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Reyna needs backing of the pro ranks
by Ridge Mahoney, April 10th, 2010 8:47PM
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TAGS:  mls, u-17 world cup, under-20 world cup, youth boys


There’s lots to like yet much to fear about the hiring of former U.S. international Claudio Reyna as youth technical director by U.S. Soccer.

He’s a product, one of the best ever, of a much-maligned system he is tasked with revamping and strengthening. Layers of bureaucracy and petty political squabbling cast across a vast country of more than 300 million people are staggering obstacles for anyone, regardless of how many caps he’s earned or major matches he’s played in.

For all the power and influence he may wield at the behest of president Sunil Gulati, and his place within the U.S. national teams program, how well he interacts with the professional ranks and his former teammates may determine his success. His former teammates with clubs and country are now coaches, general managers, broadcasters and executives well ingrained into the American soccer community, and their expertise is essential.

The timing would seem to be is excellent. MLS, in its cumbersome way, is lurching towards a bonafide player development structure, with academy teams, roster spots for “protected” players, and perhaps revival of the Reserve Division it terminated after the 2008 season. The federation itself has taken over operation of a second professional tier that will feature 12 teams and there have already been discussions about how the top two levels of pro soccer, supported by the USL-2 and PDL divisions, can best produce and develop players.

U.S. Soccer can’t emulate the programs of other countries for reasons too numerous to mention, though aspects of them must be examined and adapted if possible. In some manner, soccer must copy that other popular American pastime, baseball, by forming a vast network of scouts who can feed player information into the proper channels. There are former pros scattered all over the United States who know a good player when they see one, and those players need to be seen by the right people.

Every pro baseball team runs its own scouting department, with full-time and part-time employees watching games and writing up reports. And each one of them knows or speaks regularly with dozens, if not hundreds, of people they know who are steeped in the game and have a good eye for talent, whether it be seen at a high school game or American Legion playoff. The “bird dogs” are perhaps not so important in this age of instant cyber-links and You Tube clips, but an honest first-hand evaluation from a trusted source can override the most laudatory e-mail.

The structure itself isn’t as important as its objectives; to find more good players and accelerate their development. And the “structure” may be no more than phone calls and text messages and the occasional tweet fed into the system, if that system is set up to process the information.

More than 20 years ago, Reyna and a team of U.S. under-16s went to the 1989 FIFA world championships in Scotland and stunned Brazil, 1-0, sparking hopes they could go deep in the competition and perhaps even win it. Of course, they didn’t, and despite that superb result couldn’t advance out of the group stage.

In the past two decades, numerous U.S. teams in numerous competitions have posted a memorable result yet fizzled or failed to impress otherwise. Earlier that same year, a precocious bunch of U-20s (led by Kasey Keller in goal, Curt Onalfo on defense and Steve Snow up front) finished fourth at the world championships, and the occasional good showings – fourth at the 1992 Olympics and 1999 U-17 World Cup, quarterfinalist at the 2002 World Cup – mixed with disappointing results taint the American system as one borne more of luck than design.

Bluntly put, Reyna can only be as influential and productive as the system that employs him, and how quickly and extensively he can form his own ad hoc network of scouts, spies, observers, and trusted advisers. The titles and job descriptions and jurisdictions for, say, former internationals Jurgen Sommer, Marcelo Balboa and Thomas Dooley aren’t as important as who they talk to and what information they can ferret out, and what Reyna and U.S. Soccer do thereof.

The greater emphasis and aggressiveness by MLS teams to find and produce good players is vital to the process that Reyna must harness.

  1. Brian Herbert
    commented on: April 12, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.
    Youth development will continue to be political and problematic until we see changes around the pro game in the U.S.: 1. The size of our talent pool is dependent on kids' ability to have heroes and role models in the pro game. We need a goal of having homegrown stars who are idolized by our kids (whatever generation you are, if you played hoops as a kid, how many times did you think about being Dr. J, or Larry Bird or Michael J.?). 2. There has to be real money to be made, for both the player and the club who has developed him. 3. For MLS to attract the money and stars, which then snowballs with more money and stars, it has to be more exciting and better than the alternatives: - why should I follow MLS when European and Latin leagues are so much more exciting? I had one sole interest this weekend - watch the el classico on GOLTV, didn't even consider MLS. - why should your average sports fan decide to watch/go to an MLS game instead of an NFL/NBA/Baseball/Hockey game? I have lots of ideas here, most of them probably crazy: more MLS matches against International clubs - friendlies with clubs from Europe, more "Champion's League" type competitions, aggressively pursue International loans of players. Perhaps the wildest idea: tweak some rules to promote a faster, higher-scoring (more "American" sports fan pleasing) game - such as by elminating the offsides rule, or carding players consistently for fouling to slow down a counter.
  1. Robert Kiernan
    commented on: April 12, 2010 at 7:24 p.m.
    Well unlike player development nearly anywhere else in the world... we have ours so intertwined with the Collegiate path, which is NOT going to develop our best and brightest young players to become professional caliber players, it simply CAN'T under the restrictions on the number of games and outside competition placed on them by the NCAA. And what of the budding young PELE out there that just isn't able for whatever reason, to go the Collegiate route to the pros... what happens to these players, they aren't likely to really wind up being developed by MLS, certainly not right now with no Reserve team system or even a loan arrangement with the D2 league in place... the few that do show real promise and have the money or drive to get out of our system are very likely to head south of the boarder... see Paco Torres, Edgar Castillo or now Hercules Gomez... yet we are clearly reluctant to admit that they have a better chance of developing in Mexico than here at home... and seem, coincidentally... not to be so willing to pick these players for our National Team programs... instead, we go with big strong... but often ordinary players who have been through the College mill and have been developed to be big and strong... but not very special in their skills or ability to take over a match. This is very troubling, and only get lip service from the powers that be... how is the appointment of Reyna or just about ANY ex professional player no matter how talented going to change ANY of this? ...until this is dealt with, we really won't be likely to develop many players that are more than just strong workhorse types... no Messi or Ronaldo is ever going to come from playing College ball.
  1. Paul Bryant
    commented on: April 13, 2010 at 10:25 p.m.
    I seems we have this same discussion about every couple of months or so. Soccer is a perculiar sport. Unlike baseball, basketball, or football, it must be played and practiced constantly. The skills erode quickly for some reason in soccer if they are not practiced and played continuously. I say all of this to agree with Robert Kiernan. In addition to the abbreviated college soccer season, the coaching at the college level in very little measure prepares players for the professional ranks. Even Bradenton doesn't carry the alure it once did. Most of those players go their to earn D1 scholarships. And who can blame them. Thoes scholarships are worth more than what most MLS player earn over a similar period of time. What will Reyna be able to do? First, I hope he schedules a meeting with the NCAA powers that be and begs them to loosen the rules to allow college players to play more. Second, I hope he does what Ridge says about developing a proper scouting system of independent scouts that are not beholden to a club, organization, or family. Unfortunately, even if he where to be successful at all of this, are there are not enough professional avenues for the increase of upcoming players to find work.
  1. cony konstin
    commented on: April 15, 2010 at 10:21 a.m.
    We need a soccer revolution in the USA. This revolution must occur in the inner cities of America. It is our last haven where we can develop magical players. Don't waste your time in suburbia and college soccer. Let those two environments continue what they are good for and that is to give kids a place to toy with the game. We need create a NEW SPARTA and it's not going to come from suburbia or college soccer. The HOOD is our last frontier. Now we need to get in there and develop soccer play grounds that are free, safe and accessable 7 days a week.
  1. Brian Herbert
    commented on: April 27, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.
    To Robert's point, Landon Donovan, in my opinion our most valuable current U.S. field player, never played college soccer. Clint Dempsey, in my opinion the 2nd most valuable U.S. field player, did play for Furman in college, but Fulham honed him into the player he is today. Tim Howard? Clearly one of the top goalkeepers in the English Premier League, never played college soccer. So, college soccer may be a great way for a player to get a free degree, nothing wrong with that, but let's not confuse that with a strategy for developing players who can compete Internationally!

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