Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
The contrasting cases of Andy and Freddy
by Ridge Mahoney, April 16th, 2010 12:59PM
Subscribe to Soccer America Confidential

MOST READ
TAGS:  d.c. united, mls

MOST COMMENTED

By Ridge Mahoney

At the U.S. Soccer Development Academy finals last summer at Home Depot Center, I got my first look at a very talented, very young D.C. United player named Andy Najar.

His highlight moment, or nearly so, came when he controlled a difficult ball on his chest and while under pressure, first-timed a volley out of the air that a very sharp goalkeeper turned onto the post with an excellent save. But there were dozens of other moments in the games that I watched either live or on DVD where he astutely solved a tricky situation by instinct and reaction, nicking the ball out of a double-team and getting a second touch to retain possession, or using an unorthodox flick to control a crazy bounce or carom.

There were also times when his brazen dribbles ran aground, or a mis-read or rash decision lost his team possession or terminated a promising sequence. As with just about everything else, soccer education is as much failure as success, a relentless, demanding gauntlet of trial-and-error embedded with frustration and denial.

Najar, 16 at the time, stood out not because his skill shone through an otherwise moribund, lifeless team. United’s players were technically sound, tactically aware, and used their touch and savvy to keep the ball as they probed for spaces and angles to advance the ball toward the penalty area. They didn’t always succeed, of course, and there were a few hasty clearances and premature crosses, flubbed traps and communication breakdowns, but they played with a plan and brought ideas to the game.

In a competitive environment – each U-16 and U-18 team played four games in seven days against other regional champions -- Najar looked to be a player who had a real chance to make the first team someday and get a shot at MLS. That’s all he resembled; not a dead-certain national-team star, not a ten-figure European transfer target, not a future World Cup representative, not a global marketing icon. He wasn’t alone. There were a handful of players imbued not with marvelous skills, but rather a cognitive appreciation of everything a difficult, perplexing sport requires.

All of those things, and far more, were laid at the feed of another young United player, Freddy Adu, when he went pro at a much earlier age, 14, and jumped right into the starting lineup. Since then, a new term has crept into the league’s lexicon, “MLS-ready”, which Freddy certainly was not at the time, and what Najar – who crashed a shot off the crossbar in his MLS debut as a starter – is getting the chance to prove he might be.

By mandating teams field U-16 and U-18 academy teams, and offering them two additional roster spots for “HomeGrown” players, MLS is edging closer to a true commitment on developing players, in stark contrast to its absurd mega-hyping of Adu just six years ago. MLS needed the publicity, and got it, but denied Adu what he needed: the patient, demanding, and intelligent cultivation of talent and ambition and personality necessary to blossoming into a bona fide professional player.

By next season, if MLS has brought back something akin to the Reserve Division, which it scuttled after the 2008 season, it can give its “second-squad” players the same regular diet of competitive action that most of their U-16 and U-18 teams are now getting. If Najar proves he is “MLS-ready” at age 17, this tier wouldn’t serve his needs, but for many more players in this stage of development, it will be essential.



No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
Bruce Arena is a safe bet compared to the gamble U.S. Soccer took on Klinsmann    
It was an exciting and hopeful time, when U.S. Soccer hired Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer ...
Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. years    
More than five years with Jurgen Klinsmann in charge of the U.S. team ended Monday when ...
Tony DiCicco: Jill Ellis has USA on the right track despite Olympic setback    
Tony DiCicco remains the only coach who has guided the U.S. women to a World Cup ...
Klinsmann's promises of progress are not to be found    
The 4-0 blowout loss in Costa Rica Tuesday night is grounds for real concern, not just ...
Asleep at the wheel, an old U.S. habit    
First things first, the better team won on Friday night. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio recalled ...
Americans' sporadic performance mars a great night for soccer    
A decade and a half of dominance crashed to earth Friday night in Columbus, where Mexico ...
Kinnear is anxious for 'awesome' encounter in Columbus    
Every time the USA plays Mexico those who have taken part in the rivalry think about ...
USL president Jake Edwards on Division II, expansion, MLS relationship and FC Cincinnati phenomenon    
Jake Edwards just completed his second season as the president of the USL. The league expanded ...
Big names laid big eggs in the MLS conference semifinals    
The byzantine MLS playoff schedule goes into hiatus at just the right time, allowing more time ...
Jermaine Jones will get USA audition in Sunday's Rapids-Galaxy playoff game    
After nearly four months on the shelf rehabbing a knee injury, midfielder Jermaine Jones has returned ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives