Commentary

If I were the president of U.S. Soccer ...

“Fiddler on the Roof “is a musical based on the story of “Teyve and His Daughters “by Sholem Aleichem. Teyve is a poor Jewish milkman who has five daughters. “If I were a rich man” is a very famous show tune from this musical. Teyve in this song tells what he would do one day if he were rich.

I will tell you instead what I would have done “If I were the president of U.S. Soccer." Not that I intent to run for it but just to share my thoughts with the candidates -- if they care to read it -- on how to make U.S. Soccer one of the world’s best based on my years of international soccer experience. 

One thing is clear, the Sunil Gulati-Dan Flynn team has been exceptionally successful in raising the budget of U.S. Soccer. The income of U.S. Soccer has increased three times (324 %) in 10 years. (2006: $ 39,102,876 and 2016: $126,685,090). This is phenomenal.

Like any smart president would do, if I were the president, I would keep the organization (staff and projects) intact that succeeded this economic miracle. Without sustaining such an increase, you will not be able to take the correct developmental steps to make USMNT one of the best in the world. 

It is also a well-known fact that money does not necessarily bring happiness and in this case success in soccer.  I can quote the budgets of England and Turkish FAs and their corresponding MNT FIFA rankings and you will understand what I am talking about. 

For success, it is obvious that having a soccer culture in a country is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. A country that lives and dies with soccer like Italy did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Christian Pulisic, who is only 19, said in a Players Tribune article, “The path to the U.S. winning a World Cup -- it doesn't start with having 'more talent.' It starts with developing the talent that we already have, in the right way." He nailed it.

So if I were the President, I will concentrate on the development of soccer.

  1. If I were the President, the first thing I would do is to bring transparency to the Federation so the administration can be accountable. Right now when you Google you cannot find the number of registered players, licensed coaches and referees. May be it is somewhere hidden, but those numbers should be clearly visible on the website and real time online. Similarly one cannot access the Strategic Plan of U.S. Soccer. Without knowing the yearly strategic objectives of the Federation neither the AGM nor the public can measure their success or progress.
  2. If I were the President, I will ask my legal counselors to find a solution to the compensation fee and solidarity payment problem.  Reading a lot of articles about this dispute, I am inclined to think that such a solution exists in our legal system. This is a critical step in removing the pressure of pay-to-play system on our player development system. The same legal/financial solution should also give the option to youth development clubs whether they will choose the pay-to-play system or rely on future earnings from applying the FIFA statues. But not both. This choice could be on a player basis.
  3. If I were the President, I will restructure the youth development system. Break it into three categories: Recreational, Competitive and Elite. Although we do not know the exact number of registered youth players – millions for sure – we also know that quantity does not always yield to quality. We choose the MNT and WNT from a very small percentage of those registered players. That group is defined as the Elite group. U.S. Soccer should be directly responsible for the development of these Elite players. The Competitive and Recreational soccer and the associated leagues could be run by USYSA, US Club Soccer, AYSO and others as long as they abide with the Laws of the Game and Player Development Initiative.
  4. If I were the President, I will restructure the Developmental Academies (DA). DAs will represent the Elite player level. Right now, there are around 20,000 players under the DA umbrella. It should be expanded to cover more players and more geographical areas. The objective should be to reach 100,000 players or more. All DA players should play tuition free. The non MLS pay-to-play clubs will find ways to subsidize the DA players’ expenses. Especially with the new training compensation and solidarity payment system being applicable this will be an easier task. The DAs should be categorized into two: DAs could either be full-fledged (U12 through U19) (DA1) or U12 through U14 (DA2). The DA1 should be encouraged to have a number of DA2 as their pilot / feeder clubs. The non MLS/USL DA1s should be asked to affiliate themselves with an adult league (PDL, NPSL, Local Adult league etc.) so that players after the age of 18 who do not turn professional or go to College can still play competitive soccer under the same club. The standards for DA1 and DA2 should be slightly different. There should also be another level one can call Pre DA. This category is for smaller clubs with talented players and for clubs at disadvantaged locations. Through this level U.S. Soccer will be able to access geographical and demographical areas it couldn’t access in the past. Naturally the requirements and standards of Pre DA should be less stringent that the DAs. Once the Pre DAs reach the requirements and standards of DAs they could be promoted to DA status. U.S. Soccer should elevate its standards and quantity of the scouting staff in parallel with expansion of DAs and Pre DAs. U.S. Soccer should only scout the DAs and Pre DAs. The DAs and the Pre DAs can scout the Competitive leagues in their region to find talented players. In principle the DA and Pre DA umbrella should be covering all the “Elite” players of this country. In order to minimize traveling, the DA1s’ leagues could have a North and South time zone–range, the DA2s’ league could be more regional and Pre DAs leagues should at most cover one state (maybe 1-3 for northeastern states).
  5. If I were the President, I will develop an eight-year development plan applicable through the organizational structure outlined above.
  6. If I were the President, I will approach NCAA and try to convince them to have their leagues both in fall and spring semesters. Although colleges are not the only or main resource for our MNT and WNT, unlike other sports, still they are an integral part of our system. The development of the players in colleges should continue in spring semester with competitive games. 
  7. If I were the President, I will ask my staff to carry out a research with the help of universities to diagnose the reasons why underprivileged communities do not affiliate with U.S. Soccer. There is great talent in those communities. We can see the symptoms -- they stay away from U.S. Soccer -- but unless we diagnose the reasons we cannot cure the problem. Once the diagnosis is made then U.S. Soccer should find models of how to integrate these leagues and players into the system.  The premature diagnosis of accusing the pay-to-play system and the undocumented players do not reflect the whole reality; there are other reasons behind this dilemma. 
  8. If I were the President, I will work closely with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and support their mini-pitches project for the inner-city kids. I will also work closely with major cities so that they take the necessary actions to promote street soccer, especially in areas where the population predominantly consists of immigrants coming from countries with a soccer culture. 

I will continue on my thoughts about the leagues, coaching and refereeing in my next article. 

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, TX.

25 comments about "If I were the president of U.S. Soccer ...".
  1. Ben Myers, November 16, 2017 at 9:28 p.m.

    Not at all off the wall.  The next level down is how to select elite players and how to develop them into even more highly elite players.  My own thinking has long been that we under the USSF umbrella need serious attention to selection of players with speed and quickness of foot (not three-sized boys) with increased emphasis on finishing, orchestrating in the midfield, and patterns of play in the buildup. 

    Right now, that's where the strong disconnect is between the USMNT and the grass roots.  Guvener alludes to this somewhat in his prescription that USSF has to cull the talent from inner cities and disdvantaged areas.  (Somehow, basketball does not have this problem. 
    Wonder why?)

    The other issue Guvener does not address is high school soccer run by 50 mini-NCAAs, some of which have oddball rules (one timeout per coach per half, referee hand signals to indicate type of infraction.  Huh?).  To date, the USSF wants to siphon off the elite players from high school ball, channeling them into development academies.  But high school sports are a major part of school and community life, so the separate development academies create substantial friction with the world of high school.  This is not a good thing.

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 17, 2017 at 3:02 p.m.

    HS soccer is a waste for elite players.  This is one thing the DA currently has right.

  3. Scott Johnson replied, November 17, 2017 at 5:53 p.m.

    If soccer were more popular, and a far greater percentage of the population knew and cared about the sport, it probably wouldn't be a waste.  After all, HS basketball and football certainly aren't wastes; some high schools are noted powerhouses (despite the limitations of prep play).

    HS soccer is a problem that ought to be fixed, not a cursed thing that should be banished.  And a large part of the fix is the same as a large part of many other issues--soccer needs to matter more than it does.

  4. Ed M, November 16, 2017 at 10:23 p.m.

    The excess money USSF has is from competitions. Not so much credit should be given to the current President for that. What really bugs me is that the only area that people seem to think US Soccer is about is the National men's team. Most of the Federation is not about the men's team. There are many parts of US Soccer that go ignored and the effort and quality of those areas are lacking and make the entire Federation weak. Areas of player development, coaching education, Referee education and training, fitness, nutrition, a good National Training center, women's program and more. Only one candidate has been speaking in those terms. Nice to spend time talking about the MNT but that's a small part that needs fixing.
     

  5. Wooden Ships, November 16, 2017 at 11:38 p.m.

    Ahmet, I'm looking forward to your next submittance. After reading your first eight "If I were the President" actions, it is mammoth in scope and detail. I appreciate you tackling this monstrous project. Perhaps there are others out there that demonstrate your organizational thinking, if so, I've not come accross them. Ben and Ed above have touched on some issues as well, which reminds of how comprehensive the undertaking. You've eluded to recently, the world game or some US hybrid. I'm with you, we must align with the rest of the nations-FIFA. Our next President needs to have a soccer vision and international background, which then influences our National team manangers and style of play. Your number 7 above may seem cryptic to some, but it has been and continues to be an ethno-geo centrism, which is much about relinquishing-or not, power. 

  6. R2 Dad, November 17, 2017 at 12:31 a.m.

    All good ideas, Guv.

  7. Scott Johnson, November 17, 2017 at 4:16 a.m.

    I'd suggest four "tiers", arranged in a diamond.

    1) Rec--as it is now.
    2) I'd break classic soccer (generally the top 10% of players, give or take) into two parallel tracks (with easy movement between should kids change their goals or focus).
    2a) Competitive.  Classic clubs, with a focus on competition and winning.  Many kids aren't interested (or don't have the ability) to become a pro or college player, yet alone an international, but want to have fun, kick a$$, and take names, and want a better soccer experience than rec.  They go here.   Possibly multiple divisions ("gold", "silver", "bronze", etc.) within this group, as needed.
    2b) Development.  Like competitive, this tier is for higher-level players (teams will have tryouts, professional coaching, etc). but focuses more on skills development and training, less on winning.  The likely track for the elite level, though they may certainly come out of the competitive track as well.
    3) Elite.  As Guv proposes it, more or less.  Starts around age 12, serves the top 1% or so of players at that age group, and funnel narrows as kids get older.  Should be possible to join the elite track late in a game (no picking players at 11 and then only cutting thereafter).  Significant commitment required of players and families.  And yes, if you get here, training should be subsidized and training compensation apply.  (Other tiers can be pay-to-play if they want)..   Focused first on development (no "bootball" or similar tactics), but players are exposed to high levels of competition, especially as they get older.

  8. John Gordon, November 17, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.

    Ahmet, the transparency issue is super important and should reach down to the very bottom levels of soccer.  Appeals from individuals should be dealt with rapidly, with openess, and with great independance of those in the decision-reaching position..  One reason low income or ethnic communities shy away is because of the lack of transparency, the feeling that they are not the "customer" of the system, that they are not going to get fair treatment.

    Along with transparency also is the independence and professionalism of the referee corp who are the true guardians of the integrity of the game and the partners in its success.  The tendancy to want referees on the very young youth games, trivialises the role of a referee.  It develops the attitude of just throwing a body out there who stands around and points.  The laziness of leagues in using children to referee also trivializes the role of referees especially when the youth referees don't know the rules.  I have seen whole multi-field complexes where there were just a couple of adult referees and twenty or thirty kid referees. 

    Refereeing is such an important part of the formula in my opionion because strong consistent refereeing will lead to higher quality of play and emphasis on skill.  My two guides in the area of refereeing - "player safety" & "protect the skill and beauty of the game".

  9. Wooden Ships replied, November 17, 2017 at 12:11 p.m.

    Agreed.

  10. Scott Johnson replied, November 17, 2017 at 2:12 p.m.

    Agreed, but referees don't grow on trees.  I've seen too many instances of parents thinking that Howard Webb ought to be running their kid's U10 game.

    Having teenagers referee the games of younger children performs a vital service--it trains referees.  Just as players must be trained and taught, so should officials.  And whereas streetball is an important forum for training players, one of its essential features (its spontaniety) means it isn't a good forum to teach referees.

    A big problem with referees is there aren't enough of them.  If you want better referees, you need more referees, so there is less need to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

  11. Stephan Von lattorff, November 17, 2017 at 1:41 p.m.

    Making DAs free would be great, but clubs won't be able to pay for that with the (potential) money they might get from player compensation.  That's not a good business model.  It would be a good incentive and bonus, but to offer the DA program, with all it's costs in travel, A- and B-licensed coaches, video editing, etc. for free in the hope that they might get money back via player compensation is not realistic, at least not for most clubs.  It's the right approach, but most European academies or clubs get funding from the federation or the state for their youth program.  If the US Federation is so successful financially, why not spend part of that money fully fund those academies?

  12. Right Winger replied, November 17, 2017 at 2:02 p.m.

    Stephan, good points one thing I want would like touch on is the travel.  In my mind the travel is out of hand.  Traveling state to state to play games on the weekend is crazy in my mind.  Are you going to tell me that in the states of Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missour, California, Texas etc that club teams have to travel to far away states to play league games on the weekends.  Are you going to tell me that there is not enough competition within a 200 mile radius of clubs in place now that would enable players to develop.  Hoping on planes on the weekends traveling from Texas to Colorado or Kansas City is preposterous and the expense is out of sight for most.  Go to the DA schedules and take a look at some of the travel these teams do.  Its out of control in my mind and absolutely unnecessary and could be corrected with some involvement of the powers that be.  I honestly don't know how people can afford it.  If you have one kid maybe you can but if you have others its impossible.  That is one of the reasons so many potentially good players cant participate.

  13. Scott Johnson replied, November 17, 2017 at 2:15 p.m.

    Unless you are an "elite" team playing in an elite tournament, or are a team from e.g. Anchorage--getting on an airplane for a youth soccer game is generally a waste.  

  14. Right Winger, November 17, 2017 at 1:43 p.m.

    Interesting observation from Chritian Pulisic about development.  From the mouths of babes!  their have been so many potentially good talent pushed to the gutter by these younger national team coaches, u14,15,16 because they dont have the ability to identify talent unless they big strong and fast.  Being able to handle the ball and go one on one and create opportuities is secondary. it is a shame

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 17, 2017 at 3:05 p.m.

    That isn't what Pulisic said.  He criticized the deveoplement system during a player's teenage years (and I agree with his criticisms) but he didn't say anything about big, strong, fast kids being selected over more technical kids.

  16. Right Winger, November 17, 2017 at 3:20 p.m.

    I never said Pulisic said anything about strong, big and fast.  Those were my observations.

    My statement was "interesting observation from Christian Pulisic about development" From the mouths of babes!  Then I referenced my thoughts about big strong and fast.  I don't know how you got Pulisic into that.


  17. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 17, 2017 at 4:17 p.m.

    Seems like you were saying Pulisic said that.  I agree with his observations but I think the "big, strong, fast" thing is a little outdated in my view.  Pulisic's issues were that elite players are not challenged enough and that MLS teams don't give young players enuogh opportunities.  I agree with those criticisms 100%.  

  18. Right Winger, November 17, 2017 at 4:24 p.m.

    Fire Paul thats what I mean from the mouths of babes.  Concerning the failure of the national team coaches to identify technically adept players I stand by that one.  I have seen it with my own eyes at the U14,15 and 16 levels.  If a kid who is technically gifted attempts be creative whether win or lose the ball they are heavily criticised and scratched.  Go to any of these DA's and the big, strong and fast is prominent.  Now if big, strong, fast and technically adept is there I am all for it.

  19. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 18, 2017 at 9:34 a.m.

    Fair enough.

  20. Bob Ashpole, November 17, 2017 at 8:35 p.m.

    Ahmet, I don't agree with some of your views, especially about the USSF stovepipe approach to elite player development. It is too exclusive an approach, creating barriers to entry and putting the keys to the door in the hands of a few private clubs. I do, however, respect your opinions and experience. 

    For now I will defer. I wish I could grab you and some others and have a discussion over coffee or a beer. I am sure it would be very interesting and I would learn a lot. 

    Please keep writing. 

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 18, 2017 at 9:35 a.m.

    Totally agree Bob.  I always enjoy reading Ahmet's articles and your comments as well.  I learn a lot from both.

  22. David Whiteman, November 18, 2017 at 6:22 a.m.

    Point 7. "Why underprivileged communities do not affiliate with US Soccer". Our small club serves a local neighborhood with lots of immigrants. We are an intermediate club that strives to provide a decent soccer experience to the 95+% who are not headed to a DA, a national team or a pro career. There are a lot of underprivileged players in our local immigrant communities but it can be fericiously difficult to get kids rostered. We need an easier way to get foreign born players rostered to an US Soccer affiliated club! How about a two-tier approach to rostering. Lower tier for the 95% who are not-elite players and all it takes is proof of age. If a player moves up to elite status, fine, then they have to go through the full FIFA requirements for rostering. But to have ALL foreign born players meet those requirements for playing the lowest level travel ball is crazy and I think helps to reduce US Soccer affiliation in underprivileged communities. We had the experience a couple years ago of iterating documentation back and forth 13 times with the state association attempting to roster a foreign born player and still were unsuccessful in getting the player on a team. And this was to play in the lowest level travel league in our area. It needs to be easier to get the kids rostered when they start out.

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, November 18, 2017 at 1:19 p.m.

    I just discovered this problem. The crazy rule applies to all citizens born outside the country. Military and State Department families for instance. Our club loses potential players from military families because USSF investigates what the Federal government has already officially established. The rules just frustrate everyone at the community level.    

  24. Scott Johnson replied, November 18, 2017 at 5:44 p.m.

    The "international clearance" process is broken.  

    A question--then.  Does US Soccer have a particularly obnoxious interpretation of FIFA rules, or is this an issue worldwide?  Perhaps it affects the US more than other countries due to a larger immigrant population (my assumption is that FIFA treats the EU as a single "country" for this purpose, and it's no problem for a e.g a French child living in Calais to play for a Belgian club).  But even if a child has US citizenship, and even if it was acquired at birth (due to having an American parent), if the kid was born abroad, the process needs to be followed.

  25. Kevin Leahy, November 18, 2017 at 5:37 p.m.

    My belief is player identification can be as much of a problem as anything. Who is deciding the top 1 % of the players? Many of the players that end up on youth national teams in all countries never, end up with the men's team. We also need a vehicle for the players that develop later in life. Cristian Pulisic also talked about European players being able to move to other countries @ 16 but, not someone outside of Europe. Gifted players should be challenged from U-14 and older by allowing more freedom to play with and against older players. 

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