Just wondering how the United States takes its next steps in its evolution as a soccer nation.
Slowly. Development is driven by money. I have great faith in the MLS teams, but they need to actually make money. While the recent TV deal is a huge step forward, it's simply a drop in the bucket. These teams have great local followings, but the games need to turn into national events. I do think MLS will overtake the NHL, and I think eventually baseball is in trouble. Though that is probably at least a generation off. If MLS could start getting TV deals on par with what the NHL gets, and a similar national audience, the development academies would take huge leaps forward.
The other thing is the lower leagues need to change. Think of the soccer period in England. There are 20 teams in the premiership, 24 Championship teams, 24 League One, 24 League Two. So this relatively small country has 90+ professional teams where the players can actually make a year round living playing soccer. That is a huge amount of development per population. In the U.S. we have 20 or so (it seems in flux all the time) professional teams where players can make a year round living, that is MLS, and a bunch of NASL and USL teams where players can starve for the love of the game and work jobs in the off-season to survive.
That isn't going to cut it. I don't think the U.S. will ever support a soccer pyramid like England, but I do think that MLS, if it continues to grow, can support a farm system like MLB. Each team has two or three professional affiliates in lower levels, each with their own development academies. I think MLS will eventually end up with 34 teams in two divisions, based on other professional leagues and the inclusion of Canada. So if each MLS team had a pair of USL level affiliates that paid some kind of living wage, you would have almost 100 professional teams. Still low per population density, but probably good enough to make sure not too many players are slipping through the cracks. It would make sense to mandate that 80% of those lower level teams are made up of home country passport players. So MLS would be free to stock rosters with premier talent, but our development would be mostly home grown.
And no, I have no good idea of what to do with the NASL. Give it 20 or 30 years. Soccer has come a long way in the last 20, I think it will continue to move along at a good pace in the future. Short of football imploding due to tramatic brain injuries and the NBA rigging itself out of business, it's never going to be the top sport. But it doesn't have to be the top sport in the U.S. to allow the U.S. team and league to be among the best in the world.