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Q&A On The Future Of Soccer In The U.S.

Ashley Allen / Stringer

Since 1986, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team has qualified for the World Cup. However, when they lost 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago two months ago, the U.S. sealed their fate to miss the 2018 World Cup, disappointing nearly every soccer player and fan here in the states. But when looking back at the U.S.’s track record on the international soccer stage, they have been very mediocre. Their best result in a World Cup was making it to the semi-finals in the inaugural year of the World Cup in 1930.

Looking at this history, it is easy to comprehend why the U.S. disappointed this year. However, the exciting progression of soccer quality and culture in the U.S. in recent years is what made this upset so disheartening. Not to mention the profound success of the U.S. Women’s National team, which is the most successful international women's soccer team. The women have won three Women's World Cups, four Olympic women's gold medals, seven CONCACAF Gold Cup wins, ten Algarve Cups, medaled in every single World Cup and Olympic tournament in women's soccer history from 1991 to 2015.

However, one person that still has high hopes for U.S. men’s soccer is my dad. Shawn Medved played professional soccer from 1990 to 2000. He played for teams like the Portland Timbers, Cleveland Crunch, Seattle Sounders, D.C. United, San Jose Clash, and more. He played in the MLS during the league’s early years when it was just getting started. At that time, they received pretty minimal pay (especially when compared to other professional athletes) and the stadium and crowds were not as notable as they are now. Playing in the MLS, still going to MLS games, occasionally volunteering with the league, and having old friends and teammates coaching and administering in the MLS, he dishes to me his knowledge on how far the league has come and what he sees in the future for both the MLS and the men’s national team.
 

When did you start playing in the MLS? And where?

I had been playing in the pro leagues that came before MLS; I played with the Seattle Sounders the two years prior to MLS. Everyone in the soccer world had been waiting for MLS to begin as it was originally supposed to start the same year as the 1994 World Cup that the US hosted. After it was delayed, many thought it would never happen, but they were really only taking time to strengthen the ownership group so that the league would have staying power. The first event of MLS was the MLS draft in New York in which all of the players not previously allocated would be drafted to their new teams in a 15 round selection process. It was a nerve-wracking process as you could end up any which where in the country. I was selected in the 2nd round by DC United.

What was it like? What were your expectations vs. the reality of playing professional soccer?

I was already a pro soccer player, but MLS turned out to be the next level that I was hoping for. DC United played in the Inaugural game at San Jose Earthquakes in Spartan Stadium sold out the game on ABC Sports. The first season was huge crowds in big stadiums, which culminated in us winning the first ever MLS Cup vs. the LA Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium. The level of play was better with many international stars, and I remember being enamored by the likes of Etcheverry, Valderrama, Donadoni, and other World Cup Stars.

Can you think of any major differences in the MLS now versus when you played?

The biggest thing now is the feeling of permanence with the league. It is here to stay, fans are educated and loyal, it has found its place, and back when I played it was like a start up company and people were wondering if it would last.

What kind of living conditions did the MLS provide at that time?

We were paid on year a round salaries and made enough money to live on, but it was small compared to other sports. Only the big World Cup stars were making real "pro" money. We had excellent facilities, stayed at nice hotels, and were treated like professionals.

What was it like winning the MLS championship? Was that your biggest dream/goal? If not, what was?

I was lucky enough to win a few Championships, but winning the first ever MLS Cup was the best as it was a big event on ABC sports in the worst rainstorm in the history of Boston. The game had tremendous drama with DC coming back from being down two to zero with only 13 minutes left. I scored the tying goal with 7 minutes remaining. It turned out to be historical as we went on to win in overtime, and we will forever be the first ever Champions of the MLS Cup.

Why do you think the MLS struggles being a major player in the sports industry here in the U.S.?

The main reason is that MLS started 20, 50, or even 100 years later then the other major sports. It will take time to be on an even level with the other major sports here in the U.S. However, the progress from 1996 to 2018 is very impressive with so many teams, great owners, TV contracts, big salaries, growing fan base, etc. I never thought it would be this big this fast. I don't see a struggle. I see a rising future for MLS.

With so much intense youth soccer programs in the U.S., why do the MLS and the U.S. national team still struggle?

Same answer really... the main reason is that USA got serious about soccer 20, 50, or even 100 years later then the other soccer powers. It will take time to be on an even level with the other soccer powers. In terms of coaching and player development, we are playing catch up. However, again, I am optimistic about U.S. soccer and it has come a very long way.

What do you see in the future for the MLS? Do you think it will continue to get bigger and more popular? As big as in Europe and other countries?

I think MLS has a very bright future and has already surpassed many countries' pro leagues. It will take a long time to catch up to a premier league, but the growth rate shows it is possible some day. We just have to be realistic. Imagine if England decided they were going to start their own British NFL to be as big and popular as our NFL. It is possible... but it will take a long time.