When your daughter dreams of playing in the Women’s World Cup, life as a soccer dad can get intense
Accustomed to the piercing fever pitch of an MSI rec field and the giddiness coming from the line at the ice cream truck after Saturday games, I barely recognized the scene at Angie’s club soccer team tryout in 2016. Some girls clung to their stone-faced parents, whose eyes moved from player to player to assess their relative sizes. I did it, too.
When Angie, normally ebullient, saw Katelin, her best buddy from their rec team, the two girls huddled tightly and quietly, talking in whispered tones. Angie’s worry, maybe bigger than not making the club team for the Potomac Soccer Association, was that she would get separated from her friend. For Katelin’s dad and me, the concern was how far behind our daughters might fall if they made the “B” team rather than the “A” team. Judging from the looks on other parents’ faces, some seemed worried that their daughters might not make it at all.
It didn’t take long, though, to reveal a barely hidden truth about club soccer in Montgomery County: Almost everyone makes it. According to Jessica Hafer, registration director at MSYSA, about 15,700 of the roughly 60,000 girls who play soccer in Maryland are on club teams, with more than 60% of those—about 9,600—coming from Montgomery County. If you’ve got the cash and the will, one of the dozen or so for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the area is probably willing to give your daughter a spot, even if she’s barely touched a ball in her life. The demand for girls club soccer is so high that the most sought-after organizations, such as the Bethesda Soccer Club, have as many as four teams of Under-11 (U11) girls, separated by ability levels—blue, white, green and orange—competing in different area leagues.
“It’s almost insane how many kids are being put into travel soccer,” Schuessler says. “If travel soccer is supposed to be the pinnacle of the soccer talent pool, why does it represent such a high percentage of all of the kids? It did not historically. This is a phenomenon of the last 10 years. To me, it is commercialization. Club soccer has become big business for a lot of people.”
Angie’s soccer tab at age 10, if I dared to add it all up, is probably north of $6,000 a year. That includes the $2,300 annual club fee, summer camps, private coaching lessons, gas money and hotels, along with the balls, goals, cones, backpacks, uniforms and other clothing she needs to look the part. I used to fantasize that maybe someday I could get it all back in the form of a scholarship, but reality paints a different picture: Playing soccer is a resume-builder that can often help your daughter get into college, but it rarely pays the bills. NCAA data shows that the average scholarship among all college divisions is less than $10,000 a year, and only the two or three most elite players on a team get anything close to a full scholarship.
For my daughter, her club soccer friends, and likely many of the 3 million or so other girls who are playing in the U.S., the biggest lure of all might be Alex Morgan, a top goal scorer for the U.S. national team. Morgan has posed for Sports Illustrated, starred in the 2018 soccer fantasy film Alex & Me, and made Time magazine’s 2019 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. But Morgan and her 28 teammates—just about the only women making a living wage playing on the soccer field in this country—sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March for gender discrimination based on compensation inequities. The starting annual salary for an entry-level NWSL professional player is $16,538 a year; the starting salary for the men playing Major League Soccer is $54,500.
For the past three years, my family has volunteered to provide housing for a member of the Washington Spirit during the season to help players make ends meet. Seeing that economic reality up close has made Katie question my priorities at times when I’d rather kick a soccer ball with my daughter than help her with math and reading homework. She and Aimee can get annoyed when I sit at the dinner table and share others’ opinions about whether Angie is on the right club team to match her ability. Clubs in Maryland aren’t supposed to blatantly recruit players from other clubs—that’s prohibited by an unofficial code of ethics—but that doesn’t stop us soccer dads (and many moms) from constantly strategizing our child’s next move.