is expensive, as is travel hockey and travel ultimate frisbee. The comments are about her failure to provide any solution: “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.” That does add anything to the discussion.

      Others have mentioned how France does it as a template. It’s a bad comparison because France is the size of Texas. It’s a lot easier to ID top talent and nurture them mostly free of charge when you have only the area of Texas to cover rather than Texas and 49 other states. I’m personally against government subsidy, and as others have pointed out, every other sport would expect to be subsidized at the same level, which would only exacerbate the problem. We could look at getting US Soccer to use some of their excess funds to do a better job of identifying talent, but $100 million won’t go far in a country of 340 million people.

      I honestly think the US lags in international soccer (on the men’s side) because we are competing with so many other sports. When I lived in France then Germany, soccer was king; all over sports were a distant second. So most of the advertising dollars go to the top sport. Soccer is slowly progressing in the US and is considered one of the top sports, and dollars are making their way into the sport. it’s just not going as fast as we would like. But it is organic and “grass roots” in that sense of the word. MLS is 22 years old; MLB is a century old.

  3. Being a good soccer player doesn’t make one smart. It’s just another cool thing to say without much of an understanding or offering solution (much like pro/rel or Bradley sucks).

    What do people want to do? Do they want the government to pay for soccer classes for all? If so – why would they do it for soccer and not for the 3-4 sports that are more popular. And as a parent of soccer players, I disagree that soccer is an expensive sport. We live in NY and spent maybe $4-5k a year on 2 kids including local travel to games. What sports are cheaper? They also play tennis and it’s easily 4-5 time more expensive.

    • What do people want to do? Do they want the government to pay for soccer classes for all?

      Yes. At the very least the US could follow the French model mixing private ownership and merit-based competition with state subsidies aimed at inclusion and upward mobility. We stole their ideas for representative-constitutional government, why not also borrow the republican tradition of civic nationalism the French practice? France’s democratic-government’s financial support of sport across the municipal grassroots, elite youth levels, and even professional clubs has both been a source of its footballing competitiveness but upward social mobility of working people.

      Let’s continue the American style of closed and protected markets that has failed to incorporate large portions of the playing public into the game.

      Title 9

    • I live in central Ohio and we spend easily $4k a year for each child. Having to play in tournaments (even if they are just a few hours away, i.e. Cincinnati, Toledo, Indianapolis) require hotel stays, required practice jerseys, team camps, indoor/turf shoes–it all adds up. Often there are no fields available for pickup games (youth or adults) either because they are reserved for clubs.

      • No such subsidies exist. Those sports also have successfully shifted the burden of athletic reproduction onto the individual/family. But I would support subsidies across all sports. The average household income of an American family of 4 is right around 58k a year. So by your own estimated you spent 10k, or 1/6th of that on your kids playing medium level youth soccer. And we wonder why participation rates are low and the product we produce is average.

    • Yev,

      We finally disagree. That is so much money you and I spent….and it limits the talent pool to a degree that crushes US soccer. I have huge experience in this. Basketball, people donate their time and talent and give scholarships off the people’s money that can afford to pay ( a much smaller amount than soccer in my experience )

      Really the time donation is the key. Coaches are making their living not just at the top level, but a level where kids don’t even go on to play college soccer, that crushes the rec leagues, crushes the school leagues. Poor people are shut out, except for a few that we will give scholarships.

      People that think this is a good thing ( JK, former nat team coach for example ) are complete fools.
      They go on some premise that is completely false. Its says that it is free with the academies, the top levels, which is true, but doesn’t state that MLS academies are looking to the pay to play for the cherry picked players. So Yedlin and Morris, one went to private high school, the other lived a childhood as son of a doctor make it. Not RJ, who couldn’t afford to drive to the practices all over the city. He was faster and had a left foot ( Morris !!! ). It doesn’t state that some are later bloomers and they get nothing thrown to them because all the talent has been leach out to a system that doesn’t work well at a very young age, where on the richest of the rich can wade.
      I don’t have full solutions. It requires a lot of money and time. MLS and coaches don’t have unlimited of either, but where there is money, where there is time. WE need to do better. MLS figuring this out will be a big key. Look at FC Dallas, they have way too many home-growns for them to all be rich.

  4. Identifying a problem that most of us are aware of is not very helpful. Would have been much more interesting if Alex presented some ideas on how to change the system… that could lead to real debate and perhaps reform.

  5. What’s not going to help stop pay to play? Suing the Federation to take the more of the money that could have gone to developing young players.

    • In terms of player development, I was just looking at public financials for US Soccer.
      its on their website.

      In 2018, their total unrestricted net assets was listed at $166+ million.
      $22.9 million was designated specifically for player development.

      For what its worth……

    • So Ingtar, the argument is basically conceding that the women should be paid more, but also saying that maybe we should appropriate the funds elsewhere? Fine. So would you be okay paying the men less, as well? After all, that frees up even more money for developing young players, no? I’d be fine with it.

      • Gomer, I agree with you on the men. It seems to me that if our goal is to compete on the world stage, it all comes down doing what we can to eliminate the player development gap in this country and elsewhere. Pay to play is a big part of that. Unfortunately, there is only a finite anount of funds to accomplish this goal, pay the players, cover overhead, etc. (thanks for the actual numbers KC, btw!). The more we pay to either the men and the women, the less there is to fix the underlying problem.

        How much is “enough” to pay the players? I don’t know. Are the women underpaid versus the men? I don’t know, but on recent performance, probably yes. But any additional money paid out to either comes at the expense of youth development.

        So, I was being a little salty with my prior comment, because the USWNT’s lawsuit is likely going to have a negative impact on youth Development to pay Morgan more money, and Morgan is then essentially complaining about the state of youth development. You can’t have it both ways.

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