Right to Dream poised to launch in US to combat pay-to-play
Written by Simon Austin — February 23, 2023
RIGHT TO DREAM are poised to launch a club and Academy in the United States, according to their Founder and Group CEO Tom Vernon.
Vernon told the Training Ground Guru Podcast that the idea was to combat the pay-to-play system, which “is excluding a lot of kids of potential from making it.”
When asked whether the new club could be as high as MLS level, Vernon replied “yes.” When asked when an announcement would be made, he said “soon.”
Right to Dream launched in 1999 with an Academy near Accra in Ghana. The non-for-profit group now owns Academies in Denmark, Egypt and Ivory Coast, as well as a club - FC Nordsjaelland, who currently top the Danish Superliga.
FCN have the youngest first-team squad of any team in the 31 European leagues (22.6 years old), according to the CIES. Fourteen of their squad are Academy graduates from either Right to Dream Denmark or Ghana.
The group does have already have close ties with a number of US colleges and an operation overseeing the transition of Academy graduates to the country. To date, Right to Dream players have received more than $50m in US scholarships over the last 14 years.
Several Ghana graduates have also gone on to play in the MLS, including Ousseni Boudda, who currently plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and attended the prestigious Stanford University.
When players are selected to join Right to Dream, they receive fully-funded scholarships, whereas in America there is a pay-to-play system.
This means that youngsters sometimes have to pay thousands of dollars per year to play, especially in the older age groups. This can price many from less privileged backgrounds out of football.
Vernon told the TGG Pod: “We’re working on an Academy and club in the US. Some of that pursuit is public knowledge. We’re not really opening up and talking too much about what we’re trying to do there, but it’s quite close.
“It’s well documented that the pay-to-play soccer system is excluding a lot of kids with a lot of potential from making it, so we think it’s a pretty perfect market for Right to Dream, where we specialise in going into places where other people don’t necessarily look, and finding talent. We think America is crying out for that.
“At the same time, we think our brand and mission is quite closely aligned to some of the core tenets of the American dream and philosophy towards sport. We think in growing our brand and having significant impact in the US - which we managed to do in Denmark and Ghana - will open up a lot of opportunities for us.
“So I spend a lot of time in the US now trying to finalise our home and our strategy for youth development but also for a club that can be one of the pathways within our group.”
Alex Morgan (pictured below) spoke out about the pay-to-play system after helping the US win the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“Unfortunately the pay-to-play model, I believe, is getting worse in soccer than when I played competitive soccer (growing up),” Morgan said. “It’s a very inexpensive sport and the fact that we’ve made youth soccer in the US more of a business than a grassroots sport is, I think, detrimental to the growth of the sport in the US.
“I’m not sure how to fix it but I think it needs to go back to looking at grassroots and seeing around the world soccer is not an expensive sport. It’s actually played barefoot in many countries and all you need is a ball and goal posts, and the goal posts can be trash cans or whatever is nearby.”