Klinsmann's Candidates: a large but limited player pool to pick from

[USA CONFIDENTIAL] On the eve of Juergen Klinsmann's naming his first U.S. roster for a game against Mexico next Wednesday, a look at the player pool coming out of the Concacaf Gold Cup shows the range and scope of choices facing the new head coach.

GOALKEEPER. Tim Howard showed in the last World Cup he’s a very solid keeper but apparently not capable of the huge, critical save a la predecessors Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller. That may or may not be good enough for Klinsmann, yet challengers to this spot are few.

Brad Guzan desperately needs to sort out his club situation and get into the nets, otherwise he’ll be passed by. David Yelldell has signed with Bayer Leverkusen but has just one season of Bundesliga experience at age 29.

The younger members of the domestic corps – Sean Johnson, Tally Hall, Dan Kennedy, Josh Saunders – are virtually bereft of international experience, and for all their exploits in MLS, Nick Rimando and Will Hesmer and Jon Busch aren’t likely to zoom up the depth chart. Marcus Hahnemann will be 40 next June.

The early September double-dip against Costa Rica (at Home Depot Center) and Belgium (in Brussels) gives Klinsmann the option of fielding two disparate squads, and how many goalies he auditions in his first few games is an intriguing subplot to the start of his tenure.

DEFENDERS. Sure, everybody loves Tim Ream on the ball, but in the tackle and on the mark he suffered in the Gold Cup. Many are those who think Omar Gonzalez is just about ready to start for the USA, and until he gets a chance to be embarrassed that illusion will continue. Both of these guys need national-team games and further growth to emerge as bona fide candidates, which should occur in the next year and a half.

Injury ruled Jay DeMerit out of the Gold Cup and at his age (32 in December) he can’t be projected as a starter in 2014, but his spirit and enthusiasm could be valuable assets for a team in transition. He’s played little for the Whitecaps, however. With nearly a year to go before qualifiers commence, Klinsmann has ample time to measure the progress of Gonzalez, Ream and other pending replacements as he monitors the declines of Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, and Steve Cherundolo. At age 29, Clarence Goodson is on the bubble and gives Klinsmann a buffer player with size (6-foot-4) between the older veterans and younger guard.

The failure of the U.S. U-20s to qualify for the world championships cost some promising defenders (Ethan White, Greg Garza, Gale Agbossoumonde, Zarek Valentin, Perry Kitchen) valuable international experience against an array of impressive attacking talent. Thus Klinsmann must rely on club performances as he sifts through the possibilities, of which there are many.

Outside backs Eric Lichaj and Tim Chandler are probable bookends of the defense at some point, and securing both corners – rather than just on the right side with Cherundolo – would certainly make Klinsmann’s back-line renovation job easier. There’s also a half-dozen or so MLS hopefuls in the middle and out wide to evaluate, along with the Man Without A Position, Jonathan Spector, who will play in the League Championship (English second division) with Birmingham this season.

When he took over the German national team in 2004, Klinsmann vowed to implement a more attacking approach, yet he also demanded a stronger, fitter, faster fleet of players. Much emphasis has been placed on his using right-footed Philipp Lahm at left back; perhaps he also noted Lahm’s speed, toughness, and knack for scoring spectacular goals and delivering incisive crosses.

No doubt Klinsmann the coach wants more skill and smarts at each position, yet he also acknowledges that much of his own success as a player stemmed from explosiveness, work rate, and spirit. He’s not likely to sacrifice too much tenacity for technique.

MIDFIELDERS. How much emphasis Klinsmann puts on the physical aspects of his team along with the technical elements is most important in midfield. The U.S. has plenty of rugged lads and some flair players but is a bit short on potent blends of both characteristics.

Did Sacha Kljestan and Freddy Adu show enough grit along with guile in the Gold Cup to restore their national team prospects? Is there someone amongst Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, Mixx Diskerud, et al, who is best suited to playing as a true No. 10? Do Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey stay on the wings, move inside, or go up top? Can there be developed a solid, left-sided mid out of Brek Shea, Robbie Rogers, or Bedoya? Is a recall of DaMarcus Beasley – speedy, aggressive, experienced -- in the cards? Until Cherundolo fades out of the picture, does Chandler learn the ropes at right mid?

Klinsmann has no shortage of candidates to play centrally in a more defensive role, so tinkering with Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu in different combinations and formations is to be expected. If Ricardo Clark gets regular club playing time he could stick around. Chandler might get a look here as well.

FORWARDS. The status of Charlie Davies is of paramount importance, and at this juncture he’s yet to consistently attain the levels of pace and threat he displayed prior to being severely injured in October 2009. More data will be available if he gets some time in the next three friendlies and though his value to the team is unquestioned, he’s still on the way back.

A couple of rough games for Chris Wondolowski at the Gold Cup may have doomed his national team future, but on the other hand, he’s something like German striker Miroslav Klose in style if not accomplishment; a clever, crafty player who can peel away from defenders or glide past them to get a crack at goal. He has the right instincts and still has to prove he’s got enough game.

For all the abuse he’s taken from the Jozy Altidore Hate Club, the 22-year-old should blossom under the tutelage of Klinsmann, who knows all about fusing the physical and psychological demands imposed on forwards. The younger brigade that includes Omar Salgado and Juan Agudelo will relish every minute they spend with Klinsmann, who can talk about all aspects of the game for hours but truly lights up when the topic is goals, the creation and finishing thereof. They will be inspired, and pushed, by a man who scored 227 club goals and 47 more for Germany.

Of the many players laboring in Mexico and Europe, several are forwards. A return for Herculez Gomez, a callup for Joe Benny Corona, and a debut for Conor Doyle are all possibilities, as is a move for Freddy Adu to the front line.

That the player list is large can’t be discounted yet it’s also more of a pond than a lake. Progress depends on whether Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer can dredge it deeper as it expands.

75 comments about "Klinsmann's Candidates: a large but limited player pool to pick from".
  1. Luis Arreola, August 3, 2011 at 8:24 a.m.

    Ridge, it sounds like you are hoping for Klins to pick speed and strength over technical players. Isn't this what Bradley did? You just want and hope for Klins to pick faster and stronger ones? Why is this guy a soccer journalist? Klins will pick techniques over anything in the long run. I can't remember when Germany showed more technique than un the last 3 years. I predict Klins will pick the most Hispanic players of any other USA coach for the usmnt. Technique over all. Corona and Gomez along with Torres will surely be called up.

  2. cony konstin, August 3, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.

    US has many good players but we don't have anyone special but that's ok. Argentina had special players but did not do well at copa america. So what is the secret of winning a world cup? Chemistry, Chemistry and more Chemistry. Klinnsman must come up with a formula that can win him a world cup. But first he must believe that he can win a world cup. That is where it begins. We have never had a coach yet that believed that we could win. Why? Just look at the way we have been playing collectively for 30 years. We play not to lose. Once klinnsman believes that we can win then he must come up with an attacking scheme that is completely unorthodox and will shock the heck out of everyone. He must be a risk taker and not the typical coach that says we will defend defend and defend to our deaths. No we must attack, attack, attack, relentlessly, in waves like the pacific ocean. If klinnsman can believe and get his boys to attack in waves then we will win the world cup even if we don't have a special player because he has develop a special team. Courage and vision. Good hunting coach klinnsman. As they say in show business brake a leg.

  3. Daniel Clifton, August 3, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.

    I have to agree with Ridge's assessment of Howard. I am really disappointed in his penchant for allowing near post goals. He makes some great saves at times, but he just does not play at the level of Keller or Friedel when they were at the top of their game. I am all for technique over everthing else. I am also all for Klinsman being the coach who picks the most Hispanic players of any other USA coach.

  4. Bill Anderson, August 3, 2011 at 9:29 a.m.

    I think the call ups in January will be far more significant than the call ups in August.

  5. cony konstin, August 3, 2011 at 9:34 a.m.

    Hispanics, whites, blacks, asians or any other race has nothing to do with making a bad""" team. The first thing you need is a coach who is willing to be a radical thinker and doer. First of all my friend we are not just hispanics, blacks, asians, whites, or any other color or demographic. We are USONIANS. People of the United State of America. That's where it begins. Discovering who we are as a nation. That is where klinnsman must begin his journey if he wants to win a world cup. Our nation is so divided that we can not see straight. I hope klinnsman can bring our nation together with one goal to be the best in the world.

  6. Gak Foodsource, August 3, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.

    completely agree Bill. Not enough time to introduce new players for the Mexico game, but I expect to see plenty of new faces in January.

  7. D Vb, August 3, 2011 at 9:48 a.m.

    I can promise you that JK will want to put his mark on this team for the next world cup so expect major changes. Some of these players may be called for upcoming matches but more than 70% will ultimately be replaced by the next world cup. I agree that chemistry is a strong key to winning as well as finding players that take pride in playing for their teammates and country.

  8. cony konstin, August 3, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.

    If we are to win the world cup everyone must be able to go forward an attack. That is one of the reasons why Spain won because everyone on their team was an offensive threat. Here is my back four. Left back Freddy Adu, right back Chad Barrett, Nate Jaqua and Eddie Johnson center backs. Attack attack attack relentlessly in waves like the pacific ocean. We need to risk taking and an unorthodox way of doing it if we want to win the world cup. Klinnsman must listen to everyone and finally decide his own vision. Hopefully his vision will be radical and not the status quo.

  9. Mark Arnold, August 3, 2011 at 10:03 a.m.

    I think Chris Pontius has to also be in the discussion for left mid and perhaps forwards. He has shown the ability to work very well with other quality attackers.

  10. Chester Grant, August 3, 2011 at 10:06 a.m.

    Forward: Edson Buddle was the leading scorer in MLS last year (or would have been if not at the World Cup [where he was wasted by coach Bradley]). He is playing in Germany right now?

  11. Paul Lorinczi, August 3, 2011 at 10:07 a.m.

    Brazil's success over the years has been its ability to integrate its multi-cultural, multi-racial society on the field.

    There is a DC High School that had the winningest coach. His greatest success happened when he benchmarked Brazil's soccer practices on integrating talent.

    If we can figure it out, we will be world beaters. If we continue to field a team of "snowflakes" made up of pay to play political system, we will never reach our potential.

    The greatest risk for Klinsmann is being the change agent to a very profitable system to many right now.

  12. Shawn Blymiller, August 3, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.

    Let's remember who called up Tomas Mueller, who is a regular for the German national team. I have all the faith in the world in Klinsman finding our young talent and developing it. I am anxious for games to start

  13. Brad Hallier, August 3, 2011 at 10:15 a.m.

    I loved Kasey Keller as much as anyone, but to say he was capable of the big save overlooks the fact that he never won a World Cup game. Friedel, on the other hand, was other-worldly.

  14. Luis Arreola, August 3, 2011 at 11:08 a.m.

    Cony, Argentina's downfall was more chemistry than anything else. Spain's chemistry would be nothing without the technique their players displayed. Technique and talent is most important. Then comes the rest of qualities. Klins knows this. I agree that this is a country has a great multicultural pool but Hispanics have been long overlooked. That is why my once in a while rants. I apologize if it makes me sound bias but its a reaction to circumstances.

  15. Walt Pericciuoli, August 3, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.

    No time to make many changes for Mexico, but certainly enough time to evaluate what he has. I do agree, starting with the next round of games, changes will begin. 70% change over in players by 2014 seems drastic, but in 3 years time, I think we'll see a very different team of players.

  16. Amos Annan, August 3, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.

    Glad the writer has it all figured out. Choosing these players is more guess work than science. Most coaches go with gut instinct on many of these choices. Klinsmann will bring in a couple more hispanics to be politically correct and then do what the hell he wants. If he plays anyone (hispanic, black, white, pink, etc.) it will be because he wants to WIN. Everything else is just talk.

  17. Luis Arreola, August 3, 2011 at 11:58 a.m.

    Amos, my American friend, winning and who you pick go together. Soccer is a game of different personalities. In soccer particularly different nationalities have different soccer personalities and talents while others have a little of anything. I don't understand why you get annoyed of me stating the obvious to raise consciousnesses amongst these bloggers. If we Hispanics don't learn to speak up for ourselves who else will do it? You of all people here should understand this.

  18. Paul Bryant, August 3, 2011 at noon

    Ridge, you should be embarrased to mention Wondolowski or for that matter any USMNT player in the same breath as Miroslav Close, one of he great goal scorer's in soccer. It doesn't much matter who Klinsmann chooses. He'll be able to "coach-up" and have a positive impact on the players.

  19. Paul Bryant, August 3, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.

    Clifton, I don't think Friedel or Keller had to play goalkeep behind the likes of Ream, Bornstein, Lichaj, and Goodson.

  20. Paul Bryant, August 3, 2011 at 12:18 p.m.

    Cony, you are right on point about everyone on the team being a scoring threat. I don't agree with your player selection for a backline, but I agree with your premise. Steve Cherudolo and Jonathan Spector have those qualities, but lack pace (remember Kaka blowing past Spector at the Confederations Cup in 2008?). Who is going to be the "playmaking" midfielder? Stuart Holder? Freddy Adu? I believe Holden is the key in this whole scenario. I believe players like Holden, Adu, Dempsey, Donovan, Edu, Jones, Beasley, Cherundolo, Spector, and Bedoya will excell under Klinsmann. Mainly because of their technical ability.

  21. David Sirias, August 3, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.

    JK doesn't have to win the world cup. We have an easy qualifying route. So I have little doubt we will make the WC finals. The question is, will JK be able to get the USA out of group and make other respect us. That's all we should ask for given the young age of our most skilled players. If we are respected that means that 1) JK will have demonstared he knows how to pick a complete usable roster and manage a tournament; 2)we have the collective soccer IQ to attack and defend en masse and 3) we have "good enough" skill and pace to make no one take us for granted.

    I for one am excited because Bob Bradley could never ever accomplish/formulate any of those three prongs I list above.

  22. Jeffrey Organ, August 3, 2011 at 1:38 p.m.

    I agree with you Cony on the defenders. Perhaps Chad Ochocinco can be released by the Patriots for the Mexico game so he can be in the mix also.

    Comparing Wondolowski with Klose in style or any other capacity is delusional.

    What about Edgar Castillo. I don't think the useless 20 minute bone Bradley tossed him is a decent trial. Lichaj, though he looks promising, is not a left back. Don't forget Geoff Cameron either as a defensive choice.

  23. Ramon Creager, August 3, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.

    I second the suggestion that Chris Pontius needs a look. He is creative, works well with other creative players (see DeRo's second goal at San Jose last weekend) and works hard.

    Those of you wondering about the emphasis on Hispanics and other demographics should go read Ann Killion's excellent analysis of our youth development system over at SI.com (http://tinyurl.com/3d5sld2) One only has to look at the makeup of the US Women's NT to see she has a point. Hispanics and other minorities are not high on the wealth scale and thus are very likely to be underserved by today's pay-to-play, results-oriented youth system.

  24. Achilles Vassilicos, August 3, 2011 at 2:29 p.m.

    All very interesting comments, but I would caution you to hold your expectations to a more moderate and realistic level. JK is a great coach and did a great job with rejuvenating the german system, but there are some deep-rooted differences between GR and US. There is not enough space here to elaborate on the GR system but I had the opportunity on March 2010 to see up close the DFB system as part on 30 or US and Canadian coaches hosted by DFB. Key differences: (1) comprehensive organization in all 12 levels of play, from in-house U-6's to Bundesliga 1st teams; (2) a comprehensive youth development program; (3) competent coaches at all levels; (4) the absence of the "pay-to-play" system that is the biggest negative for US soccer. Moreover, the present NCAA rules for soccer are responsible for wasting some of the most productive years for player development. Given the US soccer realities, there are not currently enough world class players for the US to credibly challenge for a WC. The US national team will do well with JK at the helm, but the biggest impact that JK can make at his new position is to help change the culture of soccer in this country. It wouldn't be easy.

  25. Simon Sanchez, August 3, 2011 at 2:31 p.m.

    As a Latino, I have to reinforce what I have seen in the American soccer Hierarchy in the last 30 years. The exclusion of the Hispanic players. I truly hope we are turning a page of a lackluster history of soccer in our country and use the talent that has been overlooked. The smaller more technical Latinos in our country. Maybe now with JK at our helm we can now see what we have all been saying.

  26. Chance Hall, August 3, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.

    Although I've never heard the term before, I thought Cony explained USONIAN pretty well in the e-mail. It seems to be someone who, regardless of race, creed, or color, wants to play for this country. I think one thing we've all seen that makes a huge difference when someone is playing at the international level, is their pride of playing for their country. I'm hoping JK can use this opportunity to get the MNT and the fans to get past all the other noise and play good aggresive soccer. And, if we're lucky, playing as a team. Not just a bunch of players thrown together for one game. As for bias, the only thing I've seen is past coaches picking size and strength over technique and ball skills. I'm hoping that will be one of the first things to change with him coaching.

  27. Ramon Creager, August 3, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.

    Sidney, I think you're missing the point a little. The issue is not that there are great Hispanic players that are out there but not being used by the USMNT. If that were the case they'd be playing for MLS, making a living. The issue rather is that our development system, because of its pay-to-play nature, is expensive to players and their families, and thus many many players don't get a chance to develop their skills in the first place. We'll never get anywhere if the USMNT player pool only comes from the top 20% of the wealth demographic.

  28. Paul Bryant, August 3, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.

    Achilles, I hope your points are the first four things that JK has on his agenda. Your NCAA point really hits home. I have never been more dissapointed with soccer than watching my son waste his talent playing, or should I say, not playing enough college soccer. I'm not talking about the regular season, but the off-season. NCAA rules are blantantly anti-soccer.

  29. Bret Newman, August 3, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.

    Everyone wants attacking offense, but it all starts with defense. You have to pressure the player with the ball, all over the field. Don't give your opponent a free ride past midfield. I hope Klinsmann emphasisis this. Don't let the opposition breath, when they have the ball on the defensive end. And have more than one player go after the player with the ball.

  30. David Huff, August 3, 2011 at 5:15 p.m.

    My recollection of "Usonian" was someone who used to go by the Columbian term of the now taboo "American". According to some, we are all now Usonians, Norte Americanos/North Americans or as some have said all along "Damn Yanquis". I would prefer to go by Klinsmannian myself, ein volk, ein USA, ein Klinsmann! P.S. I love the discussion taking place on this board lately, the intellectual ferment of ideas being expressed is a far cry from the staleness we were just recently part of, our future is now very bright.

  31. John Polis, August 3, 2011 at 5:49 p.m.

    Ridge thanks for the always timely and well thought-out analysis. As I read through this list, I see a lot of quite ordinary journeyman players who, in my opinion, will not make the list of players that Klinsmann will ultimately create. Lots of careers in decline here and the challenge will be to find a group of youngsters (at least 4-5 new starters) to go with a core of still effective veterans to get the team back on track. I would have to offer the opinion that our player pool, in addition to being quite thin, isn't nearly as large as I thought before reading the article. It's clear, we are not producing new young players fast enough or at the quality required to compete at the international level. I'm not sure where the answer is, but as JK takes over, he will have to be creative and ultimately discover some hidden gems who can develop in the three years we have prior to Brazil '14.

  32. James Froehlich, August 3, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.

    Ramon Creager -- thanks for the SI link. Great article by Ann Killion and it's on SI.com !!!! Wonder if we will ever see an article like that from Mr. Mahoney?? Don't hold your breath!

  33. Luis Arreola, August 3, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.

    Simon, the irony is that top Latino players are coming out the USA but going to their mother countries to get the opportunities they are obviously not getting here. U17 Sanchez Goalie on W.C. champ Mexico, 7 women playing for Mexico's women's team in world cup coming out of no where and competed well, 2 of the top 5 players in W.C. U20 are playing for Argentina and I forget the other. Can you imagine if Latin.los were actually given an opportunity here how many more would we be talking about? Just imagine what the NBA would be if they had continued to hold back the black players. Baseball?

  34. cony konstin, August 3, 2011 at 11:33 p.m.

    My starting 11. In the goal ??? back 4 Freddy adu, Nate Jaqua, Eddie Johnson, and Chad Barrett. Defensive mid. Tyson Wahl, and Kyle Bekerman. Attacking mids Donovan and Holden. Forwards Davies and Dempsy. Everyone of these guys can attack and defend.

  35. Kent James, August 4, 2011 at 8:27 p.m.

    Some of you guys are pretty hard on Ridge, even criticizing him for things he hasn't done yet (my wife's specialty). I think his article is very accurate. Yes, Klinsmann will be looking at new players, as he should, but as Ridge says, it's not clear there is that much untapped talent. I'm sure he will give a few more Hispanic players opportunities, but that's not going to solve all of our problems (though the discovery/development of a few players may be enough catch Mexico). And Ridge is right to point out that Klinsmann is not a small, creative player himself, and his history demonstrates that he wants work rate and speed in addition to creativity. Anyone who's played much pick-up knows there are guys that have creativity out the wazoo, but can't play competitively because they'd rather dribble past one more guy than help their team score a goal. On the other hand, such a player, in the hands of the right coach, can develop into a player that is an asset to his team if he wants to. Skill is necessary, but not sufficient for a great player. Klinsmann certainly has promise; since Germany is a country similar to the US (wealthy, organized) we may be able to adapt some of their youth training. But the Germans are not known for their creativity; unfortunately, some conditions that have fomented creativity (the slums of Brazil and to a lesser extent, Argentina, where desperation and lack of alternatives encourage millions of kids to play soccer in the streets 24-7) are not things we want to replicate. So Klinsmann faces two serious challenges: identifying talent and molding them into a competitive WC team, and adapting the Youth Soccer system to foster more creative players. Good luck to him on both counts (and being realistic, he's going to need it)! Of course, being an optimist, I do have hope...And thanks Ramon, the SI article was great.

  36. Luis Arreola, August 5, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.

    Kent, you are way off on many of you're assumptions. Ridge assumes and hopes Klins will pick "tenacity" over technique. Ridge also always made excuses for Beasley's picks of brawn over talent. The German players have shown the best technique and creativity lately than I can ever remember from them. Germany is as wealthy as USA but surely has slums as USA does. USA produces the best creative,talented basketball players out of these slums. Brazil is one of the top 20 economies in the world. Uruguay is a small mostly middle class country that is showing to be a top soccer country. Mexico as well. The biggest difference between every country and USA is that USA is the only country that can't sign underage players to contracts, therefore its the only country that has clubs charge its players these ridiculous prices. USA is the only country where homegrown layer contracts earnings of 90% got directly to the federation instead of directly to the club the player came from. All other countries let their clubs make the money off of the contracts of their signed players, therefore most clubs do not charge their players anything to and invest greatly in their development. If these countries are so poor why aren't they charging per player along with Germany? Its the failed USA system that holds them back. This is the only country to profit directly from players instead of their contracts to other clubs. The other problem is people making excuses for this system. Player selection for USA national teams are also a joke because again money has to be a determining factor of getting picked or not. This again is the only country to profit from national team selection at youth ages.

  37. Kent James, August 5, 2011 at 2:41 p.m.

    Luis, I'm not sure why you think Ridge "hopes Klins will pick "tenacity" over technique". I think Ridge was just pointing out that the Germans generally, and even Klinsman specifically (as a player) are not known for creativity, so hoping the US will suddenly become Brazil is not realistic. I think Ridge is trying to temper expectations, not hope that Klinsmann goes for athleticism over skill. The bigger question is do speed and power come at the expense of creativity? Can (should) creative players play defense? A number of years ago Paul Gardner wrote a column in which he argued that creative players should not be asked to play defense, because then they will not have as much energy to be creative. His column made me think about that (he's good at thought-provoking columns). In my own experience, I think a team can tolerate one or two players who really don't play much defense, but I do think the ideal is that everyone plays defense (I think this is an underrated part of the Spanish game; when they lose the ball, they literally swarm it and don't give their opponents time to breath until they get it back). I think Ridge is suggesting that Klinsmann will look for players who are creative, but are also tenacious and work hard. Sometimes creative players seem to think defense is beneath them; I think Ridge is suggesting Klinsmann will not rely on such players.

  38. Kent James, August 5, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.

    On your second point, I wasn't trying to insult the Brazilian economy; I was just pointing out that a lot of talented soccer players come from the favelas, with their desire to excel at soccer driven by desperation and deprivation (Pele, Marodonna,etc.). Germany is much more egalitarian than the US, and does not have anything close to the impoverished areas the US has (in terms of the inequalities in wealth, the US is closer to Brazil than Germany). And in the impoverished areas of the US, basketball and football generally rule; culturally, its difficult to get an entre for soccer (though this is changing, just very slowly). As societies get richer, one hopes that the desperation and deprivation model of (unintentional) soccer development will go away. The question is (and I don't know the answer), do clubs in Mexico, Brazil, Spain, etc. identify talent better than the US, or develop talent better? In other words, are the clubs simply harvesting talent already developed (on the streets, in amateur clubs) or are they actually developing it themselves (taking kids as raw lumps of clay, and molding them into good players)? The former model will be harder to adapt to US because the talent is not yet there. Your point about the USSF taking a higher percentage of transfer fee than anywhere else is a good one, and needs more explanation. Is it the USSF or the MLS that takes the fee? Since the MLS is run as a single entity (yes, we do like to do things differently in the US!), it might make sense the the MLS collect the fee (essentially the MLS acts as unified club), but that might dissuade clubs from developing their own talent. I don't understand why the USSF would take a percentage of the transfer fee. Are their child labor laws in the US that prevent a club from signing very young players? If the situation is as you describe it, it certainly seems that such a set-up discourages clubs from developing talent, and should be changed.

  39. Kent James, August 5, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

    Finally, I don't disagree that the "pay to play" system of development is not a good one. Certainly the limitations the NCAA puts on players while they're in college is damaging to their development as professional players. But we have to recognize that few of these student-athletes will ever be professional soccer players, and the mission of the NCAA is not the development of professional soccer players, so this is unlikely to change. The US has a very different soccer environment than any other country, which makes perfecting a system of player development here quite the challenge. One problem in the US is that unlike most soccer countries, the professional clubs are not making much money (and therefore have trouble subsidizing player development), and even if they were, there just aren't enough clubs to make much of an impact on the player pool. So I'm not sure how much we can rely on professional clubs (even if they have the right monetary incentives) to develop a player pool. While certainly professional clubs have a role to play, I think the bulk of the responsibility has to be with the inexpensive, amateur clubs. It is these clubs that provide access to most American soccer players, and this is where we need to increase the size of the pool. It is important that we maximize the number of kids who play (meaning limiting the cost and not focusing on "exclusive" teams that cut the weak), and we encourage this clubs to focus on creative play (Sam Snow and the USYSA has been pushing this for years). Outreach to underserved communities (primarily impoverished, largely African American urban neighborhoods) is important, and this is where it might be good to have outside sources of funding. Klinsmann certainly has the "street cred" to push player development in the right direction, but he can't make the necessary changes by himself.

  40. Luis Arreola, August 5, 2011 at 3:55 p.m.

    Kent, on Ridge's comments I am like you assuming, based on previous comments made by him regarding talent and brawn. You might just interpret him differently. Klins obviously focused a lot a techniques when in Germany because of the way they play now. The reason they have improved so much lately is because they now have more and better technical players. Just because Klins playing style was fast and strong does it mean his coaching will be same as proven with Germany under him. Sometimes coaches appreciate even more what they lacked or wanted to have as player and can appreciate it better. To say the best technical players don't like to play defense is incorrect now a days. This is a thing of the past. I am a coach and I have run into lazy players with and without techniques. I tell them they must be complete if they want to have a future in this game. The best players on the Mexico team are fast" strong, and extremely tecnical- Dos Santos, Guardado, Barrera and Chicharito for example. Had these players have been better and taller athletes than they are now but without or 1/2 the techniques they possess they would never have been chosen for this team. This means you make it farther in soccer with more creativity than with more athletic ability. There is no question. USA bloggers argue against this simply because they lack the creativity when compared to Teams like Mexico.

  41. Luis Arreola, August 5, 2011 at 4:32 p.m.

    I never said you insulted any country. I just pointed out that slums or poverty is not the biggest reason countries produce top talent. I think I am mistaken about who takes the profit. It could be MLS. But is still something that no othero countries do. In Mexico there are plenty of people that can and choose to play Club Training at any age but when it comes to the creative exiting dynamic players of any age they are brought in to these clubs strictly to develop them at no cost to the player and no obligation to win at young ages to justify the investment. Many times they are offered money contracts as early as 14-15 years old. When a small club youth player is offered a spot on a big clubs the big club must negotiate a deal with the small club and many times it comes down to money for their time and effort in appreciation. This clubs develop first win second because the money is in that one special player at any level. That is why they are groomed and polished. Surely you can admit that in USA youth soccer is a business of team/club results. That's it!! Why? The money goes to MLS for top players. MLS probably thinks- the quantity of top talent will be close to the same anyways, so we might as well be the ones profiting com them. Huge mistake. Monopoly. To say USA does things differently is not always good especially in soccer. Not to mention Health Care, etc. Do you think honestly that the rest of the world is wrong and USA is right about soccer? National player selection in Mexico is better because you know that each flubs main agenda is to have the very best players continue to develop for a future club profit. This is the most effective s outing system. So a national team selection is just a matter of going to these clubs directly. The question in USA soccer should be how can they ever get or develop the best players if Academy and ODP costs are what they are for players? Who do you know that can afford over $2500 for soccer? Most people here average an income less than $60,000 a year.What Academy should or would care of getting a player signed to big contract? Small clubs that do develop for the love of the game and kids get their teams destroyed by these Academies because they offer free scholarships for as lo g as they are helping them win. Think about it. If Germany and Brazil are producing many top players and one is much richer than the other, what is it. that they have in common? The player signing youth system.

  42. Luis Arreola, August 5, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.

    Germany and USA are close in wealth. What is it they don't have in common in youth soccer?
    I am tired of hearing Oh well all our better athletes go to basketball and football. The world is catching up in basketball pretty quickly. The athletes and better players are here. The problem is that the people that have been in charge don't want to look for them in the barrios. That's why they go to Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Honduras, El Salvador. Hey Ridge, why don't you do a piece on the entire number of Hispanics born here that are overlooked and are playing in their 2nd countries? Also mention how successful they have been in doing so. That should really answer you're previous column on "No Conspiracies HERE" LOL.

  43. Kent James, August 8, 2011 at 4:59 p.m.

    Luis, you are confusing my observations about the way things are with the idea that I think that is the way they should be. I think its a horrible set up to have players pay to play (with the better players paying more). I certainly in favor of including more Hispanic players (and administrators, etc.). Don't worry, I'm not a provincial America-firster; I think the US can learn much from other countries (and yes, health care is one of those things!). My point is that what may work well in other countries, may not work well here because the US is very different (especially with regards to soccer). We do not yet have a soccer culture except, perhaps, in the Hispanic communities. Where I am (Pittsburgh), even the best soccer players follow professional and college football more than professional soccer. Kids can dream of being professional football or soccer players and making bucketloads of $$, but that's much less likely in soccer (they might be able to dream of making $30k in the MLS, but that doesn't have quite the same allure). Most of them never watch an MLS game. They are becoming more aware of soccer worldwide (Man U, Barcelona, etc.), but it's a slow process. I would argue that the biggest difference between youth soccer in the US and in other countries with better soccer is that in those countries, there are many more kids who are internally driven to succeed at soccer (whereas a much smaller % of the kids in the US have that motivation). As other sports make inroads in other countries, and as soccer grows in the US, the disparities will lessen, but they're certainly there, and a major factor that hinders US development.

  44. Kent James, August 8, 2011 at 5:23 p.m.

    Correction: I meant "kids could dream of being professional football or basketball players" (above). But my larger point is that while the USSF can (and should) work to change things, from what I can tell they're focusing on a lot of the right things, and there is only so much they can do. In many ways, they have to fight some aspects of American culture ("winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"; the idea of paying privately for things, with high cost being associated with high value, etc.). I've had well intentioned parents who don't understand that allowing defenders to dribble or pass their way out of the back (instead of just clearing it) will benefit them in the long run; the parents just see us being scored on because we lost the ball in our end, and they know if the ball were cleared, it wouldn't be in our end to lose. And American culture is obsessed with winning. It takes time and patience (and a lot of people working on the same page) to get such changes. Talking about how inept, or anti-Hispanic, or clueless the people who run the USSF are is certainly fun, and can sometimes be accurate, but they're not the primary problem (remember, Sunil Gulati is elected, not appointed). I also don't think Ridge is some knee-jerk apologist who gets paid ($or access) by the USSF to defend them (as some people have suggested). Nothing will please me more than if Klinsmann finds a multitude of creative Hispanic (or not) players that he brings to the national team and wins the World Cup, but I'm not going to hold my breath (because I don't think the problems of development in the US will be resolved with the appointment of one man). From what you've written, I'm guessing I favor the same type of game you do (Barcelona anyone?). I just think sometimes people are a little hard on the powers that be, who I think usually have good intentions and most of the time are doing the best they can.

  45. Kent James, August 8, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.

    Finally (really!), while your point about US clubs needing to be rewarded for finding and developing players is a good one, there are some downsides. Some have argued that the way big clubs in Europe attract talent at very young ages (especially from Africa) is exploiting those kids; while we applaud those who make the cut, by the very nature of the process, most players won't make it, and the question is how damaging is the process to them (because even if it leads to the development of some great players, if it is destroying the lives of countless others in the process, it's not something to emulate). The single-entity structure of the MLS has worked (in that the MLS is still alive and seems to be finally financially secure, which is quite an accomplishment). Should it be changed so that clubs can spend whatever they want, and sink or swim on their own? I love the idea of promotion/relegation, but for that to work, relegation cannot lead to the destruction of the club (or there won't be clubs to promote), and in the US, it might. I hope someday the leagues below the MLS will be strong enough that demotion to them would allow teams to continue to function, so that they could work their way back, but we're not there yet. The single-entity structure has certainly created parity, for better or for worse. I'm not sure if leagues with large differences in wealth (most European leagues) are better; in those leagues, the big clubs are so good that very few teams have a real shot at winning the league. Of course it means those teams excel in competitions between leagues (Champions League), which I certainly enjoy watching. Would the MLS be better off with a few dominant clubs? I think only if those clubs were competing internationally on a regular basis (maybe the CCL). So I'm not sure that the professional clubs in the US are sufficiently strong to take the lead in soccer development as they do in most parts of the world. But maybe in a few years.

  46. Luis Arreola, August 8, 2011 at 6 p.m.

    Kent, what you have to ask is why are kids soccer driven in other countries? They are motivated to do so mainly because its a means for income for individual clubs. This helps identify top talent and promotes player investment and develoment. This gives them local superstars. Superstars inspire new players. You just mentioned the fact that our soccer passionate communities do exist in the barrios. The problem is no one wants to look there. Racism and money.

  47. Luis Arreola, August 8, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.

    Who elected Gulati? I sure didn't. You are right about the USA culture of soccer but its not the culture that will change first and then the system. The system has to change first and that's in the hands of the Ussf. The easiest way they can start to do this is by taking the fees out of State and Regional Selection for national teams. They can surely either fund this themselves of find an alternative. They can also hire neutral coaches that have no personal interests in selection of players. Easy. If you hold a free, nonpolitical tryout you increase you're chances greatly of getting the best players. USA can't do this? If every kid, rich or poor, of any color sees that they have an equal opportunity of making a national team, it will increase interest greatly. I have other solutions to add but I should not be the one coming up with them. So yes I do blame the Ussf for not at least trying to inspire a cultural change.

  48. Luis Arreola, August 8, 2011 at 7:14 p.m.

    Parents want to win at the expense of kids actually improving because they know there's nothing else to look forward to. Ridge is obviously knowledgeable but chooses to defend the kick and run style of play every chance he gets. He also does segments like " No conspiracy in USA selection" regarding Hispanics not being selected. If he's being ignorant for free that only makes it worse.

  49. Luis Arreola, August 8, 2011 at 7:34 p.m.

    Kent, how would this system I suggested destroy the lives of the kids that don't make it? This is the country to offer college, and well paying technical work and trades. What's the difference? So what you're saying is that we should not offer a dream that most can't achieve so they don't feel bad? You must not agree with capatilism. These dreams getting shattered happen everyday in the USA with Academy teams not picking true talent or dumping players that don't help the club win for the new ones. What would change is a realistic opportunity to be the best player you can be and make sure the truly best talent will emerge and set a higher standard of competition. Does the NCAA care if its basketball players get the best education if they don't make NBA and "destroy their future"?? Come on man, seriously?

  50. Luis Arreola, August 8, 2011 at 7:59 p.m.

    They don't have to be allowed to spend whatever they want but should be able profit as much as possible from the players they develop as a reward for their investment and work. MLS can still cap the spending but instead of taking the clubs earnings for great players an "distributing" it evenly to clubs that don't deserve it, they can let them keep it so they can continue to reinvest in player development for their own club. This would encourage our clubs to really identify and develop talent. And if the laws changed this would be even better. Small youth clubs would be able to profit from big clubs offers for kids in their programs. This would and should lower costs or even make it free for all young players, especially the good ones. Kent, you seem to want to make excuses for this system that np other country has completely disregarding the fact that USA has the most youth playing organized soccer in the world and have nothing to show for it. Mexico has a lower economy but a my h better league with better paid players. Why? Because USA does things differently.

  51. Kent James, August 9, 2011 at 9:28 a.m.

    Luis, I am not "defending" the youth soccer system in the US, and I certainly am not claiming it's better than anyone else's (it's clearly not). I also don't disagree with capitalism. It would be a more productive discussion if you stuck to commenting on what I actually say rather than criticizing me for beliefs you give me. My point is that even if you replaced everyone involved in the USSF tomorrow (including all the coaches, if you want) with anyone you wanted, that could only marginally improve soccer in the US. And even if the MLS kept 100% of the value of any US player they sold, again, that would only marginally improve their profitability. What I would like to know, and maybe you know the answer, is how youth soccer done differently in other countries, and what aspects of their methods will work in the US? For example, my guess is that professional clubs have much more sophisticated scouting systems, and put more money into the development of youth players. But my guess is those clubs have more money than MLS teams, and are therefore better able to fund such endeavors (so until MLS teams make more money, that can't be relied on in the US). But are those clubs scouring the playgrounds and streets to pick up promising players, or are all the promising players in organized youth programs? If it is the former, that's not a system that will be productive in the US (because we don't have all our kids out playing soccer in the streets). If its the latter, how are the youth programs organized differently than they are in the US? Are the youth clubs formally tied to professional clubs, serving as feeders? Do the youth clubs employ professional coaches, or parents? A uniform curriculum, or does every club do their own thing? How much does it cost (relative to the average wage)? If the money is not coming from the participants, where does it come from (or how are their costs lower)? Is soccer in the schools, or only in clubs? Is soccer organized in a very centralized way, or does everyone do their own thing? In the US, local clubs, often run by parents whose primary goal is not to produce professional players, control a lot of how soccer is organized. Changes encouraged by the USSF (microsoccer, e.g.) often meet with strong grassroots resistance. It is these parents who are often greater obstacles to change, and it is them who we must do our best to educate. The US can clearly learn a lot from other nations, but I'd like to see more specifics about what they do differently that can be adopted successfully in the US.

  52. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 10:48 a.m.

    Kent, its very simple. Mexico lets you sign a youth player of any age to a contract. This helps everyone involved. How? The Big Club or Academy- Forces them to develop their own talent and have a better eye for talent in small clubs as they will need to invest in buying them out initially. They have to hire the truly best trainers to get the most out of their investments to maximize their profits. Gain status as a true top player development school and raise its stock. The Small Club or parent run- Can look forward to a nice profit from their top players to big clubs and will not lose most of their best players most of the time to big clubs as there is a cost per player involved wich leaves them with a strong base to continue development in their area. The Top Player- Can be sure that when a Big Club signs him they will try their best to develop him to his full potential. He also knows that he will be appreciated more for his skill than his athletic ability.

  53. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.

    You have to change this law first to strongly influence this change no matter who's in charge but this change of law starts at the top. All clubs will adjust to find a way to make profit and surely change coaching staffs. All clubs including Academies are currently adapted to this current system and know that the profit is in club rankings evaluated by wins. This simply gives them higher paying clients. Yes, these Academies do pursue as many open players as possible but mainly to help the club win. As soon as somebody better comes these players either get charged more or cut.

  54. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.

    While this happens the quick fix for national selection is to hold tryouts in 2-3 cities in each state for free. A small investment compared to the money generated in fees in USA.

  55. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.

    The scouting system works on its own pretty much in Mexico as small clubs want big clubs to look at their best players for profit. Not the same in USA. Academy clubs are banking ridiculous amounts of money. If a Club can charge its players over $2000 a year they can surely pay smaller clubs an amount of lets say $5000-$10000 for their top players. $2500x 18 players is $45000 a year for 1 team. Top pay for coaches per team is $6,000-$7,000 a year. Leagues costs for the year(3 seasons) is about $3000. That's $35000 left. Small clubs charge $800-$1000 a year and can't afford to lose top players as there is no real profit.

  56. Kent James, August 9, 2011 at 10:15 p.m.

    Luis, what law prevents MLS teams from signing young players? Wasn't Adu signed by DC United at age 14? Are MLS clubs prohibited from signing young players to contracts, or are they just prohibited from selling their rights until they reach the age of consent (18?)? Or is the MLS single-entity the problem (I think most (all?) players are actually under contract with the league)? I would guess that most MLS teams, even if they can't make money selling players to Europe, would want to have local talent playing for their teams (don't the MLS clubs have essentially free access to a couple of local players)? At the very least, the team would not have to buy the local player's rights. So I think MLS clubs already have an incentive to find and sign local talent; being able to sell their rights would increase that incentive (as you suggest), but I don't think it would be a massive change. On the other hand, if the MLS had to move from the single-entity structure in order to allow clubs to do this, you might have clubs in weaker markets (Colorado, Dallas, Columbus) lose out as the stronger teams excelled, which would devastate the league. We may be near the point that we can do that, since the newest entries all seem very strong (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Phila) and some teams have been revived (KC). But I'm not sure we're there yet.

  57. Kent James, August 9, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.

    I don't think tryouts are a great way to evaluate talent (since they tend to be short, people don't always get to play in their best positions, who is on their team can have great impact on how they play, etc.), but they certainly wouldn't hurt anything. The local professional club has open tryouts at the beginning of every season in this area, and it does allow kids to dream. So I'd be happy to see open tryouts for the national team. I'm not sure even if local clubs could sign their players to a contract. and profit when they went pro, that that would provide enough revenue to fund the local clubs. It seems to me that fewer than 100 players (and that's very generous) sign with the MLS, so even if those players were signed for a decent amount of money (and most aren't), I don't think it would provide enough money to change the structure of youth soccer away from the "pay to play" model. I think most MLS clubs sponsor youth teams that are free, but it's a big country, and most kids don't live close enough to an MLS team to take advantage of that (even if they were good enough).

  58. Kent James, August 9, 2011 at 10:43 p.m.

    I'm not sure where you're going with the figures for the current club costs; I think you're suggesting that clubs already charging $2,000/player have enough in their budget to pay the feeder clubs finder's fees for developing players for them, but I'm not sure I see the incentive for those clubs to do that (though maybe I misunderstood what you suggested). Are you also suggesting that Academy teams are purposely not letting their kids go pro in order to retain their fees? I doubt that, since they can always find more players to pay their fees (and helping players go pro would attract players to the club). I think the Academy system is a move in the right direction (though there are no academy teams around here, so I don't have first-hand experience with how they operate). What I think should happen is that professional clubs should develop direct ties to amateur clubs in their region, and should do things such as sponsor futsal courts to give neighborhood kids a place to play (informally). The professional clubs should encourage the amateur clubs to keep costs low by discouraging tournament play, expensive uniforms, paid coaches and lots of travel at young ages. These things should be saved for when the kids get older. Kids at the youngest levels should be enrolled in a program (preferably overseen by the professional club at no cost) in which they are taught skills and play a lot of informal games. Essentially trying to recreate the atmosphere of street soccer (cheap, no pressure, lots of fun) with a little bit of coaching technique thrown in. I think parents would be more accepting of such a program if the pros were promoting it, because the pros would have the credibility to convince them that such a program would produce more skilled players in the long run than the current system, where paid coaches drill kids at very young ages in increasingly competitive environments and must charge high fees simply to make a living wage.

  59. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 11:44 p.m.

    They are purposely retaining them as much as possible to winning is all that matters to them. Why do you think some fly kids in from out of state or out of the country for cups, leagues,etc.?? I have seen this first hand. In Mexico you can negotiate a transfer fee for a player of any age. You can't do that here. Yes, there was t many signing in MLS but there were a few more in other countries like Mexico. Yes, I am suggesting Academies make more than enough to pay a transfer fee. The reason I suggest this is there is an Academy where I live that has destroyed a great number of teams by taking not one, but from 3-6 , or even the whole team when the team competes against them. Most of these layers were better off with their original small club teams as the majority of them get cut eventually and struggle to find a team again and even more to find a coach that cares about them again. Academies recruit irresponsibly because they can offer many of these kids a free ride the first season. When this doesn't work as far as results they then fly in kids from out of state and Mexico. They are investing greatly in recruiting

  60. Luis Arreola, August 9, 2011 at 11:50 p.m.

    And not nearly enough in developing. Their starters from 2 years ago have been replaced in about 75%. This is not player development. This is a race to see who can gather the best players on a team to win Cups. You're points on tryouts are valid but tryouts would be 100 times better than what is currently being done now. Talent shines no matter what. Remember, I said this was a quick fix.

  61. Kent James, August 10, 2011 at 11:41 a.m.

    There are two different ways to build a winning team; one is to develop good players, another to recruit them. I'm guessing that you agree with me that the first method is preferable. This is why I think youth soccer in the US should be geographically based. Top clubs should only be allowed to draw from players in their district (with maybe a one or two player exception, to allow some flexibility for special circumstances). Then the top clubs would have an incentive to develop players around them. The top clubs could be Academy or professional teams (and each district would need to have at least 2 top clubs, to allow players within the district a choice, but a limited number of top clubs, something like one club for each 2000 players in an age group). Then you would not have the case of some clubs drawing from 3 different states, while clubs they are competing against are drawing from 3 small towns.

  62. Kent James, August 10, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    I don't doubt your criticism of the Academy team is accurate, but in many ways, I think the academy team you describe is acting like a professional club. Recruiting the best players (more than it needs), throwing them into the fire, and letting a Darwinian survival of the fittest determine who moves on. At the academy level (U16/U18) winning does matter. My greater concern is that the behavior you describe is happening at ever younger ages, and this is reprehensible. Your description demonstrates some of my concerns about a ruthless recruitment process (which you ridiculed as my suggestion that we "not offer a dream that most can't achieve so they don't feel bad"). Becoming a professional, by it's nature, is a process in which 99% of the people that try don't succeed. My concern was for kids who are lured by the prospect of playing professionally when they're 13 or 14, get into a ruthless process in which 9 out of 10 who enter will fail, and then are left uneducated (because they didn't think they'd need school and were spending most of their hours training) and on their own at age 18, not quite good enough to make it as a pro (this process was described in a number of articles about agents recruiting talented youngsters in Africa, then essentially abandoning them in Europe when they didn't work out). I would like to believe that a professional club with deep pockets could develop a program in which the kids it recruits were fine even when they were washed out, but I'm not naive, so I have to recognize that clubs might not want to spend money on kids who were never going to play for them unless they had to.

  63. Kent James, August 10, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.

    The process you describe, in which bigger clubs essentially cannibalize smaller clubs by taking their best players, happens at many levels of youth soccer (and I think is very detrimental). Part of the problem is that it often forces kids to choose between playing on a better team (which often involves more travel and greater expense), and playing with their friends (which is cheaper and closer). At some point they should go with the better team (to get better), but again, it is happening too early (at least around here). Not only does it burn out kids (and their parents) younger, as you mention, it often destroys teams (which hurts the chances of the kids on that team from ever getting much better). I think that this was one of the goals of the ODP program (and it could still serve this function, if the structure were altered). Kids need to be given the opportunity to play with and against better players to improve, and gathering the best kids from a broad area to compete against each other does this (it could be done to some degree by allowing talented players to play with adults in their local clubs, but many youth clubs don't even have adult teams). Unfortunately, the time and expense required by most ODP programs prevents a lot of players from participating. This is where I think your idea of tryouts can be implemented. Right now ODP is a bit schizophrenic; it tries to provide better training (important for kids who play at weaker clubs, but this raises costs and time commitments) but also identify talent. I think the program goals need to be divided; local training centers to provide supplemental training (using broader age groups to get enough players), and a very inexpensive (free, even) talent identification function (with tryouts in addition to scouts picking these teams). At least at the younger ages, this would allow talented players to remain with their local teams longer without stunting their development (and their presence would elevate the level of play for the other local players, keeping them in the game longer and perhaps giving them the chance to develop a bit later but to an even higher level).

  64. Luis Arreola, August 10, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.

    Kent, that's what I mean. Everything revolves around winning and not developing. You can't focus on both equally to develop the best players. Top clubs should not be allowed to recruit after tryouts period, to accurately determine their worth as an Academy. Actually, nobody should be allowed to recruit after tryouts. There should be np doubt in anybody's mind that if Messi had been born here he would had never been great. No one in USA would have invested in him to get him to the next level. Why? He was not a sure thing and its safer to take players that can help you win now.

  65. Luis Arreola, August 10, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.

    What you have heard of African players in Europe happens here in NCAA basketball. When you dream of going pro you will be devastated to a certain degree in any case. The difference that you highlight is an education but not many players want an education. Many clubs in other countries offer an in-house education where all you do is school and train like Pachuca, Chivas. When you hit 17-18 years old you have decide if pro or not.

  66. Luis Arreola, August 10, 2011 at 4:50 p.m.

    You would think that these players that choose to go to a better team would get better but I have not seen this happen in Chicago at all. Actually, the opposite. Most of these players were leaders on their old teams and had to play at a high level to help their team win, usually playing 2-3 positions for 90-100% of game time. On academy they play 1 position, 1/2 the time on average and they know that if they don't perform the team has plenty of quality subs to win the game and eventually take his place. How can this ever be better?

  67. Luis Arreola, August 10, 2011 at 4:58 p.m.

    So with these players leaving it also hurts the ones left behind because many times the teams are broken up. If this were at the expense of the better players improving it would make sense but they don't most of the time. ODP has to be free for players and paid for by the USSF or MLS. This is the only way a true interest in identifying the best talent and not the best paying talent can be achieved. Simple. Otherwise the talent pool ill get worse, going backwards until its too obvious.

  68. Kent James, August 11, 2011 at 9:18 a.m.

    At some point the better players on the weaker teams have to move to a more competitive environment, and the question is when. I think too often it is done too early (so I generally agree with your sentiment), but for those players to reach their potential, they eventually need to be pushed. My son went from being the star of a weaker team to fighting for a spot on a stronger team. He did it last year (as a U16). We went from a 5 minute drive to practice to a 45 minute drive (3 players on this team drive for more than 1.5 hrs each way!). Costs went from $750 to $1800 (not to mention additional costs associated with tournaments). The coaching was no better (both teams had good coaches), but the difference was that in practice, every player on the strong team was good; they all wanted the ball, and could do good things with it. And while the coach did play everybody, there was definite competition for playing time, so everybody knew they had to put in the effort at all times. And that kind of intensity made them all better players. Some players who had originally been on the team quit as better players were brought it, and some players had to play different positions than they wanted (my son being in the latter category; he switched from forward to central defense), but the kids like playing together, and my son is much happier playing defense for this team than he was playing forward for the weaker team (he still plays forward on his weak HS team, which has all his friends on it, so there is a pretty direct comparison). I didn't push the switch, it was his idea (he was not recruited). I would have been happy had he remained with the weaker team until he played college or adult (where he would have been exposed to the experience of playing with better players), but seeing how much he's improved with this team, I'm glad he did it. I think if ODP operated the way it should (free, as you suggested), he might have been able to stay with his weaker team and still developed, but his experience demonstrated to me the importance of sufficiently challenging the players as they develop. But I don't think making this transition earlier would have helped, so I think this is more important in the older age groups.

  69. Luis Arreola, August 11, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.

    Kent, it seems you use logic in you're decisions. Everything you mentioned makes sense for you to do. In you're scenario the system works but the problem is there are many more. In my case for example I coached a team from U9 to be a top 5 team in the state playing the top regional team to a tie and a win. This team I mention is an Academy team. They recruited 6 players from my team along with my son. We agreed they could play on both teams. Mine and theirs. They soon made my players choose between clubs as our players were developing at a faster rate than theirs.

  70. Luis Arreola, August 11, 2011 at 2:22 p.m.

    This all happen when they are U11. They leave to that Team only because of the name. I take my son and daughter out of that team immediately as they did not honor agreement. This all would have been bearable had these kids improved as you're son did but this did not happen. All of these kids were playing a year up on my teams and 100% of minutes in multiple positions. On the Academy team they played their age to start and 1/2 the minutes in one position. If these academies are so good at development why would they now 8 of my starters as starters on their top teams at age U12 and under? Had my players stayed with me we would have beat this academy team by now making us #1 in the region. They were good enough to be better than this team. They decided to instead be part of a name and join them. No self valor. This team played a year up last year in a very high division. This year they wilp play their age to surely win the "Premier" division only for ranking purposes for the club. It will be a wasted season for the layers. They also like to do rankibg tournaments their age to kill everyone 6-0f this academy team would have had to pay me a transfer fee accounting for my time spent with these players they would have surely not taken all 8 of them and would have made sure they got the most of the few they did pay for. I do believe that at 14-15 years old you should be on the best team possible but not at the ezense of being benched. That's never good. At 17-18 you should already have offers to play pro or college.

  71. Luis Arreola, August 11, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.

    So you see these so called development clubs are looking for their best interest first wich is club name or rank. They achieve it by irresponsibly recruiting and doing many meaningless games. You will always notice at least 4-5 new starters every year on this team with the past starters dropping from B to C teams until they quit. No development. Don't you think in my case my players would be better off with me at least until U15-U16? My son has always been the top goalie in Illinois only because he's athletic,tall and has excellent reflexes. This is because he works like a horse in practice as a field Player and plays as a mid forward for me. On the Academy team he was only goalie. There were games they took 2shots on him the entire game and the coach would not play him on the field when up 5-0 at all even though he was better than 1/2 the team on the field 1 year ago. I can now proudly say he is better than 90% of that team at any position and easily better than all at mid, defense and goalie.

  72. Luis Arreola, August 11, 2011 at 2:45 p.m.

    I found a club that is top 5 in region that shares my views where my son and daughter will now play along with my teams this year. I amdoing this for the same reasons you are but want to make sure they continue to develop with me as well. The best of both worlds, as I like to say. The way I see it ODP, Academies are being trusted too much to do the right thing and they are not simply Because they would rather make a profit. You see with clubs like mine, we push the best players and really concentrate on their flaws and skills in many ways because we care abouth the player. Big difference. Its the only one that matters.

  73. Kent James, August 11, 2011 at 2:47 p.m.

    Luis, I think your situation is replicated many times, and is a problem. Big name clubs attracting talent instead of developing it is a huge problem (my son actually does not play for "the" big name club in this area, but the team he plays for in his age bracket is better than they are). In any case, these competitive clubs are trying to monopolize the talent market as young as they can (creating academy teams that cut players who are not good enough; at 9 years old!). I have no problem with these clubs training young kids (perhaps once a week) on a skills based curriculum, but take all comers, don't charge a ridiculous amount, and encourage them to play for their local clubs until they're much older. The state soccer organization tried to reign in some of these clubs by restricting their ability to recruit and train very young players, and the clubs essentially began to leave the state association (registering through US Club soccer instead), so the state association gave in and let them do what they wanted (to be fair, the clubs felt that they were at a great disadvantage when they went to out of state tournaments at U12, the age when they first were allowed to assemble these more talented players, and were getting beaten by teams that had been training together for 3-4 years). I think to change the dynamic it will take someone like Juergen Klinsmann to say "stop it; stop excluding kids at such an early age, stop overcoaching them and forcing them to spend so much time and money, stop forcing them into high pressured situations too early, and stop emphasizing winning at an early age, it stunts their development. Encourage them to play with their local clubs, maximize the number of kids who are having fun playing creative, attacking soccer, and let them stay in a properly structured, supportive environment for most of their early career. In the long run, doing this will help them be better players when it matters." My dream is that JK will do this!

  74. Kent James, August 11, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.

    Luis, I've enjoyed the exchange; I had a feeling that we didn't disagree too much on the ultimate goals, perhaps only on how best to achieve them. Good luck with your new club! I have faith that if enough people know enough to fight the right battles in the right way at the grass roots level, eventually improvements will come at the top. We can only try and hope for the best.

  75. Luis Arreola, August 11, 2011 at 3:23 p.m.

    Kent, the academy I speak of now fly kids in from out of the country at U13!! It started with 1-2 but are up to 4-6 now I believe. I hope he does but I think its close to impossible without changing laws and rules. And not enough people know these facts now and it will be a while before they do. Sorry to be pessimistic. What the few can do is try to work thesystem without ever giving these academies full refund of you're kids. Good luck!!

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