Remembering Thomas Fleck; FA changes 'travel' rules; Bliss, Rongen in new roles ...

By Mike Woitalla

A memorial service for Thomas Fleck, one of the original national staff coaches with U.S. Soccer and instructor for U.S. Soccer for 30 years, will be held in St. Petersburg, Fla., Jan. 21. See details on Fleck died on Dec. 24 at age 74.

"Dr. Fleck's impact on our sport was profound," said Sam Snow, coaching director of US Youth Soccer. "Tom educated and influenced generations of American soccer coaches and was a pioneer in the growth of our sport during the 'soccer boom' of the 70s and 80s. I was exceptionally fortunate to have had Tom as a mentor and he was a close friend as well. His passing is a loss to soccer in the USA."

Snow shares more memories of Fleck HERE.

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The English FA has lifted the "travel time" rules that have restricted professional clubs' ability to recruit youth players who don't live in their region. The move was lauded by Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, who said the restrictions encouraged major English clubs to recruit youth talent from abroad rather than from England

“The academy rules as they were, the distance that players could sign, an hour and a half away, or an hour up to 14, seemed ridiculous when you think I could bring a boy over from Amsterdam or Ireland,” Ferguson told the Daily Mail.

* * *’s Randy Davis reports on Real Salt Lake’s residency program in Casa Grande, Ariz., at the Grande Sports World resort. “There were a lot of kids that came from smaller markets, like the four corner region – Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado or the western Texas area,” says RS-AZ assistant coach Freddy Juarez. “They don’t really get the recognition because it’s not big clubs. So I think we caught a lot of people by surprise last year.”

Real Salt Lake AZ finished third place in the 2011 U-15/16 U.S. Soccer Development Academy finals. Vancouver is the only other MLS team with a residency program.

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Tab Ramos, head coach of the U.S. U-20 men’s national team, has brought in as assistant coach his former USA teammate, Brian Bliss, currently the technical director of the Columbus Crew’s youth program. Bliss and Ramos played together in the 1988 Olympics and in the successful qualifying campaign for the 1990 World Cup.

Under Bliss, the Crew Juniors became the first MLS team -- and first team from Ohio -- to win the McGuire Cup when they won the USYS U-19 title in 2010. Bliss was assistant coach of the Kansas City Wizards in 2000-06.

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Thomas Rongen, who coached the USA at U-20 World Cups in 2003, 2007 and 2009, has been named Toronto FC’s Youth Academy director. Rongen, who had MLS head coaching stints with Tampa Bay, New England, D.C. United and Chivas USA, will be working under fellow Dutchman Aron Winter, TFC's head coach. Both started their playing careers with Ajax Amsterdam. Rongen, whose second stint at the helm of the U-20s ended last spring after the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup, identified more than 400 teenage American players in foreign leagues, including some of the German-raised Americans who are vying for spots with on Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad.

For more on Rongen’s move to Toronto, check out Nigel Reed’s CBC Sports article HERE.

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U.S. Soccer is in the process of hiring a new coach for the U-17 boys national team after Wilmer Cabrera's contract, which expired in December, was not renewed. Cabrera, a veteran of the Colombian national team who moved to the USA in 2003, replaced John Hackworth at the helm of U-17s and the Bradenton Residency Program after the 2007 U-17 World Cup. Under Cabrera, the USA continued its streak as the only country to qualify for every U-17 World Cup. Cabrera guided the USA to the round of 16 in both the 2009 and 2011 U-17 World Cups. Late last year, his new squad of U-17s impressed at the Nike International Friendlies, beating Brazil (3-1) and Turkey (2-1) and tying France (2-2). Besides naming a new coach, U.S. Soccer is likely contemplating the future of Bradenton Residency -- perhaps no longer necessary since the advent of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and MLS's clubs ambitious entry into youth development. For more on Cabrera, go HERE.

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In an interview with Dan Woog in the Westport (Conn.) Patch, Mickey Kydes, the director of coaching for the Westport and Old Greenwich Soccer Associations, addressed the state of youth soccer. Soccer in Connecticut “used to be easy,” Kydes says. “There was recreation and travel. Then came another level: premier. That grew and grew, but without any criteria. Lots of teams started calling themselves ‘premier.’ It got top-heavy. That diluted the concept of premier soccer, but it also hurt mid-level travel programs by drawing players out of them. It became a vicious cycle. I’m really concerned, because I want the best playing environment possible for every player in Connecticut.”

Kydes "is a big proponent of rec soccer. It’s where the masses are, and it’s a kid’s first experience to the game. It’s where we make a huge impact, and pay a lot of attention to. First impressions last a long time.” Kydes believes that in the U.S. our best coaches should coach 5- to 10-year-olds. In reality, though, “we totally neglect recreational soccer in Connecticut.” Read the article HERE.

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Ann Hicks
, a youth referee for 17 years, recounts some of the most atrocious sideline behavior she’s witnessed within the past two years in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article: “Recent games had one mother shouting angrily to the referee, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’ In another match, a fan called the assistant referee a ‘----ing moron’ because the fan thought he missed an offside call. During an under-8 game, both coaches were ejected for displaying a hand (or rather a finger) gesture to the referee. All this while our youths watched. … Many of our refs are ages 14 to 20.” Read the column HERE.

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The former president of a Northern California youth league serving nine months in jail for embezzling more than $58,000 from the league was denied a request to be released after five months by Sonoma County Judge Ken Gnoss. Kyle Hoffman pleaded guilty to writing more than 70 unauthorized checks from the 250-player Healdsburg league accounts when he was president from 2008 to 2010. Hoffman told the judge he wanted to begin earning money to repay the league and to support his wife and two children. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Gnoss, while denying the request, said Hoffman already received a break when he was allowed to serve his time in county jail rather than prison. Gnoss said he wanted to send a message to anyone who would steal from dues-paying parents and their children.

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U.S. U-20 girls (Coach Steve Swanson)
(Preparing for Concacaf qualifying for 2012 Under-20 Women's World Cup March 1-11 in Panama.)

U.S. U-18 girls (Coach April Heinrichs)
(UCLA freshman keeper Katelyn Rowland among 24 in Chula Vista, Calif., camp.)

U.S. U-20 boys (Coach Tab Ramos)
(Three players with MLS experience and 10 foreign-based players on 36-player roster.)

U.S. U-18 boys (Coach Richie Williams)
(Nicholas Gaitan at Argentinos Juniors in Argentina and Romain Gall at FC Lorient in France are the two-foreign based players on 24-player roster includes Zach Pfeffer of the Philadelphia Union.)

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

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