Having just watched the Sky Sports highlight feed of the U.S.- Australia under-17 match, I would like to pose a general question to those people in the soccer community who are responsible for the formation of American talent.
First, my observation that the young Americans were technically and physically outplayed by a stronger and more creative side. I noticed a marked disparity in tactical savvy and overall soccer maturity.
My question is how does the U.S. go about developing players who have both the technical and physical attributes to compete at the highest levels?
It's not enough to say we are making progress. Australia, though an emerging soccer nation, isn't exactly Brazil, yet their young players demonstrated a more advanced level of soccer proficiency.
There's no doubt many of these young men will become effective professional players. But the MLS is a long way from the top footballing leagues.
I'm not suggesting soccer be a sport for Frankensteins but the emphasis in development circles should be broadened to include youngsters with both technical and physical potential. We shouldn't kid ourselves, at the highest levels, soccer is as much a game for the strong as it is for the savvy.
Mike Woitalla: Tom, you're talking about the game that was decided by a missed penalty kick, aren't you? The one in which the Americans overcame a two-goal deficit?
It sounds like you're talking about a 6-0 rout. How'd the Americans recover from two goals down if they're so short on savvy and maturity?
You imply that the American players were short on physical potential. How'd you come up with that? Could you somehow tell that DaMarcus Beasley and Co., aren't going to grow anymore?
In fact, it's a big mistake to overemphasize physical attributes at the U-17 level. Teams who choose players for size and strength aren't picking players with the best potential.
How would you have rated Diego Maradona, Lothar Matthaeus, Juninho or Ariel Ortega's physical potential when they were 16? They were all a bunch of scrawny waifs. In fact, they didn't grow a whole lot more and still managed to be among the best players in the world.
As for the Australians, who should be commended for their run to the final, I think you're confusing a "more advanced level of soccer proficiency" with defensive tactics.
The Americans certainly showed as much ingenuity as the Australians. And though Beasley could not escape close Australian marking, he showed plenty of creative brilliance in the other games.
As for MLS ... we hope a lot of these guys choose that league, because Landon Donovan (Golden Ball winner, by the way) was already snapped up by the Bundesliga's Bayer Leverkusen.
As far as your question about developing the "technical and physical attributes" of young U.S. players: The technical aspects, though there were some good signs on the U.S. team, can always improve. The physical attributes? I don't worry about that so much in 17-year-olds. Players at that age are, indeed, still developing.
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