Alexi Lalas strikes a chord on foreign clubs coming to USA

By Mike Woitalla

"Make no mistake. This is a gold rush. This is a land grab."

That’s Alexi Lalas after being asked by The Guardian about foreign clubs -- such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Everton -- making ambitious moves into American youth soccer.

“U.S. soccer is littered with decades of people coming over with little more than an accent to their resume, and using the naivete we’ve had and the inexperience and lack of soccer history and culture to their advantage,” said Lalas.

Lalas strikes a chord with anyone who has spent a significant time in American youth soccer, whose free market nature has long attracted and enriched foreign firms and coaches regardless of whether they’re improving our game -- or just inflating its costs.

“Certainly while American coaches can learn from their curriculum and methods, I don’t think they have a magic bullet, or anything completely revolutionary,” said Lalas. “It’s a pretty simple game, and we often complicate it.”

There’s nothing wrong with some foreign influence. Soccer like cuisine is best when spiced up. Preferably, American soccer looks to countries and clubs with histories of producing successful and entertaining soccer. Bayern and Barcelona meet that criteria, and I have visited the youth programs of both clubs.

What impressed at Barcelona was predictable -- an emphasis from the early ages on individual skill and a philosophy that stresses attack-minded, possession soccer. I thought Bayern had a good strategy on developing central defenders. When it identifies a player as a candidate to excel at that position, he is played as a defensive midfielder at the youth level to develop all-around skills and game-reading acumen.

But the most profound differences between Barcelona or Bayern and youth soccer in the USA weren’t so much about training methods.

First of all, unlike their ventures into the USA, Barcelona and Bayern Munich don’t charge their kids at La Masia and Sabener Strasse. The youth coaches are judged more by how many players they move on than by victories. They field only one team at each age level and cut and replenish the squad each year.

Any player who arrives at either club has already been rated as among the very elite in the region, if not the country. We know Barcelona and Bayern coaches do a good job with the already exceptional players who’ve been delivered to them by an army of scouts. So coaching at those clubs greatly differs from the challenges faced by the vast majority of American youth coaches.

In fact, when it comes to coaching education for coaches at the grass-roots level, I have more trust in U.S. organizations than the foreign coaches who haven’t dealt with our unique youth soccer landscape.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif and is a Grade 8 referee. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

11 comments about "Alexi Lalas strikes a chord on foreign clubs coming to USA".
  1. Mike Mcglynn, December 17, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    Local level, young age is the key to start young players. Coaches who know how to teach individual soccer skills and have a ton of fun while having great exercise. The local youth coach has to genuinely like to work with boys & girls and be able to deal with mixed abilities. The fostering of pickup, backyard play in free time. Travel teams after age 12. Some foreign coaches have been good, some bad. Some truly care, others here for cash. Buyer beware. I have seen many youth organizations on the East Coast on all levels from ODP to pro get burned by hiring of coaching teams that have a great smoke & mirrors program. In a few years the kids drop out due to various reasons and entire clubs dissipate. Over zealous parents are just as bad for clubs and the kids as foreign coaches out for pure personal gain.

  2. Ref Evaluator, December 17, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.

    So now its an issue?? Because foreign clubs are coming to cash in on what most clubs here including USSDA clubs have for a while now?? The key sentence here that Lalas said is "It’s a pretty simple game, and we often complicate it.” This is so true.

  3. Kent James, December 17, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.

    Both Lalas and Mike make good points. I've seen many foreign coaches come do summer camps (weeklong day camps) here, and the foreign accents "spice things up" (as Mike said) for the kids, even though, as Lalas says, they don't anything different than a qualified American coach would. The coaches are not bad, the kids get a different approach to the game than their normal coach would provide, so it doesn't hurt anything. The problem is if these foreign clubs want to come in and simply tap the revenue stream or simply take the best kids in the region (or both), which is like strip-mining a natural resource; not good for the owners of the resource (us). Obviously clubs like Barcelona and Bayern have a lot to teach us, but instead of using their resources to take over the development of the American soccer player, if they want to help develop players in return for a right to have access to those players, they should adopt a different approach. They could pair with existing clubs, and offer to teach their coaching staff at their European facilities; the American coaches pay their way there and back, the European club puts them up and trains them (for free). In return, the coaches in the sponsored clubs recommend the best players they develop, and then the kids get to come play for a week (or longer) with the European club's youth teams to see how they do (and continue their development). In other words, giving the American clubs the resources and training to develop better players, but in return, getting access to the better players who are developed. And this might spark MLS clubs to develop stronger ties to local clubs so that they would get access to talented kids (instead of the European clubs).

  4. Lou vulovich, December 17, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.

    So our youth landscape is not understood by foreigners as well as American coaches, exactly what does that mean.
    These are obviously summer camps which have been going on forever and if foreign clubs want to get in on this market they have every right to it.
    If MLS or other camps provided by American coaches are good they have nothing to fear. This sounds like a lot of nonsense especially if these clubs will invest in youth players across the USA which is what I understand their intention is.
    What's the problem with competition.??

  5. Richard Broad, December 17, 2014 at 8:46 p.m.

    Props to both Alexi and Mike. Points WELL Taken.

  6. Ref Evaluator, December 17, 2014 at 10:20 p.m.

    Lou, great points. the problem with competition is that until now USA top clubs were very comfortable with no competition for parent's money. Nobody really showing them up as far as recruiting top talent until MX clubs starting looking and now Europe. But for you and me and our talent it is great that this competition is picking up in USA.

  7. Lou vulovich, December 18, 2014 at 1:16 a.m.

    Ref, I think instead of complaining someone of Alexi's influence should team up with these clubs and have free clinics in barrios and inner cities.

  8. Ref Evaluator, December 18, 2014 at 9:59 a.m.

    Lou, yes that would make sense, wouldnt it.

  9. David V, December 19, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.

    We've had 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th rate/division players coming to the US from the UK locations for years... always a joke that an accent from the UK endeared ignorant American parents, unfortunately, it still continues today... not only do the bottom of the barrel players come here and make a living at this in the US, but their football philosophy is wrong, bunk (see here for an expose putting Brit futbol in it's proper place, and the Americans who have bought into it, hook, line, and sinker: ... but to demean the likes of Barcelona, or Bayern, and top clubs and their futbol philosophy is dead wrong...

  10. David V, December 19, 2014 at 6:51 p.m.

    and I mean 50 years!

  11. Scott Nelson, December 19, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.

    If you want to know whether a program is about exploitation or development, look at the inflow and outflow. What is invested into and what is gained from the relationship? This is the same whether the program is organized by Bayern Munich, a Premier Club, or a State Association. The profit margins will tell you whether it's an investment or just a money grab.

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