Commentary

The Fifth Pillar, and what's missing from American soccer

The first American players I encountered in the late 70’s early 80’s were high school, college and amateur players. Other than their physical capabilities, nothing had impressed me then. Naturally, the level of play of women players was incredible comparing it to other parts of the world where women’s soccer was more of a show than a sport. “Football was just for men” was the attitude of the old world towards women’s soccer in those years. Catapulted by Title IX into orbit, women’s soccer had a head start compared to the rest of the world and we harvested this head start for decades with a dominance of women’s soccer in the world. Although in the last decade this dominance is slipping, the reasons for this slip and the cure might be the subject of another article.

In 1991 when the USMNT visited Turkey for 10 days, I hosted them on behalf of the Turkish FA. The visit ended with a friendly match against Turkey (1-1). I spent many hours with the team and Bora Milutinovic -- the head coach of the USMNT. I befriended many players like Tony Meola, Eric Wynalda and others. What impressed me then was the attitude of the players during training. I was flabbergasted by their intensity during the practices. I have rarely witnessed this intensity in training then -- and I can say until now -- with other teams whether they are professional clubs or a national team. While talking to Bora -- who had at that point played and coached in Europe, Mexico and Costa Rica -- he told me that the mentality of the American players was different than players anywhere he had ever been. He said they are fighters and they never quit.

I witnessed this throughout the years. The best example is the game against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. After being 2-0 down in the first overtime, the USMNT scored a goal in the second overtime and came close to a second by Clint Dempsey on a beautifully set up free kick.  Some people might remember that game with the incredible record setting saves of Tim Howard or might be outraged by Chris Wondolowski's miss in the closing seconds of the regular time, but I remember the fighting spirit of the USMNT in the second overtime, which is a manifestation of the “mentality” that Bora mentioned more than 20 years ago.

This mentality might cause problems if not distilled and controlled by the coaching staff properly. It might backfire upon you as red cards like the ones in the second leg of the Olympic qualifier against Colombia and during the recent Copa Centenario.  Unfortunately, during a couple of games recently, I could not witness the fighting spirit and the “mentality,”  During the 4-0 losses to Argentina and Costa Rica, the USMNT played as if they did not believe they can win the game, they accepted their destiny, they did not fight and hence they looked like quitters. I attribute this change of attitude of the players to the sour relation between them and Jurgen Klinsmann and see it as temporal.

Some years ago, Fatih Terim - the head coach of the Turkish men's national team -- asked me to do a research on why the American players in the youth categories were by good margin better athletes than their competitors from other countries. When Sam Snow -- Coaching Director of USYSA – visited Turkey in 2009 for a coaching convention, I asked him this question. After thinking for a while, he came with this conclusion: Kids in the USA play a number of sports before focusing on one. The sports they participate develop different skill sets. Tennis develops lateral movement, football physical endurance, baseball hand-eye coordination, basketball jumping and hand-eye coordination etc. So once they choose soccer they already have the physical infrastructure to be an all-around athlete. Of course for the USA, if they choose soccer! Because of their involvement in baseball and basketball during their younger ages, USA produces some of the best goalkeepers. This seemed very logical and true. In all other countries usually kids chose and play one sport only and that is soccer.

Mentality and athleticism are two pillars of American soccer players I found out over the years. I have two other observations about the American players: professionalism and high education. Most of the players from North America and Northern Europe have a high level of professionalism. I believe this is inherent in the culture of those countries.

Since education and sports are interwoven in the USA, if not at least some of the professional soccer players are also college graduates. I understand that this is changing fast and less and less professional soccer players choose not to complete their college degrees. In Europe or Latin America, you can hardly find a professional player who has a college degree. The only famous soccer player I can remember was the late Socrates of Brazil, who was a pediatrician. Michel Platini, a world famous soccer player and ex-president of UEFA, did not even graduate from high school. His lack of high education did not prevent him from becoming the president of UEFA. Having witnessed both Lennart Johansson -- who has a College degree -- and Platini as UEFA president, I can see the difference in their management styles. Having one day a well -educated ex-professional USMNT or USWNT player as the president of U.S. Soccer or even FIFA will be a welcoming thought. A college degree gives more than a formal education to an athlete. The athlete can design a better road map for his/her development.

Those four pillars -- mentality, athleticism, professionalism and high education -- along with the best sports scientists, sports psychologists, sports medicine staff, game analysts in this country give the American professional soccer player an edge over his/her competitors in other parts of the world. All four together are very much intrinsic to the professional soccer players of the USA. But we also know that the best players come from countries that lack some or all of those 4 pillars. What we miss is the fifth pillar: correct technical development. If we can get the fifth pillar installed and functioning properly, then we can produce some of the best soccer players even though soccer is under the dominance of football, baseball and basketball in the USA.

The responsibility of the fifth pillar stands with the national governing body of soccer: U.S. Soccer. Although in the recent years we have witnessed some very important accomplishments like the Development Academies and player development initiatives, there is a long way to go for building the fifth pillar.

Whether it is the small island country of Iceland or Belgium or world champion Germany, the respective federations develop a 10-year development plan, implement it without compromise and harvest the results. Each plan reflects the idiosyncrasies of that country. You cannot take the German plan and translate it and implement it in the USA. For example, because of the weather conditions, the Icelandic plan had a number of covered, normal-sized pitches installed in different regions of the country.

In all these countries, the federation is the BOSS. No if and buts, the plan is executed to the point. It is internalized by all the stakeholders and executed with the support of those stakeholders. U.S. Soccer must follow suit. I understand the political structure of this country and of the U.S. Soccer. But there is no other and easy way to build the fifth pillar. There is no gain without pain. U.S. Soccer must develop a 10-year development plan and execute it without any compromise even though this might risk in losing some of its constituents or severe its relations with some of them. This country has four pillars that no other country has. We must build the fifth pillar however hard and painful it might be. Then we will develop our own Messis, Ibrahimovics, Iniestas and Ronaldos.

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.
44 comments about "The Fifth Pillar, and what's missing from American soccer".
  1. s@cc@r f@n, December 1, 2016 at 11:59 p.m.

    Technical skills training from age 5 -10 years old is what is missing in America. No question. U.S. youth coaches (few of whom know how to teach technical skills to any age group) are trying to train large groups of players a game many of their fathers have no experience with (much less any idea how technical it is to dribble, pass, chest, head etc a ball properly). When players learn the CORRECT way to do basic skills from day 1, they only know one way to do things at age twenty when under high pressure - the right way. I agree - this missing fifth pillar is the problem.

  2. Bob Ashpole, December 2, 2016 at 1:12 a.m.

    Great article.

  3. R2 Dad, December 2, 2016 at 1:35 a.m.

    Good article, definitely agree. But this is where the trouble starts. Trying to get US coaches to do any one thing is impossible. They're all special snowflakes that can't be told what to do. They have to do it their way. It's not good enough to implement someone else's ideas. They all have to add their own little twist, until the exercise in herding cats is finally abandoned. Never mind that they've never developed a player into a top league prospect. For american coaches, it's all about their right to do whatever they want, ignoring their responsibilities to develop players as THEY require. It's all about coaches in this country. Until someone calls them out on this, nothing will change.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, December 3, 2016 at 2:10 a.m.

    R2Dad the coaches role is to tailor training to groups and individuals. I don't care how detailed the training plans are, if the coach is not observing and adjusting the plan, the coach is not doing the job. In most situations the coach is creating his own training plans based on very general objectives. Can you tell me a specific example of a coach ignoring some training directive? Because I just don't see what you are talking about. Different coaches may chose different training plans or use different coaching methods but are you merely objecting to one coach using 4v4 and another 5v3 games? You comment is catchy, but I don't see any tie to reality.

  5. R2 Dad replied, December 4, 2016 at 2:13 p.m.

    Seriously? http://resources.ussoccer.com/n7v8b8j3/cds/downloads/Part%201%20-%20Style%20and%20Principles%20of%20Play%20U.S.%20Soccer%20Coaching%20Curriculum.pdf
    This has gotten zero traction in the coaching community, rationalized exactly for what you are describing. "Tailored Training" leads to kickball. It's a chicken vs egg thing. It's only when the coaches are told they MUST do something, will they actually implement it. But nooooooooooo, special snowflakes are unable. They MUST coach kickball because the majority of their players are unable to implement a passing game so might as well totally give up, right? See Michelle French's soccer dumpster fire at the recent U20 world cup to observe the endpoint of this mentality. I'm pretty angry about this because everywhere I turn in the club and school environment this is all I see. After playing 6 years, my kid luckily/accidentally got an ex-pro coaching his team, and everything got better in 3 months time. The players adapted, and even when they don't win they play attractive soccer. The problem is always the parents, but with an ex-pro coach all the soccer dads shut up. It's not a Kleiban environment to be sure--that would be asking too much. But the kids are playing, learning and enjoying the game and that's all I wanted for my kid.

  6. don Lamb replied, December 4, 2016 at 7:37 p.m.

    That "curriculum" is very vague. I don't disagree with much of it, but it hardly gives coaches much to implement. I can say without question though that coaching in the US has improved 100 fold in the last 15 years. There are still A LOT of horrible coaches out there, but good coaches are by no means a rarity, especially at bigger clubs.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, December 5, 2016 at 10:35 p.m.

    The USSF Curriculum is exactly the type of very general statement of objectives that I had in mind. It isn't just vague; it's cryptic. You have to have quite a bit of knowledge about coaching to understand it. One problem with any progression is that you should not proceed to the next level unless the players have learned the prior level. This type of plan works well for a professional academy because they identify and select all their players based on the curriculum. In situations where clubs cannot fill all their spots with players ready for the next level of training, the plan breaks down. Plans like this also create barriers excluding children entering the sport after the start of the plan.

  8. R2 Dad replied, December 5, 2016 at 11:27 p.m.

    I don't think it's cryptic. I think all travel teams should have to play a 4-3-3, as described in that brief document. Do that for 5 years then revisit. The 4-3-3 requires clubs/teams/players to learn the positions, the formation, the tactics required to make it work. Coaches have to work with what they have. Without the chance to revert to something more convenient, real clubs/coaches emerge and frauds are exposed. The players are flexible and can accommodate--it's the coaches that refuse to comply.

  9. K Michael, December 2, 2016 at 8:28 a.m.

    AH, then the author will be relieved to know that the very same firm that provided the 10-year development plan in Belgium, then Germany, PASS, is in the third year of its evaluation of US Soccer Development! Its preliminary recommendations are being rolled out, and the first wave of “organic” technical US players are 12-17 years old and pushing up the pyramid…2022, baby!

  10. K Michael, December 2, 2016 at 8:38 a.m.

    The author touched on the US Soccer Federation imposing its will with uncompromising mandates…well, I think we all bore witness to the birth-year mandate and the crying and gnashing of the various constituencies. The u12 age group in the USDA is another. The pushing aside the big-girl-pushes-little-girl-kick-n-run ECNL aside for the Girls’ DA yet another. And, yes, all done FOR the .01% elite youth player, at potentially the expense of the other youth systems. Again, all PASS-related, all geared towards the ten-year plan. And just in time to refine an exponentially growing group of kids who were born post-MLS, and grew up in the able-to-watch-every-pro-league-on-TV era and who possess that born-with-it love of footie! Onwards…..

  11. don Lamb replied, December 2, 2016 at 8:35 p.m.

    I like where your head's at, K. 2022 will be really exciting with this young talent coming through. We could be poised for a serious breakthrough in 2026, hosting no less.

  12. K Michael, December 2, 2016 at 8:43 a.m.

    Edit: program is actually called Double PASS..my bad!

  13. Kent James, December 2, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    Excellent article, but in addition to technical development, there needs to be a sixth pillar, which is just as important (if not more so). That is soccer culture; only when soccer dominates youth culture (or is at least on par with the NFL or NBA), will we have a team that can legitimately challenge for the WC. When kids idolize soccer players, and attend every game they can of their local professional team, then we will have the kids who will not only play for their registered teams, but will dribble the ball around the house, kick it off the wall, juggle in the back yard, play pick-up with their friends (and when they feel up to it, the local adult pick-up game). Then we will be developing world class players in sufficient numbers to stock a roster to challenge for the WC. We've made progress, but we have a ways to go.

  14. Kevin Sims replied, December 8, 2016 at 12:50 p.m.

    As usual, my thoughts were expressed by you before I got around to writing ... Interesting article, but in my mind the 5th pillar is "cultural imperative" ... which would take care of the technical development issues ... we need to meet & watch a match & talk sometime!

  15. Kent James, December 2, 2016 at 9:44 a.m.

    To develop good technical players, in addition to a structure the gets players touching the ball as often as possible, clubs that rely on volunteers (and maybe those that don't) need to have someone who can teach technique doing clinics once a week, open to all players (preferably at no or low cost), so they can learn. Maybe followed by a pick-up game so they can put those new techniques into service in a low pressure game...

  16. Kevin Leahy, December 2, 2016 at 10:18 a.m.

    How many of the players from the top ten playing countries in the world have only experienced controlled playing? In the U.S. we, no longer have free play in any of our sports. The areas where I live, the only kids you can see doing any free play are mostly Hispanic. Proper instruction can make a technical player but, where does the creative one come from? If you can't experiment in training then, where?

  17. Emile Jordan, December 2, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    Good article. Let's stay on topic people. Following a technical plan and executing it with excellence is all we are talking about here. Most coaches love to coach, most players love to play, and most parents love for their kids to play. Social and economic diversity is coming together more and more on many levels, so let's embrace the possibilities of all being on the same technical plan. Kids are playing in PE, at recess, after school, and at Club training. The constant travel and multi game weekends is the real grind for players, parents, and yes even coaches. Let's grow some and mandate a maximum of one match per week and a month off from training and matches in the summer and winter. Of course there can and will be players doing individual training on their own and playing with family and friends on their own.

  18. Walt Pericciuoli, December 2, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    I can't argue with anything said. Of course we need to have players with better technical abilities. That can be taught by constant repetition. However, you cannot teach creativity. Technic and creativity are not the same thing. Creative players come from an environment where they are free to try things on their own without fear of criticism. That only comes with free play. More games the better. The game is the best teacher. "Teacher, leave those kids alone".
    And please, no more 10 year plans. I've been hearing that for the last 30 years.

  19. Bob Ashpole replied, December 2, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    You are correct in that creativity is not taught. Creativity is nurtured like a plant, and like a plant it will grow. If you stomp on the plant instead of watering it, the plant dies instead of develops. Lectures don't nurture creativity. Games will, if players are allowed to make decisions and not afraid of failure.

  20. don Lamb replied, December 2, 2016 at 8:45 p.m.

    Interesting analogy, Bob. Creativity is also a product of confidence. It is not a coincidence that the best technical players are the most confident and therefore creative. Creativity is also a product of mastery which breeds variation and versatility. Creativity is often misunderstood as the circus move And 1 type of skill, but it is more commonly shown through much simpler ways such as a little flick or a cheeky pass, things that most people wouldn't even recognize as creative. But those skill variations are a product of technique (not through the same redundant repetitions, but through repetitions where there could be a different input or output every single time, and preferably repetitions that simulate a live game scenario) and a mental capacity that allows the player to recognize different possible variations.

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, December 3, 2016 at 1:42 a.m.

    We may not talk about it the same way, but we see the game the same way. In soccer I think of "creative" as creating goal scoring opportunities (not "flair" that doesn't create anything) and not limited to the 1st attacker role. Clearing runs and dummies are good examples of creating chances for others without touching the ball. Smart decisions are useless though without the ball skills to execute successfully. If I could change only 1 thing about current youth development, it would be to stop the emphasis on team tactics for "elite" players at ages 10-12 and continue to focus on ball mastery and small group and individual tactics for those years. If those kids are good on the ball at age 10, think how much better they will be if they aren't short-changed 2 years of prime-time motor skills development just to learn team tactics early.

  22. don Lamb replied, December 3, 2016 at 9:21 a.m.

    Definitely, Bob. I wasn't disagreeing with you at all. Just adding my two cents! I do think of creativity in a much broader sense though, not just in creating goal scoring opportunities. Creativity is just as much about decision making as it is about skill for me, so players in midfield and even in the back should use creativity in order to not play too predictably.

  23. Right Winger replied, December 3, 2016 at 11:04 a.m.

    Walt and Bob great comments. Bob I like your reference to comparing creativity to a plant. Coaches particularly our youth national team coaches are constantly stepping on the creative player. Their attitude is its my way or the highway. Full speed ahead with power. In my humble opinion anyway.

  24. John Lander, December 2, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.

    This article correctly outlines how the US is better than the world in 4 categories. Clear indication that we are different. What works over there is not going to work here. They are better that us technically so lets steal the technical training, what and how they teach on the field, between the lines. BUT NOT THEIR SYSTEM. It has already been proven to not work here in the US. We are not a 3rd developing country so what works in Brazil and Africa will not work here. We are not a former communist Eastern block country so the exclusionary academies will not work here. We are not a capitalist democracy where soccer is a religion so their system will not work here. We have different values, infrastructure, sporting system, educational system, political system, and citizens.
    We are a country full of the greatest, artists, musicians, actors, doctors, lawyers, performers, and athletes in other sports. Is that the result of some BOSS federation or governing body?
    I totally agree with copying success, but you have to know what to copy. Copy their training on the field, their drills and teaching techniques not their system.
    WE ARE DIFFERENT. WE NEED A DIFFERENT SYSTEM.
    We need an American solution to an American problem.

  25. R2 Dad replied, December 4, 2016 at 3:04 p.m.

    John, 60 years ago we might have been able to implement a system that had buy-in from coaches, parents and leagues but that is long past. Nowadays it's all about everyone's right to do whatever they want, without any corresponding responsibilities. So I understand that asking coaches to do something they don't want to do runs counter to the current zeitgeist. The problem with coaches is they're not only doing what they want, they are also dictating/limiting what their charges can do/learn/practice. There is (or should be) a responsibility to instruct Generally Accepted Soccer Principles (GASP, I should trademark that). As long as coaches and parents accept that kickball is OK and not the failed practices of jurassic nations that suck at soccer, we will just have this Groundhog Day environment in the US where nothing changes while more intelligent countries (eg Japan, France) improve with time.

  26. don Lamb replied, December 4, 2016 at 7:40 p.m.

    R2 - All due respect, but if you think that we are stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario, then you have not been paying attention. The soccer landscape has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time, and our progress has been very encouraging.

  27. R2 Dad replied, December 5, 2016 at 1:33 a.m.

    Don, depends on the lens you are using:
    BU17 world cup:
    2007-Round of 16
    2009-Round of 16
    2011-Round of 16
    2013-Did not qualify
    2015-Group Stage
    BU23 Olympics:
    2008-Group Stage
    2012-Did not Qualify
    2016-Did not Qualify
    B20 world cup:
    2007-Quarter-final
    2009-Group Stage
    2011-Did Not Qualify
    2013-Group Stage
    2015-Quarter-final
    WU17 world cup:
    2008-Runners-up
    2010-Did not qualify
    2012-Group stage
    2014-Did not qualify
    2016-Group stage
    WU23 Olympics:
    2008-Gold
    2012-Gold
    2016-Quarter-final
    WU20 world cup:
    2008-Gold
    2010-Quarter-final
    2012-Gold
    2014-Quarter-final
    2016-Semi-final
    Believe me, I want to drink the koolaid, but I'm not seeing it. If we weren't getting results but turning out a bunch of world class players, I'd buy it. But I don't see that. Am I missing something?

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, December 5, 2016 at 1:53 a.m.

    R2 Dad, two things that you are not seeing. 1. Don Lamb is talking about talent, not match results. 2. While I can see someone reasonably arguing that the US has not produced any "world class" male players (but I disagree), I cannot see how anyone can reasonably say that the US doesn't have any world class women. I am not going to bother mentioning examples. They are obvious. Up until the advent of women's professional soccer in Europe, essentially the only development opportunities for adult women were US colleges. The federations in Canada and Mexico have a stake in the NWSL as well as the USSF.

  29. don Lamb replied, December 5, 2016 at 9:32 a.m.

    R2 - The thing that you are missing the amount of time that this process takes. The groundwork was being laid during all of those failures, and the program is not scope of the entire program is still not fully in place, but the results of the recent U17 friendlies are an indication of the type of talent that is coming through now. This wave is just beginning as the talent we see now is the result of what was put in place 5-10 years ago.

  30. Bill Wilson, December 2, 2016 at 12:37 p.m.

    R2 Dad. Your comment about special snowflakes is a good one. Unfortunately all of the comments on this board, and hundreds of others just like this one, demonstrate what special snowflakes all of us are too. The same old railing against the man and tired topics like pay for play, over-athleticism, pie in the sky rambling about a special happy place where kids engage in free play in the US favelas or whatever, nationwide conspiracies to keep Latinos down, etc. Everybody has their own pet peeve, talk past each other and ignore the realities of who we are as a country. Just stop please. It is pretty simple people....freedom of choice to do whatever you want. That is reality. It is why we have the system we have today and wishful thinking or attempts to change this aren't going to change anything. I do have one question though. How can we have a conversation like this and MLS and their Academies do not come up even once?

  31. don Lamb replied, December 2, 2016 at 9:13 p.m.

    Amen, Bill. These "pet peeves," as you call them, have become cliches that get repeated throughout the echo chamber. It is to the point where now, every soccer fan in the US (even those who are new to the sport -- i.e. Colin Cowherd) knows exactly WHY we have not lived up to our [ridiculous] expectations as the next big thing in international football. Somehow this complex issue that was always going to take decades to solve has become so clear and simple. If we would only do x, y, or z, we would get over the hump! The real answer is so broad in scope (relying on ambiguous terms like "culture") that it offers no real [immediate] solution. I do think MLS academies are clearly part of this eventual solution though. Did you have something else in mind as far as MLS academies entering this conversation, or is that what you were waiting for? :)

  32. Ric Fonseca, December 2, 2016 at 1:25 p.m.

    One of the better articles I've read - so far - however, I had to chuckle about how in other world federations, the federations rule the roost, e.g. the example of having the guy at the top having been a player at several level, and so, who obviously came to ming is none other than S. Gulati who was preceded by Dr. Bob Contgiglia, who was preceded by Alan Rothenberg, etc., - save Gulati who played youth (rec?) and scholastic, maybe college soccer - and was some sort of administrator before weaving himself to the top echelons (how well do I remember!) In sum, the author sure as heck hit the danged nail square on the head!!!

  33. Ric Fonseca, December 2, 2016 at 1:28 p.m.

    ... and btw, the US Soccer honchos preceding SG, were more administrators, movers and shakers in their respective fields (AR, law; RC, medicine) but if memory serves me well, I believe that those that preceded AR did have some fubtol experience. Just sayin'!

  34. Bill Wilson, December 2, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.

    Ric, I think I get your point, but US Soccer is what US Soccer is...an administrative organization. One that is primarily paid for and controlled by people who have no real connection to the success or failure of the US National teams. By the way the overwhelming of these paying customers, unlike in other countries, either don't care that the National teams exist or have mostly forgotten the results of any games they have played 24 hours after the fact. What real difference does it make whether US Soccer leaders have played or not? US Soccer is not the answer to producing good players and never will be.

  35. James Madison, December 2, 2016 at 6:28 p.m.

    Gvien the US is the democracy it has been,at least recently, it is unlikely that US Soccer will be able to "rule the roost. The challenge, however, it to persuade, yes incentivize (ugh, how I hate that word, if it is a word) youth coaches and programs to deal effectively with parents who are consumed with winning and instead to develop players, male and female (yes, our most recent USWNTs seem willing to play kick-and-run like our USMNTs), who are supported not only by the pillars Mr. Govener describes, but who also are technically competent and care about the game deep in their souls.

  36. Dennis Mueller, December 3, 2016 at 11:03 a.m.

    In the USA, and probably in most countries, the first "coaches" of young players are their parents and parents are certainly the first "agents". 50 years ago almost no US parents had played soccer at all. 25 years ago, a small percentage had. Today probably a majority of parents played at least a little rec. soccer. in another 25 years a larger fraction of parents will have been more savvy players and understand more completely the need for technical skills if their kids are going to become successful players. At that point, young players will be limited by their parents' interest, not by their parents' ignorance.

  37. Dennis Mueller, December 3, 2016 at 11:11 a.m.

    The US-17 men just walloped Portugal 9-1 and Turkey 4-1 and at least the Turkey game did not look that close. I can't wait to watch them play Brazil. This group has at least 4 very technical players who also have good size and speed to boot. (George Weah's son was not deemed good enough to start but he did look as good as you might expect.) I was not so impressed with the awareness of the defense, but they joined the attack well and if your team is scoring 13 goals in 2 games, you hardly need to be perfect on defense. Exciting group!

  38. Bob Ashpole replied, December 5, 2016 at 2:07 a.m.

    The USA also looked good defeating Brazil. The team counterattacked and played very direct, but from the skills displayed it was a tactical choice rather than a necessity. It was great to see both teams run at each other and not play scared. Good coaching was apparent.

  39. uffe gustafsson, December 3, 2016 at 6:09 p.m.

    We do have a system that is not pay to pay.
    It's called HS soccer, and it have some very good experience coaches, namely club coaches that when HS season start they move from club to HS.
    And I see the same high level of play in HS soccer as I see in club. Bet u our HS team will play the club team equally good.
    Actually some of our HS are better then our club teams. I'm talking about women's soccer.
    And if you talking about education then HS will top club soccer, to play HS you have to have good grades or you won't be able to play.
    Club have no requirement for education.
    Not sure why we don't talk more about HS soccer as a very good system of getting our players to excell in the sport. It's not just winning games but representing your school and community.
    Look at what HS football have done, full stadium even at schools that are not in the top tier of football but the local HS that is just playing in the local league.
    This is what soccer should be looking at getting the community excited and want to watch.
    Not just a few parents.
    Club soccer is just all about winning games at any cost of developing the players to be better.
    If you make mistakes u get subbed out, so in the end it's about not making mistakes and to hell with trying different things on the field.
    That alone Will stymied the player from developing to a player that will try and risk things.

  40. frank schoon, December 4, 2016 at 4:49 p.m.

    "Those four pillars -- mentality, athleticism, professionalism and high education..give the American professional soccer player an edge". You really believe this? Higher education has nothing to do with playing better soccer. When ever I watch college soccer where the so called educated players play, I tend to question the intelligence of so many of the players' actions. In Europe
    most people don't go to college, whereas here it almost a right of passage, play a much more intelligent game then their american counterparts who are more educated.
    Playing good soccer has nothing to do with academic education. The knowledge one applies in soccer, has to do with innate intelligence of the person, the soccer experience learned, and
    the knowledge acquired from others, like better and older players. Johan Cruyff was a genius and perhaps the most smartest and insightful player ever to have played the game, but his schooling was slightly less than that of high school or just that. Soccer intelligence has nothing, but nothing to do with scholastic endeavors. Soccer intelligence has to do more with being able to "see", relying also on"intuition" and able to carry out what needs to be done with one's feet.

  41. Bob Ashpole replied, December 4, 2016 at 10:53 p.m.

    Frank you make a good point about "higher" education, but I think other training does have an impact of some kind, just not necessarily a college business degree. What they have recently learned is that when people intensely engage for long periods in a particular activity the brain will actually physically changes to adapt to the activity. I suspect that fine arts develops creativity. I played for years with 2 fighter pilots and they both had amazing 360 degree vision on the field, which I am convinced was linked to their need as fighter pilots to think in three dimensions and keep track of what is going on around them in every direction. I am convinced that my years of playing drum set made me two-footed. I think higher education made me a better coach, but, aside from several physical education courses, it was not related to playing.

  42. frank schoon, December 5, 2016 at 3:10 p.m.

    I agree, on what you say that extraneous activity can help although it is tough too measure the quantification of it. Johan Cruyff is not only known as a great player but also as the most insightful and smartest player to have played the game. Johan Cruyff In an interview once stated that he , all of a sudden, began to "SEE" the game when he was 31 years old but up until that time he only relied upon intuition. Somehow what he experienced what you might call a nirvana or what a yogi would call his 3rd eye opened up and saw things others couldn't. LOL. In other words if you sat next to him and watched the same game with him, the whole time, he would see things that you don't. How can that be, after all we're looking at the same game. In other words
    a coach whose team is having a tough time of it during the game,sees that his team is doing bad but he can't pinpoint why his team is so off. Cruyff sees it and with one substitution he can fixed it. That is why I said'higher education " has nothing to do with it. That ability to "SEE" the game various with each individual.
    A good example was in the World Cup'74, during half time. Michels the coach who invented "Total Soccer" planned a substitution for the second half. The players listened and thought nothing of it. Cruyff immediately expressed displeasure of the substitute player coming in as related to the overall concept the team was playing.
    He stated because the left fullback's manner of play will effect the left halfback's mannerism of how he will receive the ball and dispose of it which as a result will effect the right wing's runs and timing resulting of attack and thus effecting the opponents centerfullback playing less deep, etc...The players are all sat there with their mouths open and realize that the real brains out there was Johan not Michels the coach.
    We in the US are so caught up with diplomas and licensing of coaching but it has nothing really to do with the deeper understanding of the game. Cruyff once stated to me as we were going to his mom's house that these coaches really don't understand the game and considers maybe about 4 other people in the world that really did...and that was said to me in the early 80's.

  43. humble 1, December 5, 2016 at 4:15 p.m.

    Don't agree with professionalism as a pillar in the U.S. Rather I see it as a weakness. There are many good folks in soccer, and I am fortunate to have my little player in a terrific organization, but it was not easy to find, because it's a minefield, not a gold mine for parents of soccer players. In the essential measure of professionalism in soccer, coach licensing, the U.S. is far from world class. This is especially wanting at the youth level. Furthermore, U.S. soccer is sitting on $70 million in the bank and they struggle to put fans in the seats when the national team plays. Pay fans if you have to - but please - put butts in the seats! Top this off with the unshakable pay-to-play system which probably delivers fewer world-class players per $ than any other. Soccer in the U.S. could stand to improve professionalism markedly. The beautiful game here is constrained by lack of professionalism rather than buoyed by a pillar of professionalism.

  44. Kevin Segrue, December 9, 2016 at 7:54 a.m.

    Maybe I'm alone on this one but I think that American soccer is going the right direction. Go to a park in the summer near me and there are pick up games with teenagers and young adults. People talk about soccer at work now. This is where soccer the culture comes from. We are impatient. Our national team is has not caught up but the tide is generally rising.

    I agree that the coaching and development of players has to improve. But the major thing that will improve us is the informal coaching that we who love the game can do with the kids. Talk about the games (the way I talked baseball with my Dad) with the kids, their games and the professional games. Pause the live games-- show them space, a high line, a great piece of skill. Play with them. Kick the ball back and forth. Convince them to work on their games by themselves -- Against a wall. In the driveway. Anywhere we/they can find space.

    The national body can work on grand plans. But at the grassroots and in the homes its up to us to grow the culture and the sport.

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