Soccer. Football. Fútbol. Fußball.
Call it whatever you want, at the end of the day it is the same game. However, the playing field is not the same. Obviously, every region has a different state of the game. In Central Ohio alone, there are hotspots of great soccer and spots that are at the same level England was at in 1920 in terms of play. Many local schools still do not have a soccer program, boys or girls. This fact can be applied to much of the United States due to the popularity of other sports competing for a student-athlete’s attention and commitment. Unfortunately, this hurts the programs that are serious about trying to grow. Some teams are having to drive almost two hours to play a game. To put this into perspective, this is roughly the equivalent of Bournemouth traveling to London in England. In that distance, you will likely find over 100 clubs in England.
So what about the teams that do exist? It is not really up for debate that women’s soccer is ahead of men’s soccer in the US. Not that woso being ahead of the men is a bad thing, it just simply is what it is. To look at rural Ohio, I am going to put the attention on my alma mater high school. River Valley, located just outside the calm village of Caledonia with a massive population of around 600. As I reference River Valley throughout this article, I will refer to them as RV. That being said, RV is a growing high school in the area, and with more students come more athletes. Not too long ago, this RV Girl’s team was working on a very large losing streak (it is best if I do not say how many games, it was that bad.) Fortunately, a new coaching staff has come in and a new crop of players have also arrived, which has lead to winning games. Some of these players have a serious talent that could be a good enough quality at the next level. Unfortunately this is where the problems come in.
RV is not alone in facing this issue. Rural Ohio is not alone in facing this issue. There are simply not enough scouts to find the talent that are playing on the fields beyond the city alongside the corn fields and cattle farms. Even if there were enough scouts, it would be unlikely that scouts would spend the time combing through the middle of nowhere because there are very few schools at the level to make it worth the time and gas miles.
So how do rural schools reach the next level? How do universities justify spending time in the countryside looking for a scholar-athlete? First off, schools must urge any other school around to try and form a team. The first year will be hard, but if done right, it will grow. Second, just because there are 11 people on the field that look the part does not mean that the quality is there. I cannot stress enough that the coaches (especially for new sides) cannot be a popular parent in the Boosters Club or a teacher that enjoys soccer (that has been attempted before, it did not work well…at all.) Someone on the coaching staff must have relative experience or certification to properly train the team in order to get the players ready for the next level. Third, have some heart. If the heart is in the game, then success will come. Unfortunately for rural Ohio and much of the US, the heart is not in soccer. The heart is in football, volleyball, cheerleading, basically anything else.
As soon as more schools are convinced to even call a meeting to see how many students would be interested in playing, the quality will start improving. In Soccermatics by David Sumpter, it is noted that there are 265 million registered soccer players in the world. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the top two players in the world, so for every 132.5 million players, there is one Messi or Ronaldo. On a much smaller level, if 100 new students start playing soccer, the chance of a potential player of a higher caliber appears. For the sake of the US national team becoming stronger, the River Valleys of America need their fellow rural schools stepping up and starting programs of their own.