Wilmer Cabrera on closing gaps, kids loving MLS and Bradenton

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Wilmer Cabrera, a member of Colombia’s 1990 and 1998 World Cup squads, moved to the USA in 2003 after a 20-year pro career. After coaching Long Island youth teams and at Queens club BW Gottschee, Cabrera became the U.S. U-17 boys national team coach, overseeing the team’s residency program in Bradenton, Florida, and guiding the USA to second-round appearances at the 2009 and 2011 U-17 World Cups.

He served as Colorado Rapids assistant coach in 2012-13 and Chivas USA head coach in 2014. Last month he was hired by the Houston Dynamo to coach its new USL affiliate team, Grande Valley FC Toros, with which the Dynamo’s academy products and college draftees will gain experience to prepare them for the first team.

SOCCER AMERICA: How important is it that MLS teams now operate USL teams or work with affiliate teams in the USL?

WILMER CABRERA: It’s an important part of the evolution of soccer in the United States. It closes a gap. When you close gaps you help the process of developing players and that is always going to improve the final product.

SA: What is your view on U.S. Soccer continuing the U-17 residency program?

WILMER CABRERA: It is a very good program to develop players and prepare them for the national team. But it does require 15-year-olds to leave their home. That is very difficult. It’s not easy to have your son leave at that age when you only have three more years before he’s leaving for college or somewhere else. In the best-case scenario, kids stay with their families or enter a residency that is close to home.

No doubt we are getting closer to that with MLS clubs and the Development Academy. But going to Bradenton can be the best thing for a young player’s future career in soccer.

SA: After 14 years in the USA, how do you see the progress of American soccer?

WILMER CABRERA: We’re improving everyday in a lot of aspects. We have better players with a better understanding of the game and more passion for the game. We now have young players who love MLS. When I was in Bradenton with the first group, they didn’t like MLS and I had to force them to watch MLS games on TV. Now they love MLS and they’re passionate about being professional players and they dream about playing for the Houston Dynamo or D.C. United … That’s an important development for soccer in the country.

We’re evolving a lot. We have a lot of talent, but we still we need to improve our coaching at the ages 9 to 15, because we have a lot of talent and those are ages when how they’re coached will make a big difference in their future.

SA: What about coaching at the earliest ages, like 6 years old when they're starting organized soccer?

WILMER CABRERA: At those ages, it’s especially important that you coach players in way that they enjoy the game. That you understood that it’s a player’s game, not a coach’s game. And that it’s not about winning. I still see coaches keeping track of scores and how many tournaments they win. Winning is not important. What’s important is how players are developing, providing an environment for them to develop their skills and begin to understand the game. What’s crucial to remember is that it’s all about the player.

7 comments about "Wilmer Cabrera on closing gaps, kids loving MLS and Bradenton".
  1. Ginger Peeler, January 20, 2016 at 1:15 a.m.

    It's been about 30 years since I was totally immersed in youth soccer. Our recreational and traveling team soccer leagues were all USYSA. AYSO was strictly recreational. All our recreational coaches were parents, as were some of our traveling teams. That was in San Diego. Now I'm in Southwest Florida and my grandson has been playing through AYSO. Again, the coaches are all parents and here a lot of the coaches just want to win, period. Also, some of the families don't seem to really understand the game. I had a grandfather sitting by me exhorting his 9 year old grandson to "kick it in the net" while taking a corner kick. Really??? So we still need to teach the coaches and the parents how to help everyone enjoy the game (especially the kids)...and forget the "win at all costs" mantra that so many of our coaches and fans express. Thanks, Wilmer, for your insight into the nature of the younger player.

  2. Goal Goal replied, January 20, 2016 at 10:12 a.m.

    I would say if you have a concern for a Grandfather hollering kick in the net in reference to a 9 year old kid attempting to take a corner kick you have a real problem. Grandpas are liable to say anything. I say move on and get a life.

  3. humble 1, January 20, 2016 at 12:23 p.m.

    The challenge of developing soccer players from 3-13 is that kids need to learn to play with the ball at their FEET under pressure, but to win, teams must pass the ball. Quick passing without pressure detracts from learning to use your feet under pressure. The bottom line is the parent(s) have to watch out for their kids development because the 'pay to play' system comes with the 'trap of winning'. The discussion on winning in youth soccer is NOT to be 'nice' or 'politically correct' but rather because kids need to be allowed to 'loose the ball' along the way to learning to 'keep the ball', this the natural progression, and it is contrary to winning. Wilmer Cabrera, having grown up in Columbia would know this very well.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, January 20, 2016 at 6:01 p.m.

    Pete, I don't agree with your point. Even a team which uses combination passing to play possession style soccer depends heavily on dribbling to maintain possession skills. Shielding and close control skills are as important as passing and first touch skills to possession style soccer. If you are teaching possession style soccer, you teach dribbling to maintain possession too. Matches are largely irrelevant to skill development. Matches are great for developing vision and tactical decision making, if the parents, grandparents, and coaches will stop yelling instructions from the sidelines. (That comment is for Fanfor soccer's benefit.)

  5. Goal Goal, January 20, 2016 at 10 p.m.

    Bob I agree with the yelling instructions from the guidelines 100%. I think you would agree a grandpa yelling "put in the net" to a 9 year old kid attempting to take a corner kick wouldn't come under coaching from the sidelines. If in your mind it does I would say you are taking the game a bit to serious. Even the Spanish know that grandpa has rights that supercede the common sense rules of coaching soccer. Geeeez, let's lighten up.

  6. Ric Fonseca replied, January 21, 2016 at 9:54 p.m.

    Mr. Fanfor soccer, yelling instructions sure runs contrary to the ayso recreational mindset, and while I thought it was being strongly discouraged, well, abuelitos and as you say Spanish grapdpas (...has/ave rights that supdersedes the common sense of coaching soccer...(sic)" jeepers weepers, where does this come from? And Ginger above does have a life, and yes amigo, we do lighten up now and then. BTW, we have some fun writing these comments ... from a soccer parents, player, coach, referee, administrators, no, really, REALLY we do ... all while lightening up and having a life!!! PLAY ON JOHNNY!!!

  7. Goal Goal, January 22, 2016 at 8:44 a.m.

    Ric, I will say it again. I am with you 100% when it comes to shouting instructions from the sidelines. It shouldn't happen but it does and will continue to happen. I will stick with my original grandpa bill of rights but I suggest in order to make things a little clearer.

    Look up the word "Satire". Lets keep having fun.

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