"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 YouthSoccerFun.com.)