Schellas Hyndman: American soccer needs playmakers

Schellas Hyndman spent the first three decades of his coaching career in college soccer, a span that included 22 NCAA appearances with SMU in 24 seasons with the Mustangs, before a five-year stint at the helm of FC Dallas. He was named 2010 MLS Coach of the Year and his 64 wins are most by an FC Dallas coach in its 22-year history. He returned to the college game in 2015 as head coach of  Grand Canyon University of Phoenix, Arizona, where he steered the Lopes into NCAA Division I. Hyndman, 66, is a United Soccer Coaches Executive Committee member, a senior member of its coaching academy staff, and past president of what was previously known as the NSCAA.

Schellas Hyndman

SOCCER AMERICA: What do you think American soccer needs?

SCHELLAS HYNDMAN: I do feel we need to identify what we are about. I don’t think we have an identify of how the American soccer player should play or how we want him to play. We need to think about what the strengths of the American players are and how we envision ourselves to become a world power. What style should we play?

What style should we play?

I would love for us to find a style and stick with it and I have no intention to say what style.

How about a more Latin style? Or at least take more from the Latin style than we have been?

If it’s combination of a Latin style and a German style, for example, I think it can work as long as you ingrain that into your players.

How would you describe the style of the FC Dallas team you coached to the 2010 MLS Cup final, which played attractive soccer with a Latin flavor and, I think, was unlucky not to lift the title? That was the season when you were MLS Coach of the Year, you beat the LA Galaxy with David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Co., 3-0, in the Western Conference final.

That style was trying to identify who your playmaker was. Who’s going to be your key player? David Ferreira, who was the MVP of the league, was given the opportunity to instill his abilities onto the team’s success.

We had players who were also in their roles like Daniel Hernandez, who said, “David, you do what you need to do and I’ll take care of the defense and control the center of midfield.” We had other the players around him, whether it was Marvin Chavez, Jeff CunninghamGeorge John in the back. We didn’t have all the players we wanted but we developed a style of play.

2010 MLS Coach of the Year Schellas Hyndman

MLS championship teams have had a history of Latin-type playmakers. Dating back to the Marco Etcheverry days of the D.C. United or Columbus with Guillermo Barros Schelotto. More recently, Seattle Sounders (Nicolas Lodeiro), Portland (Diego Valeri) …

At some point, my own organization was coming to me and saying the No. 10 players are overrated. And I’m going, “What!?” In other words, the game was becoming much more athletic, more powerful.

But look at Argentine soccer. Their attackers aren’t big guys, but they’re crafty and quick. Teams that don’t have playmakers get their goals on set pieces or by a powerful physical presence. I think every team needs to have a playmaker.

Who did you like in MLS this season?

Atlanta United, what they’ve done in their first season, I was truly impressed with the quality of soccer they played. And their key attackers, they’re 5-foot-7, 5-8, 5-9. … I’m excited to see what they can do next year.

Toronto FC, when you think about how many years they got it wrong and no one could understand because they invested a heck of lot. Then Bill Manning [club president] came from Real Salt Lake … They hired coach Greg Vanney. They finished runner-up last season. … Sebastian Giovinco [5-foot-4] is in my opinion the best player in the league.

MLS progress in general?

I think it’s fantastic. It’s getting bigger and better. I think through the leadership of Don Garber and his staff it’s really seemed to have gotten things right. They had a plan and stuck to it. They introduced policies that were unique and productive.

For example, signing young Designated Players. That alone has brought some of the better younger players into our league. MLS is younger and better. … The expansion draft means a team coming in doesn’t have to start from the bottom. Working with [Professional Referee Organization] to improve the officiating.

What do miss coaching in the pros compared to college?

The excitement. The importance of every game. I miss the high-level players.

What don’t you miss?

The constant traveling. Not being around for key family events due to road games. My daughter in her senior year of high school told me it would be nice if I could be present at her high school graduation, pointing out that I hadn’t attended any of her other high school events. We had a two-game road trip, Colorado and the Galaxy. Fortunately, I was able to come home for her graduation right after the Colorado game and fly out right after her graduation for the LA game. That was a precious moment that I savor.

What did you miss about the college game when you were at FC Dallas?

I missed being with my colleagues who’d I’d been with for 31 years. Other coaches I’d been with throughout the country, trying to find ways to make our college game better. I served on a lot of different committees to improve the college game. I really missed the college environment. The energy.

One of the things in college coaching is you get a chance to work with a player for four years. From his freshman year when he’s got big dreams and he’s all excited for the first time away from home and his college education — and sometimes it’s not easy for him. Four years later you’re looking at that young man you’ve had an influence on, hopefully in positive way, who’s going out in the community. I’m excited to be back for those reasons.

What’s different about college soccer since you returned?

Universities are so much more supportive. The support I’m getting here at Grand Canyon University is kind of mind-blowing compared to being at SMU for 24 years. We were a very strong team at SMU but we had lower attendance. I had to go out and raise money to put in a new field and those type of things.

At Grand Canyon, we have President named Brian Mueller. When I arrived, he spent two and a half hours talking to me. I think in the 31 previous years of college coaching I had less than an hour with all the presidents altogether.

What else is different about the college game?

When I left in 2007 I thought the college players were quite good and the coaches did a good job developing players. What I’m noticing now is that the colleges finding success are getting a lot more international players.

That’s a reaction to the better players going to MLS or going abroad. When you take that level of player, which is a very high level, out of the college game, the next level is forced to step up and replicate that standard.

Having been a leader among college coaches for decades — an era in which there was limited success in getting the NCAA to agree to changes that might be better for player development — how do you feel about the current quest to convince the NCAA to expand the season over two semesters?

I started collegiate soccer in 1976. I think we’ve come a long long way since then on what it means for the colleges to have a soccer team. And the NCAA office is more receptive to listening to ideas on how it can improve one of its sports. I think [Maryland coach] Sasho Cirovski and his committee are doing great work and we’re closer than ever. We just need to get everybody on board. Spreading out the season would increase class time and would be better for the student-athlete. ... In the current format, you pick up a hamstring injury and you could miss half the season.

Now that you’ve been coaching in Phoenix for three years, what you think about its prospects for an MLS franchise?

It’s a very ambitious city. It’s a big city. They’re hungry for a professional team. There’s a lot of good youth soccer. There’s great enthusiasm here. I think the money’s here.

What went wrong with the U.S. national team?

I was fortunate to go to 1994 World Cup because I had friends on the team and I watched that team up-close. There was something, there was some kind of passion. Some type of get-the-job-done urgency. Something intangible. ... I watched Bruce Arena when he coached the USA to the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup. The team got so close to reaching the semifinals. That team also had that intangible.

Maybe this time, because Bruce Arena took over in the middle of qualification, he wasn’t able to nurture whatever that intangible is.

The players?

Christian Pulisic [19 years old] already looks like he could be the best to ever play for the U.S. national team. We have some really good young players coming up. Will they step up?

23 comments about "Schellas Hyndman: American soccer needs playmakers".
  1. Ben Myers, November 16, 2017 at 5:17 p.m.

    The facts that the best MLS playmakers have almost always been foreigners and that major college soccer powers are relying upon recruitment of international players tells us all that the US non-system used to develop youth players is letting down the USMNT by failing to identify and develop playmaker candidates at younger ages.  Ditto for out-and-out strikers.  And then we have to wonder why the USMNT failed to qualify for Russia 2018?  Isn't it obvious to anyone else?

    And, by the way, in case anybody is wondering, Michael Bradley is not a playmaker.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, November 17, 2017 at 12:05 a.m.

    Couldn't agree with you more Ben. The players (10's and strikers) are available it's the coaches that have botched it. I'm running out of patience and life years with the eurocentric deference thats permeated our countries view of soccer and layed to waste the technical player. 

  3. R2 Dad, November 16, 2017 at 6:15 p.m.

    US Soccer national team coaches disagree; they don't need a 10. The only playmaker they can handle is a 6. Their small brains will explode if we use a 10. Look where Tab played Gedion Zelalem at the U20 world cup; as a result, he got the snot kicked out of him and has been out 6 months. Now, if our outside backs actually knew how to beat opponents 1v1 they wouldn't have needed a ball-handler in our defensive half to get the ball into the attacking half.

  4. Marc Vermette replied, November 16, 2017 at 7:09 p.m.

    Shouldn’t the available players dictate the style vs the style dictating to the players how to play?

    This dinosaur way of thinking needs to change.

    p.s. Michael Bradley should have been phased out in 2011...

  5. R2 Dad replied, November 16, 2017 at 9:24 p.m.

    Dinosaur way of thinking? You're taking the Rec coach's argument, that they should have the leeway to use whatever formation they want depending on the quality/abilities of the players. What about the late-blooming #10 who needs to play the position, vs the coach that wants the "strongest lineup". I puke in the general direction of every middleschool, highschool and college coach who uses that excuse for playing his "best athletes". Zelalem is a #10--there is no question in my mind that's where he should play. If the coach doesn't need a 10, don't bring him into camp--but then don't complain about the lack of creativity and quality of the final ball. Your arguement is why our country has never produced a real 10 in this country.

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 17, 2017 at 10:46 a.m.

    Totally right - the players should dictate the style, not some grand proclamation from on high that we shall have only one style and it shall be X style.  

    I also don't get the fuss with Zelalem.  He hasn't shown much yet and he happened to get hurt in the U20 world cup.  Somehow that is Tab's fault?  Or the fault of the USSF?  Players get hurt.

  7. Nick Daverese, November 16, 2017 at 8:27 p.m.

    I agree with the author on finding playmakers

    here is an old post I made on finding playmakers.

    ”What I do with new mids as far as really looking at them when they go to their first practice with our team. I want to see what kind of brain they have. What kind of memory they have and how fast it works and turns what they see into action. To do this well also takes skill especially under pressure on the players part, and we put them under pressure. 

    I want to see how long it takes for that mid to recognize a team mate, and to make good passes to team mates after it. Do they have to look longer before they pass or can they see, recognize what they are looking at and perform an action fast. 

    So when we break up the team to play against each other at the end of the practice. I will have him take a good look at the guys on his team.
    Then we play no bibs. So he has to have a pretty good memory in general to distinguish between team mates and the opponents. To do that he also has to get his head up and see their faces. There is a lot of pressure on the new player. Passes to the wrong player continues with the opponents on the attack. I will just say wrong player and we continue play. 

    Then I see how many passes he makes to his team mates and how fast he does it? It is also under pressure that the ball brings. 

    Then besides that I make coaching points in general. Then see if he is actually listing to those points. That tells me he is coachable. 

    (In youth soccer at tryouts some coaches just want to see them play. I want to see them play as well, but I try to make coaching points because I want to see if they can listen and learn from those coaching points while they are playing.) 

    You can only do this with very good players. That's what I am looking for very good players and make them better players. I know they are good to begin with because I have seen them play before they ever got to the teams first practice, but this tells me just how really good they actually are”

  8. Nick Daverese, November 16, 2017 at 8:35 p.m.

    The windscreen wiper according to FIFA they came out with this in 2004. I don’t agree with this.

    windscreen wiper" - is a libero in midfield who stationed himself in front of the defensive block and took action to stop opposing attacks. This role is becoming more and more important in footballing tactics. 

    On the other hand the typical playmaker is no longer part of the scene. His duties have been spread around, with the "windscreen wiper" carrying the main defensive responsibility and the midfielder playing just behind the strikers being the main point of attack. 

    The flank midfielders link in pairs with the outer backs and complement each other both in defence and in attack.

  9. Ray Lindenberg , November 16, 2017 at 9:36 p.m.

    Got it. American Soccer needs playmakers. No mystery there. But reaching that point on the pyramid requires a much. much stronger foundation than what we have now. Greater playmakers follows generally greater and more talented players, coaching and compeition ... which follows a much more solid organized system, vision and commitment than the collective flimsy mush that we got going, which amounts to mirroring and settling for what the world accepts as chop-chop kickball passing for soccer, as its catnip. 

    The T&T experience that left American 'soccer' shellshocked was a gift, not a fiasco, as long as we put on our big-boy pants, grit our teeth, and promise ourselves never to settle for a shoddy facsimile of the crap that passes these days for international soccer. We're better than that. We did it and rose to the top of the heap in ice hockey, gymnastics and women's soccer. When we analyze rigorously, challenge ourselves properly, and apply our American Exceptionalism stripes, coupled with our incredible resources and sporting prowess, we produce darn good results.

    To make lemonade out of these lemons we've been harvesting for the past half-century, and produce pure, true soccer that would be the admiration of the dazzled kickballing world, we have to dig deep and start from scratch, with a whole, new, disruptive paradigm that eschews the mindless staccato kickball that defines the crap we see on cable channels. 

    Sometimes you need a good boot in the bum, and you need to go two steps back to go four steps forward. The pure-playmaking American Pirlos, Toures, Valderramas, Elnenys, and Mottas will sprout once we have the right philosophy, resolve and sytems in place from from the ground up. 

    Before we can fantsize about better American Playmakers, we first need to come together to be clear and committed to what great American, true, pure Soccer is, backed by visonary leaders and coaches who are not afraid to break from the hand-me-down tradition that we've been spinning our wheels on, seemingly forever.

    Thank you Soca Boys for jumpstarting the first true American Soccer journey, with that exclamation point to our CONCACAF tourney misadventures. Before worrying about American Playmakers, we need to find ourselves and sea legs as a true, American, audacious, 'Soccer' playing naton, that is second to none.


  10. Nick Daverese, November 16, 2017 at 9:50 p.m.

    Manchester United’s Paul Scholes was always a pleasure to watch play.

  11. Bob Ashpole, November 16, 2017 at 11:15 p.m.

    In my mind, playmaker is just another name for midfielder. I don't believe teams should have "a" playmaker; they should have several. Having all the attacks go through the same player makes the attack predictable.

    Sure the classic Argetinian 352 has a playmaker in the center. Now think about how Barcelona played 10 years ago. I described it as playing with 4 playmakers.

    I don't think we need to start from scratch. I think a US style of play has been developing at the grass roots level of Adult Soccer over the last 20 years. We should keep the best aspects of the US game--outstanding physical abilites and mental toughness. To that we add the classic Dutch Style principles of Cruyff and others, and we add Spanish style movement off the ball in the classic Barca way. In my view USSF just needs to push our game in a direction it is already headed.

    The predominantly Hispanic teams I have seen over the years became more energentic off the ball and incorporated longer runs and longer passes into their style of play. I think Barca on TV had a great deal to do with this. But also I give credit to Hispanic players on ethnically diverse teams finding a way to adjust their play and make it work. Generally speaking I have seen other teams depend more on good technical play and short quick movements and less on long sprints. This is at least in part a result of players from different backgrounds playing together rather than some concerted plan. 

    Because I think certain "buzz words" have been too often misused, I am intentially not using them here. I am not saying we should clone another country's style of play or replicate a style of play from the past. What I am saying is that we should develop our American version of what will be the modern game in the next decade.   

  12. Marc Vermette, November 17, 2017 at 6:12 a.m.

    Perhaps I was not clear in my “dinosaur” comment.

    That was regarding defining an “American style” and had nothing to do with a number 10.

    Styles need to be dynamic, not static, based on personnel, opponent, location.

    Rec league? No.

  13. frank schoon, November 17, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

    First of all we need to choose a certain style of play, for currently we have  a smorgasborg. Choosing a style of play has direct effect upon the technical training, as well tactical, with a specific focus on certain positions. For example, do we play an attacking style employing wingers,  or defending style, with counterattacking ; do we buildup an attack from the back ,do we a play possession style ,or long ball type of attack, do we defend forwards or backwards,etc.. If we choose an attacking style employing wingers , then consider what licensed coaches can actually demonstrate wing play,  teach crossing the ball, placing it head high , waist high, spooning(curving away from the goalie) or slicing (curving towards goal); or crossing the ball around a defender on the run or standing still employing either the instep or inside of foot. Today crosses are lousy, many end up behind the goal or end up in the parking lot. One reason for the lousy crosses is that most are executed by overlapping upcoming backs whose position ,itself, does not lend to good crossing. They run down the field and give it a whack and that is your typical cross.The winger's job description, demands good crosses as well as good one on one skills. How many coaches can actually demonstrate these abilities. Even if your a licensed coach this is no guarantee that you can teach this for it's not taught at the USSF coaching school when getting a license.  And what is not more important when dealing with developing youth other than is the ability of DEMONSTRATING the various necessary skills for how else is a youth to learn. Let's take the #10 position , the controller,distributor at midfield, of some think more than one . Before we can talk about the #10 position playmaker, lets first ask how many licensed coaches can actually teach the real 'insights' of this position, who really feels qualified in teaching the necessary tools of this position. Again , you won't get from your USSF coaching school when going for a license. See Next Post.

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 17, 2017 at 10:47 a.m.

    A one size fits all style of play for a nation as large and diverse as ours makes no sense.

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, November 17, 2017 at 4:01 p.m.

    FPGN, Frank is not promoting a style so much as he is promoting the good soccer that comes from mastering the fundamentals.

    Frank, rather than discuss complicated, complex theoretical issues at the pyramid, I will make 1 simple, uncomplicated point about grassroots soccer: Why are we still developing 1-footed players? Everybody, I mean everybody, should understand the value in developing ball skills with both feet. You don't need to be a former international star player to understand it. (It makes a player tactically faster and more unpredictable.) 

    We are not even doing the obvious things in development right. 


  16. frank schoon replied, November 17, 2017 at 4:14 p.m.

    Bob, another reason why this pay to play is a joke. Parents that spend this much money for the kids in the DA program should have their kids after 8years be able to use both feet, in dribbling, passing, receiving and shooting a ball with EITHER FOOT. These are fundamentals that every KID coming out of the DA program should have, but don't.., Go Figure

  17. frank schoon, November 17, 2017 at 10:57 a.m.

    The point I'm making is that we don't have a structure, a map, a history, to follow . It means new coaching procedures, tactical, technical and new traininig procedures to be taught at the USSF that reflects the style we choose to play.  Then you have to ask yourself who at the USSF coaching school has the current know-how and ability the thoroughly cover the new focus. In other words there is a lot of work that goes into all of this and therefore it's so important that the new president needs to bring a lot of attention to the technical side of things. I would suggest if we choose to play with a playmaker(s) then hire former greats like a Valderama, a Pirlo,and others bringing in their knowledge and abilities  to help us in creating training procedures. Or like in the Wing position bring in former greats who have played that position who can teach the insights necessary. 
    The question of Latin or European style is so simplistic. Look at Barcelona, they play good soccer, that's what it is all about. Barcelona doesn't play English style nor German style, nor Italian style, nor do they play Argentinian or Brazilian style. The important thing is to be to handle a ball under pressure, position off the ball properly to make the ball move faster, pass the ball with accurate velocity to the proper foot, create numerical superiority, accurate ball placement...these are some of aspect in order to play good has nothing to do with playingEuropean or Latin or Martian style.... 

  18. Allan Lindh, November 17, 2017 at 4:58 p.m.

    Fine interview from a fine man.  The strength of soccer we have today in this country is thanks to men like him dedicating their lives to the game.  Sure we'll all like US soccer to be better, but our soccer culture is growing, and it will take many generations.

    As to playmakers, people always talk as if it is just technical ability.  In reality, first comes vision, ability to process where the people are on the field around you, and have that as the background of decision making.  Next comes brains, ability to digest and create.  Technical ability on the ball is a clear third, along with speed.

    And we have a playmaker, best we've ever had.  And he's only 19.  Has all four of the qualities mentioned above, and with his intessligence and curiosity, will continue to improve for a long time.  And he can strike the ball.  Doesn't matter what number he wears, or where he is on the field.  So long as he is healthy, the ball will flow through him for the coming decade.

  19. frank schoon replied, November 17, 2017 at 6:19 p.m.

    Alan, if there is one player who doesn't fit the mold of a playmaker it is Pulisic. A playmaker is the Pirlo,  a Valderama or a Etchevery type, those are real playmakers. Pulisic can play a #10 who can play behind an attacker and can run into an open space made for him to run into as a secondary option or play on the side . Also historically he's never played that role to be groomed for and his DNA and manner of play has no connection of being a playmaker. He is much more functional  being send by a playmaker but being a playmaker , he certainly is not...

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, November 17, 2017 at 8:46 p.m.

    I understand your point Frank, but what does a playmaker look like at age 19?

    That is not a rhetorical question. I don't really know what Valderama or Etchevery looked like at 19. Is the process complete at 19? Doesn't some of the vision come with experience?

    I see Pulisic's best use as a winger or second striker, which I think is consistent with your thoughts. Forwards are just as important to a team as playmakers.  

  21. frank schoon replied, November 17, 2017 at 11:04 p.m.

    Bob, by the age of 19 although young, so to speak,  but by that time you should be able to sort of  know whether his playing qualities will be that of a defender of sorts like a center back, because of his abilities. A winger might even  be be put back to an attacking back or outside halfback. In other words the players on the flank  can play the different flank positions with not too much of a problem. If you are a winger it is even much easier to play the other flank positions  than vice versa. But the position of a playmaker is totally different for it takes a much different skill set and requires so much more in abilities to play it which makes that position not as fluid to change as on the flanks. Therefore the unique qualities required of a playmaker begins to form and crystallize at an earlier stage of development. This is why very, very few players on the team can fill the position of the play maker unlike the other positions. This is why a player by the age of 19 has to able to exhibit already those qualities. You won't see a player whose is 22 become a playmaker if he has never played that position, but he can easily play upcoming back if he has played wing all this time. Seeing Pulisic play he will never become a play maker and at 19 it is too late to learn that. Players like Pirlo was on his way being molded as playmaker long before he was 19.

  22. Paul Roby, November 18, 2017 at 2:05 p.m.

    Mike, thank you for asking all the questions I wanted answers to. I hope the NCAA can institute the full year schedule in time for my son, a HS junior now. As for laying waste to technical players in this country, to me that is not from a Eurocentric approach but from an Anglocentric one which favors big, athletic players who excel at set piece and kick and run soccer. Europeans play differently and I would love to see more Latin and European coaches in this country nurturing our playmakers.

  23. Wooden Ships replied, November 19, 2017 at 12:05 a.m.

    Paul, I agree with your distinction between Euro and Anglican in my earlier comment. I was trying to avoid going there directly, while thinking that for decades now, central and south american influences have largely been ignored. Maybe an ethnocentric bias would have been more accurate. Thanks for calling me on it.

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