Commentary

What is next for USMNT?

Since the announcement of Gregg Berhalter as the new head coach -- or as he likes to call himself manager -- of the USMNT, there had been hype in the media. There were numerous articles about the appointment. Some criticized both the selection process and the choice, and some discussed whether the possession game he plans on imposing on the MNT is feasible or not.

I do not know Gregg Berhalter personally. I have not watched too many Crew games to come out with a conclusion, so what I can say about the appointment will be general in nature.

Contrary to some thoughts, I believe U.S. Soccer followed the correct procedure to select a head coach. They chose one from our soccer landscape. Of the 12 semifinalist of the last three World Cups only one of them (Belgium 2018) had a foreign coach. Coaching a club team and a national team require different skill sets. Looking for USMNT head coach from the USA soccer landscape and who has national team experience limits your choice to only a few. Those few have already been tried. Unfortunately, our coaches do not have measurable international experience or success. So the selection of Berhalter from our soccer landscape was a correct decision.

Choosing a coach that has imposed a playing style to his team was also a correct criterion. Whether he will impose that same style or whether the style he imposes will be successful is yet to be seen. The key element is whether our development system develops players to the style he wants to implement: In his words: “an attacking-based team that wants to create goal-scoring opportunities by disorganizing the opponent." He wants to implement a possession game making the field larger for the opponents so that he can utilize the athleticism of our players. 

We will live and see whether he is successful. The key point is what is the metric for our MNT to be successful? In my book going to the World Cup 2022 is not a success metric. On the other hand not qualifying from Concacaf is definitely a failure metric. We have two tools which can be used as a success metric: Our performance in the World Cups and the FIFA rankings. 

I personally think that -- although not perfect -- FIFA rankings is a better metric. I believe success in the World Cups is to some extend cyclical and a bit luck oriented. For example Turkey and South Korea played the semifinal in 2002. Since then Turkey never qualified for the World Cups and South Korea’s best performance since then was 15th in 2010 World Cup. Neither MNT had a sustainable success story. Turkey had a very good generation of players based on a change in developmental mentality/infrastructure and South Korea had the help of “poor” refereeing and playing at home for their semifinal appearance in 2002.

Currently there are 14 teams from UEFA, five teams from ConmebolL and one from Concacaf (Mexico) in the top 20 rankings. (Currently USMNT is ranked 25th.)

There are two categories of countries in the top 20. Those who “organically” develop players and export them to Europe for further development and those who nourish and further develop “organically” developed players. There are two interesting countries in the top ten: Belgium and Switzerland. Both belong to the second category.

Belgium is currently ranked number one but on the average is 29th since 1993.

It is obvious that since 2009 they have redesigned their system so that they are ranked number one today.

Switzerland is ranked 8th but on the average 30th since 1993. They have recently beaten Belgium 5-2 in UEFA Nations Cup.

You can see a similar pattern to Belgium from 2007 and upwards. Both countries have an abundance of “organically” developed immigrant players. Both have changed their development programs. 

In the first category there are two countries that is worth mentioning that won the World Cup several times. Brazil (ranked 3rd currently) and Argentina (ranked 11th currently)

Both countries develop players naturally and export them to European teams/leagues to polish their talents.

You can compare the “organic” player development of those two countries to USA for basketball player development.

Brazil:

Argentina: 

Brazil’s average ranking is also third, making it the most successful soccer country ever. Argentina’s average ranking is 5th. Both countries show a gradual dip in the last decade.

Now let us have a look at the USAMNT. Our MNT is ranked 20th on the average.

USA:

There is no real pattern to our ranking. We seem to be keeping a mediocrity level. Currently we are below our average ranking.

Our goal should be to be at the top 10 ranking at all times. Our MNT cannot dominate men’s soccer like our WNT does in the foreseeable future. We have to be realistic. We should be in the second category of countries. We have to nourish and further develop “organically” developed players. Since we are lacking soccer culture at this time, we have to rely on our immigrants – like the developed countries in Europe – who has a soccer culture for “organically” developed players. Like all the European countries that have shown a big and steady jump in rankings in the last two decades (Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, England), we must redefine our soccer development policies -- policies that include youth, coaching and refereeing development -- that work in harmony. The other option is to wait for us to become a country of the first category: A country that naturally develops players like in basketball. If and when we reach that stage than U.S. Soccer can act like USA Basketball; just picking up the USNT players and appoint coaches. I am not sure how long that might take, but right now US Soccer has no other option but to redefine all its soccer development policies like the countries in Europe that have shown a steady jump in FIFA rankings.  Carlos Cordeiro recently said in a letter to the US Soccer constituents that “… we also convened a special session to examine the Federation’s overall strategy for the coming years as we pursue our mission as making soccer the preeminent sport in America. We did so because the years leading up to the World Cup in 2026 give us an incredible runway for to grow the game in our country at all levels.”

I am personally and enthusiastically waiting to see the Strategic Plan for Soccer Development. 

Even though the appointment of Gregg Berhalter was a correct and necessary step towards our goal of becoming a MNT at the top 10 ranking but it is not a sufficient one. As I have written in one of my earlier articles: “The coaches are an important part of the professional game, but their successes clearly depend on the quality of the team players. The over-achieving coaches can sometimes do miracles but there are limits to that. Their successes will be cyclical but not sustainable. For sustainable success stories, you both need good coaches and good scouting/development systems to find (and develop) the best players available. “ Good luck, Gregg Berhalter.

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.

11 comments about "What is next for USMNT?".
  1. Bob Ashpole, December 6, 2018 at 6:46 p.m.

    My thinking is that USSF organized soccer does a poor job of developing players when looking at the entire athlete development process.

    What has changed is that USSF and affiliated organized soccer generally has exerted more control over player development and that has negative consequences, especially given how insular the USSF talent identification, selection and development programs are.

    If you question my point, ask yourself what percentage of pre-teen players have access to quality coaching and sufficient training and playing opportunities to reach their full potential as players.


     

  2. humble 1, December 7, 2018 at 10:42 a.m.

    Hello Ahmet, another thoughtful peice with a novel perspective on MNT.  Key to moving up the average for the USA MNT is getting a handle on U19-U23 - this is where we fall flat on our face.  Youth development does OK - look at results recently with the YNTs - lead by Tab Ramos.  To put this in perspective - have a look at what Tab's native Uruguay did - after WC2014 - to develop an entirely new mid-field.  You saw Torreira, Betancur and Nandez probabl for the first time in WC 2018 - I watched them all since 2014.  Now we all you see Torero at Arsenal, Betancur at Juve, and you will see Nandez at Boca this weekend.  How does AUF help these youngers from U19 to U23?  They makes sure they are at clubs that will nurture them and give them playing time.  They don't go for top dollar or big names - they go for coaches and playing time.  This does not describe MLS for Americans, nor USL for that matter - listen the the recent interview with Tab Ramos by Charlie and Neil on SiriusXM FC for exactly why.  Here the USSF is not involved enought in nurturing our young men.  This is an area where the womens template does not fit the mens.  Brazilians and Argentines are experts at this as well, however, Uruguay has the grand master - el maestro as he is called locally - Oscar Taberez - and it is poetry to watch.  Watching our young men get hung to dry by big clubs is like listening to a broken record.  Miazga to Chelsea, now Zack Steffan to Man City - they never get on first time - and they give up the 'choice' of where to play to the big monster club.  Uruguayan's do not do this - they never give up the right to choose where their young men play - this is not by chance - this is by design and effort.  I think Berhalter will have a positive impact on this area, as he indicates he expects players to be playing where ever they are - to be conisdered for MNT.  Thanks a mil!  

  3. frank schoon replied, December 7, 2018 at 11:12 a.m.

    Humble, we can talk all about coaches, organizations but when you begin to compare and bring into the mix the countries you mentioned there is one glaring, BIG difference, we don't have a culture of PICKUP soccer.
    I like someone to do a study on  how much the South Americans spend  time playing PICKUP soccer on the side.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, December 7, 2018 at 2:38 p.m.

    Good point, humble 1. While playing in Europe may be attractive for individuals, for our nation to progress we need domestic professional clubs and competitions where young US players have an opportunity to develop. Other countries like Germany and Mexico require their clubs to use minimum numbers of domestic players. Otherwise you end up like the EPL with few domestic players.

    Frank, it would not bother me if the youngest kids were not playing much pickup soccer because they were playing other sports. That, however, is not the case. It isn't just a question of developing future elite senior athletes. Regardless of the state of a child's athletic development, activities not only shape a child physically, but socially, emotionally and mentally as well.

  5. frank schoon replied, December 7, 2018 at 4:55 p.m.

    Bob, it is good for kids to play other sports, for example, Cruyff was an excellent baseball player and played catcher. It is good to have your body use other muscles growing up as a kid. Pickup soccer was always there as a steady meal or a fill in exercise especially if you were playing another sport because of a break in soccer. What pickup soccer did was to make soccer touch and movement become a natural part your body movements , becoming part of you, the ball and touch becoming second nature, which you don't get by strictly learning via club ball participation. 
    And this is why we produce 'stiffs' for players here who don't have that extra sense touch and movement on the ball...

  6. frank schoon, December 7, 2018 at 10:44 a.m.

    Ahmet, there should be 3 categories- European countries who send their players to further develop to other, better European soccer countries...That is where you would place Belgium and Switzerland, Holland, etc.
    Belgium is not known for developing great players, not by a long shot. Belgium just happen to have a current good crop of players, like Hazard, and Kevin DeBruyn. Belgium is not known for developing players ,unlike Holland/Ajax. Many Belgium players over the past 2decades played for Ajax.
    Belgium's mentality, development program, although improved, their style of play  and culture has never really produced great players 

  7. Ahmet Guvener replied, December 7, 2018 at 12:13 p.m.

    Pickup soccer is what I call organic player development

  8. frank schoon replied, December 7, 2018 at 2:10 p.m.

    Ahmet, your style of writing would fit in perfectly to write an article ,since do you have a good handle on things,metrics, etc,  on how much, how imporant, "pickup' soccer influences the development of soccer players. It might take some time to do but your manner of writing would perhaps  open the eyes of those that need to know.
    You have a good handle on things and could ,as a result, be ground breaking........

  9. Farid Hadj-Hamou, December 7, 2018 at 5:43 p.m.

    Ahmet - you said it and it has been said before OUT LOUD:

    we must redefine our soccer development policies -- policies that include youth, coaching and refereeing development -- that work in harmony. 

    When will that happen, GOD KNOWS!!

  10. Right Winger replied, December 16, 2018 at 8:34 p.m.

    Farid  we have been kicking this same ball for the last 10 years are more and it hasn’t hit the net yet.  US Soccer is so far off of realization of the real problem that it amazes me.

  11. Kent James, December 8, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.

    You have assessed the current (and potential future) of the national team pretty much exactly the way I have, but you provided evidence to back up your assessment.  Well done. 

    I do agree with Frank as to the importance of pickup, because it does a number of things that conventional training does not (at least, not very often).  It is generally low pressure (though being a new person trying to establish yourself in a game with a lot of already established players can create pressure), so you can be as creative as you want (and creativity is usually rewarded).  It also provides an outlet for demonstrating your love for the game (and socially, it supports soccer culture).  It allows you to see lots of different players and different styles of play.  It is fun, so you want to do it as often as you can (increasing your time on the ball), which is particularly good for young players who need more touches.  And for the young players, it usually allows them to test themselves against older, more experienced players, so they can learn a lot.

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