Remarks to US Youth Soccer Annual General Meeting - Frisco, Texas - July 28, 2018
“The Opportunity Before Us”
Thank you, Jesse, for your kind introduction and your service—both at U.S. Youth Soccer and at the Federation.
To Tim Turney, Chris Moore, the entire board of directors and all of you—presidents and executive directors from across the country—thank you so much for the opportunity to be with you today.
I would also like to recognize Chris Ahrens, Chairman of U.S. Soccer’s Athletes Council and a member of U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors, who is here with us today.
As many of you know, our CEO Dan Flynn had to depart early but also sends his best to you all. Many of you welcomed me to your states during the campaign earlier this year—it was wonderful to meet with you in your hometowns and I’m still so grateful for your hospitality. I’m also pleased to be here for your National Championships, and I’m looking forward to joining you for some of the final matches. Best of luck to all the teams!
Thank you, most of all, for the commitment and passion that you and the millions of players, administrators, coaches and volunteers of US Youth Soccer bring to soccer in America every day. We saw that same spirit—our shared love of the game—last month, in our historic bid to bring the World Cup to America, Mexico and Canada in 2026—and, I’m proud to say, we won!
Before I say another word, I want to share a few clips from our presentation to the FIFA Congress in Moscow.
I wanted to share that with you because our bid—how our three countries came together and how we won—I think holds lessons for the work that brings us here today: growing soccer in America, especially among our youth.
Bringing change to U.S. Soccer was, of course, a major theme of the campaign for Federation president. It was clear to so many of us that U.S. Soccer needed to change. It’s now been about five months since I took office—it’s an incredible honor to serve.
Today, I want to update you on some of our work to deliver the change that’s needed, including at the youth level.
At the Federation we’re working to make U.S. Soccer more open and transparent. I’m communicating with members regularly—updates by email and through social media—so that you know more about what’s happening at the Federation and why.
We’re working to make U.S. Soccer more inclusive and effective, with more oversight. We announced important reforms in April, including new board committees—a Technical Development Committee and a Commercial Committee—so that the Board plays a greater role in Federation activities.
I know board committees don’t sound exciting, but, believe me, we’re changing the way we run our Federation. We’ve restructured our senior management to align with the Board and improve accountability.
We’re committed to being your partner, to listening to you, and to making sure that youth always has a seat at the table.
That’s why we expanded and formalized our Membership Department to serve all our members better, including our youth—because every decision that affects you, should be made with you…you should be consulted as a true partner, before decisions are made!
We’re very pleased that the Membership Department—including Caitlin Carducci, who many of you know—is being led by our Chief Stakeholders Officer, Brian Remedi, who’s here today.
With respect to our National Teams, we’re working to make sure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts.
Our Men’s National Team not qualifying for the World Cup was heartbreaking. Now we’re in period of rebuilding.
We’ve named Earnie Stewart—a three-time World Cup veteran—as the first General Manager of our Men’s Team. Earnie starts this week, and at the top of his to-do list is the search for a new head coach.
I would point out that this isn’t the first time a team has had to rebuild. Just eight years after their team left the World Cup in South Africa in disarray and disgrace—today France, with a new, younger team is the World Cup champion.
And if small countries like Croatia and Belgium can field teams that reach the final rounds, there’s absolutely no reason that the United States—with more than 300 million people—can’t do so as well!
With respect to our Women’s National Team, our search is underway for a general manager—a partner who can work closely with coach Jill Ellis and ensure that our women qualify here in Frisco in October, defend their title next year in France and bring the World Cup trophy home again!
Looking to the future, we made it a priority to win our bid to co-host the World Cup in 2026.
This wasn’t by any means a slam dunk. Earlier this year, our bid was not where it needed to be. We had no support in Africa, we were behind in Europe and we hadn’t really engaged in Asia. Given the geopolitics and anti-Americanism, the other bid—Morocco—was ahead in many ways.
So, our three countries—U.S., Mexico and Canada—came together as partners, with co- chairs from each country. We worked together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration listening to each other and making compromises, realizing that we could achieve more by standing together. We were disciplined and worked hard for every vote around the world making our case in meeting with countries in small groups and one-on-one.
It took far more time than I could have ever imagined. We met with just about every federation from the Americas, Europe and Asia and some in Africa…about 175 around the world.
But, in the end, we built a strong coalition of support and we prevailed—by a 2-to-1 margin bringing the World Cup back to North America for the first time in 32 years!
Why is this so important?
In essence, it gives us an eight-year runway to help energize and elevate soccer in America. It will help us inspire a new generation and bring more players into our ranks! It will help generate new revenue that we can invest to make soccer more affordable and develop the very best players, coaches and referees at all levels! It will attract even more fans, whose passion is helping to fuel the phenomenal growth of soccer across America.
In short, co-hosting in 2026—and the years leading up to it—will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring us closer to our goal of making soccer the preeminent sport in America and I know we can do it!
You at U. S. Youth Soccer are going to be a critical part of this journey. Youth soccer is the foundation and future of soccer in America. The youth players of today are the national team players of tomorrow who will compete in 2026 and beyond. Today’s youth players are also the future fans in the stadiums, the future coaches, referees, parents and volunteers who will help make soccer preeminent.
It’s a virtuous circle—the more we inspire and invest in the grassroots, the more talent we’ll identify and the more players and fans we’ll develop for the next generation, who will, in turn inspire future generations and bring even more people into the game.
Now, I know there’s often a lot of talk about what’s wrong with youth soccer. I think it’s important to also remember what’s right—and we have a lot to be proud of.
In recent decades, we’ve brought millions more young people into the game. In some communities, soccer is already the number one sport—and there’s so much talent.
Among millennials, soccer now ties with basketball as the second most favorite sport to watch, and among Generation Z—kids about 8 to 23—soccer is even more popular.
With these demographics—including immigrant communities from soccer-loving nations—we have the potential for tremendous growth!
At the same time, the reality is that the number of young people playing soccer as registered players under the umbrella of U.S. Soccer has stagnated. People may debate and disagree over the specific numbers, but we should all be able to agree that the ranks of our registered players shouldn’t be stagnant—they should be growing.
Think about it—we have 3 to 4 million kids in our ranks. The fact is millions more are playing— it’s just that they are not registered players under our umbrella.
This is perhaps our single greatest opportunity—and our single greatest challenge—reaching out and bringing these players into our ranks. And we all know the barriers that are standing in the way of our growth—they’re no secret.
The landscape is too fragmented and fractured. Competition is good, but sometimes youth soccer becomes more about winning trophies and making money when it should be about having fun and developing players.
In a country as big and diverse as ours, we’re never going to have a single, unified national youth program like many smaller countries—we’ll always have different programs in different places.
But there does need to be a level playing field—competition has to be fair. And we have to forge a more unified landscape where—instead of programs competing with each other for players— we work together to recruit those millions of kids as registered players.
And not just at the elite levels—but at all levels, from recreational to competitive—boys and girls—and turn youth players into adult players and fans for life.
There’s also the high cost of “pay to play,” which means too many boys and girls can’t afford to play the sport they love. I think we can all agree—soccer in America cannot just be a sport for kids in the suburbs or from wealthy families. We have to make soccer more affordable— including with scholarships and grants—so kids from urban and rural areas and diverse communities can play, too.
I came to this country as an immigrant with my family when I was a teenager—playing soccer in high school was one of the ways I made friends and fit in.
I’m sure many of you can think of players from immigrant families that you serve. At every level, we have to do a much better job of reaching out to all communities.
As a first step, our reforms at the Federation include our new Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer—to promote equality and diversity across all programs at all levels.
That’s the commitment we’ve made at the Federation, and we want to encourage all our members to do the same—and we’re here to be your partner, sharing ideas and resources for how to better reflect and include the communities we serve.
For example, just as we interview and recruit minority candidates for positions at the Federation and our national teams—the so-called Rooney Rule—youth organizations have an opportunity to be more inclusive as well, from your boards to your directors to the coaches who are closest to the players.
As you say here at U.S. Youth Soccer, we have to make youth soccer “a place for everyone.”
A strong, vibrant soccer nation also needs multiple pathways for player development.
We’re now 10 years into our Development Academies and we can be proud of their success. Hundreds of DA players have been signed to professional teams. DA players have represented our country in many international matches. Meanwhile, the Girls Development Academy just celebrated its first anniversary.
At the same time, player development is not a single-lane road. Not every player will or should go to an academy, and not every state has DAs. We need options for all players at all levels, including ODP.
As we look to the future, we need to continue to refine and align all our various pathways so that we’re even better positioned to identify the next generation of talent. Finally, there’s the relationship between our organizations.
During the campaign, I heard a lot of concerns about various relationships—between state associations and national organizations; between youth organizations; between youth organizations and the Federation. Some asked whether it still made sense to be a member of the Federation or whether the fees you pay are reasonable.
I want you to know that I hear those concerns.
I’m working hard to make sure we get our arms around this and fully understand all the facts— particularly as it relates to what you pay into the Federation and the full range of benefits you get back. Because this is about more than dollars and cents—it’s about making sure that the value of our relationship is clear and obvious to everyone.
For example, just as we’re pursuing reforms at the Federation, we want to help our members be even more effective and accountable. Our Federation can be a resource—not to tell you what to do, but to partner with you.
Nico Romejin and his team at Soccer House already work with you to share best technical practices, including player development, coaching education and referee training.
So, I’ve asked Brian Remedi to work with you over the coming year to develop and share a suite of best organizational practices—whether its financial and accounting, board governance or SafeSport. After all, our Federation and your associations are member-driven organizations—and we have a shared obligation to make sure we’re truly serving our members and operating at the highest standards.
Now, how do we do address all the challenges I’ve mentioned?
At the risk of stating the obvious, let me say this: I don’t have all the answers to single-handedly address these issues—no one person does. No one youth soccer organization does. In fact, even within organizations there are different opinions on these issues.
Here’s where I think we could embrace some of the lessons from our bid to host the World Cup.
On the field, the United States, Mexico and Canada are fierce competitors. But we came together, in common cause, for the good of the game—and youth soccer can do the same.
I believe that the time is right.
With the new reforms at the Federation, we’re more aligned with our members—including youth—than ever before. With the World Cup bid behind us, we have an opportunity to turn our attention to home—and just as we were relentless in the pursuit of our bid, we need to be relentless in our work to grow soccer at the grassroots.
And at the Federation board offsite next month—which will include representatives from our youth members, including US Youth Soccer —we’ll look hard at our overall strategy: how we can use this eight-year runway to 2026 to help transform soccer in America at all levels, including boosting youth participation.
I’m here today to say that—as part of this effort—I’m prepared to support something that’s never been done before.
In partnership with youth organizations like US Youth Soccer, I’m ready to support the creation of a new task force that would—for the first time ever—bring all our youth members together to look at all the challenges we face and how we can do better.
We’d have to work out the details and agree on the specific areas of focus. Just as our three nations did on the United Bid, youth organizations would have to come together and work together.
That includes US Youth Soccer—as the largest youth soccer organization in America, you have a critical role.
Just as the United States—the largest country in our Would Cup bid—worked with our Mexican and Canadian partners and made compromises for the greater good, so too with youth soccer.
So, I plan to continue meeting with you and youth organizations as I travel around the country— listening to your concerns, hearing your ideas and exploring solutions.
If organizations like US Youth Soccer are ready to stand with us, I’m prepared to devote every ounce of my energy—as I did with the bid—to building a strong coalition of support and consensus for the changes that are needed.
And just as our United Bid succeeded, I believe we can succeed in our mission to strengthen youth soccer in America—this is the work you do every day at the grassroots and this is my highest priority as president.
In closing, I want to leave you with a story that I think speaks to both our challenges and our hopes for future.
Earlier this year, I visited Kentucky Youth Soccer in Bowling Green.
I was hosted by Bob Drake, who I think is here today. During our meeting, Bob introduced me to two young boys—about 13, 14 years old. One had parents who worked in a textile factory; the other boy’s father is a truck driver.
These boys are amazing players, but their families simply couldn’t afford the high cost of youth soccer. So, their local clubs and state association came together—and with the help of scholarships and grants—these boys were able to play and compete at the state ODP level-and beyond.
I’m sure many of you know of similar stories in your own states.
It was a powerful reminder—of the barriers that too many hard-working families and talented players face every day, but also of our power—as one, united soccer family—to come together and bring more young people into the game.
After all, youth soccer isn’t about us adults. It’s about these boys and girls, kids of all backgrounds who we’re here to serve. They’re kids who may never compete at the elite level, but who still love to kick and run and feel the joy of the game in their hearts.
They’re rising stars who may grow up to compete in future World Cups, including in 2026 right here on American soil.
They’re players who may someday visit—and maybe even be inducted into—the beautiful new National Soccer Hall of Fame that’s coming to Frisco—a wonderful collaboration between U.S. Soccer, the City of Frisco, the Hunt Family and FC Dallas.
That love of the game, those hopes for the future—that’s what youth soccer is all about. That’s the incredible opportunity before us.
And I couldn’t be more excited to be your partner as we work together to bring even more boys and girls into this game and help them realize their soccer dreams. Thank you all very much!