Sep 26, 2012

Wait, WHAT!!!!!!

Video :: A Live Grenade Explodes on the Pitch during Iranian AFC Champions League clash | TheOriginalWinger


Sep 8, 2012

Youth Soccer Development--The Development Academy Growing Pains

The great Alecko Eskandarian has a wonderful column on Youth soccer's dilemma: Development academies vs. high schools, in which he covers the problem with the recent change by the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to shift to a mandatory 10 month schedule.  Let's start with what is good about the Development Academy:

Development academies have done wonders helping to identify and nurture the accompanying demand for talent. The 10-month schedule is an initiative that would put the talented youth players on par with the curriculum and schedule of those in Europe and South America. In most of those powerhouse nations, the academy system is the focal point for the development of future national teamers.

There is no argument that the development pipeline for professional players, at the MLS and NASL/USL-Pro levels, will improve as the Academy becomes fully integrated into the national player development scheme.  The recent USSF announcement of a U14 development academy program for boys will also spur that effort forward.

But as Eskandarian points out the change to a 10 month calendar does put a kink is the system for players, who must now choose between an academy team and their high school team.  Now I questioned whether the rule was simply too harsh, after all there are many other aspects to playing for one's high school than simply the quality of play on the field, there are social, communal and even personal goals attained by a young man who chooses to play for his high school.  So, USSF heard some of the complaints and responded:

U.S. Soccer added a rule allowing academy teams to have a certain number of exemptions for players to remain on their academy team while playing high school, as long as that team fills its roster with a minimum amount of full-time players. Then the question arises, if all the top players will be used as exemptions, then what's the point of expanding to a 10-month season? It would completely defeat the purpose.

That is a good question and as Eskandarian pointed out, the player himself has to take responsibility for his own development.  So, he may have to balance the need for personal social goals in his school against his goals to be the best soccer player he can be.  

But one of the interesting side effects of MLS affiliated academy teams is how much they have come to dominate the playing landscape where they are based.  This is not to say that the MLS affiliated sides are wiping the floor with everyone every game, but they tend to rise to the top.  As they should, because MLS teams offer opportunities that other sides do not, access to professional players on a regular basis, the opportunity to play in reserve league matches, generally better training facilities, nutritional and medical facilities, and coaching infrastructure.  So looking at that, Eskandarian posited this alteration to the mandatory 10 month calendar for all Development Academy teams:  

It should be a priority for every MLS academy to meet the standard of offering fully funded residency-based programs that offer housing and education along with everything soccer-related. This takes a massive financial commitment, but only then can the U.S. say it's producing a youth development system on par with the top youth programs in the world. 
Once in place, I think it should only be mandatory for MLS academy teams to compete in a 10-month season -- and not non-MLS academies. The best prospects should be funneled toward MLS academies. In turn, MLS academies should offer the best facilities, coaches, training and environment. The notion that a player has been identified as a future pro prospect and will be headed to a professional team's residency program will then be completely justifiable on all ends. 
Those who would rather play high school or attend a private school could play for a non-MLS academy team instead. This would also prevent non-MLS academy teams from going to drastic measures to remain in the Development Academy league. These non-MLS academy teams can decide whether they want to offer training and exhibitions during the high school season to fulfill a 10-month schedule or stay on the seven-month schedule.

I fully concur with the residency program for MLS academies.  Yes, it is a big financial commitment, but it must be done if the MLS and U.S. is to compete on the same level as Europe and South America.  I have an additional suggestion.  When the MLS firs team squad travels to away matches, the Academy team does as well and plays on the same day as the First Team.

But it is the second tier that matters.  The top players will always get identified and yes, it will be helpful to be identified earlier.  But is is that second tier of players, boys who may blossom later.  These are the players who will largely populate most of the Academy teams and ultimately the college ranks.  

I referee high school soccer and I can see the physical differences in some boys who are 14 15 years old.  They have the soccer brain, you can see it in the manner in which they play.  But sometimes they put on weight and look out of proper shape.  Then the next year or two they put on the height. Some players put on a lot of height and then are awkward with their body.  Some have their physical abilities, but not the right mental training to grow as players, but with time and training they do.  These players become Division I college players and might be professionals later.  

the truth of the matter is, for every Lionel Messi who was clearly gifted at a young age, there are dozens of players who won't bloom until their late teens.  A Development system that can nurture both types of players is needed and like it or not, it will have to mean some tiering in the system.  Eskandarian's idea is a great start, and I would like to see it implemented, sooner rather than later.  

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

Sep 1, 2012

Hey Sunil Gulati, what about a Girls Development Academy?

From U.S. Soccer, the Development Academy will be adding a U13/U14 program beginning next year.  From the U.S. Soccer report:
“We started the Development Academy to improve player development on all levels, and adding a competitive structure to the U-13/14 age group is an important next step in this long-term process,” said Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore. “The U-13/14 age group is at a very crucial stage in their development. Applying the overall philosophy of the Academy to the U-13/14 age group will allow us to continue to shift the focus of the young elite player to meaningful training and competition.” 
The clubs selected for the U-13/14 age group will follow a model that increases training to four times a week, with fewer but meaningful matches, and the schedule structure will be regionalized to limit the amount of travel. 
“I am very excited to see this important next step in the process of developing young players in this country,” said U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Just as with the players on the National Team, these young players need to get increased training and play in the most meaningful games they can. Being in the Academy also gives them more time to practice on their own, which gives them another chance to be creative and have fun. All these elements are critical for players at this age group.”
I like this move, a great deal, for the young players.  However......

This country is neglecting half of the population.  Instead of or at least in addition to a U14 division for the boys, I would like to see U.S. Soccer start and develop a program for U18 and U16 girls.  There are two things that we have learned from the U.S. WNT's experience in the past two years:  The U.S. Women, while good, are not the dominant force they once were.  The U.S. Women typically rely on a common core of players over a very long term, so there is less turnover to bring in quality young players.  I have nothing against players like Christie Rampone or Abby Wambach, who are performing at a very high level well into their 30's.  But could a little more competition be good for the American women?  Of course, and while the women's game at the college level is quality, imagine the quality of players that could be developed with a Development Academy set up for women.

Just as the men's college game is improving because the Development Academy is pushing quality players into college programs (after all, very few players will go from Academy teams to MLS or NASL or USL-Pro set ups), the women's college game will improve as well.  And of course, national team programs, from the senior teams to the youth national teams, will benefit.

So why don't we have a Development Academy for girls? Sunil?  Can you answer that question?

What about you?  What are you thoughts about the lack of a Development Academy for girls sponsored by U.S. Soccer?

Alan Gordon enjoying breakthrough year

A few months ago, I wrote a lengthy piece on this blog about Kyle Beckerman, whom I called Jurgen Klinsmann's Dreadlocked Hobbit.

When I read Grant Wahl's The Beckham Experiment, there was one player who stuck in my mind, Alan Gordon.  Grant Wahl writing for takes another look at Gordon, who far from his third string days of 2007, is enjoying a banner year for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2012.

For every Theirry Henry, David Beckham, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan or Dwayne DeRosario, there are half a dozen Alan Gordons playing in MLS.  Players who from year to year are not sure they will be playing professional soccer next year.  Alan Gordon typifies the kind of player who plays because they love it, hopes to be better and hopes to contribute to a team.  And they often do it at pretty low wages.  n 2007 Gordon made just over $30,000 and had a part time job coaching soccer to make more money.  Things have changed, but Gordon is appreciative.

Gordon will earn $120,000 this season, according to MLS Players Union records, but even now his salary isn't guaranteed beyond 2012. "It's taken me a long time to get here," he says. "I can honestly say I've earned every dollar that I've made in the MLS. I definitely haven't been overpaid, that's for sure. Everything is year-to-year for a guy like me in the MLS. Let's not get confused here. I don't know what's happening in the next month, but it's always been that way for me, and it keeps me working hard. No matter how many goals I score or how much I get paid, I don't assume a thing. I'm just enjoying this moment. I have to keep doing the things that have gotten me here, and hopefully I can do them for a couple more years."

Read the whole piece.  Gordon is the kind of guy that I would love to meet and whom I am enjoying watching.  He is also the kind of guy that the MLS has relied upon for years.  Even as the quality of soccer improves in the MLS, it is the squad players like Alan Gordon who make the game more accessible as a league.

Well, I got that Wrong

Well, in the final hours of the Transfer window, Clint Dempsey signed with Tottenham instead of Sunderland.

It is a good move for the Texan and I can say that I got it wrong.

Good luck Deuce.