Amercan soccer looks pretty good while looking back at past failures

By Ridge Mahoney

If you didn’t see it, please check out the excellent story written by my friend and colleague Michael Lewis in the Guardian, harking back 50 years to the launch of the National Professional Soccer League.

I, too, have been around long enough to remember those days vividly if not always clearly.

Having already been in junior high school when the NPSL kicked off, there’s a lot to look back on, such as the milestone attained in 2013 when MLS kicked off its 18th season and thus exceeded the longevity of the North American Soccer League, which emerged from the rubble of ’67 to start up in 1968 and struggle for 17 years until it wheezed its last breath in 1984.

Unfortunately, I don’t think enough memory of those days survives. For all its outstanding players, excellent teams and memorable games, the NASL never got close to succeeding as a business, and like it or not, a professional sports league and its teams must get the money right or they are doomed. Many soccer leagues have failed in this country, and so have professional leagues in baseball, hockey, football, etc.

Why? Couldn’t pay the bills. Period.

The drastic steps taken by the original group of MLS owners to get professional team soccer back in North America are routinely derided and ridiculed both here and abroad, but in a 22nd season, MLS owners, executives, staff members, coaches and players who have labored to make it work and continue to do so have every right to ignore much of the vitriol aimed at them.

Get on the right Twitter feeds of a certain genre and every reference to MLS will refer to it as “shite,” perhaps the most unclever usage ever devised to use a swear word without actually doing so. And most of what takes place in MLS stadiums every weekend does not compare favorably to the grand and glorious Premier League, which is so heavily stocked with foreign players that teams that insist on using large percentages of English players usually suffer the consequences.

The Premier League is great entertainment but devotees of MLS should not give a shite as to what fans of that league think of theirs, or how FC Dallas compares to Middlesbrough, or why Bradley Wright-Phillips lights up MLS after scuffling for regular minutes in England.

Heck, the English League started up in 1888, and it only took a century-plus for enough rich people to create means by which a league could spread its images and passion around the world. The Premier League started up in 1992, with 104 years of competition and history and legend as a foundation. It predates MLS by four years. Not a fair comparison.

MLS is way behind the world’s top leagues in many aspects yet just where it ranks compared to La Liga in terms of skill or Germany when it comes to stadiums just doesn’t matter.

So rather than grit my teeth and increase my intake of blood-pressure medication, I laugh and ignore it. They don’t really care about us, so why should we care about them? I mean, really.

I also must take issue with a tweet sent out by Eric Wynalda, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will say I’ve been fascinated by him since I first saw him play as a San Diego State (my alma mater) freshman at the Division I final four in 1987. Without question, he’s not so much pushed the envelope as punched holes in it as a tremendous player, insightful coach and of course free-swinging commentator and pundit for ESPN and Fox.

His barbed comments sometimes miss the mark as well as the truth but always command attention, and what drew my notice was a snide reference to what is holding back American soccer is a lack of ambition to excel, basically, that we aren’t a world power simply because “we don’t want to be,” or words to that effect.

Now, that’s rocket fuel for critics who want to blast off in any one of several directions. It’s a slap, or several slaps, at MLS for its single-entity system, pernicious financial strictures, cumbersome player development programs, and -- in cahoots with U.S. Soccer -- absence of a soccer pyramid by which teams move between divisions via promotion and relegation.

All of those aspects of MLS and U.S. Soccer – and many others -- deserve scrutiny and critique, but one must remember one thing about Eric Wynalda – he takes issue with everything and anything that isn’t done the way he would do it. As a provocateur, that’s his right and his job. Yet he knows all too well he’s not running the ship and ergo can steer his ego in any direction he so chooses.

(Not too long ago he took one of his rips at MLS because it didn’t align its salary structure the way it is done in Germany, i.e., a player’s compensation is heavily tied to appearances and results bonuses, in many cases, to the tune of 40 percent or thereabouts. The fact that most leagues don’t use such a financial formula to the same extreme is not relevant to him, nor is the reality of the MLS Players Union fighting for more guaranteed money, not less, and longer contract terms for the rank-and-file players most affected by trades, drafts and other mechanisms used by the league.)

I subscribe instead to the concept mentioned to me by one of Wynalda’s former U.S. teammates, Peter Vermes, which is simply that “we” haven’t figured it out yet. And by figuring it out, he means developing and implementing methodologies that can work in this country given the staggering obstacles of travel distances, academic issues, finances, competition from other sports, etc.

Duplicating the Dutch won’t work, nor will embracing the Brazilians, and yes the growing pains have been intensely painful and will continue to be so. Sorry, kids, we’ve been playing catchup for about 50 years but only since we got back to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence did the race really begin.

There’s no need here to list the major developments and accomplishments of MLS and other leagues as well as U.S. Soccer in their efforts to improve all aspects of the game in North America. Suffice to say a lot of time and resources and money have been poured into the game at many levels and mistakes have been made and there’s still a ton of work to do and unfortunately, progress is a “long, hard slog,” as per the words of MLS commissioner Don Garber.

It’s extremely frustrating when Liga MX teams consistently knock out MLS teams in the Concacaf Champions League, especially when a proud team like FC Dallas comes within a last-second goal of forcing extra time in the semifinals despite not having its prime playmaker for both legs. Better luck next time.

It’s not going to be pretty and it’s not going to be easy, but if Bruce Arena believes the USA could win the World Cup in 2026, hey, that’s only 16 years later than good old Project 2010 projected when it was instituted in 1998. It’s a noble goal to shoot for and coming up short won’t be the end of the world.

And failure won’t mean we’re shite. We just didn’t get there in time.
61 comments about "Amercan soccer looks pretty good while looking back at past failures".
  1. David Bell, April 19, 2017 at 10:26 a.m.

    The reality is only 8 countries have ever won a world cup, and in the last 50 years, only one team outside those 8 (the Netherlands) has even played in a final. Excluding the anomalous 3rd place finish for the US in the first world cup in 1930, NO CONCACAF TEAM HAS MADE THE SEMIS (no thanks to Torsten Frings). The US needs to make progressing to the quarters and semis regularly the goal -- if we do that, our time will come. But saying 'we can win it in 2026' without a precursor of, y'know, making the final four, is just wishful thinking.

  2. Tyler Dennis, April 19, 2017 at 11:14 a.m.

    The great apologist, Ridge Mahoney. Instead of holding U.S. Soccer and it's President accountable for their inability to actually create a pyramid (1st div to 4/4th div) and work for all soccer communities from youth to professional, Ridge writes an apologetics piece. Because the EPL started in 1990 and had 100 years of history, we can't expect more from our organizations? U.S. Soccer has been around for a long, long time, before 1930. If the tech industry was run like U.S. Soccer, they'd still be trying to force every one to fax while the rest of the world sent emails.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 19, 2017 at 1:16 p.m.

    Ridge's description of Wynalda applies to you as well it seems.

  4. Paul Johnson replied, April 19, 2017 at 1:27 p.m.

    I'm guessing you are a young person Tyler Dennis. Given the lack of civility and oozing entitlement in your tone. The point of the article is to reflect on past FAILURES in trying to establish Professional Soccer in this country. It is the context of where we are today. If you have a couple of Billion Dollars and a better way go for it....

  5. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 19, 2017 at 7:32 p.m.

    No what we call success if a 22 team league playing mostly in brand new stadia with games on national TV every week ($90m a year TV deal) and average attendance over 21k. A league plenty of rich successful people want to pay $150m each to join. That is unqualified success when you look at where the sport was in this country was 20+ years ago. And if MLS is supposed to be paying me for saying this, I'd like to know where they are sending my checks!

  6. Wooden Ships, April 19, 2017 at 11:23 a.m.

    Good read Ridge. I too have lived the years you've described and we have made many strides. Some things I like others not. I don't like turf, period. I don't like our schedule and its non alignment with the international calendar and I don't like the seemingly indoor carryover of the too physical play (which could be alleviated with the disciplinary committee, owners and the league). Need as best as we can to reinforce the technical player and that style of play. Referees ultimately call the game the way the aforementioned three want it. We no longer need to sell the bone crunching action to try and win fans. Ugly is now passé. Still, however, is a longstanding concern of developing truly quality-skilled players with the ball, when kids are only getting touches in organized practices.

  7. beautiful game, April 19, 2017 at 11:48 a.m.

    I' in full agreement with Wynalda's opinions. IMHO, MLS progress in "quality" is at a snails pace. Having three or four players on a team that can make things happen and execute falls far too short when contributions of field players (teammates) is mediocre at best. The "big foot" mentality of the defenders far overshadows that of defenders with confidence. How many times do I watch head balls go back and forth multiple times between the teams when chesting it is the best option. How many times one witnesses players self-inflict pressure situations when they should be avoiding it. Eric talks about lack of quality, not world class quality. Finding the right balance between efficacy and simplicity is key to quality soccer. In addition, I have to grill most of the MLS commentators for exiting reality, i.e., a sub comes in and the commentator opines, so and so is a goal scorer...scored fours goals in 32 games last season...simply laughable.

  8. Wooden Ships replied, April 19, 2017 at 12:18 p.m.

    I w, while I appreciated some of what Ridge covered, I do agree with EW and his analysis. I'm a generation before him and we did long for pro-rel, even before the NASL. Not sure today's soccer fans are the purists needed to really push for that model. We (the US) have a reluctance to believe that we don't know what's best. Couple that with most everyone growing up with single entity, the alternative seems unnecessary. Regarding player quality, ball skills, it can be measured geologically. We have tons more playing but very few breakout players. We rarely even see more than a couple in the top 10 MLS scoring at seasons end that aren't foreign.

  9. Ben Myers, April 19, 2017 at 11:50 a.m.

    WE(???) haven't figured it out??? How about the void (or is it a vacuum?) in leadership provided by Sunil Gulati and friends? They are always chasing the money, a decent endeavor in itself, while paying scant attention to the improvements needed in the hodge-podge non-system of player development in this country.

  10. Allan Lindh, April 19, 2017 at 11:55 a.m.

    Right on Wooden Ships. Ridge is right about the absolute necessity of financial reality. But the biggest step forward would be to order refs to card every professional foul, every vicious tackle, and let the players adjust. (And get rid of the refs who don't shape up.) Until that step is taken, high school and college players will continue to think that soccer is about trying to injure your opponents, like the NFL and NHL, and we will continue to turn out crash and bash US players. Until USSOCCER realizes that soccer fans do not watch matches, in person or on TV, to see people injured, the sport will limp along in this country.

  11. Gus Keri, April 19, 2017 at 12:22 p.m.

    Promotion/relegation is not the answer. Its proponents want the bottom clubs of MLS to continue playing until the end of the season. The reality is no pro/rel. means the competition moved from the bottom of the table to the middle of the table teams. In Europe, mid-table clubs go dormant toward the end of the season because they have nothing to play for. Here in MLS, mid-table clubs continue to compete for the play-off spots while bottom clubs go dormant. It's a trade off.

  12. Wooden Ships replied, April 19, 2017 at 4:51 p.m.

    You're right Amir. Pro/rel is real risk and drama. Yes, night and day.

  13. Gus Keri replied, April 19, 2017 at 4:53 p.m.

    The majority of clubs in European league play only for pride toward the end of the seasons regardless of the opponents, just like clubs at the bottom of MLS. Watch the mid-table clubs in the European leagues in the next few weeks and you will find out what I am talking about.

  14. don Lamb replied, April 19, 2017 at 5:40 p.m.

    Amir - Not even the EPL gets eight spots in Europe. Most leagues get 6. Spain, the best league at the top of the table, gets 6. Let's look at a few of the leagues to see what the mid table teams are playing for right now... Spain - Champion is basically determined. Barca could make it interesting with win on Sunday, but would still need help which is unlikely. Top 4 (CL) is set. Spots 5-9 fighting for 5th and 6th (Europa). Bottom 3 are basically set. 17th could theoretically be caught. That means that seven mid table teams are playing for nothing over the last six games of the season. Add at least two of the relegation zone teams to the list of those that have nothing to play for. EPL - Champion is basically set. Tottenham has a shot, but very unlikely. Top 4 is mostly set. United has a chance to catch City or Liverpool. Arsenal has a very unlikely shot to finish top 4. Top 7 is set -- there is no way 8 catches 7 for the last Europa spot. In the relegation battle, two are already going down. Two teams are fighting for 17th. That leaves nine mid table teams with nothing to play for over the last 5 games (over half the league has nothing to play for considering that 19 and 20 are set). Germany - Champion is determined and top 4 are set. Very tight race between about 7 teams for spots 5-6 (Europa). Relegation battle includes spots 13-16 in an 18 team league. So no drama at all at the top, but plenty throughout the rest of the table. Italy - Champion is set. Top 3 are set. 4 teams fighting for 3 Europa spots. Bottom three are basically set although 17th could theoretically be caught (very unlikely). That leaves 8-9 mid table teams with nothing to play for plus two more who are already relegated for a total of 10-11 teams who have no reasonable shot at improving or worsening their fate. Bottom line, with 5-6 games to play, only Spain (and MAYBE England) has much drama in determining its champion. Of all four leagues, only two teams (United and City) are really fighting over the final champs league spot in their league. As for Europa spots, only Germany has the bulk of the middle of the table in play for spots. Spain is in decent position here with five teams battling for two Europa spots. The other two leagues offer no drama there. As far as relegation battles, there are a total of eight teams over the four leagues (an average of 2 per league) that have something at stake one way or the other. FINAL CONCLUSION: Promotion and relegation adds lots of drama for a very select few teams in certain spots of the table. In three of the four leagues, more than half of the table already has their fate sealed. No wonder European players and teams are ripe for gambling scandals this time of year....

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 19, 2017 at 7:33 p.m.

    You have decided that MLS and US Soccer is a complete failure because it doesn't have pro/rel. I'd like pro/rel too but not having it doesn't make everything else a failure.

  16. don Lamb replied, April 19, 2017 at 8:08 p.m.

    Amir - Let me break it down a little further when speaking about the EPL. The top 7 are set in stone. West Brom (8th) is 13 points back of Everton (7th). 19th and 20th are set. Swansea and Hull are battling for 17th and 18th. Chelsea is pretty close to a lock to finish as champions, but Tottenham is still in the picture, I guess. Man U and City are battling for 4th and 5th. That means that out of 20 teams, 6 actually have a chance to change their fate over the last few games. SIX TEAMS OF 20! Italy is even worse where it's more like 4 teams out of 20. In Spain, it about 7 out of 20 who have some chance of changing their fate before the end of the season. Things are more dramatic in Germany..... as long as you don't mind entering the season knowing who your champion is going to be. At this point of last year's MLS season, only two teams (Chicago and Houston) had no chance of making the playoffs. So, 18 of the 20 were competing with something on the line, whether it was a spot in the playoffs or seeding a chance at a first round bye.

  17. don Lamb replied, April 19, 2017 at 8:10 p.m.

    I will say it again... Is it any wonder that European leagues are ripe with gambling scandals at this time of year? That is a direct result of players and teams have nothing to play for.

  18. R2 Dad replied, April 19, 2017 at 9:11 p.m.

    Don, you can say it again and you'd be wrong twice. There is nothing in April or May that screams match-fixing scandal in Europe. The 2009 scandal involved lower league (not La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, EPL) player/official collusion. There was Europa/CL match-fixing during qualifiers but that's in July/August. The 2005 scandal primarily involved a referee and not teams. Asia is a different story.

  19. Gus Keri replied, April 19, 2017 at 10:19 p.m.

    Amir, I have been watching European soccer religiously for over 40 years and I have been watching MLS since its inception 21 years ago. So, I can tell you from my own experience that Pro/rel is over-rated. there are more dead game at the end of the season in Europe than in MLS. In addition, the top European clubs are looking at the American model and thinking seriously about creating a super league where the top 20 clubs are guaranteed top league play every season. When you say: "Typical American mentality. We think we just invented a better way of doing things that are proven to be better all along." you are so right because when it comes to economy, the European look at the Americans with envy for their sport business success. And do be surprised if someday you see NFL model being copied by a European super soccer leagues.

  20. don Lamb replied, April 19, 2017 at 11:28 p.m.

    Amir - If you are talking about outcomes that are "mathematically possible," then, yeah, pretty much everything is up for grabs because their are still 18 points to play for. However, if you want to look at things realistically, in terms of whether 3rd place Liverpool can realistically make up 9 points over that time time and other scenarios like that then you would see that things are pretty much set. West Brom could still technically catch Everton, but they ain't gonna make up 13 with 18 to play for. It's mathematically possible, sure, but that is not a sound argument based in reality. The same is true for the relegation battle. Hull is in trouble, but Bournemouth in 16th is basically assured safety at this point as they are seven points clear of 18th and and clearly going to pick up more points over their last six games. Your scenario is based on mathematical possibility, mine is based on reality. Outside of Chelsea/Tottenham, Liverpool/United/City, and Hull/Swansea, there is nothing going on in the EPL for the last 6 weeks. Italy is much worse, and unless a struggling Barca can beat Real this weekend, everything is done there, too.

  21. Bob Ashpole, April 19, 2017 at 12:28 p.m.

    Good article. MLS is a success. Comparing MLS to other leagues is inappropriate. Success in international tournaments comes from having huge rosters and spending ridiculous amounts on player salaries. Runaway spending is not a model for business success. Parity makes for better entertainment. As the TV revenues expand, more money will be available for rosters, and better soccer will be the result. The North America leagues will eventually surpass Europe, although it will take decades. It is inevitable because the North American TV market has already become the largest soccer market in the world.

  22. Fire Paul Gardner Now, April 19, 2017 at 1:18 p.m.

    Brilliant article Ridge. So little patience amongst some of the US soccer community and a total lack of perspective as to the challenge of reaching the levels of top soccer countries.

  23. Paul Johnson, April 19, 2017 at 1:40 p.m.

    Nice job Ridge. The generations growing up now need the history lesson. Like you and so many others, I lived the NASL era. That league never build a damn thing! Not a single stadium, training ground, or academy. And it still couldn't make money. MLS has done ALL of those things and more. The level of investment has been staggering!! I frankly didn't think I would live to see a league of this quality in the United States. And yet there is much work to be done and a long way to go. I don't worry about Europe. I just want to compete with Liga MX....

  24. don Lamb, April 19, 2017 at 1:42 p.m.

    Well put, Ridge. As you say, much of the criticism of MLS and USSF comes from a legitimate place, but the overall perspective regarding why we are not already one of the top leagues in the world lacks a sense of reality. This was always going to be a very long process -- regardless of any other league's history/head start -- and we are still paving our way. Fortunately, much of the hard work has been done (infrastructure in place, stability reached, optimal national footprint, etc.), which will allow the progress to change from incremental to exponential. Another huge part of this equation are the demographics of the country. It was always going to take a few generations for the children who grew up playing the sport to reach an age where they could make an impact as consumers of the sport. We are starting to see this impact, which could also become exponential in growth as MLS overtakes Liga MX in the next decade and begins to compare more favorably to the level of play in Europe.

  25. Asa Christiana, April 19, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.

    This is the best assessment of the state of US soccer that I've read in some time. Soccer/football (whatever) is about the love of the game, whether you are playing in a Sunday beer league or supporting your local MLS club. It's the same for the loyal supporters of small clubs in England. You love your club because it's yours, and because you love the live experience. Anyone who supports an MLS club in person will tell you that MLS is working. I have season tickets for the Portland Timbers, which gives me the joyous, weekly, tribal supporter experience I've been waiting for my whole life, and had only experienced in England before now. Cheers to MLS management for making this happen. It is a monumental achievement, considering the sports landscape in this country. Don't compare it to the Prem, love it for what it is, a thriving, professional football league, which so many of us have been waiting for for so long. And by the way, there is good soccer happening in MLS stadiums, not great, but very good and getting better, comparable to second-division soccer in the big footballing countries. I'll take it. Stop raining on my parade!

  26. George Vista, April 19, 2017 at 2:36 p.m.

    So you know more than Eric Wynalda? A man who not only played, but excelled at the highest level?

    The state of the US game is where it should be. It's average. The country benefits from a large population, a lot of money and an obsession with sports. That said, great soccer comes from soccer culture and the US has little to no culture when compared to European and S. American nations. Fix that and you'll have something to talk about.

    The pro/rel issue is a major factor too as it reduces competition at the high level. Add to that the notion that MLS is continuing to dilute the market by expanding horizontally, instead of creating a strong upward system and you have a bad product, regardless of whether hipster fanboys enjoy it or not. Check the TV ratings to see that NOBODY watches the matches because truly it's an inferior game.

  27. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 19, 2017 at 3:10 p.m.

    So how do we create a soccer culture then? By trashing MLS? Sounds like a poor way to do it.

  28. George Vista, April 19, 2017 at 4:19 p.m.

    Shining light on the truth does not equal trashing. The truth isn't always easy to stomach - especially for Americans because we're used to be good at many sports.

    Soccer culture is established by providing facilities for kids of all games to play the game week in and week out and do so in small-sided games with lots of creativity and touches. It also happens when kids of all backgrounds can play and be recognized and promoted. Right now the system only really benefits travel/club players who can shell out thousands of dollars.

  29. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 19, 2017 at 7:36 p.m.

    An actual soccer culture takes decades. It's not as simple as having pro/rel or whatever your pet issue is. MLS is helping create soccer culture. It may not do it in your preferred way (or mine) but the sport is growing here beyond what most thought possible just a short time ago.

  30. Daniel Clifton, April 19, 2017 at 4:33 p.m.

    I found this to be an interesting article. I read alot of arguments going in different directions and I see disagreements in these opinions expressed. That is good. MLS has come a long way, and will go alot further eventually with greater incomes from TV. Look at the attendance in Atlanta with an expansion team - 58,000 plus. When I saw that I was astonished. I didn't know Atlanta was a hotbed for soccer. Orlando is drawing similar high numbers in their new stadium and the fans are intense in both cities. This is a really good sign. I see games played in the Italian league, La Liga, and the Bundesliga and it is clear those leagues have more skillful players than MLS and they also appear to be better organized defensively. Then you see a team like Atlanta come into MLS with a peddle to the metal attitude and they are fun to watch with their offensive aggression. I watched a 0-0 tie early in the season between Atlanta and Seattle, and it was actually an offensive game with back and forth action. The game is going to have to develop in the US in a way that works here. Comparing things like relegation to the way it is being done here is I think a waste of time. I don't see relegation ever coming here. Correct me if I am wrong but Mexico doesn't have it either. I still believe that the US will not reach its full potential in Soccer until the pay to play system is somehow totally overhauled so that children from less economically advantaged families can play in competitive leagues across the US.

  31. Wooden Ships replied, April 19, 2017 at 4:59 p.m.

    Agree Daniel on the pay to play. I would almost as a concession trade away my pro/rel desire (60 years) in order to not have to watch a game on turf. That too, seems to be lost on the majority of soccer people in our country.

  32. George Vista replied, April 19, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.

    Valid points, yet for pro/rel to not be a reality means there really is no true competitive landscape with innovation and no penalty for failing.

  33. don Lamb replied, April 19, 2017 at 11:43 p.m.

    Amir - Limited investment in the community?! Do you realize how much of an investment the academies are? Not just the programs, but the facilities and staff. Providing a place for the best talent to play for free is not investing in the community? Providing a professional team to watch and cheer for is not an investment in the community? Stadiums are not investments in the community? Scouting and building rosters to compete for a championship is not investing in the fans and the community? Providing professional soccer takes heavy investment, period. That is fine if you simply don't appreciate the investment that is going on, but to say so broadly that investment is not happening is nuts. There is no way that MLS would be where it is if not for constant investment and reinvestment over the last two decades.

  34. George Vista, April 19, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.

    Turf. Yuck.

  35. Woody Woodpecker, April 20, 2017 at 10:43 a.m.

    I'm very proud of the MLS and what we have achieved. We have come a long, long way. And the future looks very favorable.The game is booming in this country at all levels. No we're not as good as the "elite" leagues of the world, however, what we have achieved in 21 years is light years ahead of 90-95% of the rest of the world soccer federations. We will be one of the best leagues in the world in the coming years, and yes we have lots to still do, as quality and greatness is a never ending pursuit. As a Canadian- Brit, Yanks are winners, always have been always will be. If you don't like our league, FO, we will be fine without you. The data, growth, development and improvement is impressive. Finally, congrats to Dallas FC youth for winning the Dallas Super cup vs. some very quality professional world club academies.

  36. Nick Daverese, April 20, 2017 at 11:04 a.m.

    I think I know Michael Lewis he was always trying to make a living writing about soccer. He started a few publications on our game. None of them made it. He was happy when he said he could finally make a living on just writing about soccer. I met him when NYC clubs had a tournement at Verranzo sport complex. It was a show case for our US Olympic team to see if the coach first name was Timo something forget his last name could use some of our players. I think 2 days before his Olympic team played the Long Island Roughriders. Roughriders beat them 4-1. That pissed him off. He took none of the players on the Roughriders. Then he does not show up for our tournament either. Lewis was there he heard all of our curse out good old timo Liekoski that was his name.

  37. Albert Harris, April 20, 2017 at 11:12 a.m.

    There are 22 MLS teams and 5 play on turf. That's 5 too many, but one is playing in an expansion year in a stadium that will be replaced by a soccer specific one with a grass field (God willing). I dislike 'pretend grass' too, but it seems to me the problem is being overstated and worked on. Hopefully within 5 years everybody will be playing on the real deal.

  38. Jay Wall, April 20, 2017 at 12:02 p.m.

    SFIA, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association releases annual statistics based on sales of youth sports gear for players ages 6 to 17. In 2009 there were 8,360,000 youth soccer players but only 7,656,000 in 2014, a loss of 8.4% over 5 years. At this rate by 2026 the pool of youth soccer players will be 20% smaller. >> FIFA's Big Count only includes registered youth players, not school and other unregistered players >> ESPN's survey of youth sports shows 70% of children leave sports by age 13 - 38% didn't have fun playing - 28% leave due to injury - 30% to focus more on learning - 20% didn't like or respect their coach - 13% believed parents worry about injury - and 15% believed they weren't good enough. To keep players we need fun soccer programs that teach players to be successful, refs who call fouls to keep middle and late developers safe, practices (like ABC exercises) to reduce injuries, better teaching of players so they learn to play well, modified rules to protect players who have not reached skeletal maturity from unnecessary injuries, coaches who display emotional maturity by treating all players fairly, with respect, without yelling and by not demanding players must only do what they are told, and we need little emphasis on winning until the U17/U19 age groups (U.S. youth teams often beat foreign youth teams prior to U19, but seldom after) >> If SFIA is right we will lose a net of 2,000,000 youth players from the pool between 2012 and 2026 >> Skills are a small but important part of the total need. Studies show youth players must attain physical, intellectual, social and emotional maturity to become successful in sports and as adults in society. Puberty leads to physical maturity by the late teens but players need to be taught how to train and play in adult bodies. Players need to learn social skills to become contributing members of teams at work, in school and in sports. Players need to learn emotional maturity to handle criticism as well as praise. Without it players act spoiled. Players need intellectual maturity and training to learn to collect data, assess circumstances and to make instant decisions under intense pressure. And it must start early. As a child, chess master, Bobby Fischer learned to see two, three or four moves in advance. We need to teach and empower players to learn, think and see the game in real time. Challenge players to learn. Divide a team of 10 to 12 years olds in thirds, give each third the same problem and 10 minutes to solve it. i.e. "It's the 2nd half, a teammate is red carded, your team with one less player the rest of the game and you can't ask your coach how to play down a player. What do you do?"

  39. Bob Ashpole replied, April 20, 2017 at 2:15 p.m.

    Jay everything you said sounded great right up until you suggested coaches conduct team tactics exercises for U-Littles. 2 problems: The exercise is not age appropriate, and it is not realistic. For decades now FIFA LOTG allow coaches to give technical instructions from the sidelines. More importantly U-Littles need to work on fundamentals.

  40. Jay Wall replied, April 20, 2017 at 4:24 p.m.

    Bob while FIFA allows coaches to give technical instructions from the sideline doing so breaks player focus on learning to and playing well. And losing focus can also result in injury. In 2010 saw a 13 year old hit so hard in the head with a ball, when they stopped to listen, that they were out of school for 6 months. John Wooten's idea of coaching was not from the sideline during games but as he said "Teaching players during practices, was what coaching was all about to me". >> In 1984 Bunker and Thorpe started on a revolution in teaching games to children when they published "Teaching Games for Understanding" TGfU at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. This text like Arthur Seiderman's 1984 text "The Athletic Eye" on visual processing training for athletes, changed the way athletes are training because they resulted in significant improvements others assumed were not possible. >> In TGFU training elementary school children in over a hundred nations worlwide are being taught basic game concepts including tactical awareness and decision making. An evolution of TGfU training is Game Sense training.

  41. don Lamb replied, April 20, 2017 at 6:12 p.m.

    Good stuff, Jay. I think Bob is assuming that you are talking about teaching tactics in a rigid sense instead of through TGfU, which is based on the environmental constraints that the coach uses. TGfU actually relies very little on the coach "teaching" and more on the players figuring things out on their own within the parameters that the coach sets up within the the playing environment, which is an important distinction.

  42. Bob Ashpole replied, April 20, 2017 at 7:55 p.m.

    Actually Don my pet peeve is the obsession with teaching team tactics to U-Littles. If players master the fundamentals, including principles of play then they have the tools to handle any tactical problem regardless of "formation" or the numbers of players on a side. Jay means well, but basic soccer team tactics is moving so that you continually have a tactical advantage around the ball. Can be either an advantage of quality or quantity. I know you realize this, but most people who haven't played the game don't know. They think that the "formation" is important.

  43. Jay Wall replied, April 20, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.

    Thanks, Don. TGfU games encourage players to discover game concepts on their own or through enlighted discovery, with comments and questions that encourage players to better answer their own questions. > The objective is the long term development of youth players with the knowledge and savvy to read and play the game well, regardless of system, whether it be Soccer or Futsal, in the United States, Europe or Latin America.

  44. Jay Wall replied, April 20, 2017 at 10:44 p.m.

    Bob contrary to polular belief a tactical advantage around the ball is not always an advantage of quality or quantity. It can be, as Cruyff said, starting on time to arrive where you need to be at the exact instant you must be there. In the mid-1980's my boy's team won games against state champions and finalist as well as the U16 National Champions 4-2. We didn't have the skills, attractive play and numbers around the ball our opponents had. Our training focus was learning to start runs on time to arrive exactly on time where we needed to be to win, receive and distribute the ball to the next teammate in two touches. Not as pretty as someone who can juggle the ball 1,000 times but players with knowledge and game savvy can gain a tactical advantage with speed of play and decision making under pressure.

  45. don Lamb replied, April 21, 2017 at 8:25 a.m.

    Bob - I hear ya, but Jay is not talking about "teaching" tactics. He is talking about setting up game-like situations that allow the players to learn tactical principles. As he says, the coaching is actually done mostly through asking the players questions that allow them to process the solutions on their own. Fundamentals are absolutely the most important thing for young players to learn, but learning technique in isolation is not an optimal way to learn the game. The trick is to incorporate lots of technical repetitions in an environment that involves problem solving/decision making that relates to the game. These problems should offer a varying range of solutions so that no two repetitions are exactly alike, so that the technical development translates to the real game. Hence where youth development aligns with TGfU.

  46. Jay Wall replied, April 21, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    Don I agree - A friend, who grew up close to Arena Drive in Amsterdam and at Ajax, and I have often laughed as we see a technically perfect move done at the wrong time, in the wrong place and under the wrong circumstances because the adult teaching the move totally focused on the move and neglected to teach when the move should be used, where on the field it works best and that you don't do fancy moves when it gives your opponents the time to recover and defend against you. How many coaches have you ever seen who have made the time to teach players exactly which three moves are best when your trapped on the sideline, or what moves do you use to split two opponents and beat both at the same time, or what move do you use to attack at speed to deny your opponents time to recover to defend against you. Fundamentals are too often taught out of game context and often for too long so players lose focus, do poor repetitions and create bad habits. As Beckenbauer said "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect"

  47. Bob Ashpole replied, April 21, 2017 at 1:37 p.m.

    Don, I commented on the topic of the training example that Jay gave, not the coaching method.

  48. Bob Ashpole replied, April 21, 2017 at 1:39 p.m.

    Jay said: "Divide a team of 10 to 12 years olds in thirds, give each third the same problem and 10 minutes to solve it. i.e. 'It's the 2nd half, a teammate is red carded, your team with one less player the rest of the game and you can't ask your coach how to play down a player. What do you do?' " That is teaching team tactics to U-Littles.

  49. Jay Wall replied, April 21, 2017 at 6:36 p.m.

    Bob You read my words but missed my point. > To develop self-reliant successful players they need to learn to think and to make decisons on their own under game pressure, to try things to learn what works and to try things to learn what doesn't work. > To do this I asked questions to get players to think, to try things and to encourage self-discovery. > As Rinus Michels, FIFA's coach of the 20th Century observed “My position is street soccer is the most natural educational system that can be found”. We no longer have street soccer to help players learn so I found asking questions to get players to think, to find their own answers and to develop the game savvy to play to the best of their ability to be effective. > My oversight in what I wrote was not saying "After 10 minutes each group would present their conclusions, the groups would debate their conclusions and usually came to pretty fair conclusions on their own, but they were never told what to think or what tactics to use in games. > Posing questions and quided discovery encourages players to develop game savvy and to become the best they can be. The exercise is not for coaches looking to teach their ideas on tactics.

  50. Bob Ashpole replied, April 22, 2017 at 12:01 a.m.

    The soccer community has some strange ideas about guided discovery. Guided discovery is one of several teaching methods. Guided discovery is "teaching." The basic premise of guided discovery is that the teacher, without giving a specific solution, assigns tasks to perform and guides the students' learning experience by the design of the exercise. Questions may be asked but are not necessary if the students demonstrate their competence by their performance. Performance is what we seek, not verbal explanations.

  51. Gabriel Chapman, April 20, 2017 at 12:09 p.m.

    Great article, Ridge! We should learn what we can from everywhere else in the world, but DO NOT have to feel so insecure and worry so much about what the rest of the world thinks. I am proud of what the MLS and my hometown team, Atlanta United, is doing. The league is a success that is getting better each year.

  52. Glenn Maddock, April 20, 2017 at 4:10 p.m.

    I agree with Ridge. This is an accurate take. You have 2 different issues here. Where MLS is and how it's progressing. And Where USMNT is and how its not really progressing. They've been on a plateau since 2002. Good more or less, but not in the elite club that advances at World Cups. We're getting tired of all the Euro snobs who want to compare us to ancient leagues with unlimited money. That's nonsense. MLS is great, I love watching it since I started with the Mutiny in 1996. It is improving nicely, and has a great mix of players. I don't care about a pre-season tournament with Mexican clubs. I don't follow Mexican clubs and don't care how we look in pre-season. As long as we keep improving, enjoy the ride, and let the Euro snobs suck it!

  53. Daniel Clifton replied, April 21, 2017 at 9:56 a.m.

    I agree about the euro snobs. They do not help the growth of the sport in the US. I get a little tired of hearing how poor MLS play is from one such euro snob I know. If they want exceptional soccer in the US then support MLS and it will come. (I sometimes think euro snobs don't want high quality soccer in the US because then they would lose the ability to complain about the level of soccer in the US.) I also agree with the opinions expressed about turf. Sorry Seattle, but turf should be done away with for soccer.

  54. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 21, 2017 at 10:04 a.m.

    I don't think it's true we have plateaued since 2002. Yes, we reached the QF that year but I don't think that team was any better than teams we've had since. In fact, I think our current pool is deeper. Remember that the 2002 team almost went out in the group stage.

  55. Jay Wall, April 21, 2017 at 12:19 p.m.

    Turf comments and FIFA's rating of play on synthetic turf with Purefill cork fill instead of ground up tires > There have been negative comments in this thread and elsewhere about synthetic turf fields with ground tire fill. Also reports of keepers and others playing on synthetic turf with ground tires being found to have blood cancers due to the chemicals in ground used tire fill. > Suppliers now offer Purefill, a non-toxic synthetic turf field fill that exceeds all FIFA 2 Star surface playing Requirments, is endorsed by FIFA as a FIFA Quality Preferred Producer for playing surfaces, appears to cost less than a dollor more a square foot over gound tire infill and has no cancer causing chemicals. It's made of cork over a sand base. It's been installed on professional club fields in Europe (including at FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus) and on college and prviate schools fields in the United States, also at the White House. > Has anyone experience playing on turf fields with Purefill cork fill and if so how does it really play compared to playing on natural grass fields?

  56. don Lamb replied, April 21, 2017 at 5:02 p.m.

    The issue with the cork infill is that it gets REALLY slick when it's wet. Envirofill is the best infill out there. It's more expensive but has a warranty that's twice as long. It has a sand core with a coating over top. It doesn't absorb impact like rubber does, so it's much better for footing and the bounce of the ball. It simulates dirt much better than rubber and does not have the slickness issue of the cork. The only downside is that it's a little abrasive when sliding on it, but as far as the footing goes, it's like playing on a world class surface.

  57. beautiful game, April 21, 2017 at 4:46 p.m.

    And the quest for developing quality players continues amid opinions for relegation, etc. IMHO, we'll never have quality soccer in the MLS until home grown players fit the bill. There's more to it than teaching technical skills; its living the game that makes players grow. I officiated youth ball for many years and saw many skilled players at the U-12 level and very few of those players showed growth in high school ball. Those that did had great coaches, and those that didn't had mostly the "get rid of it" and chase mentality. I wonder how many U-12 players who had the skills and lived soccer at that time could have reached the pro level without going through a coaches reinvention.

  58. Rankin S, April 22, 2017 at 10:32 a.m.

    If you look at top players that age in other sports, they start to step it up on their own. Weight training, playing every day, watching pro/college games, etc. I remember starting to play basketball in the High Schoolers pickup games around that age. Besides improved Coaching, we need to provide opportunities for young players to play more soccer on a daily basis. We won't get creative players if the only time they compete is being coached at practice or games.

  59. don Lamb replied, April 22, 2017 at 6:17 p.m.

    Entire communities give up the dream of playing professionally in their home town because the players and coach don't come to their neighborhood and say, "Hello?" Sounds a little strange, especially when these MLS teams are signing people like them (Central and South Americans) in both their first teams and academies. There are cultural reasons these communities look to Liga MX before MLS, and it is more deeply ingrained than you imply. This will change, but like everything else, it will take time.

  60. don Lamb replied, April 22, 2017 at 11:09 p.m.

    How does MLS target "the white community" more so than the South and Central Americans that they "don't want to sign?" That statement is false on two fronts (they clearly DO want to sign those players, and they certainly do not HAVE to sign them), and it is probably a big part of the reason that you keep getting deleted.

  61. Jay Wall, April 25, 2017 at 11:23 a.m.

    In the United States it's mostly "Pay to Play" so almost all clubs invest their time and resources in recruiting recreational and competitive players to pay the bills and to continue to exist. > Almost a hundred years ago children in the United Sattes grew up playing in ethnic leagues in places like St Louis. > In some areas we now have local ethnic businesses sponsoring teams in leagues that save money by not registering with U.S. Soccer and whose families watch soccer on TV but rarely MLS games. > US Soccer and MLS ignores these players and only embraces the pay to play model. > If the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, the guys who sell the soccer gear, is right we have 3,000,000 unregistered youth players in the United States that no one sees or knows about, but whose players look to other nations before MLS. > And in one league on teh East Coast they play and the team's ethnic sponsors even pay some for coaches.

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