- American Soccer: History, Culture, Class by Gregory G. Reck, and Bruce Allen Dick
American Soccer: History, Culture, Class is the result of soccer-dad academics who turned their intellectual attention to the sport after coaching their daughters’ park and recreation teams. They applied their anthropological and English academic backgrounds to question [End Page 440] United States youth soccer and how its social-economic space applies to class, ethnicity, and cultural symbols. They agree with U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s analogy that U.S. soccer is like an inverted pyramid and prohibits playing opportunities to those who cannot afford to play. Further, until the pyramid is righted and allows equal playing opportunity, the United States will likely remain a peripheral soccer playing nation with a marginal fan base.
The monograph’s arguments are divided into three sections: an outline of their theoretical position, a brief history of U.S. soccer, and an examination of the game in their home state of North Carolina and its application to a national model. There is also an afterword that reviews the recently completed 2014 USMNT World Cup effort and how Klinsmann applied his vision.
In the first section, the authors suggest that Germany and Japan are two soccer models the United States should emulate. Both are financed by corporate and national partnerships, aggressively develop home-grown talent, and feature soccer centers that emphasize technical coaching, equipment, and facilities in a structured youth league for a minimal fee. This formula has earned demonstrable success with both the men’s and women’s teams. The authors recommend that the United States should adopt this system. This would minimize the economic differences of those who cannot afford to play club soccer and create a larger fan base for the sport.
In the second section, the authors topically trace the history of U.S. soccer from early organizational roots in the late 1800s through the 1980s North American Soccer League (NASL). They primarily focus on the Northeast and St. Louis. They identify several visiting international aggregates, the 1920s American Soccer league, and the USMNT’s 1930 World Cup competition, along with notable players and teams. They suggest that this early period demonstrated positive achievements, was open to all players, had fan support, and garnered international success.
Following the 1950 World Cup through the NASL years, the authors highlight the proliferation of college soccer, which coincided with the rise of the NASL and its flagship franchise, the New York Cosmos. They use the Cosmos as a lens to measure the statistical growth and decline of the fan base, the preponderance of foreign players, unequal salaries, and inability to nurture the development of native-born players. When the first NASL folded in 1984, the authors attribute the lack of fans as a result of the pay-to-play system, which gave few reasons for parents to attend professional matches. These nuances caused the soccer pyramid to invert.
The final section explores case studies of North Carolina youth and college soccer. These include their experiences as coaches in the park and recreation leagues and an overview of the region’s Latino-operated leagues. There is also a comparative chapter about U.S. soccer stand-out Clint Dempsey and an equally talented childhood friend who was unable to meet the financial challenges of club play and had to abandon competitive soccer.
A brief history of Appalachian State University’s (ASU) soccer program is the other case study. It explains how ASU deemphasized soccer’s importance, neglected its storied history, and moved the playing facilities off campus. The unsurprising impact is a community unaware of its soccer past and potential. These studies reinforce the inverted-pyramid concept. [End Page 441]
The current state of Major League Soccer (MLS), women’s soccer, and the USMNT’s run in 2014 World Cup conclude the book. The authors situate the current game as a middle-to-upper-class privilege. They conclude that U.S. soccer must become...