[U.S. SOCCER] U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati calls player development perhaps the most important thing the federation does, and he the job of overseeing the long-term development of young players to former national team captain Claudio Reyna. For what Gulati says player development is broken into three zones, and Reyna's appointment helps address the third zone, the development of young players over a long span.
“When we started this process of creating a player development task force," Gulati said, "we identified three primary areas or broke our primary development plans into three zones, essentially by age. And player development continues to be the core of what we do. By its very nature it’s a long-term process, so it might not be as sexy as announcing a national team game or a coach or winning a game, but it’s actually probably the most important thing we do.
"We focused very early on the national team, then on the middle part when we introduced the Development Academy, and today’s announcement really addresses, even within that, probably the most important aspect which is long-term player development of young players. How do we give more of our millions of kids playing a better experience and a better path to becoming better players? And as that pool grows, no doubt we get better players out the other end, whether it’s after playing in our club system, professionally or whatever it may be."
Gulati says Reyna's job will be synthesizing and developing a curriculum that would be the equivalent of a national education policy.
"It is really fitting a lot of what he has learned abroad and what we’ve learned abroad into what we do in the U.S. system and giving people kind of a roadmap, especially coaches," said Gulati. "It’s as much a coaching development plan as it is a player development plan. We think those two are linked. We are really very pleased to have Claudio join the group.”
Reyna, who retired from the New York Red Bulls in 2008, said the focus will be on the early years.
"We have to develop and analyze what they do there and what they move on to after that," he said. "Everything falls into it. The development of players is important and to do that best you need to also have all of our coaches on board and be a part of this and want to continue their education and really start moving some ideas into a direction. I really look forward to this opportunity to start.”
Reyna's experience as a youth was unique. He had an Argentine father who loved soccer and he grew up on a youth team that produced several players besides him who were pro prospects. One as Gregg Berhalter, who still plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“With my experience, it kind of touches on where we want to help the kids out there and the coaches who don’t have maybe the experience or the basic knowledge, sort of like my dad did, as well as the player who doesn’t have that initial 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-year-old environment where they’re watching it and the dad’s throwing a ball, which you get in some cases in this country more with the immigrant dad," he said. "My experience was that I learned a lot of different things that helped me in a lot of ways moving forward to become a professional player, but the whole idea is to provide every player, at the elite level and at the lower level, all the tools to make them a better player, to get them ready for the next level and in some cases, the highest level.
"So what we want to do is we want to support the kids that just want to play as well as make that environment better. Maybe they aren’t so serious as having a goal to make it to college or MLS or over to Europe, but at the same time we are very aware that we have to try to create a standard of excellence."