The Truth About Professional Soccer

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Professional Soccer

So many kids dream of being professional soccer players and so many parents support it, but have you really thought about what it takes to be a professional soccer player?

All of professional athletics is mostly BLUE COLLAR type work, akin to ditch digging, oil rigging, fire fighting and roofing.  However, it also requires split-second decision making abilities, similar to what police officers, fire fighters, paramedics & trauma surgeons have to make. It’s hard, physical labor, and the majority of professional soccer players are forced to quit before they really want to, because of the damage that the sport job does to their bodies. If you take the ball out of the equation, professional soccer is about 6 hours a day, 4 days a week of consistent physical exertion that consists mostly of running and pushing bodies & heavy objects.

RISK vs REWARDSoccer Kids

Games are where the risk of debilitating injury occurs. In the minds of the players, the game itself is broken down into very small increments called “winnable moments“, as aggressive, sometimes violent players are going head to head against other aggressive, sometimes violent players who all want to win the ballThese are the points where heroes are made and careers are ended.

Professional Soccer Player Salaries

In spite of the celebrity surrounding professional soccer players, the overwhelming majority of professional athletes barely make a living wage – even the ones you see on TV.   The facts are that while some professional soccer players DO make a good living, many more live just above or below the poverty line, making the competition for a good paying wage very high.

While the average salary of an MLS player is $148,693.26, the facts is, there are barely 600 players in the MLS. 

In the NASL, there are barely a dozen teams with about 250 players who make significantly less than their MLS counterparts, with most salaries below $40,000 and starting at just $15,000. You’d make more money at McDonald’s!

For many NASL players, the six-month season actually serves as only a part-time job, so maybe they ARE working at McDonald’s.  McDonald’s has over 14,000 stores in the U.S. with general managers who make over $50k a year.

The USL has about 2 dozen teams, with just over 600 players. The salaries range anywhere front $450 a week to about $3,000 a month, but this information isn’t broadcast as freely as the NASL or MLS salaries are. Of course, this is income for about 6 months of work, which is equivalent to the lowest paid players in the NASL ($15k annually), and is by no means a living wage.

Female Soccer SalariesFemale Soccer Player Salaries
The average wage for a female professional soccer player is close to zero.  Yes, NOTHING.  In fact, the 9th highest paid female soccer player IN THE WORLD is Sarah Huffman, who makes $25,000 a year. Now, $25,000 may sound like a lot, but Sarah is one of the highest paid players on the planet, and she makes half of what a retail store manager makes.

So, of the roughly 1,500 professional, WORKING male soccer players in the United States, the average salary is about $20,000/year. When you add women to the statistic, the median wage drops to about $11k annually.

ODDS

There are nearly 4 million kids playing soccer in the United States, of which maybe 1% believe that they can grow up to be pros.  That equals about 40,000 players all competing for just 2,000 available jobs that pay an average salary of just $11,000 a year.

Now, if they are the absolute best at their job, they can make much more, but even the best female soccer players still need to supplement their soccer incomes with something else. Hope Solo and Abby Wambach are the absolute best female soccer players in the world and supplement their incomes with endorsements and modeling.

WORKING vs NON-WORKING PROFESSIONALS

There are nearly 10,000 high level amateur players currently playing in college at NCAA and NAIA sanctioned universities who were the best players on their youth teams, and who have dreamed, at some point, of playing pro soccer in the U. S.

On top of that, there are another 10,000 college graduates, dropouts and future attendees who are also working and training, with hopes of getting on with a professional club.

Add to those numbers a variable about 20,000 immigrants, visitors and off the radar high-level amateurs who would also like to play professional soccer, and you have about 40,000 very good soccer players competing for just 2,000 spots that are CURRENTLY FILLED.

That number does not include the hundreds of proven pros who get cut from teams due to injury, age, chemistry or waning ability, but can’t give up the dream.  They travel around the country and sometimes across oceans looking for any opportunity to live out their dreams of playing professional soccer.  🙁

If you have only 2,000 paying jobs that 40,000 people want, what are the other 38,000 people doing?  Well, most are playing in the amateur leagues, some are working odd jobs and training, and some are just couch surfing and traveling from tryout to tryout, looking for any opportunity to fulfill their “destiny“.

SOCCER vs REAL WORLD

Injured soccer player on crutchesIf you like sweating and hard, physical work sprinkled with the risk of permanent injury, then professional athletics may be the job for you.

However, if you DON’T like the thought of busting your hump for a decade, barely earning a living wage, and hearing over and over again that “you’re still not good enough for more than a season-to-season (or even game-to-game) contract“, then we’ve compiled a list of better alternatives.

Here are a list of 11 blue-collar and blue-collar-type jobs that pay much more than the average salary of an American professional soccer player:

  • Electricians are necessary in government, commercial and residential construction, renovation and repair.  They install, maintain, and repair electrical wiring, equipment and fixtures, and ensure that work is in accordance with relevant codes. The work is varied and my include installing or servicing street lights, intercom systems, or electrical control systems in every type of building imaginable . They make an average of $50k annually and there is a need of about 225,000 electricians by 2022.
  • Truck Drivers: There are about 1.7 million truck drivers who make over $40k annually.
  • Elevator Installers/Repairers: There are over 20,00 Elevator Installers and Repairers who make an average salary of over $70,000, with the top of the profession making of $100k annually.
  • Engineers: Engineering is a white collar occupation, but contains many blue collar traits.  Engineers are hands-on problem solvers who are in very high demand, due to the crumbling infrastructure of the United States, the continuous improvements to our transportation system (planes, trains and automobiles) and population growth (construction). That equals a need of about 1.6 million engineering jobs that pay about $87,000 annually, and top out at over $200k.
  • Transportation Inspectors inspect equipment or goods in connection with the safe transport of cargo or people. This profession includes tractor-trailers and trains (Rail Transportation Inspectors). Average salaries are over $65k/annually and top out around $110k, for the 24,000 who are currently employed in the profession.
  • Registered Nurses: While nursing is technically a medical profession, the job itself has many blue collar aspects. Male nurses earn more on average than female nurses, with an an average salary of $67,000, and can make as much as $200k a year, without risk of debilitating injury, like in professional athletics. Female nurses make an average of just more than $50k. Nursing is a physically demanding job that deals with blood and guts and heavy lifting (people), which makes it a perfect alternative to playing professional soccer. The demand for male nurses is strong, as men make up only about 10% of the field. There are nearly 3 million Registered Nurses (RN) in the U.S., and less than 30,000 are men.
    • While electricians have the highest unemployment rate of our list of professions (almost 9%), nurses have a staggeringly LOW unemployment rate of less that 1%.
  • Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers operate/control petroleum refining or processing units. They control manifold and pumping systems, test oil in storage tanks, and regulate the flow of oil into pipelines. There are about 42,000 jobs in this field in the U.S. with the highest earners (over $80k) living in Alaska. The average annual salary is about $60k a year.
  • Electrical Lineman, or Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers install or repair cables or wires used in electrical power or distribution systems. They also erect the huge poles and transmission towers you see from the streets and highways. The Average Annual Salary of a lineman is about $60k, with the highest earner making over $85,000 a year.  Total jobs in this field equals about 105,570, and is increasing.
  • Subway & Streetcar Operators:  There are nearly 6,000 subway and streetcar operators in the United States, who earn nearly $60k a year.   Elevated suburban trains and electric streetcars also fit into this category.
  • Rotary Drill Operators for Oil and Gas set up or operate a variety of drills to remove underground oil and gas, or remove core samples for testing during oil and gas exploration. There are about 22,000 of these jobs available in oil and gas producing areas of the country, which pays nearly $60k annually, topping out at nearly $100k.
  • Aircraft Mechanics & Service Technicians:  There are nearly 120,000 airplane technicians in the U.S., making it one of the largest high paying jobs on this list.  Average salary is about $55,000, topping out at around $75k.

This article is not intended to deter you or your child from their dream, but every athlete needs a fallback plan.  Every athlete should be a good student in elementary school and up, to ensure that they have the work ethic and ability to go on to and do well in college.  College should NOT be viewed as an avenue to an American professional soccer career, as it offers SO MUCH MORE than that.

Professional soccer should be viewed as a short term dream that anyone can attain if they truly have the ambition and work ethic for it, while college should be viewed as the road to a lifelong career. Professional athletics – for the majority of athletes – is very short lived.  Every athlete has to have a plan for what comes afterward.

Will Dietreich, Professional Soccer player, Iceland

Will Dietreich, Professional Soccer player, Iceland

PARENTS:  If you ever want your kids to move out of the house, don’t raise them to be professional soccer players.

To learn more about the first hand struggle to become a professional soccer player, read Will Dietriech’s story here.

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About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1978). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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