Nov 27, 2012

Quick Free Kicks

Shaktar Donetsk striker Adriano has been suspended one match by UEFA for blatant violation of sporting behavior.  "The suspension applies to next week's UEFA Champions League group stage game between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in Ukraine. The Shakhtar player has also been required to perform one full day of community football service."   Even Adriano's boss is not happy.

MSL Head Honcho Don Garber thinks MLS will do fine without Beckham.  Well, I couldn't agree more.  Was Beckham helpful, no doubt.  But the league does not need Beckham but it will be interesting to see if Beckham needs the MLS in the future?

A wish list for Toronto FC.  Well, as I said, they got a great president in Kevin Payne.

Payne Leaving DC United

Everything happens for a reason right?  Today DC United announced that President and CEO Kevin Payne is stepping down to take a similar position with Toronto FC.  

So what is the reason for Payne leaving is the question that has to be asked.  I think the reason can be found in Payne's own quote for the release:

“For me, D.C. United has been like my child. We brought the team into the D.C. and national sports world 17 years ago and every day since – good and bad – has been a labor of love. This team has provided many great memories of championships and historic accomplishments, but I will best remember the people I've had the chance to meet, to work with, strive with, celebrate with, and sometimes to share disappointment with.
“To the players, coaches, co-workers and fans, I can only say thank you so much for the great privilege of having been part of the D.C. United family. It’s very difficult for me to express how I have felt, and still feel, about all of you."
When a child reaches a certain age, you have to let him or her go.  Payne can't exactly break DC United's dinner plate or throw its belongings into Lot 8 at RFK Stadium.  But I think he can step down, and let his child grow on its own.  
Looking back on Payne's tenure, perhaps there are only two things I would consider failures.  The first and most obvious is the lack of a stadium.  To be sure, navigating the shifting political grounds of the District of Columbia government is no easy feat, compounded by government personnel who may not be the "cleanest" shall we say.  But during a time when DC United was the most successful team in the DC sports landscape, it is hard to overlook the fact that DC is still playing in a 40 year old relic of a stadium and paying way too much money to do so.
Second failing of DC United is a little less noticeable.  Under Payne's watch, DC United has struggled with finding quality DP's and top tier veterans.  With the exception of Dwayne DeRosario, a very know quality player in the MLS, DC United has not been able to adequately find Designated Players worth the money being spent for their services.  The past five years have been largely a failure in that regard.  
But there have been some very good facets of DC United under Payne.  First, I think that the relationship between the front office and the fans is solid.  While the front office does not defer to fans in terms of decisions, the supporters groups have generally found at least an opportunity to be heard.  In the end, there is not much more that can be asked for.  
I know that all MLS clubs are active in their communities, but I just feel like DC United has gone above and beyond in such regard.  While players and clubs are contractually required to make public appearances and perform charitable work, the efforts made by the club and players appears genuine.  
Finally, I believe that DC United under Payne has done a wonderful job promoting the game of soccer in the area.  True, DC United has benefited with quality home grown players like Bill Hamid and Andy Najar.  But the club is expanding its Academy programs and I believe that the next logical step for the club will be a residency academy for players at the U16 and U 18 levels.  But Payne lead the effort to integrate the academy and the First Team in a farsighted effort that means that the club is starting to benefit from its academy system directly.  
So as Payne moves on to the troubled child of Toronto, I think he can fairly say that he leaves DC United poised for more success.  It may be hard to leave a child on its own, but Payne can take pride that he has done all he could do to prepare the club to succeed on its own.
So, as a former sailor, Fair Winds and Following Seas, Kevin.  Thanks for the memories.

Nov 16, 2012

Fair Play Awards--or the XBOX Award for Year of Undetected Crime

Back when I was in the Navy, enlisted personnel could received a Good Conduct Medal every four years for, well as the name implies, good conduct.  It was a good reward and allowed for points toward promotions.  The award was jokingly referred to as the award for Four Years of Undetected Crime.  The unofficial moniker was clearly tongue-in-cheek, but sometimes not far from the truth.  The XBox Fair Play Awards could be thought of as the MLS version of the Good Conduct Medal, the "Stealthy Fouler Awards" or something similar.  

The Xbox Fair Play awards focus on some fairly objective criteria, which is very different than many other awards.  MLS selects the finalists for these two awards based upon the objective criteria of games and minutes played, fouls committed, and cards received.  But there is also a subjective criteria of general sportsmanship.  

In all seriousness, this is an award that should have more play in both the media and among MLS types.  I would like to see big fat bonuses from MLS on this one, on the order of $100 for every average minute of foul-free play for individual players and a big fat team bonus for the team award winner.  But that maybe the referee in me talking.

On the the finalists:

Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists

  • Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
  • Logan Pause (Chicago Fire)
  • Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls)

Let's take a look at the numbers:  

Jazic started and played 27 games this season for a combined 2,379 minutes.  During those minutes, Jazic received no yellow or red cards and committed 8 fouls according to MLS stats.  That is one foul every 297.3 minutes.  So putting that in different numbers, Jazic was committing about every FOURTH game.  He never got a booking--ever--during the season.

Pause started in 31 games and played in 32.  He logged 2,242 minutes in 2012.  During that time, he too was never booked by the referees.  Pause committed 11 fouls, for an average of one foul every 220.4 minutes.  Very good numbers for a man who was playing defensive midfield for most of the season.

Finally, Pearce started and played 18 games for the Red Bulls this season and a further 10 games for Chivas before being traded.  His total minutes for the year were 2,504, during which time he committed 9 total fouls and received one yellow card.  On average he was committing one foul for every 278.2 minutes.  

Okay, now it is time to start thinking about what matters.  I could easily toss Pearce for having gotten a yellow card since the other two finalists did not get booked, but Pearce played with two different teams in two very different playoff outlooks.  You could also toss Jazic because he did not have as many games or minutes as the other two and he was playing on a team that was more or less eliminated from the playoffs by the end of June.  You could toss out Pause because he committed more fouls than the other two players but he did it playing in Defensive midfield.  

But I think I need to be objective on this one and go with Jazic.  Objectively, he was playing more fairly (or not getting caught as often depending on how you look at it) and minutes player per foul average is very impressive.  The discrepancy between the minutes played is, frankly, not all that significant (the span of just over a game and a half.  

Ante Jazic, hats off to you, if I had my druthers, you would be getting at $29,730 bonus.  But I don't make that choice.

Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists

  • Chicago Fire
  • Houston Dynamo
  • New England Revolution 
This is another very stats driven calculation, working from MLS's stats, where games played and minutes played are equal, after all the teams played the same number of games and accounting for discrepancies as a result of having players sent off, the minutes played are going to be essentially equal, or at least within near enough tolerances as to be largely insignificant.  Here is what we have in terms of numbers:

Chicago Fire: the Fire actually committed the fewest fouls of any team in the MLS, 349.  That comes to an average of just over 10.2 fouls per game.  Not bad.  It should be noted that Chicago were ith in the league among fouls suffered (421).  But of these three teams nominated, Chicago collected 45 yellow cards and five red cards, a total of 50 bookings (1.47 cards per game), and that comes to one card for every 6.8 fouls.  So you could say that Chicago got the most bang for their buck in terms of fouls or looked at from another viewpoint, the fouls they committed tended to be harsher or more prone to sanction.  (Note however, the MLS stats do not differentiate between a yellow card for dissent, for example, and a yellow card for a reckless or studs up challenge).  

Houston Dynamo:  Houston were third on the list in terms of fewest fouls committed, 372, which means they committed 10.9 fouls a game.  Games with Houston involved look to be pretty even as the men in orange suffered 377 fouls(3rd fewest in the league).  However, Houston collected 34 yellow cards and only one red card this season, (1.03 cards per game).  The fouls to cards ration is one card for every 10.6 fouls.  

New England Revolution:  The Revs come in second in terms of fouls committed, 360 for the year, or 10.6 fouls per game).  Revs players also suffered a goodly number of fouls as well, 483 for the season (3rd on the list in the league behind Vancouver and FC Dallas).  The Revs collected 40 cards, 37 yellow and three red cards).  That puts there cards per game ration at 1.18 cards per game.  The Revs received one card for every 9.0 fouls (a nice even number by happenstance).

Because this is, I would like to think, a largely stats based comparison, then Houston should walk with this prize.  The Dynamo picked up fewer cards for the year and that to me is important.  New England picked up 14 percent more cards that Houston and Chicago picked up 28 percent more cards than Houston.  Houston's games, at least statistically in terms of fouls were largely equal.   

In keeping in with my notion that Fair Play, as a team, should be handsomely rewarded, I think the winning team should receive a team bonus of $200,000 to be divvied as they see fit.    Congrats Houston

Frankly, the one thing about these awards is that I am not sure how the subjective "overall sportsmanship" criteria is developed.  I would be fine with the latter being tossed out and let this be simply an objective criteria award.  Alternatively, I would suggest that only referees and assistant referees be permitted to judge the subjective criteria side of things, because referees take a lot of stick of players and often listen to a lot of whining, whinging and haranguing before issuing a dissent yellow card. 

MLS Season Awards Finalists

MLS Announced their end of season award Finalists.  I will have my thoughts on some of these categories in other posts.

And the Nominees are:

Rookie of the Year Finalists

  • Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
  • Nick DeLeon (D.C. United)
  • Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
  • Winner to be announced Monday, November 19. 

Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists*

  • Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
  • Logan Pause (Chicago Fire)
  • Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls)
  • *Selected by MLS based on objective criteria such as fouls committed, cards received, games & minutes played, as well as subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.
  • Winner to be announced Monday, November 19.

Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists*

  • Chicago Fire
  • Houston Dynamo
  • New England Revolution*Selected by MLS based on objective criteria such as fewest fouls committed, cards received, and on subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.
  • Winner to be announced Monday, November 19.

Defender of the Year Finalists

  • Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 20. 

MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year Finalists

  • Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Michael Lahoud (Philadelphia Union)
  • Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 20.

Referee of the Year Finalists

  • Silviu Petrescu
  • Baldomero Toledo
  • Armando Villarreal
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 20.

Assistant Referee of the Year Finalists

  • Ian Anderson
  • Gregory Barkey
  • Corey Parker
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 20.

Coach of the Year Finalists

  • Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
  • Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 27. 

Comeback Player of the Year Finalists

  • Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
  • Winner to be announced Tuesday, November 27.

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists

  • Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
  • Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Winner to be announced Wednesday, November 28. 

Newcomer of the Year Finalists

  • Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
  • Winner to be announced Wednesday, November 28.

Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Finalists

  • Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
  • Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
  • Winner to be announced Thursday, November 29.

Nov 14, 2012

Five Talking Points: RUS 2:2 USMNT

  1. The scouting report on the USMNT is pretty clear for opponents.  High pressure, high intensity for the first 15-20 minutes will likely yield a goal.  Jurgen Klinsmann has got to find a tactical or a psychological solution to this problem for the USMNT.  One tactical solution for the U.S. is to just be frenetic for the first 20 minutes, run at defenses, long balls out of the back, open the field and let the superior physical fitness carry them through the half and into the second half.  If the solution is psychological--Klinsmann needs to hire a new sports psychologist and pronto.
  2. Klinsmann needs to find a true left-sided midfield player.  The trio of Bradley, Jones, and Williams/Edu does not provide enough linkage in the midfield to do all the things that need to distribute the ball out of the back and connect to the strikers.  Maybe a healthy Donovan (who has played on the left for both club and country) could do it.  Some might say Dempsey, but the defensive responsibilities take Dempsey away from where he is best.  I think the answer is probably someone new, which is a worry heading into the World Cup Qualifiers.
  3. Gatt--it is pronounced "Gatt" as in rhymes with "cat" I am sure his family was cringing and groaning every time Ian Darke mispronounced his name--showed some promise.  He was not significantly worse in the first 15-20 minutes of the game than anyone else.  The boy is fast and he has an eye for attack.  I think given that he trained for all of about two hours--maybe three--with the MNT before this game, I can't say he doesn't deserve more call ups.
  4. Can we finally put an end to the Geoff Cameron doubts?  He has been consistent all year long at centerback.      
  5. Overall team performance is a C+.  Were it not for the late game heroics of Bradley and Diskerud, as well as the never say die effort (another U.S. trademark is seems), then this would a lot lower grade.

Player Grades:

Howard--8      What can you say, he kept the U.S. in the game--as usual.
Chandler--6     Impressed with his movement and defensive skills.  
Cameron--7    Provided lots and lots of lateral cover, but has to be expected with F. Johnson and Chandler moving foward.
Bocanegra--5  Left early for an injury, played okay during limited time.
F. Johnson--5.5  looked suspect at times, but played well out of the back.
Gatt--5.5             See above.
Bradley--8.5     Man of the match performance.  Brilliant, and technically difficult, strike for a goal.  
Jones--5.5        He is not the attacking link we need out of a midfielder, but didn't totally suck either.
Williams--4.5    Although he found the game in the second half, I was wondering if Klinsmann was going to pull him out in the first half.
Gomez--6         Made a nuisance of himself, buzzed around, but not his best performance.
Altiodre--6.5    Was getting back and helping defend, working hard, had a few chances that didn't break his way.

Goodson--6     Had one golden chance on goal, some fine defensive work, and bad decision on fouling for the late penalty.  Still not going to supplant Bocanegra or Cameron in the central defense.
Edu--6             Compared to Williams, Edu was miles better.  Sharp and mistake free.
Kljestan--5       Didn't have as much an impact as I think he could or should have.  But workmanlike effort.
Agudelo--5.5    Smart header to set up Bradley, fair impact on the match which is what subs should do.
Boyd--5           Not really enough time
Diskerud--6     and yeah, that is all goal.  Not really enough time otherwise to make an impact.

Nov 12, 2012

Five Talking Points About USMNT Russia Friendly

So, with the final FIFA Friendly of the year on Wednesday, USMNT Coach Jurgen Klinsmann finally announced a squad, here it is:

GOALKEEPERS- Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS- Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
MIDFIELDERS - Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FORWARDS- Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)

So my Five Talking Points:

1.  Klinsmann went young.  The average age of this squad is 25.7 with six players aged 30 or more (Bocanegra, Gomez, Goodson, Howard, Jones & Rimando).  By contrast, the squad in the Antigua and Guatamala World Cup Qualifiers had an average age of 28.4 and nine players age 30 or more (the previously named six, plus Beckerman, Cherundolo and Gordon).  Youth is a good thing and of course a friendly is designed to see what young players can do on an international stage.  But will Klinsmann play some of those youngsters?  I hope so.  I would like to see Sean Johnson play, along with Gatt, Gyau, Boyd and Agudelo.  That is five of the permissible six subs---seems good to me.

2.  Rumor has it that Timmy Chandler is committed to the U.S.  Well, until he is cap tied to the U.S. in a qualifier or Gold Cup, I have been burned too many times before.  Seeing is believing Timmy, seeing is believing.

3.  Speed aplenty in this squad.  Chandler, F. Johnson, Gatt, Gyau, Boyd and to a lesser extent Agudelo represent some speedy guys.  Will Klinsmann's tactics use that speed?  I hope so.  

4.  Sacha Kljestan has a chance here to show what he can do.  Will he start?  I hope so.  I would like to see him on the right in 4-4-2, but if Klinsmann goes 4-3-3, Kljestan will suffer as the midfielder dropped.  Kljestan is an attacking midfielder.  Unless he has improved his box to box play, he will not supplant Bradley, Jones or Williams without an injury.

5.  Is Altidore out of the doghouse?  Sure seems like it, but as his form for AZ Alkmaar suggests, for him to be effective, he needs to be running at defenses and getting good service in the box--will Klinsmann use him that way?  Let's just say that I am not betting the farm on it.

Line-up I would like to see:



F. Johnson--Bocanegra---Cameron--------Chandler---------

--------------------S. Johnson----------------------------------------

Line-up we are more likely to see





Nov 11, 2012

American Soccer Community--Bigger and Stronger Than Ever

Just as the Baby Boom changed the face of American demographics.  The Millenial generation will change the face of soccer fandom in America.

In 1996 Major League Soccer kicked off it's inaugural season.  Coming on the heels of the very successful (in terms of attendance and revenue) 1994 World Cup, Major League Soccer faced a big uphill battle.  fighting for market share in a saturated (oversaturated?) sports market, and coming not long after the failure of the old North American Soccer League, there were a lot of people who predicted and maybe even hoped that professional soccer in the United States would fail.

To be sure, MLS went through its growing pains, but soccer is on the verge of a significant shift in support.  ESPN's Roger Bennet  profiled Rich Luker, a sports social scientist who runs the ESPN Sports Poll, who had this to say about soccer in America:

The U.S. soccer audience is also unique in Luker's eyes. "It is a true community. The only group that comes close are college sports fans or followers of the Grateful Dead. They embrace soccer as a communal lifestyle as opposed to a personal experience or a community that only exists on gameday." 
However, Luker also believes soccer is underperforming. "It's a sport that should have been doing well a long time ago." The social scientist is well positioned to make that claim. He partnered with MLS back when it was planning the launch of the league in 1994. "We discovered 30 percent of American households contained someone playing soccer. The only game that comes close to that massive number is baseball." 

 Luker's analysis points to soccer being on the cusp of an explosion in this country, and there are many reasons.  The first is that the growth and speed of online services and expansion of cable sports channels (which needed content) means that there are more soccer games, of differing levels available for fans.  A soccer fan in the States now can find dozens of games on TV or online in a given weekend (often numbering over 100 games during some weeks), 52 weeks a year.  So the easy ability to see the games is making inroads to fandom, allowing fans to build a connection to a favorite team, even on another continent.  The easy availability of soccer viewing (not to mention its consistent timing) makes it easy for fans to enjoy their soccer and they can do it either by themselves or in the company of like-minded folk, the communal nature of soccer that Luker refers to.

But here is a more fundamental basis which I alluded to above--the Millennial Generation.  There is a whole generation of boys and girls who not only play soccer, but also are fans who have had the opportunity to see live professional soccer in their own country.  They have their own heroes now.  Sure Messi, Ronaldo, and other famous players can be seen regularly on TV and occaisionally here in the United States, but they can also see Beckham, Dononvan, and others right here in the states.  That is where MLS has made significant inroads.  MLS' slow steady progression, coupled with an very public effort by NBC/Universal family of networks to boost the game has built a community the only way it can be done, slowly.

But the game is also building an even broader fan base outside of MLS.  A good idea of the growth of the game from a fan and supporter viewpoint is found at lower levels of the game.  Even at the college level, some schools are drawing significant crowds to games.  Just this year, the University of California Santa Barbara drew over 13,000 fan for a single game.  UCSB averages well over 3000 fans a game, as do other title contenders such as Maryland and Akron.  For college games.

Even at the high school level, while nothing beats the social draw of the Friday night football game, soccer games are drawing more fans than just the parents and family of the players.  Sure, crowds are measured in the low 100 fans, it is the fact that students are coming to support their team that makes a difference.  It is the student fans that matter.

These students, aged 14-17, are the generation that will alter the soccer community in America.  These teenagers have grown up in a country with its own developing league, with access to world soccer unmatched in previous years.  Whether it is the fact that they are fans of DC United or Manchester United or Inter Milan, the access to the favorite teams means they learn more about the game.  They have role models to emulate on the field.  They learn the rules, the tactics, the style of play of their game and the come to follow their team.  Just like the baby boomer generation followed the Yankees, the Dodgers or the Red Sox, modern teenagers no longer abandon the sport of soccer when they enter high school.  Indeed many are embracing it because their non-playing schoolmates embrace it.  The fact that these young men and women no longer feel the stigma of playing soccer as opposed to football or baseball, they are seen as true athletes and supported as such.

The Millennial Generation is the first in the United Statess that cannot remember a sports landscape without MLS.  they will pass on their love of the game to the next generation, so that in 20-30 years, 40,000 fans at an MLS game will not be restricted to Seattle.

Nov 9, 2012

The Veteran and The Rookie

DC United is the highest seeded team left in the MLS Playoffs.  After downing the New York Red Bulls (AGAIN!!!), and ensuring the the trophy case in Harrison, NJ remains empty for another year, DC United are two games away from not only their first appearance in the MLS Cup match, but hosting the game as well.  The Houston Dynamo certainly have a say in that.

But last night, in what can only be described as a roller coaster of a match, DC United's veteran and rookie made magic in the dying minutes of the game.  Robbie Russell and Nick DeLeon, two players who probably could not be more different, combined for a lovely goal that put the Black and Red into the Eastern Conference Finals.  

Russell played a far different role last night than I think usual for him.  On multiple occasions Russell would foray forward, in a similar but distinctly different manner than Andy Najar.  I think Ben Olsen, tactically, may have thought that his counterpart, Hans Backe would expect the less speedy Russell to stay at home more than Najar would have, and thus Olsen slipped the reins on Russell.  

Russell though was clearly thoughtful about the effort's going forward.  He selected his runs well, particularly taking the acres of space in the right channel leading to the only goal of the game.  But Russell was also smart enough to get back quickly, even thought center backs, Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic had him covered deep and Perry Kitchen as well.  

Where Russell relies on experience and practice to make his mark felt, DeLeon was almost all instinct last night.  Not just on the goal, but also in his midfield play.  Ben Olsen ordered DeLeon (who usually starts on the right flank) to switch with Chris Pontius in order to get Pontius more involved in the play.  Initially the move worked well as Pontius was able to get a couple good chances in.  But on the goal, DeLeon was flashing across the penalty area, looking for that cutting pass.

But admidst all the hubbub of the goal and with win, there has been little about how hard that shot was to not only get on target but get past Luis Robles.  Robles was in the right position, but DeLeon had to take a pass that was moving away from him, away from goal and then turn his hips AND get enough power on the shot to edge it past Robles.

Rumor has it that Andy Najar might be sitting out the next series against Houston.  If that is the case, Russell will have his hands full with Brad Davis, so he might not have the authority to go forward, but that might be just as well, at least at BBVA Compass.  

And So It Begins

The MLS coach carousel that is.

On the heap already:  

Jesse Marsch (not to be too much of a rhymer, but that one was harsh although it was supposed to be mutual.
Robin Fraser (when Chris Wondolowski scores more goals on his own than your entire team--well see ya' is all you can expect)
Hans Backe---NYRB still without a trophy.

Who is next?  
My money is on Oscar Pareja. 

Some others who might want to be checking their cell phone before answering would include Paul Mariner--if for no other reason than it is Toronto.  Jay Heaps could be worried, but I think that New England will give him one more year.

Nov 1, 2012

The Future of the US Women's Program

The latest news out of U.S. Soccer related to the WNT is the hiring of Tom Semranni to be the next head coach of the USWNT.  I don't know enough about Semranni to offer an opinion on him as a coach, but I do see that he has done a fine job with the Australian WNT, and has a long resume.  He comes into a tough job on the heels of a pretty successful tenure of Pia Sundhage, so good luck to him.

I saw a brief interview with him last night with Max Bretos in the pregame to the Houston-Chicago MLS playoff match.  Bretos asked the question about Semranni's goals with youth development for the women's program.  Semranni's answer was a fairly pat non-answer, full of the usual platitudes of wanting to reach down into the youth ranks and help develop young ladies in the game.  Blah, Blah, blah.

Semranni may have goals and aspirations along those lines, but right now there is no USSF direct sponsorship of development program.  USSF and Sunil Gulati have made it a priority to establish and operate a Development Academy for boys and are now in the planning stages for introducing a U13/14 program to supplement the already existing U16 and U18 programs.  I believe that the Development Academy has done some wonderful things for the development of young men in our country and I am looking forward to the future.

But the same commitment is not there for the girls side.  Yes, there is something called the Elite Clubs National League which has the following Mission Statement.

The Elite Clubs National League, Inc. (“ECNL”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member-based organization founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of the female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) improving the competitive environment through creation of a true nationally-based competitive league with multiple flights; (ii) improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for the U.S. Soccer youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competition; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs.

What is missing from that Mission Statement is any affiliation with USSF.  Kudos to the founder of the ECNL for recognizing the need for systemic development of young female players, whether it is for the national teams, colleges, foreign clubs or a (as yet defined) domestic league.

However, I think it is tragic that the most successful soccer program in the United States, i..e. the WNT, does not have the imprimatur of USSF for a systematic development program for girls.  The WNT has actual World Cup Titles, Olympic Gold Medals and a string of success.  The U.S. may have been able to ride the power of Title IX for a few decades, but the rest of the world is catching up.  Mexico, Japan, Canada, Germany, and probably a dozen other nations are pouring money in the development of the women's game and the U.S. will not be able to maintain its superiority for long if it does not move to catch up.

Many of the Boys Development Academy Programs no doubt have in the infrastructure in place to initiate a girls program at the U16 and U18 levels without much effort. In terms of logistics, how hard is it to have the boys and girls teams travel together  for matches (leaving aside the normal teenage hormonal problems associated with that).  Talent identification for the youth national teams and ultimate the senior WNT and colleges and subsequently, a professional league, should not be haphazard or left to chance.  If the USSF is serious about truly supporting the growth of the women's game in this country, it must be seen to be making a real effort to bring a girls Development Academy in to being.

The founders of the ECNL are to be commended for the effort, 52 clubs in three years is no easy feat, so they have laid the groundwork.  I don't want those efforts to be totally supplanted, but USSF would do wise to bring those founders into the USSF fold and allow them, with full USSF sanctioning to truly bring about a girls development academy.