Mighty Close to Never: How often Latin soccer is discussed at the Coaches Convention

My visit to the 2023 Coaches Convention is quite likely, it seems to me, to be my last to this enjoyable get together.

I go back a long way with the Convention, back to my first memory of a New York session (in those distant days the Convention was always held in New York). Allen Wade — then the Director of Coaching at the English Football Association — delivered a rousing talk on how England had just won the World Cup. So I guess that must have been the 1967 Convention. Over 50 years ago. I can’t claim to have attended every Convention since then — maybe I’ve been at about a third of them.

I love the Convention more as a massive social event than anything else. Meeting up with distant friends and all manner of soccer people, old faces (well, getting older) and new faces, the bringing together of coaches from all over the country for face-to-face, live meetings — all the conversations, agreements and arguments, the laughter and the frowns, there’s plenty to be enjoyed in all of that.

An enjoyment that makes the whole thing worthwhile. Which is just as well, for over the years the Convention has drifted far from the vital excitement that excited me all those years ago.

Listening to Allen Wade in 1967, and later chatting with him, brought the satisfying feeling of being in touch with the very highest levels of the sport — this was England’s Director of Coaching we were listening to, and England had just won the World Cup.

Now, let us make a prodigious leap forward, a 56-year leap — and we touch down in January of this year. We are in Philadelphia, at the Convention again. Just a month earlier, Argentina had won the World Cup — a splendid tournament, climaxing in what can claim to be the the most exciting final ever.

By the standard that was set in 1967, we should be listening to a leading personality from the Argentine coaching hierarchy. If not, then some other leading Argentine soccer personality — please . . .

No such luck. Inexplicably — in fact, shockingly, shamefully— this Convention seemed unaware of Argentina’s (and Lionel Messi’s) triumph. I would go as far as to say that this Convention was unaware of Argentina in any shape or form. No, it was even worse than that. It was not only Argentina that the Philadelphia Convention organizers had written off the soccer map. Everywhere south of the border was ignored.

The Convention website gave us a lengthy list of 75 presenters— people or organizations giving lectures or clinics. I scanned this list, looking for anyone who would be telling us something about developments in South — or Central - America. No luck. How about a Spanish name, then? No, I couldn’t find one of them either.

The closest link I could find with anything that looked as though it might have something to say about the Latin game was presenter Michelle Pye, the Concacaf Women’s Program Coordinator. Which does not sound close enough.

I discussed this with a knowledgeable colleague, who shot me an exasperated glance and then, with exaggerated patience, explained that it took many months to put together the Convention’s schedule. Argentina had won its title only one month before the Convention opened. Did I imagine the organizers could have predicted the Argentine victory? No, there just was not enough time to arrange anything honoring the new world champions — or to analyze how they’d won.

I gave that some thought — it was not without merit. Of course I already knew I was adrift in a bleak scenario for Latin soccer. I just hadn’t imagined that it could get any worse. But it did. It got abysmally worse.

Exactly how bleak turns into bleaker is revealed by checking not for absentees, but for countries that are present at the Convention. They are listed as official Convention “Presenting Organizations.”  You will find Scotland, represented by the Scottish Football Association, and you will find Ireland, represented by the Football Association of Ireland.

OK. It was patently clear that the Convention schedulers could not have known that Argentina would win. But there was something that the Convention biggies must surely have known with cast-iron confidence when they made their laughable choices. Namely that neither Scotland nor Ireland had the remotest chance of winning the World Cup. Not with Scotland placed at No. 42 in the FIFA World Rankings and Ireland at No. 48. Never mind the added complication that neither nation had even managed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup tournament.

Those stats suggest that there will not be many trophies in the immediate future of either nation. Hardly surprising — neither Scotland nor Ireland has ever won a major international tournament.

Yet these two nations, both quite clearly not among the sport’s elite national teams, are the only foreign national associations that appear among the Convention’s presenters.

So, whatever merit the excuse that there simply wasn’t time enough to fit Argentina into the Convention schedule may have carried was very quickly washed away by taking a look at some of the nations that were present.

At the beginning of this column, I called the Coaches Convention “enjoyable.” I have always found it thus. But the enjoyment has two faces. There is the sheer pleasure of the Convention as a huge social gathering. There is always that, and it offers a great experience for the attendees.

But the Convention offers more. It is, or should be, educational, instructional — still enjoyable experiences, but in a rather different way. The Convention should be a valuable aid to all the coaches present, a way of keeping up with the latest developments in the sport of soccer.

Which is where it falls down, sadly and badly, and slumps to the floor with a dull thud. Apparently the organizers believe that when it comes to offering technical knowledge to the Convention attendees, the soccer worthies from Scotland and Ireland are good enough.

Well, are they? Not much point in pussyfooting around the issue. Putting forward Scotland (FIFA ranking No. 42) and Ireland (FIFA No. 48) to keep American coaches au fait  with significant trends in the modern game (never mind tips on how to actually win games), while completely overlooking Argentina, the world champion, makes about as much sense as entrusting the building of your new supersonic jet fighter plane to Albania.

I’m not suggesting that Argentina is the only country that can impart good soccer information — I would estimate there must be at least half a dozen such countries. But I do know, with certainty, that neither Scotland nor Ireland has any claim to membership of that select group.

Something has gone seriously wrong with the Convention. It has evidently forsaken its worthy role as an exchange forum for authentic and useful information about the sport. It prefers now to act as a market place for a large variety of soccer products, virtually all of which can be classified as dubious — i.e. unproven.

Thus, we are invited to purchase the new fantastically functional soccer balls (Goalkeepers will hate them!), or the miracle tactical programs (Never lose another game!), or how about our unbelievably cunning set plays (Better than Brazil!), or our amazing body-building regimens (Just one pill a week!)? And don’t miss the new ways of building an impregnable defense (yes, more defense — these modern coaching schemes rarely seem to bother about scoring goals).

I am hoping, of course, that the Convention can rescue itself from the financial clutches of these soccer miracle cures, and can return to serving as a trustworthy event that features only participants with something significant to say about the sport.

Anyway, it is past time for the Convention to take a hard look at itself and its policies and actions. Because the intrusion of commercial interests is not, by any means, the worst of the Convention’s failings.

We arrive — once more — at a key failing (I consider it the key failing) of American soccer: its lamentable failure to recognize the importance of the Latin element in this country. To measure just how absolute that failure is, you don’t need to conduct expensive and lengthy surveys. You can do it quickly and easily by noting how often anything to do with the Latin game is featured at the convention. “Never” is probably an exaggeration, I may have missed a reference somewhere — but the answer is mighty close to Never.

The Convention, year after year, continues to snub the USA’s vast soccer-devoted Latino community. In doing so, it continues to do immense damage to its own aims of spreading soccer among Anglos in the United States, and — something of a distant prospect — of winning the World Cup.

The hope of World Cup victory is not an impossible dream. I feel sure it will happen. But it will happen a lot sooner if the people who run soccer in this country will embrace the Latinos and their soccer. When the Convention starts to feature, regularly, talks and clinics about the Latin game, and how it needs to be incorporated into the American version of soccer — then we shall know that something truly game-changing is afoot.

Photo: Stephen Nadler/ISI Photos

17 comments about "Mighty Close to Never: How often Latin soccer is discussed at the Coaches Convention".
  1. frank schoon, February 8, 2023 at 10:21 a.m.

    You are so right Paul!!! My only beef with this column it should have been written back in 1980 for that was the last time I decided to stop going to this joke of a soccer convention. The convention is used  a back door for commercial interests to sell their products and today ,even worse, for I'm surprised there isn't a company there that sell drones to make you a coach better.....Damn, Monty Python, should have come up with a funny sketch on Youtube....

    Ireland, Scotland..??? Two countries that mind as well use their women's team to represent the men's team in world cup play for the men's teams  are  a total loss. As Cruyff once stated Scottish soccer has gone off the deep end. I enjoyed watching Jimmy Johnstone and the Celtics of the late 60's all night. I use to order from the NSCAA 16mm film just to watch Ranger vs Celtic of the late 60's and early 70's play each other...Today it looks like watching two pub teams play....And we're sending our boys to Scotland to play....what a joke....

    It doesn't matter who won the world cup to be represented would be nice. IT SHOULD BE A MUST TO HAVE THE BIG BOYS ALWAYS  INVITED HERE!!!  Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Spain, etc.....Any of those countries would have been nice.. Why didn't we have Zlatan, Pirlo, Zico, and others greats in a room to voice their opinions on how youth should be developed in the US or how should American players develop, what are their criticisms US soccer or what is missing in their game and how to improve the situation, or what kind of manager should coach USMNT, or how 'bout a discussion on how to improve on American soccer journalism and/or commentators ....there so many interesting angle of discussions...

    This whole convention is nothing but a commercial 'whitewash' don't expect great things for you could just as well set up a 'flea market' for soccer....

  2. Mark Landefeld, February 8, 2023 at 12:44 p.m.

    La Liga continues to present at the convention with interesting sessions that present a Latin flair and great ideas that lend themselves to Tika Taka.

  3. James Geluso, February 8, 2023 at 12:45 p.m.

    I don't think it's fair to criticize the convention for what countries were there. That's not an indicator of ignoring Latin America. Note that France and Germany and Italy weren't there too. The fact that only Scotland and Ireland were there indicates that only Scotland and Ireland thought it was worth their time. I'm sure the organizers wouldn't turn away the Brailizian or Argentinian federations if they wanted to come. 

  4. cony konstin, February 8, 2023 at 1:33 p.m.

    Paul you have been speaking about Latin football since your first article about the magical style and players from the TAHUICHI Soccer Academy. Most likely you speaking about it even before that. But we only hear crickets from everyone else. Because the focus in US soccer has mainly been about British football. Thank you for your article. 

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, February 8, 2023 at 9:07 p.m.

    So you see, senores, it is same-old-same-old.  My first convention was the old held in Philadelphia, in the same hotel where the infamous Legionnaire's Disease broke out, - '77-78? - and continued attending up through the time some of usLatino Coaches "launched" what we hoped would've been a permanent LATIN AMERICAN SOCCER COACHES ASSOCIATION (LASCA)just prior to WC USA'94.  But I've stopped attending after the one held in Southern California, why? IMHO, it has resorted to coopting like-minded groups, but really not paying attention to our goals and objectives.  But, oh well, folks I could go on and on, and I sincerely hope that this changes for the better, not just to recognize the futbol-playing prowess of Argentina, Brasil, or Mexico, but of an all encompassing soccer community, that reaches to all of the cardinal points of the world compass.  Hasta pronto, amigos!!!

  6. Bob Ashpole, February 8, 2023 at 4:39 p.m.

    Paul, I disagree. It is not "a bleak scenario for Latin soccer." It is USSF's vision of the beautiful game that is bleak, mind-numbing, and dull. No beauty to be found, just industrialization.

    We don't have to go South of our border to find Latin soccer. We have plenty of proponents of the beautiful game in the US, just not in the USSF inner circle. That USSF is so resistant to change indicates the the degree of support that the beautiful game has in this country.

    USSF risks becoming irrelevant to the sport if it sticks to being a trade association for the business of soccer. Let them keep their business profits, but let us have the beautiful game.

    I hope President Cone brings a profound change in USSF's view of the game.

  7. humble 1, February 8, 2023 at 5:21 p.m.

    Thank you for the article.  The main issue keeping the latinos out is very simple - youth soccer is almost free there.  That is a diret threat to the pay-to-play youth yoccer system here.  The first thing a latino that comes here asks is why is this so expensive, when it is free at home?  These guys all have passion for the game - that does not mix well with the soccer as business model here.  There are many ex-USA talents here, successful in youth soccer, they are all successful because they adapted to the soccer as a business.  Look at La Roca in Utah, huge success latino run.  Many other great examples 'cross the country.  This is the fundamental current that separates soccer in the latino world from soccer in the usa, passion, vs business.  Mix in the fact that there really is no latin America, it is a virtual concept not real.  Try and drive from Panama to Columbia, you may not survive.  Try and drive from Buenos Aires to Santigo Chile you may drive off a cliff.  Try and find a Peruvian who will have a beer with a Chilean.  It is not united there, or here.  Argentina winning is not celebrated all over 'latin america', maybe Messi brings a good feeling but it is for the person, not the nation.  So there you go.  For sure, they could have scrambled an Argentine to talk about the way they did it in a month.  For sure.  They did not. Speaks volumes.   

  8. Bobby Bribiesca, February 8, 2023 at 6:32 p.m.

    We need Hispanic Coaches to help our National Teams to compete in the World Cup.  The USA has a large Hispanic population that is playing soccer. The soccer academies are not the only place to find skillful players. The Convention can be a leader in finding Hispanic Coaches and perhaps this will help to make more effective players. 

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, February 8, 2023 at 9:20 p.m.

    Senor Bribiesca:  Been there, done that!  Tried that and tried this....  It has been tried, had a brief success, but it "failed" due to cost factors (one reason) and lack of a united effort.  Oh, and BTW, this will come as a suprise to many, but as one of the founders of the LATIN AMERICAN SOCCCER COACHES ASSOCIATION (LASCA) together with Lou Sagastume, Joe supe, Frank Parodi, Rick San Martin, Ralph Perez, - to name a few - and on the recommendation and encouragement of an old amigo, Steve Sampson, during a brief chat at the WC USA Offices in early 1993 (headquarters then in Century City (L.A.) and the following NSCAA Convention held in Santa Clara, the die was cast for the formation of LASCA BUT.... lamentably the organization was short lived, even with the backing of then Alan Rothenberg, Hank Steinbrechers.  

  10. Mike Lynch, February 8, 2023 at 11:15 p.m.

    Paul, always appreciate your long time plea and advocacy for a greater recognition and leverage of our south and central american strengths and roots on the american soccer landscape. I am so grateful for my Latino coaches, especially Argentine Oscar Ferreyra (played for Deportivo Cali champion 1965) playing youth soccer in Las Vegas and Guatemalen Lou Sagastume (Univ of San Francisco national champion 1966) while playing at the Air Force Academy. Both Oscar and Lou taught us to love the ball, but as importantly, to improvise, to read the defenders and do the opposite and so much more. Their ball control was so good, but it was their creativity that was spectacular and a treat to play for. Of course, similar lifelong influences have come as the result of many coaches from all around the world who have played and coached here after growing up in Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Caribbean, too, but the large numbers of quality Latino/Latina players and coaches cannot be overstated nor diminished. The American soccer landscape of recreation/youth, high school, college, adult amateur, and elite professional/national team will be better with their growing influence/opportunities. The 2024 United Soccer Coaches in Anaheim, California is an opportunity. The 2026 Men's World Cup is another. Tomorrow, next month, this summer are opportunities, too. Thanks Paul for keeping our focus on this American soccer strength.  

  11. R2 Dad, February 9, 2023 at 1:29 a.m.

    From what I've seen, the Hispanic coaches operating in the US will most likely get co-opted by the USSF/ status quo operating at these conventions and in their leagues. Learn all our bad habits. In retrospect, I'd hope all youth coaches could learn to practice at a facility like Garfield Park, in the Mission in SF. A half sized pitch ringed with chain link fence, any team practicing there has to learn to deal with the way Hispanics use the pitch. It's crowded, with some family members  in one corner playing with a small -sized goal,and in another corner some guys getting off work warming up because they're on next. Your team gets half this pitch while another gets the other half. It's a real neighborhood pitch; nobody is getting pissy about space or permits--you just make due. You get kids playing against older siblings, parents megging their kids, people in the little stands cheering some nice dribbling during scrimmages--it's the total opposite of the sterile coach-dictating-to-players programmed cone drill environment we know as youth soccer. I'd be satisfied if our kids could start learning in that environment.

  12. frank schoon replied, February 9, 2023 at 10:01 a.m.

    R2, Agree with you fully....great stuff. The less space our kids play in the better for their technical growth. I only wish that facility was nothing but concrete for  that would accelerate the technical and mental process...

  13. Perry McIntyre, February 9, 2023 at 10:09 a.m.

    Some very valid points, Paul. Having attended 25 consecutive conventions beginning in 1990, I always believed the exchange of ideas and growth of the game were critical functions of the event. But then, I'm also still confused about why the venerable NSCAA required "rebranding" in the first place.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, February 9, 2023 at 11:23 a.m.

    I always assumed that the rebranding was to appear more internationally inclusive. Ironical perhaps. 

  15. jim broshar, February 9, 2023 at 12:27 p.m.

    Paul, well said. In the US it's almost like there are two soccer worlds, the US Soccer model and the Spanish-speaking community. This leads to inefficiency and lost talent. Until those in power learn to share it and expand the tent, I feat the US will underachieve in terms of player development, up to and including our national teams. 

    Do you think that if the USMNT had reached the WC semifinals, the convention would have found a way to include someone to speak at the convention? 

    Often I worry that Soccer America is falling behind the times, but articles like this reassure me that I can find takes here that aren't available elsewhere. Thanks for writing about this topic. 

  16. Ben Myers, February 9, 2023 at 2:07 p.m.

    Well, this is just another piece that fits the "Pay for Play" factory model that has infected US youth soccer development.  And then we wonder why this country can't develop competent strikers and wingers.

  17. frank schoon replied, February 9, 2023 at 3:11 p.m.

    Ben, maybe if we pay more in "pay for play", we'll get better strikers....That is something the USSF will try to pull. LOL

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