Hot Topic: Can the US be the next big producer of soccer talent?

On the Grill: Pol Solé

The US Men’s National Team has recently beaten Mexico in the 2021 CONCACAF GOLD CUP FINAL becoming the new soccer Champion of North and Central America.

With a sports history mostly famous for American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey, the US are emerging as a new soccer talent pool with several American players already playing in some of the biggest clubs in the world, such as Christian Pulisic in Chelsea FC, Sergiño Dest with FC Barcelona or Yunus Musah with Valencia CF. 

Pol Solé, the ISL director of LaLiga’s first and oficial soccer recruitment program in the US – LaLiga Select – shared with us his feedback from the LaLiga select Talent IDs and Showcases held this Summer across the country. 

  1. How do you currently see soccer in the US as a sport?

Pol Solé: As of today, soccer is one of the biggest sports in the US and is the most played among young people. If you get your car and drive across the country, you will run into thousands of soccer fields with kids playing soccer. I have lived in the US for 6 years and I have seen a huge growth in both quantity and quality of soccer players.

  1. Do you consider soccer in the US has registered a significant growth of players and viewers over the last years? If yes, what do you think has motivated that growth?

Pol Solé: Yes, absolutely. Soccer has been growing exponentially over the past 5-10 years. In my opinion this growth is due to three different factors:

First, the arrival of European soccer stars to the MLS such as Beckham, Henry, Villa, Zlatan, and many more. The American soccer league and teams were followed and supported by many more people around the world.

The second factor is a consequence of the first one. Having more stars in the MLS, brings sponsors and TV rights. If you only display basketball and football games on TV, it will be very difficult for a kid to be engaged and involved in soccer. However, if the kid turns on the TV and there is a soccer game from his local team, he might watch it and get a better understanding of the game.

Last but not least, the success of the US Women’s National Soccer Team. The United States is one of the very few countries in the world where the amount of boys and girls playing soccer is very similar. Having a role model like Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe makes girls dream of becoming a professional soccer player and competing for the National Team.

  1. What is LaLiga Select and how does it contribute to the development of soccer in the US?

Pol Solé: LaLiga Select is the official LaLiga recruitment pathway in the US. After launching at the beginning of this year, the program has captured the attention of youth soccer in North America, expanding the program to several showcases and Talent IDs across the country. It is a great opportunity for young players aspiring to become professionals to test out their level and skills among other great players and be selected to participate in a Showcase Talent in Spain in front of Technical Directors from LaLiga Clubs.The players can then be recruited by the LaLiga Clubs to kick off their professional careers. 

  1. What is your feedback from the LaLiga select recruitment events (Talen IDs and Showcases)?

Pol Solé: The first LaLiga Select own events took place over the past months in Texas, with hundreds of young American players attending  the Talent IDs in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, and widely expressing on social media their positive feedback and enthusiasm about this unique experience. I was very impressed with the talent and hardwork of these young players. They were very focused on every session and that is a reflection of their goal: become professional soccer players.

On the other hand, we attended several Showcases in the US from our club partners and they were also a big success. We attended those events with LaLiga Scouts to identify talent and bring them to Spain for a Talent Showcase alongside the selected players from the Talent IDs. One of the best things from the Showcases was to see the players in action competing and showing their skills. As I said, every year soccer is growing and the level is higher so it is more fun to watch.

  1. Do you think there is a growing interest from European football in American players? Why?

Pol Solé: Yes, definitely. As soccer grows in the US, more outstanding players emerge and seek for opportunities in Europe. Also, clubs know the US is a big market and having American players in their squads will give them popularity and increase their brand awareness in the US. There are many kids that do not follow teams, they follow players. So, for instance, now that Pulisic is at Chelsea FC, all the fans now follow Pulisic’s club instead of Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic’s previous club). 

  1. Do you think the US can become a world leading reference producing soccer talent, despite the predominance of other sports?

Pol Solé: Yes, I think they  can be one of the best. The US has the resources and the population to make it happen. However, nowadays I think the US is still far from countries like Brazil, France or Spain where the main sport is soccer and every single kid in the street knows how to play. In Spain we breathe, live and sleep soccer.

  1. What is your prognosis for the USMNT in the 2022 Qatar World Cup?

Pol Solé: I am excited to see how the USMNT performs at the World Cup. This one will be very different from the past ones, I am intrigued by how the weather and the dates will affect the players. The World Cup has never been done in the middle of the season so it will be tricky for the clubs. My prognosis is that the USMNT will qualify and advance the group stages and will lose at the round of 16.

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