Time to say good-bye to Bradenton

[MY VIEW] The USA continued its streak of being the only nation to have qualified for all 14 Under-17 World Cups with five wins in five games at the 2011 Concacaf Under-17 Championship in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Despite Sunday's 3-0 overtime triumph by Wilmer Cabrera's boys over Canada, it's clear the under-17 residency program launched by U.S. Soccer in 1999 and based in Bradenton, Fla., has run its course.

There are any number of yardsticks by which to judge the U-17 residency program:

-- Success on the field. The six first U-17 residency classes produced one fourth-place finish at the Under-17 World Cup, but that's it. The 2-0 win by John Ellinger's U-17s over Mexico in New Zealand at the 1999 tournament remains the only U.S. win in the knockout phase of 13 tournaments, a remarkably poor record.

-- Developing future stars. Ellinger's 1999 team included Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu, among others. But few current U.S. stars began their careers in Bradenton or at the U-17 level for that matter. Of the starters against Ghana in the second round of the 2010 World Cup, only goalie Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Donovan represented the USA at the U-17 World Cup. Many of the attacking stars on the very promising U.S. under-20 national team either left the residency program before the end of its cycle (Joseph Gyau and Sebastian Lletget) or moved abroad at a young age (Bobby Wood, Josh Gatt and Omar Salgado).

-- Jumpstarting the careers of young players. Players like Michael Bradley, too young to make the 2005 squad, and Altidore, a reserve on the 2005 U-17 team, benefited from being placed in a full-time soccer environment and made the leap to pro soccer at young ages. The same could be said for Neven Subotic, another 2005 reserve who now stars for Borussia Dortmund and Serbia.

-- Developing a style of play. The work at Bradenton would be beneficial if it instilled in U.S. teams a distinct style of play in the manner of such great programs at those at Barcelona or Ajax, but the teams that have come out of Bradenton have been largely unremarkable. Despite their success in winning the 2011 Concacaf tournament -- Mexico, the 2011 U-17 World Cup host, it should be noted was absent -- the Americans showed little pizazz. Indeed, in the quarterfinals against El Salvador and final against Canada, the USA looked like the second best team on the field for much of regulation.

Much of what was unique about Bradenton has been made moot by the launch of U.S. Soccer's Development Academy and the MLS homegrown program that has seen clubs sign players as young as 16.

In particular, MLS is offering the fast-track player development -- the opportunity for young players to train and play alongside older pros -- that was always lacking in American soccer.

More generally, Development Academy programs are beginning to replicate the daily academy training experience. A few are even adding a residency component. Real Salt Lake has launched a residency program in Phoenix. FC Dallas has its own residency program for Dallas players. The Schulz Academy, a former DA program in South Florida, has launched a new residency program.

Most of Cabrera's U-17s are DA products. Only two U.S.-based starters against El Salvador in the decisive quarterfinals -- Andrew Oliver (Westside United of Indiana) and Alejandro Guido (Aztecs Premier of California) -- were not affiliated with DA programs.

That doesn't mean that DA programs are the be all and the end all of American youth soccer -- after all, Oliver was the U-17s' leading scorer and Guido was their playmaker -- but they will catch much of the talent coming through the ranks.

With or without the residency program -- or a local academy club program for that matter -- Donovan and Subotic (discovered playing in a park in Bradenton) -- would have probably become stars.

And the demise of Bradenton as a residency program doesn't mean U.S. Soccer should drop the U-17 national team program or should abandon its extensive calendar of international trips or domestic camps that should have a special emphasis on providing opportunities for players outside the DA or MLS systems.

The U-17 national team program should continue -- and keep its record streak going for many years to come -- but there is no realistic need for a full-time program that takes a player away from home or out of his local soccer environment.

If U.S. Soccer and Nike were throwing out the idea of launching a full-time national residency program today, they'd probably pass.

So it's time to say goodbye to Bradenton.

8 comments about "Time to say good-bye to Bradenton".
  1. Bob Escobar, March 1, 2011 at 8:07 a.m.

    With all the money invested (in the millions) for the amount of years this program's been in place, we have not produced one single world class player or anyone close enough to say that American boy came out of our Bradenton program. Landon Donovan, our best American player learned the game elsewhere and the same could be said for a few others....I totally agree with Paul Kennedy, time to say goodbye to Bradenton.

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, March 1, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.

    I agree, but how about taking some of that money and allocating it to youth clubs to be used soley for scholarships to qualified players that are unable to afford the local "academy" or what ever you want to call the latest hot shot gimmick.I still think it is important to have a wide net to search for talent and we shouldn't allow talented players to go unnoticed because they can't afford the fees associated with the higher profile clubs.

  3. Marc Silverstein, March 1, 2011 at 8:57 a.m.

    FYI. It was 1999 not 1991 that was Ellinger's first Bradenton class. Editing. Take it seriously.

  4. tim francis, March 1, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.

    Great athletes are musts, to begin FUN but efficient training in the fine individual skills at the youngest age possible. So how do we lure these athletes away from the higher paying more popular sports? AGREED on providing the money for encouraging less entitled, more athletic players out! Also, we must make the sport more addictively fun to play-- encouraging creativity, laughter, hooting, etc. Have you seen the mood and skill of elite soccer at u9-13? -- Rare creative effective individual skill encouragement, marine-like set-up-the-drill and stop coaching-coaching, serious,bored and frustrated parents and players: smiles and positive shouts only after goals. No wonder so many quit around 13 or 14--they realize that soccer is a lot more frustration and hard work than joy in play. Addictive joy in the dance of the game maybe the thing that gets the best athletes away from basketball, football, and baseball, and gets us the pizzaz needed to win games at the highest levels.

  5. Thomas Easterling, March 1, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.

    Here's a potential advantage offered by residential programs: they could allow players from "soccer poor" regions of the country to develop skills they would otherwise not get.

    If you're looking for the most athletically gifted young people in America, you'd do well to look at the Southeast--that strategy has worked for SEC football coaches, anyhow. But soccer is fourth or fifth fiddle here, behind football, baseball, basketball, and maybe even track. I'd like to see residential programs that poach talented athletes from these sports and give them an opportunity to focus on soccer instead.

    However, taking soccer players from areas where soccer is already strong isn't necessarily going to give the best benchmark for what residential programs can do. Whatever advantages in technique that can be offered to already strong players, if you can give the same lessons to better athletes, then the latter will win bigger over time.

  6. Albert Harris, March 1, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.

    I'd be interested in Cabrera's take on the Bradenton program before making any irrevocable decisions. I've liked the way he seems to be looking at players outside the traditional suburban base of the Bradenton program. We need to develop a consistent coaching style and flow thru the the various age divisions and I do believe he's the man to do it. What happens after they get to Bob Bradley is still a concern, but that's for another thread.

  7. Julio Zarate, March 1, 2011 at 7:12 p.m.

    Please, Just get serious!. We are far ahead of becoming a soccer power. We may be good runners, strong players, but skills??? uhh. A good measurement is when we face teams like Argentina, Brasil, etc. They make us dance the tango and samba in every department.
    We know many excellent players do not have the opportunity of the rich ones. DA, ODP, Showcases, you name it are only designed for those that have money and accesibility. We know many players with good talent that do not have anyway to get to the fields because they are far away or because they parents needs to have two jobs to survive. If they have transportation to the field, then they do not have money to travel out of state, If they can travel out of the state, then they do not have money to pay the 1,500 for ODP or the 3,000 for the DA, plus other tournament expenses. Soccer in America will continue being a failure until everybody has the same opportunities to compete. Then you will see the richie moved out and leave the real skillful players to take control

  8. tim francis, March 1, 2011 at 8:13 p.m.

    The lsck of money and skill factors are a lot of the tragic reality, Julio, and there's more: The low relative value of soccer compared to the 'major' sports: basketball, football, baseball, video games and TV. These keep many of our best potential players, rich or poor, going to other sports or electronic ones. That's why we need to make our kids experience in practice and games better than these sports and electronics-- both challenging AND fun-- to make kids intrinsically want to build the skill to build the fun. Then if we can get the 'greed' factor out so that all kids can play, we'll be on our way.

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