At the 2024 Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, Infantino disclosed one aspect of soccer in the United States that surprised him: the pay-to-play system. If American soccer is to reach its full potential, the head of FIFA has stated, the nation must end this massive barrier to entry.

“We want to see the best so we need to bring them the best players, but also the best game, and the best spectacle,” he told Jim Gray.

“For this, we need to invest in the players because we want to show to the kids who play soccer when they are at school or when they are very young, that there is a path in soccer to glory to become one of these world stars.

“This is what maybe they don’t see yet. They see it in basketball, American football, in baseball and ice hockey. But in soccer, it’s still kind of far away. You have to go to Europe. And is there really a great American soccer player?”

Infantino says United States must change pay-to-play system

“One of the things which shocked me here in America is that children have to pay in order to play. We have to stop this. I’m Italian, I grew up in a little Swiss Village in the middle of the mountains. There was a soccer team there, which played in the sixth highest division, so, it was very small and they had 23 teams.”

“And this is all organized and privately funded. So, the local guy who has a restaurant gives the jerseys. The lawyer who has a little bit more money spends on shoes. Privately you create this, movement that makes sure that every kid, plays.”

What did Infantino say about MLS?

Also, to ensure Major League Soccer‘s long-term success, Infantino said that the league must attract elite players. For the league to be more competitive on a global scale, he said, it must be more proactive in its pursuit of top-tier players.

“I told them you have to be a bit more bold, a bit more in the game. Bring in the best players,” he said. Then the 54-year-old went on to talk about how adding Messi and other prominent players has improved the league and Inter Miami in particular.

“The ‘Messi effect’ if we want to call it that way, you see Messi and Inter Miami filling stadiums, and not MLS stadiums but NFL stadiums,” he added. One notable manifestation of the so-called “Messi effect” is the unprecedented turnout for recent MLS matches.

A whopping 65,612 people showed out to see the New England Revolution take on Miami at Gillette Stadium, a site usually reserved for NFL games. On the other hand, MLS is up against institutional obstacles, including squad constraints and salary caps. It could make it harder to get such superstars.

The broadcast partner of Major League Soccer, Apple TV, is among the many stakeholders who have called for a loosening of these financial constraints. The head of FIFA also mentioned the long-term gains that may be made by adding more famous players to the Major League Soccer roster.