When the United States U-17 World Cup roster was released, there was a graphic innocently posted with the roster.
This graphic sparked an outrage because almost all of the players were east of the Mississippi. This U-17 roster ignored major soccer hotbeds like California, Minnesota, and Washington. Teams like the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy have shown commitment to youth and signing homegrown players. For instance, Seattle have signed nine homegrown players in their history, while the Galaxy currently have 20 academy players across their MLS and USL teams. I decided to analyze the past U-17 rosters to see if there was any historical context to this skew.
When I saw this graph, I was confused at the missing areas. So many areas were missing, in fact, that they even cropped out part of the United States. I looked back at the last three U-17 World Cup rosters (2011, 2015, 2017), and see where the players came from. I decided not to examine U-20 because that is when dual-nationals usually enter the team, and I am focusing on U.S.-based scouts. The U-23s weren't examined because they meet infrequently.
These maps probably don’t surprise you. As you can see, the majority of the players are clustered around California, Texas, and the Northeast. Even though the 2017 team wasn’t dominated by California, previous cycles were. One constant in every team was having players from Texas and the Northeast.
To find these players, U.S. Soccer only employs 125 scouts who report to 10 full time technical advisors. One area with its own TA is the Pacific Northwest, but only has one player to show for it, Akil Watts. Watts is from Indiana, but plays for the Portland Timbers. Several other scouts have very little to show for too, like Mid-America. With around 41.2 million eligible players, and only 10 scouts for all of them, it is essential each scout is pulling their weight. Clearly, certain scouts are outperforming others, but all need to continue to pay more attention to their regions in finding future USMNT stars from all corners of the country. Mining the growing MLS academies will help in that area.
While certain scouts are performing well, some are clearly not doing enough. Still, the only way to find the best talent is to increase the number of scouts and technical advisors. This will allow the scouts with large territories to focus on smaller segments and focus in on some of the MLS clubs that are already developing future young stars. Then, they can find more diamonds in the rough. Once all this change happens, future U-17 teams can truly reflect the best talent from all across the United States.