U.S. Soccer: Better Than the Real Thing

This project has the radical assumption that football became the dominant participant and spectator sport in the U.S. in the early 20th century. The “handling game” of what Americans currently call football is rugby. This is the reason for using “football” instead of “soccer.”

This project reflects the biases of the author regarding what makes the sport of football interesting. (Use of the word “football” is one of those things.) These preferences are the outcome of 40 years of off- and on-again spectating of the sport, and the U.S.’s persistent failure at it, both domestically and at the international level.

Most of these preferences will become apparent from the structure of the league and the content the author creates. But a few of these preferences can be stated at the start so that passers-by can choose whether or not to give the project his or her attention.

The fundamental conceit that underlies this project is that any “problems” with football in the United States, for example aspects like player development and club advancement on merit, are not specifically football problems or even sports problems. I won’t address these in any detail; the interminable debates are well-known to anyone who follows the sport in the U.S.

A few basic issues are: the franchise system, the idea that clubs are “businesses first” with a strong profit motive, and court rulings making sports leagues immune to anti-trust laws. These issues aren’t present in most other nations in the world, although they often have their own quirks. Unfortunately, many elite clubs are now co-opted by rich investors with no relation to the sport other than as a line item in a portfolio, or as a politically motivated “soft power” presence.

Obviously, the U.S. could excel at the sport if it had developed differently. But the U.S. took different paths in its major sports development. To make football “work” in the U.S., then, requires imagining an entirely different U.S.; an alternative history, if you will. No tweak or modest change in U.S. soccer will work.

So to “correct” U.S. football, in other words to make it something that interests me, requires going back to the beginning, roughly the early part of the 20th century. It’s no good thinking, for example, that promotion and relegation can be grafted onto the current U.S. football structure. It would be like trying to graft the branch of an orange tree onto a cactus. So unlike in real-life, some of the foundational U.S. clubs here will have their origins in the late 19th century.

This approach of “beginning at the beginning” has caused me to wipe the slate clean. While real-life people like players and coaches are maintained, none of the structures of U.S. soccer have been kept. There is no MLS, or any of the other failed U.S. soccer leagues, nor are there any of the historical teams. What I provide in exchange is a nation richly populated with clubs from the highest to the lowest levels. A deep pyramid with a lively national cup, league cups, regional cups, and other events that make football interesting.

Some Technical Details

The “franchise” system of the current U.S. is ignored. There is no allocation to cities based on the old system that goes like: “New York and Los Angeles each get two teams, and we work down from there until we end up at smaller ‘markets’ like Cincinnati. Other teams are in ‘minor leagues.'” Most clubs are publicly owned, as are the stadiums. All other nations’ data is maintained in its “real-world” form.

I spread clubs around the nation loosely based on current population density. I’ve placed clubs in locations that appealed to me, but that might be unrealistic in many cases if you look at a contemporary map. Again, this is part of an assumed larger alternative history of the United States, and strict faithfulness to the current landscape isn’t a factor.

There are more than 300 created clubs in this U.S. database. A few have reputations that compare favorably to top clubs in the world. As I said, all current and previous clubs, leagues, and structures are wiped clean. After creation of the league, the game takes over in assigning players to clubs based on their reputations. Many players are generated by the game to fill rosters. This merely points out the scattershot nature of the U.S. youth development system. In this project, the U.S. actually identifies good players early and develops them.

Some of these players will be standouts at the level of the U.S.’s top player, Christian Pulisic, and some even higher. This will have the knock-on effect of making for a better men’s national team, albeit one with many generated players rather than the mediocrity that populates the squad in real life. Another knock-on effect will be that players choose to play in the U.S. rather than in Europe or elsewhere.

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