This is the third of a three-part series from a recent interview with Kevin Payne, the CEO of U.S. Club Soccer. This portion focuses on Payne's view of the soccer coaching structure in America, and on the coming U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election.
Part 1: The state of the American soccer landscape after the men's national team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup
Part 2: The difficulty in getting rid of the pay-to-play culture in American youth soccer
The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
On the high cost of coaching licenses in the United States, and the general financial costs associated with working as a soccer coach:
We support what they've done to make those licenses much more rigorous. Our old "A" license was a little bit of a joke. Certainly compared to a top-level UEFA "A" license.
We did some research in U.S. Club Soccer before one of our meetings with U.S. Soccer and we discovered that in Europe, the countries that had the lowest costs to get their top training license were Spain, Germany and France. The most expensive among the major countries is England. Their cost is almost the same as ours.
If you look at the countries that have the most "A" licenses, Spain has the most, Germany is second and France is third. There seems to be a direct correlation between the cost and the number of high-level coaches.
So I do think — and we're on record as saying this to U.S. Soccer, this isn't any news — that we believe that U.S. Soccer should lower the costs, even for those top-level licenses. And, if necessary, they should subsidize it with some of the very substantial surplus that they hold in the bank.
[That surplus is up to $140 million, according to Sports Illustrated.]
But even more important than that, we think that they need to spend real money to more quickly scale the education of coaches at various levels.
Not necessarily at the [lower] "D" and "E" levels, which are being changed around anyway to specific age group licenses. But certainly at the "A," "B" and "C' levels, we think that right now, the program has gotten more rigorous — which is good — but it's also very difficult to get into, because you just don't have the capacity to handle a large number of candidates.
So, once again, we think it would make some sense to spend some money, even if it's just an initial expenditure, to do two things.
Bring in on a short term basis, let's say on a two-year contract, a substantial number of educators from countries that are consistent in their methodologies with the ways we're trying to teach. Let's just say, Spain or France or Germany. Bring in a substantial number of them so you can more quickly scale the number of coaches who can go through the program.
At the same time, use those same people plus our existing resources to more quickly scale the number of instructors who are available to teach courses.
The countries that have done a good job of re-imagining their youth development processes … the first principle that they all accepted was that if they wanted better players, they needed better coaches. So they devoted real time and effort and resources to ensuring that they expanded the number of coaches who were capable of training players at a high level.
I think we need to think about this in a similar fashion. I think our first priority should be how we get more coaches trained.
On whether he individually or U.S. Club Soccer as an organization will take a position on whether U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati should be re-elected:
We have taken a position, but I don't think it's a public one yet, so I'm not going to comment on behalf of the organization.
I will say that not everything is perfect in U.S. Soccer. We obviously got reminded of that by the loss in Trinidad. At the same time, not everything is wrong either. An awful lot of good things have happened over the last 30 years, and Sunil has played a vital role in virtually all of those things.
I keep saying to people that had we beaten Trinidad 1-0, or tied Trinidad and gone through, or had the goal been not permitted in the Panama game (that didn't cross the line), would you still be writing this story? Would you be writing about how U.S. Soccer needs to make dramatic changes?
There are some of us who have been yelling loudly in the background, saying that we have things that we need to fix, and we shouldn't be fooled by the fact that we continue to qualify for World Cups. We believe that our players are not as good as they should be. Are they better than they were years ago? You could certainly argue that there are more better players. Are our best players better? I'm not sure.
Before people start calling, "Off with his head!" about Sunil, they need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
There is no question that the U.S. Soccer Federation has vastly more influence in the world of soccer today than it had 20 years ago. And certainly, 30 years ago we didn't matter at all. There has been a lot of progress made. We have tremendous financial stability now, and people kind of sneer at that.
But for those of us who worked at the Federation back in the 80's and 90's, we know that was not the case then. We were constantly in a very perilous situation financially. So it's not an insignificant achievement to establish real financial stability. That should not be dismissed.
And even on the technical side, I think that we have made a lot of forward progress. The Development Academy, for instance — I don't think it has come close to fulfilling its potential, but it is a platform that provides us the opportunity to do a lot of things better.
I think Sunil deserves a lot of credit for those things.