Roosevelt: The Great Debate -- Urban Soccer vs. Suburban Soccer

Roosevelt Stop IconBy Jill Jacoby and Jeremy Mikula
The Red Line Project

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2012

As director of the Chicago Fire Academy (CFA), Larry Sunderland’s main job is to scout the best young soccer talent in the Chicago area.

One major point of debate when it comes to developing soccer players in the U.S. is where youth players are recruited from. Should teams recruit in suburban areas — where organized club soccer is dominant — or should they pursue local urban talent?

While working as analyst for ESPN during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann — the current head coach of the U.S. Men’s National team — discussed recruiting young American talent and described soccer as being similar to basketball.

“You need it out of the lower-class environment, and soccer worldwide is a lower-class environment sport,” Klinsmann said on ESPN. “I compare it to basketball because I’m looking at all of these [basketball players] and they’re coming from the inner cities. You need to find ways that connect with Hispanics, to connect with everybody in the soccer environment in the U.S.”

Sunderland, however, thinks the debate is more complex than that. Though he realizes that good players come from all walks of life, he thinks that Klinsmann will “figure out what soccer in the United States is as he really digs into it.”

“Everybody who comes here says, ‘We need to get into the inner-city more, we need to get the players from the inner-city more, we need to go the “Latin Way” with stuff, there’s an awful lot of talent with the Latin community.’ All true. But there’s very few people who really understand how it works unless they’re in it and digging into it every single day,” Sunderland said.

Sunderland highlighted the training habits and dedication players from a more structured soccer background have, as well as the role age plays into forming them.

“You see a lot of the best soccer players in the country right now come from a more organized environment and that tends to be found more in the suburban areas,” he said. “And I think this is a problem in this country and it’s been a very difficult one to figure out and fix.”

Sunderland agrees with Klinsmann in that talent can be found in an inner-city setting. However, he stressed the importance of finding talented urban soccer players before they enter high school, as most will have developed their own sense of playing style and dedication by their teenage years.

“I think there are certainly ways to make it work,” Sunderland said. “And in my mind, what Jurgen is correct about is that there are many great, great athletes in the inner-city and under-served markets, but you have to get them young. If we’re really going to make it work, to get into the inner-city, to develop some of these special young talents that are there, you have to get them young. That’s where the habits are formed.”

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