The sport’s top tier is organized around the goal of producing a tiny group of elite players, at the expense of kids’—and parents’—well-being.
In the late 1970s, when he was 10, Rob Nissen played for the only soccer team available to kids in his middle-class, New Jersey town. “It cost $20 to join, and you got a T-shirt and you played,” said Nissen, who today is a book publicist, still in New Jersey. On Saturdays, he would put on his white canvas Keds and head over to the one park in town that was big enough to accommodate an actual game. No girls’ teams waited on the sidelines—only boys played soccer. Soccer has come a long way in America. Today, millions of American boys and girls play it. It’s a shift that has delighted many: the sport’s fanatics, parents who don’t want their children getting tackled on football fields, and the kids themselves, who often develop a lifelong passion for the sport.