American soccer must build its own character

By Paul Gardner

One thing that never made any sense to me was all the criticism that MLS used to take about its playoff system. When the league had only 10 teams, and the playoffs needed eight teams, the air was repeatedly filled with whinings and moanings and bitchings about how stupid it all was to play a whole season just to eliminate two teams.

Agreed, MLS could have limited the playoffs to just four teams, but I doubt whether that would have prevented the critics from complaining. Any more than this season's playoffs, as suspenseful as you could wish for, will change their minds. What they really disliked -- and still do -- was the playoff system itself.

And they particularly dislike it because it is an American invention. None the worse for that, not in my eyes anyway. But there are many people involved in American soccer who seem to be ashamed of the fact that American soccer is ... well, American.

Of course, many of these malcontents are immigrants who wish that American soccer were Italian or Argentine or German or whatever. Pity about them. They are irritating, at worst.

But there is one set among the immigrant naysayers, and they are much more significant in terms of the damage they can inflict on the American game.

The Brits. They are much more prominent than the other immigrant Eurosnobs -- mostly because of the language, which ensures their easy entry to things American. They are much more than irritating, they are a pernicious threat to the growth of the American game.

They seem to have infiltrated at just about every level of the sport. I meet plenty of them. Some of them sport credentials that are highly suspect. They can't all have played for Arsenal and ManU, can they? Did they really all coach the Cosmos?

An exaggerated background can certainly help in acquiring a job. As can a very ordinary background presented to someone who hasn't the remotest idea what any of it really means, except that it sounds impressive. I'm always amazed when I hear Brit coaches here tell of how they played for Wimbledon or Watford. Anyone who wants the American game to progress beyond rustic park kickabouts would avoid such a background like the plague.

But at the youth level here, it would appear that far too many of the club people doing the hiring for full-time coaches simply haven't a clue what they're about. A Brit accent is likely to be the determining factor.

But even this far, things are reasonably OK. It's what these coaches bring in their coaching baggage that spells disaster. They bring British soccer. And that is more than enough to damn them.

This is the soccer that hasn't won anything in over 40 years. It hasn't won anything in that long because it is archaic, because it has learned nothing, despite all the first-class foreign talent playing in the Premier League. The proof of that is the calamitous failure of the British -- I should say English, which is the only one that really matters here -- youth development system. The very process that all the Brit carpet-baggers want to implant here. And I'm including all the Brit clubs -- Chelsea is the prime example -- who are so keen to set up academies here and to create "relationships" with American youth clubs. To help American soccer? Or to snaffle young American talent?

Am I damning every last man of these coaches, then? No, of course not. There are exceptions -- I can think of three or four right now, and I suppose there are others. But the vast majority of the Brit coaches in this country are not qualified to teach the game here -- simply because they have no experience of soccer outside the British Isles. In a word, they are ignorant.

The Brits have always been insular, unwilling to accept that anything created or thought up outside their shores can be any good. In Victorian times -- the triumphant Brit era in which they invented soccer -- that attitude may have made some sense. Today it is merely laughable -- and, of course, suicidally counter-productive.

Here are some simply incredible figures. They come from a new book "Every Boy's Dream" by Chris Green, which investigates youth training in England, and are quoted in the November 2009 issue of When Saturday Comes magazine. In England there are 895 coaches with the UEFA "A" license -- in Spain there are 12,270.

As I'm not a great believer in the efficacy of coaching licenses, I'm using that merely as a horrendous example of the way that the Brits will not even take a look at anything tainted as "foreign" in soccer.

People with that background, with that mentality and the arrogance that goes with it, are totally unsuitable to be coaching youth in this country. The wonderful thing about the American youth scene is its variety. It has to be one of the richest, the most fertile breeding grounds in the world, a thrilling mix of African, Hispanic, European and, yes, American talents. Is it conceivable that Brit coaches -- with their long out-dated approach to the sport (they're still talking of center halves, who disappeared from the game about 80 years ago), their emphasis on getting stuck-in, their scornful attitude to anything that smacks of real soccer skill and their absolutely ineradicable faith that attacking soccer consists of nothing more than an avalanche of crosses -- is it conceivable, I ask you, that these guys can be anything other than a drag on the development on young American players?

The fact that, even at the top level, the English themselves have given up on their own coaches and hired an Italian (who follows a Swede) tells the story.

Enough said. American soccer must build its own character, its own style, must speak its own language in its own voice. The last thing it needs is narrow-minded instruction from people who can't even put their own house in order.


8 comments about "American soccer must build its own character".
  1. philip Tiewater, October 22, 2009 at 8:34 a.m.

    I cannot agree with you more. I am tired of seeing unemployed Brits who could not make it in their country come here and act like they know something we do not. The exaggeration on their resumes is incredible. I remind everyone I know they have only one World Cup despite "inventing" soccer. The EPL is good because of the international players...not the British players.

    The club system is not working in England either. They have to "steal" players from France or buy players from Spain. Now they are trying to cherry pick the American talent.

    Right now there is so much British influence at the youth level we may not be able to rise above it for a long time.

  2. Kurt Bienias, October 22, 2009 at 8:44 a.m.

    Although I often wonder where Paul Gardner gets his opinions, I have to say he is spot on with this. For over 15 years I have continued to see a growing influence of British coaches who often get opportunities handed to them because of their accent and a resume that few can really testify to. I'm not saying they haven't played the game or can't coach; rather, I'm saying that America is a very culturally diverse country and if we can define our own style of play that matches our culture (versus trying to emulate another country's style of play), then someday we are going to reach the World Cup final. If you want to see some of the most boring and uncreative college soccer, go watch a team with a British head coach.

  3. Ian Plenderleith, October 22, 2009 at 9 a.m.

    Ah, the Brits, always the Brits. Instead of recycling the anachronistic stereotype of all Brits as shouty, kick-and-rush coaches looking to make a fast buck out of the dumb Yanks (an anecdotally founded generalisation that manages to insult both Brits and the apparently gullible US natives involved in soccer in this country), you could have better used your starting premise to explore why, despite the pre-playoff 'excitement' of the regular season's final weekend, this has been such a damningly mediocre year in MLS, where parity has been squeezed to its logical middling point - no outstanding teams, but scads of dull ones. No doubt it's all the fault of Gary Smith and Mo Johnston.

    Glad to see you're reading When Saturday Comes, though - excellent choice!

  4. Michael Krebs, October 22, 2009 at 9:43 a.m.

    As I read through this article about American soccer, I became increasingly appalled. Appalled that anyone could harbor such animosity toward the citizens of any other country. “Malcontent … immigrants … irritating” “Brits … Eurosnobs … pernicious threat” “Brit coaches … ignorant” “Narrow minded” Especially when it comes to the education and enjoyment of the sport we all love so much. Now I am not of British heritage and am indeed a passionate supporter of MLS and the US National Team, but I believe we have to look internally at our programs and our results. Progression of our players is different (not necessarily inferior) in the US than in almost any other country in the world; for one thing, a vast majority of our players are college educated and progressed their game and skills through the college system. And I do see a different level of play in the MLS as compared to Serie A, the Bundesliga, South America or yes the Premier League. And you won’t find a better supporter of our Men’s National Team, but look at the results we have had on the world stage at all (except one) World Cups in recent history – disappointing at best. Remember Program 2010? And to look at our results in the final three qualifiers vs. T&T, Honduras and Costa Rica, hardly world soccer powers, leaves one wondering what we will experience in South Africa next summer. True, it was a brilliant win against Spain this summer, but then the follow up with Brazil left a lot to be desired. So let’s look internally and indeed build our own American character of soccer; but not impugn all those other nationalities who are helping build that character from the grass roots youth levels through the MLS with its foreign players and coaches. Paul Gardner, acerbic and prejudiced, should be ashamed.

  5. Ian Plenderleith, October 22, 2009 at 12:15 p.m.

    "He's been just as critical of other foreign-born coaches." Oh well, that makes it okay. Look, there are good coaches and there are bad coaches and plenty in-between. You grade by them by merit, not by nation - that's shamefully stone-aged thinking.

  6. Mike Gaire, October 22, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.

    I totally agree with Ian Plenderleith's comments and am very disappointed to see Paul Gardner come up with this crazy rant! I too am a passionate supporter of the US Men's National Team and Landon's goal that put Mexico out of the World Cup not so very long ago is a cherished moment I hope to see repeated, but to launch into this racist nonesense against the Brits when searching for a scapegoat for the ills of US Soccer is both unwarranted and undignified, and completely ridiculous!

  7. philip Tiewater, October 23, 2009 at 8:19 a.m.

    I do not see Gardner scapegoating the British. He is saying the decision-makers at youth clubs are not vetting their coaching choices. Rather than using a formal open competition with background checks and perhaps some interviews and demonstrations, they are choosing the first guy with an accent as the coach. His suggestion is that we need to look beyond the convenience of an English speaking coach. If we must rely on English speaking coaches let's try Americans with a strong soccer background or at least care about the National effort to improve the game here.

  8. David Borts, October 30, 2009 at 9:42 a.m.

    Could not agree more. I am a premier youth coach and soccer administrator. Learned my football in UK as a kid for which I am grateful, but what the BRIT invasion has brought us, is a step up from no soccer to high level mediocrity. While we were colonized by England for which we are indebted, we had the good sense to toss them out in 1776. We are a country with a deep athletic talent pool that can win the World Cup in the future, however we must allow the percolation up of talent, skill and creativity which is being stifled by the Brit coaches need for 'compactness' fitness, kick and run. Once our american talent is allowed to grow and not be stifled we will have the stylistic skillfull players that fill Euro stadiums. We can not afford to continue to develop second tier professionals because of the increasing control of development in this country by the British Invasion which aint the Beatles or Rolling Stones

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