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Learning from Mexico, the Distant Neighbor
by Paul Gardner, July 15th, 2011 12:17AM

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TAGS:  gold cup, mexico, u-17 world cup

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By Paul Gardner

What to make of the sudden burgeoning of Mexican soccer, in particular the appearance of so many good young players?

That, of course, is a misleading statement. Because there is nothing sudden about the rise of Mexican youth soccer. As with so many overnight sensations, there is a lengthy background here.

My first experience with Mexican youth soccer came 1968, when I watched local Mexico City youth teams play games against the Mexican team that was preparing for the Olympic games of that year. I liked what I saw, but left it at that. It came as no surprise to see that, at the very first FIFA Under-20 World Cup, in 1977, Mexico made the final, losing to the USSR in a shootout. It has never reached the final since, but its erratic record has included some notable performances, including two narrow QF losses to the eventual winners (Portugal in 1991, Argentina in 2007).
 
It was not until the 1990s that I began to pay serious attention to the Mexican kids. I was now watching them regularly, every year at the Dallas Cup. But at a much younger age. The under-12 teams from Monterrey played consistently good soccer, and were the title winners in 1991, '93, '95, '97, '98, 2000 and 2002. Other young Mexican teams, including Tigres and CD Guadalajara (Chivas) played the same sort of skilled, intelligent passing game -- something of a rarity at so young an age.

In 2001 the Mexicans took the Dallas Cup by storm -- winning all six age-group titles, from U-12 to U-19 -- with teams from six different clubs. I wondered, at the time in the pages of Soccer America, whether this feat would even be noticed by “the top level of American soccer,” and decided that it would not. That was an easy call, because of my belief that “As far as Mexican soccer is concerned, this country is, has been for decades, in denial.”

But the most telling incident had come a couple of years earlier, during the 1999 Dallas Cup. Favorite to take the U-12 category that year (it had won it in 1998) was Manchester United. That seemed logical. It didn’t happen. ManU didn’t even make it out of their group. Needing to win its third game, the English boys went down 3-1 to a Mexican team.  Well, sort of. The team was the Houstonians -- composed mainly of Mexican-American boys from Houston. And this was no fluke. The Houstonians, without any room for doubt, played markedly superior soccer.

If ever there was a moment for the powers that be in American youth soccer to take a fresh, serious look at the college-oriented direction of youth development, that was it. A bunch of poor Mexican-American kids from an inner city program knocking off one of the most famous -- and richest -- clubs in the world?  But I’m not aware that any excitement enveloped U.S. youth soccer.

In 2005, the Mexicans topped the world in youth soccer by winning the under-17 world cup. Was that noticed in the USA? Huh! A few months after that success, came the 2006 NSCAA Annual convention. The organizers had noticed something, evidently, for they scheduled a lecture on the Under-17 World Cup ... but not by anyone from Mexico. The featured speaker was the coach of the Dutch team that finished in third place, having been soundly beaten 4-0 by Mexico in the semifinal.

On that front, at least, there is good news to report. Joe Cummings, the NSCAA’s lively, innovative CEO, tells me that he is going to “move heaven and earth” to get a Mexican presence at the 2012 convention. Would that Cummings’ attitude were more widespread.

The USA needs -- can you believe this? but I cannot see another way of putting it -- to discover Mexico. For his 1984 book which he described as “a portrait of the Mexicans,” author Alan Riding came up with the brilliant title “Distant Neighbors.” He wrote: “probably nowhere in the world do two neighbors understand each other so little.” But his book hardly brings the two peoples closer together, certainly not at the sports level. He mentions soccer just twice in 370 pages, and we are told “The Mexican is not a team player: in sports he excels in boxing but not in soccer ...”
 
But it is now clear that the Mexicans can excel in soccer, just as it is clear -- and anyone who does not know this is quite deliberately refusing to see it -- that the Mexicans do a much better job at youth development than the USA does.

If there are lessons to be learned from that, then American hubris has to be replaced by humility. America has to go in search of Mexican wisdom, and has to listen.

Is that so difficult?  You wouldn’t think so, but the record so far is appalling. That is bad enough, but it is a scandalous situation when one thinks back to that game in 1998 when the Houstonian kids upended the ManU kids. Because that reveals another, surely intriguing, aspect of the situation: that there is plenty of Mexican-type talent right here, at home. I called them Mexican Americans, but there is no need for that slightly demeaning appellation. They are Americans.

The point has surely been reached by now when it is undeniable that this growing army of young players must be welcomed into the ranks of youth soccer, must be seen as the most promising route to future professional and international success.

Is that what is happening?  No, it is not. And it will not happen until the youth development industry (yep, industry) in this country stops kow-towing to the simplistic crudities of college soccer, to the equally misguided financial crudities of sponsors, and the utterly unsuitable stylistic crudities that arrive with the Brit accents now so prevalent in the youth coaching ranks.

Wilmer Cabrera, the Colombian who coaches the USA’s under-17 team, recently told Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla that he was satisfied that he had selected the USA’s best young players for his team, but made plain his frustration that he had “a group of players who cannot yet compete at the highest level with the top teams in the world.”

That much was made obvious by the team’s performance, which included a defeat by Uzbekistan, and elimination after a 4-0 plastering by Germany.

I see no reason not to accept Cabrera’s answers, but I do have a problem with his explanation for the USA’s shortcomings -- that they are, in effect, all the result of the social climate: “At this age, our boys in the United States, they’re very young, they’re immature. At this age in the top countries, they’re already men. They’re more mature. They’re more professional. They have a more professional mentality.”

Quite probably that is true, as far as it goes, but it does not explain the yawning gap in technique so embarrassingly visible in far too many of the young Americans. And it must also be unavoidably clear that the players on Cabrera’s team with the best technique, the players who look most comfortable with the ball, the players who move most smoothly -- the players, in short, who have a pretty good starting point in that they look like soccer players, and look “developable” -- are the Hispanic players.

The distorted programs operated by the vaunted youth development practitioners have brought the USA to that inescapable fact. What they are doing is simply not working. They are producing crop after crop of technically inferior players who are good enough only for college soccer.
 
Every year, at the so-called MLS SuperDraft (which is, in effect a college draft, primarily a PR exercise with nothing at all “super” about it) MLS Commissioner Don Garber delivers his starry-eyed effusion about all the great young players that the USA is producing ... yet Garber, an intelligent man, knows damn well that this is pure wishful thinking, a travesty of the truth.

It ought to be true -- given the huge numbers of youngsters who are enrolled in youth soccer. But the end-product of all this is pitifully meager.  The youth mentors have got it wrong, big time. They have lost a whole generation of highly promising Hispanic talent, boys like those young Houstonians.

Are they prepared to waste yet another generation?  Of course they are, because the orthodox thinking in far too much of the youth area does not even acknowledge the problem. They sail blithely on, pointing to a good result from time to time, and to an exceptional player here and there, they hold their clinics and their workshops at which they feast on academic banalities, and in doing so they condemn the USA to mediocrity.

Back in 2001, when I wrote of the USA being in denial as far as Mexican soccer is concerned, I ended that column with a suggestion: that, because I felt certain that the Hispanic presence and talent in the USA would continue to be ignored . . “then there is only one answer. The Hispanics in this country must produce their own leaders and set up their own national organization.”

It was not a suggestion that I felt particularly comfortable with, but I did not make it lightly. I knew it was a divisive idea -- but I saw no obvious alternative, and anyway, who -- other than the orthodox American youth development programs -- was it who was doing the dividing?

Enough is enough. Decades of well-organized and well-financed and (they tell us) well-coached development programs and they have abysmally failed not only to get the job done, but to even recognize that their biggest -- and I would have thought, their most challenging -- task is to find a way of amalgamating the two styles, the Euro (for want of a better term) and the Hispanic.

Yet that is a crucial topic that rarely gets discussed -- I have neverseen it put forward as a subject for discussion at the NSCAA convention.

After this month’s Under-17 World Cup and the invigorating win by Mexico’s youngsters, things have moved definitively beyond merely questioning the efficacy of this country’s youth development schemes. Clearly, they don’t work. Equally clearly, Mexico’s do. Then there’s the fact that we have a huge pool of under-used and under-appreciated Latino talent in this country.

I am suggesting that the answer to that absurdity is for the Latinos to take matters into their own hands and carve their own way to soccer excellence. I say that only because decades of experience have forced me to the conclusion that in the soccer culture-war that wages in the USA, the older culture, the one that feels threatened, the Euro-culture, will not budge. Worse, with the ongoing arrival of Brit coaches and their neanderthal soccer (and how many Under-17 World Cups has that won?), this mulish obstinacy receives constant support.

It is a considerable criticism of all sides in this tangle that the only initiative so far that openly concentrates on nurturing Latino talent has been taken by a television company. A Spanish-speaking station, of course.

I believe that’s called reality TV. It is certainly not reality soccer.



0 comments
  1. David Sirias
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 1:39 a.m.
    Na no need to divide. Just support your local MLS club and demand that they invest large on their academies to be free of charge to all worthy of entering. If MLS has not seen a youngster. Tell them. And demand that the superdraft end Soon enough college soccer will become irrelevant and be what it should have been all along-- a place for those who love the game but are not good enough to be pro-- much like tennis

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 3:13 a.m.
    Para Don Pablo Gardner: Muchas Gracias por la verdad! Many-many years ago a long-time Mexican dictator "president" bemoaned for Mexico saying: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, yet so near to the United States!" How true. Now this very same alanolgy can be used to talk about Pauls's topic, one that surely merits mention of what really ails US Youth soccer development. Paul in your article you mention the need for Latino or Americans of Latino heritage to form their own group. Yes indeed that is so true to form as some of us, back in 1993 met at the NSCAA Convention in Santa Clara and shortly thereafter formed the Latin American soccer Coaches Association (LASCA) only to see our child be adopted, no, saw it being subsumed by the NSCAA. No need to give you the details here, but briefly, LASCA's main Mission was to then identify players, coaches, administrators, game officials and the like with the prime purpose of bringing to the fore, and more specifically, American players of Latino-Hispanc heritage and to then "hopefully" incorporating them into the US Youth Soccer mainstream. So what happened? As I said, LASCA was subsumed into the NSCAA - fine and dandy - which now forms part of the Association's "diversity" grouping, and yet, what have we gotten from it to date: nada, nothing as it's efforts have been severely diluted and the NSCAA has had very little impact in the Latino/Hispanic communities of the US Southwest. If one were to ask anyone in soccer in this part of the country if they ever heard of the NSCAA, all be it, the largest single sport coaches association in the world, they will respond by asking: Que es eso? As for the Mexican trend to improve its youth ranks, I can tell you that I am danged proud of that successful effort, notable enough to produce the future of what is Mexican soccer. I could go on and on, and as Pablo Mirales, producer of the soon to be released film "Gringos at the Gate," says, while the US is reaching ever so slowly international recognition of its youth programs, it is very far behind Mexico, as was evident this past week at the Rose Bowl (Gold Cup) and in Estadio Azteca, WC U17. Lastly, there are many, many variables as to why the US lags so far behind in youth soccer development, and no matter just how much the NSCAA, US Soccer, US Youth Soccer, and even ayso, pays lip service to the underused, ignored, and soccer xenophobia, and ani-Latino bias, it will be yet another twenty years or more before the whole entity of what is known as "US Soccer" becomes universaly all inclusive, as opposed to being "American players of Latino/Hispanic heritage exclusive."

  1. Eric Shinn
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.
    Well...I agree completely with one part of this article, and disagree just as vehemently with another. :-) Start with the disagreement: The college system is not going anywhere. So long as the "big money" in playing soccer involves going overseas to play, the end goal for the VAST majority of players will be a college scholarship, and then MAYBE a shot at MLS. It's not even so much about the upper echelon of US soccer. Look at England, just as an example: the players in the Championship aren't having to work a second job to survive. They make a living playing the game. The same is probably true of the third division (though below that is doubtful). The point: you don't have to play for a Premier League team to make enough money to live comfortably. That's not true here, as even the lower level MLS players make crappy money. AS FOR THE AGREEMENT PART - We need a radical change of philosophy in US Soccer. I DON'T think we should try to emulate Mexico. They have their style, and they play to it. Our problem, as I see it, is that we don't HAVE a style. We aren't really a counter-attacking team. We certainly aren't built to maintain possession and play keep-away. We need a coach / administration capable of defining what kind of soccer program we're going to have. Our style SHOULD be some combination of the Latin style with the more direct English type game...just as our culture is a melting pot of many different cultures, our soccer should take the best of everything and meld it into something new. There is simply NO excuse for the complete LACK of identity the US team has, both at home and abroad. LASTLY - The first step towards reaching any destination isn't actual movement. It's defining where you're trying to go, and how you're going to get there. Is the goal just to make it out of the group stages at World Cups? We have the athletic ability to do that, even without having a defined style. But if it's more, we need to define that, then expect it...and the first step along that road is to define the American style of play.

  1. Paul Lorinczi
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.
    This is a topic that is near and dear to me, as I coach a High School Varsity team made up primarily of kids of Mexican descent. My criticism of the current soccer culture in our country is one of conformity. Bob Bradley's national team is selected based on who conforms to his way of doing things. So, when people suggest players like Paco Torres and Edgar Castillo need looks, I say it is not going to happen because they don't "conform" to BB way of thinking. Our challenge is two fold: 1. Talent identification and access for "all" the talent available in this country. The, there is no talent in the US argument is just wrong. There is a lot of talent in this country. I see it in the inner city here in Indianapolis. If it is here, there has to be loads more around the country. 2. We can learn from Mexico, but our real teachers are Brazil Why? We need to get from conformity to "integration". Yes, we have a potential large pool of Hispanics We also have Afro-Caribbean talent. And, kids who are of a European background. The Brazilians are the masters of integration who know how to use their multi-racial talent to create competitive teams. Our greatest strength in Football is our diversity. The current leadership is looking for conformity to an old European model versus the development of a true American style.

  1. G Benjamin Hernandez
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
    WOWZA! Great article, Mr. Gardner. Can't say I disagree. I often discuss with my friends that we have the unique ability to develop our own style. We can have big defenders in the middle, ensuring no air attack hurts us (an issue some Latin American countries have); we can have quick passing, players who are great on the ball, etc (a problem some 'nordic' Euro teams have). We really can have a new style that is superior to all other countries. Yet we stick with this English style, that hasn't won anything in the modern era, and rarely threatens to. Oh well. Paul Garnder in lieu of Sunil Gulati? Yes please.

  1. Joe Linzner
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 9:39 a.m.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the article in principle if not the specifics. I agree that the problem with American starts with with our reliance on a European sort of model although even that is only partially true. Our reliance on College players is quite simply myopic. The College game has no resemblance to upper echelon soccer. Even the organized soccer at youth levels is geared to babysitting and not teaching or learning soccer. The everyone plays philosophy may be wonderful at under ten levels but after that, babysitting should stop. Coaches are not allowed to reprimand for missing practices or showing up late, mouthing off or ignoring team rules. There is no incentive to excel. Right from the beginning, why should they try to learn when they are guaranteed participation regrdles of ability or compliance. Even club teams are affected by such unstructured beginnings. It makes decent players look great because they are not competing with equals. Thes are then picked up and lo and behold they cannot compete at higher levels. See playing time of our players on foreign teams.

  1. Paul Castillo
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 10 a.m.
    Bravo Paul. Bravo!! As a frequent visitor to the Dallas Cup, I know exactly what you mean as its there to be seen. Perhaps its time to consider the AAU basketball model and put together what are in effect all-star teams to travel around and bring this issue to the doorstep of the American soccer establishment. It won't happen overnight, but after several "upsets" and close calls . . . even the most relunctant of road blocks will begin to whisper "wtf".

  1. Austin Gomez
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.
    To el senor Paul Gardner: You are the "Rush Limbaugh" of American Soccer journalists! You tell it like it is, 'In Your Opinion'! --- most provocative, thought-wrenching Topics for us to cogitate & meditate upon, whether we sometimes agree or other times disagree with your well-articulated Articles! The "harbinger" of Soccer!

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 10:37 a.m.
    Cabrera is a 100% correct, his U-17 was too immature, made to many bad decisions on the pitch and didn't make enough plays to merit better results. The efficacy and seriousness of the Germans who thumped them was plain and simple.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.
    The only way that soccer in the US will ever improve is if the Hispanic community is able to organize itself into a replacement for USSF. Soccer, as a skillful endeavor, is hopelessly dead within US Soccer. The great majority of so-called fans are there for the wins--period. What happens in the middle third of the field is of no consequence. The amount of blather on soccer blogs about lineup changes and formations is tremendous and equally pathetic. The soccer media is generally so in thrall to the US Soccer organization that it cannot bring itself to ever criticize "our boys" or "our girls". And MLS is nothing but a third division English league with money. There are of course, and always will be, those who are adamantly convinced of the slow but sure progress of skillful play in the US -- they are also those likely to be mesmerized by the speed of glaciers. The Hispanic community needs to organize nationally to allow solely for nation-wide competitions. This will allow scouts from other countries to peruse the real talent in the US. It will also allow a parallel organization to develop and gain attention. With more visibility and attention, the serious non-Hispanic/Latin players will find their way to this venue. With more visibility and attention, real fans of the "beautiful game" will find these games. This won't improve the USMNT or USWNT but at least "the beautiful game" will survive in the US. Plus it will provide access to the pro leagues in other countries for our more skilled players.

  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 11:34 a.m.
    Paul, you are preaching to the choir. I live in Charlotte, NC. Years ago I coached at the recreational level and I had two brothers who were from El Salvador and learned to play against eachother in their back yard. The older boy play some for a select team but the younger boy never had the opportunity. This family didn't have the money to pay for one or both of their children to play on a traveling team. The younger boy a number of years later had a try out with an El Salvadorian professional club, but he couldn't make the local high school team. I assume he was too Hispanic in his play. You look at our Women's national team and the technical skill development does not match other countries, and we have a much larger pool of girls and young women who have been playing for years. Part of the problem is the British influence. Another part of the problem is parents who have no soccer background who want immediate results and don't see the long term advantages of skill development. It takes time but pays off in spades, but you have to start early. Jurgen Klinsmann has it right when he says the soccer pyramid is upside down in the US. We should be looking for not only Hispanic talent in our inner cities and other areas, but also African-American talent (there is alot of those children in my area) and others who come from families who cannot afford the youth soccer development industry. That is all based in the suburbs.

  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 12:03 p.m.
    Mexico are prospering because of a philosophy of play based on possession and technique. They will continue to see success because of this philosophy. US Soccer have tried to play very direct and make up for mistakes with grit and determination. Two differing philosophies and two different results. It is obvious to me that one philosophy is the winning philosophy. What can the US do to catch up? Changes need to begin at the top. US Soccer should reward players with technique.

  1. Ted Westervelt
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.
    Pablo - Soccer "training" in this country is about placating paying parents. Until clubs have a real and powerful incentive to develop players, that's not going to change. The tightly controlled chain of discount soccer outlets atop our stilted soccer pyramid has little incentive to develop players. You're always inches from indicting that system directly. How 'bout tying it into Sir Alex's call for US club soccer to embrace promotion and relegation? When quality becomes job one, US clubs will take player development as seriously here as anywhere else in the world. Until then, we'll gaze across the Rio Grande with envy.

  1. Robert Lopez
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 12:55 p.m.
    Excellent article! US soccer really needs to change its image within the Latino Community. But, it starts at the top and USSF and MLS are trash. Federations don't develop players, CLUBS DEVELOP Players and until we have independent clubs we are going to continue to circle the drain.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.
    For those of you who read Spanish, I want you to direct you to a Mexican Magazine (internet) called MEDIO TIEMPO and read a very interesting article by Martin del Palacio, titled: "Y los gringos donde estan?" go to http://www.mediotiempo.com and scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the article. It is a very interesting article that specifically addresses the issues raised by Paul and what US Soccer 2010 Plan aimed for, but failed. Indeed a very interesting piece.

  1. Tom Kondas
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 1:29 p.m.
    One other thing that the "Houstonians" proved is that the natural talent is going to come from the inner city kids+ and not the suburbs. If this has to be the American kids of Mexican or South American descent, so be it, if they're the best then they are who we need. The U-17 coach was deluded in saying the Europeans are more mature, not the case, the difference lies in the fact that in those countries Soccer is the national game and the best athletes always aspire to join the most popular sport. We have wasted many years following the Brits and their nauseating accent, we need to align ourselves with "winners" not "losers" and that would come from the American continent, North or South

  1. lorenzo murillo
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 2:17 p.m.
    Well put Paul, the US needs to get away from Brittish coaches, who are aweful, simply put and Hispanics need to stop complaining, and take hold of the game, this is our country now, and we must help it achieve higher standards. Point taken, we need to restart LACSA, away from NSCAA, and create our own clubs.

  1. Alexander Wolfe
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 4:51 p.m.
    Just curious, but where are the MLS academies in all of this? Aren't they the ones who are supposed to recruiting from the grassroots, and attempting to sidestep the hidebound system of select, HS and college soccer?

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 7:06 p.m.
    >Lorenzo, as a co-founder of LASCA, I am willing to tep up and get ball rolling yet again. How about you and other like minded and well meaning and hard wqorking coaches? It was done once before and it caN happen again. Write back on this comment section and I will respond. Bottom line, any takers out there? How about a fb group page, perhaps we can still start the SOCCER REVOLUTION called for by Kony Constin.

  1. Aris Protopapadakis
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.
    I totally agree that the "euro" or more precisely the Brit version of soccer is doing enourmous harm to the development of soccer in this country. Since it has wormed its way into the broadcasting booth, it even infects the way viewers may interpret what goes on on the field. But for some reason a similar thing is happening to the US women players. Aside from the hosannahs for grit etc. etc., the hard truth is that the last three teams they played (Sweden, Brazil and France) and the one they will play on Sunday are technically superior. The 1990s U.S. team was NOT technically inferior to its opposition but this one is. They may yet win the game on Sunday but as the more technical teams mature the U.S. is doomed to descent to mediocrity in the womens' game as well, unless minds change.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.
    Paul, while I certainly agree that there needs to be greater Hispanic presence in US Soccer (both generally and in the organization itself), short of being born Hispanic, how are suggesting players should develop? I (and I'm sure most posters on this discussion) understand and agree that we should include smaller, skillful players, but the more important question that I'm disappointed that you failed to answer is how does one develop smaller, skillful players? Is Mexico doing something different with their young players? Is development focused on the professional clubs? Local amateur clubs? Is it the soccer culture that Mexico has, so that the talent develops when kids play in their back yards (as Daniel Clifton mentioned)? Again, few (at least here) will defend the overtly physical nature of a lot of college soccer (and as a former college referee, I did my best to keep that aspect of the game in check), but as Eric Shinn points out, the US does not have a professional structure that can afford to spend much money developing youth players, and college is one of the few places where soccer players have access to financial resources that they may not have to pay for themselves (if they get a scholarship). I think most people who want soccer in the US to flourish recognize that to reach our potential, we must identify and promote players from the Hispanic community. But there are a lot of non-Hispanic players in the US, and since they cannot change their ethnicity, what is it the Mexicans are doing that these players can emulate so that we can develop non-Hispanic players who play with the skill and creativity of the Hispanics?

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 15, 2011 at 11:24 p.m.
    I also think your suggestion that the Hispanic community create its own organization and by-pass the USSF is not a good one. There is already too much fragmentation in the soccer community, and if the Hispanics essentially play only amongst themselves, then their influence will be limited in the broader community. I think Ric Fonseca's efforts to work within existing organizations is by far the better way to go. It also seems to me that there must be some gains in Hispanic influence; I just saw some of the the national championship for the development academies (U17/18) and both teams in the final were Hispanic (and the level of play was quite high; it was a very entertaining game). My hope is that as time goes on, the US will incorporate much of the Mexican short-passing game and creativity with the ball, while retaining our traditional defensive discipline (though with a lot more quickness than we now have), mental toughness, and yes, even playing an occasional long ball either to a player getting behind the defense or for someone to head onto goal. In other words, I hope the US can take the best aspects of the various soccer cultures from around the world and incorporate them into a dominating style, as befits a country that was built on immigrants from all over the world.

  1. Joseph Bonvillain
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 1:15 a.m.
    There are many things wrong about our American development of soccer players, but I believe the focus of the conversation is failing to focus on probably the one word that is key to either success or failure at attaining an elite level of soccer and that word is "community." As I drive around Columbus, Oh the only time I see a pick-up kick-about game is when I drive by a Hispanic community. In reading A Beautiful Game: The World’s Greatest Players and How Soccer Changed Their Lives by Tom Watt one can begin to see the passion and the drive to become the best begins on the streets and in the backyards of many of the worlds elite players. Messi, Cannavaro, Ribery, Beckham, etc. all talk about heading out to the streets and pitches with friends, brothers or whoever and playing for hours on end. Nigel De Jong talks about coming home after practice and then playing in the neighborhood. Van Persie describes creating games and playing for hours on end in the neighborhood just shooting at a friend in an opposite goal. Even Landon Donovan talks about being that kid with the soccer ball, who played in the backyard and during school recess periods. I believe there is an American cultural impediment to elite soccer development and if we are to catch up to the top players and teams in the world the lack of individual play and un-coached soccer opportunities are obstacle that need to be overcome in America. It seems that the Hispanic communities provide these opportunities to their kids.

  1. Walt Pericciuoli
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.
    I agree with Paul, however, it's not just the Hispanic players that are overlooked and excluded from the US "Elite" youth programs. All youth players that show techinque and insight for the game, are being overlooked if they don't confrom first to the generally accepted physical and menal attributes of the "American" player. Big, fast, atheletic with high work rate. Nothing will change as long as the money made by trainers, clinics, camps etc. is dependant on the ability of payers to pay. There is no incentive for trainers to produce successful National Teams. Change can only come from the top, and it is the top that has no interest in change.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.
    I tend to agree with Walt P that change needs to come from the top. I realize that that seems to ignore the lack of a real soccer culture in this country however, as a response to that I think we need to take a much closer look at what has happened in Japan. Both their men's and women's teams have been extremely successful on the world stage AND they are playing a style that our MNT and WNT can only dream about! What have they done that is applicable to us? Go Japan!!

  1. Joey Tremone
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
    Paul might have wanted to wait for the Development Academy Final before writing this article. It painted a very different picture.

  1. Power Dive
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 11:34 a.m.
    Great article and i agree with many of the comments. One example that illustrates the problem with talent evaluation on the national level. A relative of mine was a volunteer for the ODP program. This relative was a huge proponent for cherundolo making the team and had to fight tooth and nail with the powers that be who argued that steve was not big, strong enough, fast enough. This relative argued that what he lacked in size he made up for in his anticipation of the game, his vision, and his technical skills. After all the arguing steve eventually made the team and has obviously gone on to have a great career. However, i think the story Illustrates the archaic thinking that prevails on many levels in our soccer heirarchy.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.
    Ric F -- good luck on your new-found project -- if a non-Latin, non-coach in St Louis can be of any help, I will authorize Soccer America -- Paul Gardner to give you my email address. --Jim

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.
    >James and James Kent: Re "reviving" LASCA - all be it under a possibly new title - by all means and as in the past, LASCA was and will continue to be ALL INCLUSIVE and welcomes EVERYONE. Just because it carries the "Latin Amnerican" designation doesn't mean that it is only for Latinos. Also, James Kent, we have tried time and again to work with all soccer body groups, and I must admit that at first, in 1992, when we first broached the idea, through Steve Sampson, Hank Steinbrecher, and Alan Rothenberg, we were able to launch our efforts. And admitedly and sadly, we did sadly fragmentalize. HOWEVER, as result of our efforts and that from the NSCAA (BTW, I'm a 35-year NSCAA)we had excellent success. Sadly, after the organization was subsummed and became part and parcel of NSCAA, and the change in leadership at US Soccer, we "sorta faded into the sunset." But to sound sorta corny, like the old Phoenix, we shall rise again. Lastly, James F., by all means talk to Paul Gardner, he was present (as well as Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson, Sigi Schmid, et. al.)at our organizational meeting at the US Soccer Convention in Washington DC, just before WC. Un abrazo a todos!

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 7:18 p.m.
    TO: STAN COLLINS: The irony of your comment could be spot on, and here is why: Todd Saldana, former member of LASCA, was named by the association as one of the most successful and up-and-coming young coaches. And BTW, Todd, a native of the South Bay region of the Los Angeles area, signed directly as a pro from high school, for several years. He later went on to coach high school and UCLA. Sadly, though, US Soccer and the good old boy network never saw fit to "embrace" him as one of their own or even consider him as one of the very few licensed Latino coaches US Soccer "employed" and exploited for whatever it was they pretended to do. So FELICIDADES to the Pateadores and Coach Todd Saldana!

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 16, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
    Please check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWRX8bEJDQY. I am sorry that it is in Spanish because some people might not be able to understand it but please find a way to get it translated. It is essential to help start a Soccer Revolution in the US. Please also read The Talent Code. Some interesting ideas. As long as I have known Paul he is not about any particular country´s soccer. He is about great soccer by whom ever steps on the field.

  1. Simon Sanchez
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 8:14 a.m.
    Thanks Paul for the insight. It is very frustrating to see what represents our nation and how it could be better. The Xenophobic attitude of not including Hispanic players boarder on the criminality. Too many generations of Latino players have been lost and sad to predict thousands more. If we can get away from the Brit style of coaching and play maybe we can produce what is so evident in Mexico. For Americans to look to Mexico for answers will never happen because of the decades and century old perception of what Americans perceive Mexicans to be. If you look at the U18 Developmental Academy final between FC Dallas And Pate's of Cali, you can see that most of the players were of Latin Heritage. Maybe once Bob has been shown the door can we see the next National team coach include the ignored Latino. I can only dream!

  1. mike renshaw
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.
    Some good points but also some blind generalizations in the article. I was at the Houstonians vs Man Utd game mentioned and Man Utd outplayed the Houston kids for long periods and missed a host of chances...just wasn't their day. I also watched Man Utds u12 team dismantle Paraguay 4-0 in the title match the previous season. I had also watched West Ham Uniteds youth team blister Gardners beloved Bolivan academy team in a Dallas Cup final one year. The US coaching system was set up in the early 70's by the Germans (led by Dettmar Crammer) and is still based on the German system...not the "Brit" system. IMO the problem lies with the youth clubs whose priority is making money and winning games for 11-14 year olds and NOT on developing players. These "clubs" charge upwards of $3,000 per year per player + uniforms, travel etc...thus pricing out many hispanic kids. Put the blame where it belongs...and it ain't at the feet of "Brit" coaches MANY of whom are excellent. Gardners unabashed love of anything Latino and hatred of anything Anglo comes through loud and clear in this article.

  1. Simon Sanchez
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.
    I too was at the Houstonians game v ManU. Houstonians played keep away from the English and it was delightful. I also was at the West Ham game as well and Tau had no answer to the Hammers. I disagree with you on the English Influence. Yes Krammar was the man and I was at SMU to listen to him along with my father when he came in the 70's. Yes the curriculum was German but the Brits have and are molding what we see today. I see it everyday in the club scene I am a part of. There are some good Brit coaches I will agree but they tend to still want what they have seen in their youth. Big fast and aggressive players who play a direct style. Does not work here and is a failure. No debating that.

  1. Dennis Doyle
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 1:13 p.m.
    Paul, Gracias Amigo! I've been a Youth Coach for 25+ yrs, and I played my entire life(largely with Hispanics). I'm a Gringo, and have admired the development/ball skills philosophy forever...We need to also educate the parents of these young kids, albeit Hispanic descent, African Descent, Euro descent...It's not about WINNING at the youth levels, it's about player development, and instilling confidence in these youngsters. As an America, i've heard far too often "Bigger, Faster , Stronger". That only gets you so far, as players all develop physically at different times in their youth. I grew up in Cali(San Francisco Bay Area), and now reside in the Northwest(Portland Metro Area). Ric F, I am more than willing to help with the outreach into the Hispanic community here. I am largely involved with several Hispanic Groups in the Soccer Community...let me know what I can do. Btw, I also speak Spanish, and have spent several years in Mexico...m2nietzche@comcast.net

  1. Gabriel Navarrete
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 1:35 p.m.
    I agree with Ted Westervelt. Placating the paying parent has too much influence on the kids now making ODP pools and teams to get noticed. What I see as one of our major mistakes is that these "Brits" have been handed our children to develop. I know plenty of skilled players that get passed over because the coaches are too busy choosing players from their teams or players they want to attract. Soccer has become a booming business for our English counterparts. They come in promising the best and charge a high fee for their services. I believe in the American soccer player and I know we have to blame ourselves for what has happened. The Latino community in general has remained in the shadows. But companies like Alinza de Futbol have found a niche and are working towards offering a great product to this growing population. They have been overlooked by USSF because there is no gain for them in that situation. I think the Latino soccer community is a sleeping giant. Unfortunately, overlooked by the powers that be in US soccer. That is the reason kids grow up with their Santos or Chivas shirts on and dreaming of the day they play for "their" team. That mentality evolved because they have been shunned by the US soccer model and have had to look for something to identify themselves with. bravo Paul! Wake up America! Lets be like Brasil and integrate all our skills to be the best!

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 17, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.
    TO: Mike Renshaw, FYI, in 1971 and 1972 I, together with some folks such as Don Baetie and Ted Howard of Chico St University together with may other Southern California players, coaches, administrators, etc., attended Cramer's courses at UCLA, and from '78-80 I was site coordinator for US Soccer coaching schools at Cal St Long Beach, UCLA and Csl St Northridge. Thus, I can defitively tell you that I know about the German system, one also espoused by none other than Bob Gansler, attended by Steve Sampson, Sigi Schmid, Lou Sagastume, to name but a few, but have sadly noted that it has been sort of taken over by the Brits. However, all this being said and done and due to the very strict and narrow-mindedness of the US Soccer Cliques, they allowed some to by-pass the courses and automatically received a national B or A, while they actually required Coach Steve Negoesco of the Univ of San Francisco to take the course, a coach who had put his stamp in college soccer and won several championships. As for ignoring or even questioning a players abilities as well as their age, I well remember the time I was an "all star ayso coach" and had selected a very gifted 9 year old, Andy, of Mexican descent, being pulled aside by the then ayso region commissioner and question him- as if he was on the docket in a court of law - when he was born and if he had his birth certificate. When I asked why, she just about shined me off, but relented when I told her I'd pull the team unless she did the same for ALL of the other players. She told me that several "American" rwad that, Anglo parents were questioning Andy's age because of his gift as an excellent player. This is only a vignette of what I've experienced, and while it may be germaine to Paul's Article, it is something that has and will remain in my mind, the subvert and overt anti Latino bias that pervades to this day. Today I do some volunteer time in a soccer complex and see many Latino kids wearing Chivas, America, Santos, Argentina, Uruguay, and yes England, as well as the overwhelmingly favorite, Barcelona and ManU Chicahrito jerseys. When I ask why they don't support the US team, or wear a US NT jersey, because after all, we are in the US, the general answer by kids born in the US and are fully bilingual is that the club coaches charge too much and don't like Latino's. These players range between 9 - 14 years of age. Bue I am an optimist and I see and always say that "hope springs eternal!"

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
    Certainly there is an anti-Hispanic streak in American culture, and that exists within the soccer community as well (though probably less there than in the culture at large), and we should all work to overcome that. But in terms of soccer development, I think the problem is less an anti-Hispanic bias than it's a problem of culture and money. Because we lack a soccer culture, we outsource soccer development to clubs. Clubs don't have a lot of volunteer expertise (because we lack a soccer culture), so they have to pay people who know soccer, and many of the people who know soccer (and are willing to work for the fees the clubs are offering) are British, so there is a British influence. Some of the coaches are great (even some British ones!), some are not. In order to pay the coaches, the clubs have to raise their prices, which limits who can play (and has an especially negative impact on Hispanic participation). Americans equate success with winning, and don't recognize how detrimental to soccer development the focus on winning is at an early age. In order to attract players (so the club can stay solvent), coaches can feel pressure to win (especially when strong players on weak teams can move to the winning teams, as happens in our area; success is due more to recruiting than actual development).

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 10:04 a.m.
    How can we build creativity in the US? By reducing the influence of money and winning at an early age. The USSF should not allow its member clubs to participate in tournaments that crown a champion before U12. They should encourage (require?) clubs to provide an outlet for pickup soccer open to any member at least once a week. They should prevent clubs from charging more than $100 (or some other reasonable amount) a season for players at the U10 levels and below, to stop the nuclear arms race that clubs engage in when they professionalize the coaching of players at younger and younger ages. They should also prevent the formation of select teams at these ages; every club should provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to play, not just the players the club thinks will help them win. The USSF should prevent elite clubs from recruiting more than a few players from outside a designated geographical region (with the regions being equal in numbers of registered players, the way congressional districts are allocated by population), so that they have an incentive to work with clubs in their area to develop players rather than simply recruiting players developed by others. We need to broaden the net at the base, making soccer accessible (and fun) for more kids, rather than throwing resources (or more accurately, recruiting families that have the resources to expend) at a select group of kids at an early age, and trying to force them to develop faster. In other words, the USSF needs to save us from ourselves (or at least from our worst tendencies to focus on money and winning). It's difficult not to focus on winning when everyone else is, but I think it's what we need to do in order to develop creative players.

  1. Ricaro co
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.
    Can someone name all the Mexican American, Hispanic players currently playing for the US national team?? My point is that 80% of U14 kids playing soccer are Hispanic (at least in Northern Ca.), however, in the US national team there maybe be only 10% Hispanic players. The reason, in my opinion, is that not many Mexican parents can afford to send their kids to play for top soccer clubs or pay for clinics where players are seen.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.
    All these comments have merit. However,I do recall my son telling me that one of the reasons Messi has great ball skills, is because while growing up in Argentina, all he played was small sided games, with no specific structure, the boys picked their own teams, etc. I recommend, as some one above has already, that you watch the clip on futsal from Brazil, just click on Youtube.com/watch?v=OWRX8bEJDQY. Also, time permitting you might want to google Messi playing as a kid(I believe when he was 9 or 10) Interesting indeed. And to Ricar co, no I can;t even name 10% of the Hispanic players on the USMNT, so tell us who they are, I only know of Agudelo, Bocanegra and (supposedly) Bornstein, but who are the others - oh I forgot, sometimes Torres. 10% you say???

  1. Paul Bryant
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 5:22 p.m.
    Ric, with reference to your first posting, I think I know why the LSCA wasn't a success. I hate saying this, but hispanic and african players in the U.S. are prone to get overlooked despite their superior skill and knowledge of the game. Part of the reason is because it's a numbers game, as in $'s. Another reason I believe is because evaluators, coaches don't view these players as beint "real" americans. Just my take on it.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: July 18, 2011 at 11:45 p.m.
    I still see lots of posts saying that because the US lacks a "soccer culture" we can't develop skill based players. While there is obviously a value to a "soccer culture", why can Asian countries Japan and South Korea develop skill based teams and we can't? Throughout the tournament Japan displayed a possession oriented game based on good passing and skill --- exactly how far back does their soccer culture go??? To me, complaining about the lack of a soccer culture just lets US Soccer off the hook for a failure to identify and develop our best players.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 20, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
    James, Asian countries don't have the competition of professional football and basketball (baseball obviously has some presence there, but probably not as much as the US), not to mention hockey, motocross, etc. I'm not sure we're behind the Asian countries, but I've always appreciated their focus on skill (which you rightly applaud). On the other hand, it would be hard for them to focus on size, so they don't really have that as an option. I'm not saying that a lack of a soccer culture makes it impossible to have a good national team, I'm just saying we need to promote a soccer culture as much as we can (and that may be something more people can actually do), and that will help us create a stronger pool of talented players. I coach HS soccer at an urban school and while we have some African Americans on the team, I've had others that come out for the team in the 12th grade (after they decided they no long liked football, e.g.), or that play soccer in the winter (indoor) but football in the fall. Two in particular had tremendous natural ability, and had I had them when they were young (even 7th or 8th grade), they could have developed into stars. As it is, they have fun (and appreciate the game), but will never be able to play at a level higher than HS. The acceptance of soccer in the African American community has grown, so that people who play are no longer looked down upon, but it still takes a back seat to basketball and football. Soccer may never overtake the major sports in the US, but it's making great strides; we just need to keep doing what we can do!

  1. Mario Araujo
    commented on: July 21, 2011 at 1:41 a.m.
    British Soccer terms and style of playing dominate US soccer. US soccer plays like northern Europeans. Unfortunately, northern Europeans are starting to play like Latin Americans. To say the German style is more predominate over the British style is not correct in my opinion. To make matters more ocmplicated, World Soccer styles are starting to blend. One problem in the US is that the Latin American soccer style is not valued as compared to the European style. I also question what is called a possession style of play. In reality it is just a more passing and dribbling style that just translates into more possession. The goal is not to possess that ball more but to keep the ball on the ground with fast and accurate passing. It is much easier and more efficient to pass on the ground when attacking. The minute the ball is in the air for long passes it is no longer securely in your possession and it up for grabs by your opponents.

  1. Phillip McDaniel
    commented on: July 22, 2011 at 7:10 a.m.
    I know I'm late to this article but I've got an opinion also ;). There is a lot of truth in Mr Gardner's article, but it's not the whole truth. There's also a lot of truth and not much I disagree with in the post on this article to date. Are Hispanics under represented in US youth and academy soccer? Absolutely. Will fully integrating Hispanics into the US developmental system fix US soccer? Absolutely NOT! It's only part of the equation and thus part of the solution. A few truths are imperative to understanding and properly framing this discussion. First soccer is a niche sport in this country if we like it or not (I fully anticipate that changing but that's a different discussion). Secondly even as a niche sport with 300,000,000 citizens we could and therefore should be able to put a competent national team forward on a consistent basis. Third which most here understand and so few outside of soccer don't understand is that soccer is simply a sport of skill over anything else, analogous to a point guard's ball skills in basketball honed over thousands of hours of play. While we must work, using many of the thoughts put forth here, to integrate Hispanics more 'equally' into the US soccer system the greater portion of the answer lies more likely at the MLS club level. MLS clubs just began having academy teams 4 years ago, and some are just now starting them up. They are the answer, the work-around to negate the negative impact of USSF. The rub here is they must have the finance available to do it right and all aren't going to do it properly anyway. However the clubs that do find a way to do it properly are going to be emulated, copying is the grandest form of flattery in sports. Also aren't the clubs the driving force of youth soccer development in Mexico, not some centralized governing body intent on pricing all but the upper middle class out of the sport? (I literally don't know the answer to that question as I don't know much about Mexico's governing body, how it works, etc.) In this way MLS Academy Systems will be the way we emulate Mexico and frankly a great number of successful nations around the globe? In this regard how important is the Barcelona youth system to Spain's national team... VERY! I touched on it earlier, the MLS can become a major player in the US sports landscape, they simply need wise marketing, a take no prisoner's attitude toward branding and promotion, and a bit of time... something most of us aren't willing to grant them. The league literally just became stable a few years ago and is making real strides. Boxing was once America's most popular sport, then college football, then MLB, then the NFL. Why can't the MLS be next? They can if they're smart enough, especially with the shifting demographics of American society.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 23, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.
    Phillip, you make some excellent points; your reminder of the historical changes in popularity of various sports does actually give me hope that soccer will not forever be 4th or lower (especially considering the changing demographics), so thanks for that uplift. The other main point (which reiterates one I made earlier), is does the structure of Mexican soccer contribute to player development, and if it does, how can we use that in the US? Certainly development academies are the way professional teams in Europe do it (Barcelona, Man U., Ajax all excel here), though I've also seen articles critical of academies (generally) in England, suggesting they have not really produced much talent the clubs can use. Unfortunately, the MLS teams don't have the money to really push these, and even if they do and we get 20 teams in the MLS, there will be vast areas that have no access to such things. So while I think they are important, I don't think they are sufficient. So the question is, how do we do soccer development in the parts of the US that are not near MLS clubs (and is an MLS academy even enough?). US Soccer's creation of the Academy Leagues (U18/U16) seems like a step in the right direction, but I think most are still quite expensive. I think the focus should be on the grassroots; develop as many players as possible, and keep them playing (at least until U16, instead of the big drop-off at U12). Counterintuitively, this may require we de-emphasize the professionalization of the youth game, because doing so eliminates (due to cost, need for parental support, or even just because the player is a late bloomer) a lot of players who may eventually become great players. Keeping it affordable and maintaining high levels of participation longer (instead of eliminating all but the best players as early as possible to only focus on pushing their development) will give us a larger pool of talent and should also promote a stronger soccer culture.


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