Jamie Trecker has a new column up highlighting the recent U20 qualifying rounds for the U20 World Cup and comes to an unsurprising conclusion:

it’s pretty clear there is a big gap between what the Americans can do and what resources they have to work with. The USA racked up two big wins right enough – one each over Haiti and hosts Panama – but consistency still seems to elude this team.

Part of the problem is innate: in this age group, consistency is the hardest attribute to teach. One of the reasons it is so noticeable is because the level of competition the Americans usually face is so lousy.

Because, like the USMNT, the U20’s face other teams from CONCACAF. They face the same issues of weak competition that the USMNT do. People are concerned about the 0-0 draw with Guatemala, and rightly so. But any coach will tell you that sometimes against less skilled teams, your team will sit back and relax and get caught. That’s not exactly reassuring though. We can HOPE they were just taking a break, but what if they really were held in check by the likes of Guatemala, a team described as ‘below average’. But is that the only reason?

The main point here is that US Soccer faces similar difficulties at all levels of development. Our U17s and U20s need to start facing some real challenges beyond CONCACAF qualifying. Much has been said about how our youth development program needs improvement for our players to compete on the world stage. But there have been few concrete proposals, the last significant one being the MLS youth academies. Will that be enough? Is increased international competition the only problem? Will the USA U20’s be competitive in Canada or go home humbled like the USMNT? Jamie fears the latter:

The games I’ve seen (which are broadcast live on Fox Sports Espanol, FSC’s sister channel) make me wonder how the USA will possibly be able to compete this summer. The players below the equator have a sense of how the game is played at the top level, are excellent when it comes to positioning and delivery and, despite making the mistakes that kids make, are playing another game altogether than the Americans. Bluntly put, the USA in Panama looked like a group of suburban youth soccer players; the ten teams in Paraguay look like professionals.

And there you have it. I’ve heard over and over how we’re driving kids away from soccer because of competition. If we try to shield kids from competition until they’re 13, will the top players be ready to face the world’s best when they’re 16? Or is America’s fixation with competition stifling the development of our youngest players? I wish I had the answer, but I can’t shake the fear that this overwhelming shift in the US towards non-competitive soccer is shifting too far to try and address bad parents and coaches. Instead of a happy medium of competition and development, I fear we may end up turning out a generation of young players who have better skills, but no ability to handle the pressures of higher level play. That combined with the inherent difficulties of being in CONCACAF make me very nervous indeed.