The tendency in this instance is to (in a somewhat often repeated BTL manner) suggest that the removal of “pay-to-play” would be a contingent factor to the situation in and of itself, but this is simply far too reductive to be true IMO.
Nor for that matter a primary contributory reason in terms of failure to qualify for the World Cup either.
In the last 10 years MLS academies/their affiliates have increased by on or about to be over 5 times the availability of “free-to-play” programs in said period. (FWIW MLS only made the complete academy structure mandatory for all teams in the league back in 2013.)
Admittedly this number is still only a paltry 28 approximately. But it would be at best naive to believe that opening up the game would simply guarantee an “influx of minorities”, increase in numbers etc. Or indeed not even have it’s own contingent sideways concerns not too dissimilar to those David Conn’s excellent article(s) bring to the fore, such as the children’s well-being/duty of care et al.
It does though however, raise the more pertinent “lateral challenge” which for me is part of the real biggest single issue: Coach education and availability.
A lot is made of increasing the participation in the US, which I or anyone who loves the game would of course (theoretically) welcome. Albeit the fact remains that in the US there is an estimated 1 A-licensed coach for every 6,000 or so players. Simply not enough to deal with the current level of growth… Let alone a purported huge increment!
Concurrently in Spain for example, youth leagues require all coaches to have at least a UEFA ‘B’ license to be able to coach any age group. The degree itself (& IIRC) requires you to complete 465 hours of classroom learning/training. To coach a under 15 team in the U.S., you only need a National D license; which I’ve been lead to understand only mandates 36-40 hours?!
A like for like comparison is undeniably a tad specious, if not perhaps maybe a little banal. But it does raise the issue that the foundation from which the game is being built in the US is still not the most solid, and doesn’t allow for as much margin to move or develop as people instantly wish.
(Not coincidentally, it reportedly costs in the region of $4,000 to complete a USSF A license. In Spain, the figure is an equivalent $800 and in Germany $600, again as I understand it.)