After the United States women's national team settled for bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, head coach Vlatko Andonovski promised that the future of his squad was still brighter than ever before. He cited youth matches he had witnessed as evidence the USWNT would come roaring back and said "the girls at that level are more complete players than they have been in the past."
Sure enough, the USWNT is now favored to win a third consecutive Women's World Cup this summer, well-equipped with a promising young core Andonovski continues to rave about. Trailblazing teenager Alyssa Thompson is already on the senior roster, while fellow youngsters such as Olivia Moultrie and Jaedyn Shaw are expected to add to the cause in future tournaments.
But the U.S. girls youth soccer system still faces criticism on several fronts. Families of children unable to earn treasured college soccer scholarships or preferred college admission, let alone international consideration, are frustrated by a lack of quality team options beyond expensive, hard-to-join travel clubs. Standout players, meanwhile, say they get frustrated when teammates don't share their level of commitment to soccer. There is fear that an ACL injury crisis is linked with coaches who want kids to win at all costs and force overexertion in adolescence.
“It's a little bit like throwing eggs against the wall and seeing which ones don't break,” said Tom Farrey, director of the Aspen Institute's Sports Society Program, of the USWNT’s success in the current landscape. “In a nation of 330 million people, you can have a bad system, but as long as you have as many fields as we have, as much money as we have in this country, you can consistently get it wrong and still have talent emerge at the top end that’s impressive. That doesn't mean that you have a soccer development system that makes sense.”
GOAL spoke with players, coaches and experts about the state of youth girls soccer and advice for families...