Commentary

Combining Dutch, Spanish and American style, Dave van den Bergh leads U.S. U-15 boys

By Mike Woitalla

U.S. U-15 boys national team coach Dave van den Bergh grew up playing in Ajax Amsterdam’s youth program, a teammate of future Dutch national team stars Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf.

After Ajax, Van den Bergh played for Spain’s Rayo Vallecano and Dutch club Utrecht before moving to the USA in 2007.

He appeared in more than 100 MLS games for Kansas City, the Red Bulls and FC Dallas before retiring in 2009. He also, at age 18, played in the 1995 U-20 World Cup, and he made two appearances for the Dutch national team in 2004.

Upon retiring, van den Bergh served as U-20 and U-15 assistant national team coach before being named U-15 head coach in February 2016.


Dave van den Bergh (Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)

SOCCER AMERICA: What was Ajax Amsterdam, historically one of the world’s most successful youth programs, like?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: At the time, I had no idea how it was all set up. … They have a whole lot of scouts in the city of Amsterdam, which at 800,000 is not a very big city. I think they have like 60 scouts scouring the fields for youth players. I was invited at age 10 to play a game against the current group of Ajax players. I did well enough and got accepted into the program, and stayed for there for 11 years.

In my day, there were only 16 players per team, per age group, who were invited to play for Ajax. Now there are 18 players per team. So, the competition was fierce. If they could find a better player in a certain radius around Amsterdam, he’d be in and you’d be out. It was tough in the sense that it was pretty cut-throat, but I never experienced it that way. It was all about having fun and trying to do your best.


At age 10, van den Bergh (bottom row, far right) played on an Ajax team with future Dutch World Cup players Patrick Kluivert (top row, far right, next to keeper), Clarence Seedorf (to left of Kluivert) and Denny Landzaat (front row, third from left).

SA: The players who arrive at the youth national team program will have already played years of grassroots soccer. What do you hope coaching is like for them at the youngest ages?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: I just hope that the coaches let these players be themselves. I hope that they’re not trying to over-coach them. I think especially at the youngest ages it’s imperative that these boys have fun and get touches on the ball and not be so caught up on having to win the game.

They need to be allowed to discover what they’re good at.

These boys need to have liberty, especially if they’re at more forward positions … I see a lot of these coaches back at home saying, “It has to be two-touch, it has to be two-touch” — and as a consequence we don’t have a whole lot of Arjen Robbens anymore.

I’m hoping the coaches let the kids fail nine times, because the 10th time they will succeed and that will boost their confidence so much they’ll keep on doing it.

We have plenty of time at the older ages to instill some tactics.

SA: What does U.S. Soccer expect from you as U-15 head coach?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: It’s my job to map out the most talented players in the country, cast a wide net over this age group … to make sure that I don’t miss any players in this birth-year cycle.

For now, I feel very confident. We’ve had over 135 guys in so far. I feel confident that we’ve seen the majority of the talented players in this age group, and now we’re tracking them. And there will always be new players who break into the scene.

The other thing is to see whether there are kids who are ready to be pushed up to the next level. So, if he’s going to be better off playing at U-16 at this point or U-17 than it’s my job to let the coach know this player is ready -- and we’ve had a bunch of players make the jump up.


U.S. U-15 midfielder Josh Atencio (Photo courtesy of Concacaf)

Under Van den Bergh, the U-15s have taken trips to Argentina, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, and finished runner-up to Mexico at the Concacaf U-15 Championship after defeating Panama, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and Canada. They also posted wins over Uruguay (in Argentina), Portugal, England and Russia (while winning the Torneo Delle Nazioni in Italy).

SA: How do you feel about the current U-15s progress?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: It’s also important for these boys to compete. That’s why we take these trips. That’s why we go to Argentina, where it’s tough to play top South American teams. That’s why we go to Europe, where it’s difficult to play some really good European countries. We won tournaments in Argentina and Italy. We had four really good foreign trips, all very different.

SA: One of the stars of the team is Giovanni Reyna. Might he feel extra pressure, being the son of U.S. Hall of Famer Claudio Reyna?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: He was asked by a reporter about that and said, “I don’t even think about it that way. I just think of him as Dad.” I think that’s the perfect response. And I treat him just like any other player on the team. I think he is level-headed enough to not let that bother him or let that pressure him and he certainly has not shown any signs of being under pressure because of his last name. He’s handled it very well.

SA: Do you think coaching young players now requires a different approach from how you were coached as a youth player?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: There are similarities and differences. I try and coach the way I liked to be coached. Sometimes you’re forced to make a tough decision here and there, but I still think it has to be fun for these boys, because otherwise it’s going to be a drag and they’ll get soccer-ed out. That’s the last thing we want. We want to keep it fresh. We want to keep it fun.

There is a generational difference. This is a way more visual generation, so they learn a little bit differently. They see things a little bit differently. You have to deal with some other things. They’re all on social media. They have little computers on their phone. So there’s a little bit of a different approach, but nothing out of ordinary on the soccer field. Soccer hasn’t changed much.

Of course, the concepts change and you’re always looking at things, but I’ve been very lucky because the Federation has a adopted a playing style that is very close to how I grew up. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s been a good fit.

[U.S. Youth Soccer Technical Director] Tab Ramos has adapted the 4-3-3 and he’s kind of followed the line of [his predecessor Claudio Reyna], who started that process. And the really cool part about it is that we’re pretty much streamlined all through the age groups. It’s really good for these boys because we’re working so closely together with all the national team coaches.

SA: Do you have any coaching role models?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: You pick up a little from almost every coach — not every coach. There have been a couple where I learned how not to do things, which is valuable as well, I guess. …

I do want to mention Gerard van der Lem and Co Adriaanse, who were my coaches growing up in Holland. Those guys were very influential on me as a youth player and they influence the way I coach right now.

Tactically, I was lucky enough to be coached by Louis van Gaal and Juande Ramos, who later coached Real Madrid.

And here in MLS, Bruce Arena has been highly influential on me in his man management and squad management. I was a little bit older at that point [with the Red Bulls] and I wasn’t just focused on my own game but could see the whole picture better, so I could appreciate that part of coaching more.

A lot of coaches had influence on me and I tried to grab the best out of all of them. It’s been a pretty cool mix between the Dutch and the Spanish and an American style, and I’ve tried adopt it and make it my own.

I’m still learning now. I see and hear things when we get together with all the national team coaches, which is really cool. We work really hard to make sure we get the same exercises going. Omid Namazi or Brad Friedel or Tab Ramos or John Hackworth or Clint Peay — all those guys are really good coaches, so I’m still learning from them. You’re never done learning.

SA: How do you feel about the state of youth soccer in America?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: Looking back 10 years, the change has been so dramatic since the inception of the Development Academy.

I was there in 2010, seven years ago [as assistant of the U-20 national team], and those kids did not grow up all the way though with the Development Academy. Right now, we see these kids come through at a young age being far better prepared for something like those European trips we’re taking and they are far better prepared to play a team like Portugal, England or Russia, which are really hard opponents.

They are so well-equipped, which is a testament to the Development Academy and the coaches at the clubs that have adopted the philosophy. They’re the guys who developed these players.

SA: So you think the progress is there to take American soccer to a higher level?

DAVE VAN DEN BERGH: I think it’s been very good. I think we need to stay the course. We need to stay consistent. Within the national team program, we have been very consistent with our message to the kids in our philosophy, which has helped tremendously, culminating with in the U-20s winning the Concacaf Championship and hopefully the U-17s doing well at the upcoming World Cup for them.

We’ve worked very hard to get to a consistent level of coaching, a consistent level of messaging, and playing style, coaching style, and practices that we share.

I think right now it’s just a matter of being patient and having all those kids coming through be ready for the first team.

If you look down the line, there is some really, really interesting and exciting talent coming through.

21 comments about "Combining Dutch, Spanish and American style, Dave van den Bergh leads U.S. U-15 boys".
  1. Nick Daverese, September 16, 2017 at 3:04 a.m.

    I posted this years ago somewhere.

    They have 10 youth teams of 16 players each.

    Plus 36 first team full professionals.

    All teams are divided into LEFT SIDE PLAYERS, RIGHT SIDE PLAYERS and CENTRAL PLAYERS.

    So, a "unit" would be right back, right mid, and right striker.

    Players RARELY move between these units.

    So if you are the world's SECOND best right striker playing behind the world's BEST right striker, and perchance the Left striker gets injured.

    You still sit on the bench, and they fill in with another left side player or bring one up from a lower age group.

    That is what I was told any way.

  2. frank schoon replied, September 16, 2017 at 8:09 a.m.

    Nick, that is totally untrue. Even, Dave stated that no one is safe his position for scouts can bring in a new player anytime. That would also disprove what you had heard

  3. Harris Chatwal, September 16, 2017 at 5:16 a.m.

    Please can someone tell me where is the training
    Facility - Academy of U-15 thank you

  4. Nick Daverese, September 16, 2017 at 8:28 a.m.

    Frank here is what he said when he was invited.

    "In my day, there were only 16 players per team, per age group,"

    I said there was 10 youth teams 16 players on each team.

    That sounds the same as I said.

  5. frank schoon replied, September 16, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.

    Nick, I get your point, and you're right in a way, but what he stated with the scouting for new talent meaning no one is safe of his position sort of changes things as far as this dogmatic representation of how it is structured the field between the players; for if they bring in a new player this will upset the scheme of things. He was there during Van Gaal's period as youth trainer(sorry to say) as well as Co Adriaanse, both coaches are blamed by Johan Cruyff for ruining the Ajax youth academy system.(this has led to the current problems with Ajax that Cruyff to solve before he died)These two coaches, were too dogmatic, too structural, both were educators(school teachers) who like control no individuality. Both are good coaches but not good youth coaches,and certainly should NEVER have been the technical director for youth development.

  6. frank schoon, September 16, 2017 at 12:02 p.m.

    Good interview but the most important, glaring TIP, one should pick up from this interview is his statement> I see a lot of these coaches back at home saying, “It has to be two-touch, it has to be two-touch” — and as a consequence we don’t have a whole lot of Arjen Robbens anymore."> This why today we lack
    great or many individualists on the ball as we use to see in soccer. There are SO FEW good one on one players, and when there is one ,they stand out like a sore thumb. And WHO can you blame for this diminution of individual talent ? DUH, you guess it , these IDIOT licensed COACHES!
    That is why I keep harping on how the youth in the street soccer days learned to play and develop in their formative years without these NITWIT coaches. The youth during the formative years should not be encumbered by tactics,structure (as Cruyff states till about the age of 14)but allow them to experience so many different facets that have nothing to with the ball even. The kids ARE playing under a structure because they are playing with older kids as well and thus learning the ropes from them. Facets like learning to be tougher, learn the knocks of the game, that is learned without having some HELICOPTER parent around. In the street soccer days there were no parents or coaches , you had to fight your own battles thus making you tougher as a player. In this manner the weaker type kids, character wise dropped off, or those who lack the drive to want to become better began to weed themselves out.The formative years, is the time for the youth to gain skills, make mistakes, and learn to build CONFIDENCE WITH THE BALL UNDER PRESSURE. This process can all be done without some Idiot coach telling you "ONE-TOUCH IT!, PASS IT!, DON'T DRIBBLE, MOVE OVER HERE!, GET RID OF THE BALL!" These types of idiot coaches that spew out this type of garbage should immediately be sent to a re-education camp in N.Korea. Coaches, who yell out this garbage like "one-touch, two-touch,etc." are usually not been themselves good technical players. They don't understand that one-touch or two touch or whatever is the most difficult to play. And there is nothing wrong with a youth one-touching the ball at times but on his own time and NOT FORCED to do it, for in the formative years it is more important the youth learns to hang on to the ball under pressure and once he has achieved then he can moves to a next stage like suggesting to him " in this situation you could have one-touched it" but that comes later. NEXT POST

  7. don Lamb replied, September 16, 2017 at 7:03 p.m.

    I do agree that we don't see the amount of dribbling that used to go on in the game. However, I would argue that players these days are more technically advanced than they ever have been. The decrease in dribbling has to do with two things, in my opinion. 1. Defenders are much more athletic and better than they used to be. 2. Zonal defending tactics make it much harder to dribble through defenses. As for tactics with young players, I agree that you should not take away from their creativity and dribbling instincts, but tactics can enhance these opportunities because they can help with things like spacing and timing.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, September 17, 2017 at 5:15 p.m.

    Don, the problem as I see it is that today conventional wisdom wants U-Little games to look like adult games. 2-touch combination passing and no dribbling. You cannot develop players who can play the adult game well by having them play the adult game as kids. How can you learn to beat 2 defenders on the dribble without taking on 2 defenders on the dribble. How can a figure skater learn to do a triple jump without trying a triple jump. They say that figure skaters fall thousands of times before perfecting the triple. Is winning more important than learning? Is looking like an adult match more important than learning?

  9. don Lamb replied, September 17, 2017 at 9:07 p.m.

    I hear ya, Bob, but teaching tactics to U10 players (which is where I start [and only during weekends then, not during training] -- only principles at U8) does not equate to prioritizing winning over development. Teaching tactics does not equate to overcoaching and discouraging players from dribbling. Tactical awareness does not mean that everything is one or two-touch. Let the kids play. Encourage them to dribble. To take risks. To try different things. That doesn't mean we just let them run free all over the place with complete disregard for the team game.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, September 18, 2017 at 7:53 a.m.

    Don, there is tactics and there is tactics. I am old school--three kinds of tactics: individual, group, and team. U8 is working in pairs (individual tactics). U10-12 is working in small groups (group tactics). U14 is team tactics (11v11). I equate below U14 with teaching the general principles of play. I equate U14 with the start of teaching systems and positions within a system (functional training). That is soccer age of course. What bothers me is jumping elite U12 players to a U14 curriculum. It shorts them 2 years of concentrated training on fundamentals including ball skills. If players actually mastered the ball early, then that would be cool, but I don't think that every elite U12 player has mastered ball skills at the U14 level. These are just words. What it all comes down to is what the trainer actually does. I am just as sure that there are clubs that do it right as I am that there are clubs that are using some of their "elite" teams as cash cows. Sorry to be so long winded, but I think we actually see the same problems and was trying to demonstrate it.

  11. frank schoon replied, September 18, 2017 at 9:52 a.m.

    Bob, AMEN

  12. don Lamb replied, September 18, 2017 at 1:25 p.m.

    Thanks, Bob. I agree with your premise. I just want to emphasize, like you have as well, that tactics are important at young ages. The complexity of the tactics need to take two things into account: appropriateness for the age and development stage of the players, and how transitive they are to higher levels of the game. None of this should imply that players are discouraged from dribbling, being creative, taking chances, and being an individual.

  13. frank schoon, September 16, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

    Realize, that when you place restrictions or encumber the youth you benignly restrict a youth's ability to develop further. For example, a youth, a future Arjen Robben, who has the genes to be a good one on one player later on in his development, will not be served well during his formative years by yelling "one-touch,blah, blah ,blah" or some other forms of restrictions that will impede his growth as a one on one talent. It is that simple! These licensed youth coaches watch the pros one-touch ,be efficient in their movement of the ball and as a result want to apply this to the kids, who aren't even developed, mentally, technically,and tactically, or whatever, you name it. With the youth, It is not about EFFICIENCY but LEARNING and DEVELOPING and that has NOTHING to do with playing good soccer,during the formative years of their development. Another thing these types of coaches should realize is that the players who have the greatest touch on the ball are Brazilians and guess what? They grew up developing loving the ball, dribbling,experiencing the ball,and not getting rid of it. Through this they gained and developed such great touch on the ball to be able to play one-touch like it is attached to a string.
    Furthermore, one-touch style soccer has nothing to do with one-touching as much as it is about proper POSITIONING off the ball, which proper FOOT to pass to, the type of speed of the ball and who the player is receiving the ball. So when a coach yells play one-touch or some other ridiculous statement, tells me already he really hasn't looked or perhaps understand all the other factors that I've just mentioned involved. One touch soccer ,let us say, is much easier than 3 touch, for in the latter the player needs to hold on to the ball, he has to look ahead of time where is going to go, he can't receive the ball standing in case of an opponent near him,shield the ball on the move , move with the ball in order not to lose it and pass while on the move and most importantly he is forced to always look up. I would recommend this exercise for coaches who want to see a fast game for that takes a lot more "soccer ability" than one-touch.
    Cruyff employed this exercise with the Barcelona "Dream Team" and I use it with the youth teams.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, September 17, 2017 at 5:20 p.m.

    Ironically, in drills I used to instruct youth players to "two touch," but it was a minimum of 2, not a maximum. (I wanted them to practice control with the first touch, which they don't get with 1 touch.)

  15. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2017 at 5:58 p.m.

    Bob , I know you have the real young ones but if you a team age at 11 you can do this drill. They must touch the ball 3 times before can pass it off.in other words, they can't pass if of until the third touch but not before. It is a good way to study and see how they react to it. Also, a good exercise is to split the teams in 2 parts and make the teams passes the ball 21 times (not in a row of course ,LOL) wins. In other words the team that has the ball tries to make passes as many as possible before they lose it to the other teams who tries make 21 passes . This way you the kids learn to look and pass and your not telling them how to pass but the kids realize in order to get a point for the team you need to give a pass.

  16. Right Winger replied, September 17, 2017 at 9:32 p.m.

    Frank I would hope coach being featured here reads the first paragraph of your comment about restrictions being placed on players and how it can restrict their development. I hope!

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, September 18, 2017 at 8:03 a.m.

    Fanfor, van der Bergh said the same thing as Frank in the interview (he called it over-coach"). But he is not the coach developing the players. He has some potential for making an impact, but not the contact time with the players to do much more than test, evaluate and provide some feedback. He cannot undo what has happened for the previous 5 or so years.

  18. frank schoon replied, September 18, 2017 at 9:12 a.m.

    Bob, Van der Bergh, would be someone that could run as a technical director for a soccer association where he can direct the coaches what is really importan..As far as being U15 coach is nice but it is wasted on him for he can do more good in another way....

  19. Right Winger, September 18, 2017 at 12:34 p.m.

    Bob I know exactly what he said. I was always told to practice what you preach and I will leave it at that.

  20. Right Winger, September 18, 2017 at 4 p.m.

    The best all around club soccer programs are in Maryland, Chicago, St. Louis and California. These are the areas where kids learn the game and how it should be played and then if they have the potential they are developed. Just to clear one thing up about California. There are few good clubs in California and I am not talking about the Galaxy.

  21. Nick Daverese, September 19, 2017 at 6:27 p.m.

    When you have a real good team you can play two touch for the first two thirds of the field. But as you get closer to the opponents goal where time and space are limited. That two touch philosophy goes right out the window and you start to see the bad one touch shots. But if you can get them to touch touch in the final third. Then you have a team of compentant players. Like you get an on the ground pass from the goal line and try to one touch it the ball could sky on you. But take that pass and touch it in the direction of the goal first then shot your scoring percentage will go way up.

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