It’s Finally Over

As the 2018 USSF Presidential Election comes to a conclusion, the mud-slinging and political warfare has ended, the smoke has cleared, and the (soccer) people have spoken.

Carlos Cordeiro will be the next USSF President.

Each candidate focused on “change”, a keyword that has floated around Twitter and social media discussions often. It’s a process that many are excited has come to a conclusion. Each candidate was given 5 minutes to make their case, with the first being Paul Caligiuri, who focused on his overall credentials as a potential candidate. A USMNT veteran with a passion for coaching and youth development, he told potential voters that “your vote represents everyone” within US Soccer- fans, players, coaches, everyone…and asked them to “feel and share my unified vision”. Unfortunately, Caligiuri was the first eliminated when the first round of voting concluded.

first round of ussf voting

Next up was Steve Gans, whose message to voters was that his experience in a successful corporate environment, paired with his lifelong passion for the sport which started at a young age, made him the best man for the job. Gans told the story of his father immigrating from Germany to Boston, introducing Gans to the beautiful game at a young age. Gans said that State Associations carriy a burden, which local state associations actually identified with after speaking to a few local representatives. However, Gans was the third to withdraw, after the second round of voting concluded and it became obvious that Carter and Cordeiro were the front-runners.

Gans was followed by Michael Winograd, who focused his attention on the cost associated with playing youth soccer in the United States, referring it to a “money grab”. Winograd also focused on his experience working for “the biggest companies in the world”, and urged voters to consider him as the most likely candidate to “make US Soccer better”. Winograd, like Gans, withdrew after the second round of voting

second round of ussf voting

Kathy Carter spoke next, and talked about her dad coaching her at a young age, despite knowing nothing about soccer and wearing baseball cleats instead of soccer “boots”. Carter pledged to “lead change, not by using a few band-aids, but through hard work”. Carter said that the lessons she has learned in the business world gives her the ability to lead, vowing to make improvements in youth soccer and going “all-in” as it relates to the women’s program. Carter said it was time to “stop talking, and move towards action”, vowing her commitment to the game and overall soccer community.

Up next was Kyle Martino, who gave an early shout-out to his youth coach in Connecticut who he says was in attendance. Martino stated that unity was still a possibility after such a heated election, and accredited his parents for being able to afford for him to play soccer growing up as a big part of him being given the opportunity to run for USSF President. Martino stated that US Soccer was not available to underserved youth, saying that participation was down 25% from last year. He focused on grassroots movements, vowing to empower State youth soccer associations, and pushing for “change”, as he continued to deliver his speech over the music that was attempting to play him off of the stage.

Eric Wynalda followed Martino, vowing to keep his speech short and to the point. Wynalda said that US Soccer, as a whole, would be better off after this election process. He said that he was ready, as a candidate, to “fight to the very end”, but said “the fighting stops here”. Wynalda said that he planned to help collaborate all groups (youth, adult, professional, etc.), asking voters who claimed they were ready for change to “vote with your heart”.

Hope Solo was up next, and the former USWNT GK came out firing. She mentioned the complaint that she filed against USSF, and went on to “throw shade” at both Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro, which rubbed many within US Soccer the wrong way. Sge said that Cordeiro failed to stand up for unsafe playing conditions for women players, and claimed that he did not stand up for equal pay for women. She used the pay discrepency between herself and Tim Howard as an example, then went on to mention Kathy Carter whom she publicly criticized throughout the election. Despite Solo’s loud standing ovation at the conclusion of her speech, her words failed to register with voters, earning only 1.5% of votes once the second round of voting concluded. Leading into the third round, once Winograd and Gans withdrew, she would be the candidate most likely to be eliminated, but it didn’t matter.

Last to present was Carlos Cordeiro, who many viewed as one of the two “establishment” candidates who were both front-runners. It was a bit awkward for Cordeiro to follow Solo after the allegations she made against him, but he didn’t appear shook and delivered a composed speech to voters. He said that he was the candidate most qualified to actually deliver change, stating that he was the only presidential candidate who had the necessary full-scope vision and plan that were necessary to implement.

Once the third round of voting concluded, Cordeiro was the winner after obtaining 50% of the vote that was necessary for victory. He gave his acceptance speech, followed by an emotional goodbye from Sunil Gulati.

Local Reaction

Following the election results, I caught up with MSYSA board members who were in attendance. They stated that they spoke to every candidate, and said the decision was extremely difficult in the end. However, they believed that Carlos Cordeiro was the best option when they thought about who was best for youth soccer in Maryland and in the United States, also stating that he was the candidate who could most likely deliver a World Cup hosting bid for the United States in 2026. They made sure to stress that they seriously considered every candidate, and their decision was extremely difficult, however they went with Cordeiro, who Virginia Youth Soccer Association also sided with.

The 2018 USSF Presidential Campaign has come to a close, with Carlos Cordeiro elected as the next President of US Soccer.

But Wait, There’s More…

Baltimore USL

While in the lobby, I ran into a USL representative who could be considered EXTREMELY reliable. I asked if they had heard any updates about the potential for Baltimore as a USL city, they even said they had seen our petition which was pretty humbling.

I was able to confirm that an announcement would be coming in the next 60 days, with an ownership group approved. The only hold-up is the stadium announcement, which was coming along and apparently a few potential locations are currently being considered.

We both seemed extremely excited about the near future as it relates to USL coming to Baltimore, which looks to be finally becoming a reality after years of speculation. Extremely good news for Baltimore soccer!

Family Business

I just got done watching Jermaine Jones’ epic Instagram rant against MLS and their close relationship with the USSF, and the main point that he tried to get across to everyone was “if you see something that doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t seem to add up, speak out against it.”

Jermaine Jones is a guy who played for 11 different clubs in his 18-year pro playing career. He’s someone who I’ve followed (and covered) dating back to his days at Schalke when there were talks of him potentially switching from Germany to The United States because of a falling out with the coach… or federation… I don’t remember which, because the incredibly-talented CDM who made 69 appearances and always came up clutch for the Stars and Stripes seemed to usually having a falling out with someone.

Not that it’s always a bad thing… some might call him outspoken, others might call him passionate.

One thing he seemed genuinely passionate about tonight after his first IG Live post caused more than a few ripples the first time around back in October, was the huge problem that United States soccer fans are seemingly ignoring: USSF’s close relationship with Major League Soccer.

Let’s ignore Pro/Rel, whether we need more players in Europe, Cyle Larin transfer fees and normal soccer banter over the past 4 months and jump straight to the point….

Kathy Carter will more than likely be elected as the next US Soccer Federation’s president, and what ultimately pushed her over the edge were votes from the athlete’s council, as many have Tweeted about and speculated.

Hope Solo Tweeted Julie Foudy two days ago, asking her if she organized a call with “select” athletes.

So did you not organize a call last week with select, but not all, former players as well as current players and athlete council members advocating for the status-quo Kathy Carter?

Which Foudy replied:

I did organize call. But wasn’t to talk about candidates. Sorry to disappoint. It was about the power of the athletes council. And how to best utilize that power.

Well it appears that they are fully utilizing that power, because many believe that the call was to “suggest” that current and ex-athletes would be better off (professionally) with Carter as their vote for President. Kathy Carter has a close relationship with Wasserman Media Group, which many also believe have been using political influence to persuade voters to choose Carter.

It’s fair to say that Wasserman Media Group has a strong political influence in the soccer community, and despite whatever went down on that call, it’s becoming apparent that it’s very likely that Wasserman is putting pressure on others to vote for Carter. Many believe that a call went down, and thanks to Julie herself confirming it (we’re not saying Foudy is involved, Foudy isn’t a Wasserman client, but the agency does represent a number of on-air personalities and television is something Wasserman is very involved in) I believe that it’s now on them to provide the notes from the call, and provide “transparency” and “change” and “leadership” and all of those other annoying buzzwords floating around campaigns that make you want to throw your phone in the closest container holding a liquid.

Oh, and Wasserman also represents Bruce Arena.

Yes, seriously, Bruce Arena.

bruce arena

So when Jermaine Jones says that MLS is the problem, and you start remembering comments from Coach Arena during qualifying  “I’d like to see some of those European hotshots come over here and try to qualify in CONCACAF” and leaving Fabian Johnson off of the roster, continually suggest that MLS players are our best option, and rely on players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore and a host of other MLS veterans (I’m not going to the work of researching what agent represents every USMNT player, but I’m sure there are some from Wasserman) and it makes you wonder….does the USSF have US Soccer’s best interest at heart, or do they have MLS’s best interests at heart?

Is ANY OF THIS going to make us a stronger soccer country? Or are we going to turn into a country like Argentina where Messi was willing to retire from the National Team because of the politics and corruption involved in his country’s Federation?

As if it’s not a bitter enough pill to swallow that an “independent commission to review US Soccer” would be lead by a sports agent which represents the higher majority of MLS players and has numerous ties to television, events like the Olympics and a World Cup bid, etc. but you also look at known facts like:

We mentioned in a Tweet that I have spoken to an attorney who is familiar with the USSF Presidential campaign about how USSF could lose their tax-exempt status if Carter was voted as the next USSF president. While this is simply a hypothetical, I believe it still raises the OBVIOUS question of “conflict of interest”.

So if Wasserman is the new chief wahoo of this new “commission” to change US Soccer, and if I sound skeptical of the likelihood that this commission will actually yield any results on how to produce the next Neymar than I assure you, they are genuine, then where does the pencil thin – wait, no, I meant extremely thick, big ol’ magic marker-sized- line of “conflict of interest” come into play?

-Sports agent takes over as head of commission.

-Sports agent’s players benefit monetarily….NOT as a result of Wasserman’s involvement, I’m not painting conspiracy theories, but I’m just saying that over time, like every other athlete, they become more marketable, they’re getting higher contract offers,etc.

-Sports agent, who is now involved with USSF, makes more money as a result, so how is that not a conflict of interest?

But here’s the thing that someone with a lot clearer understanding of how IRS and tax-exempt laws work than I do pointed out. USSF is setup as a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, and according to the IRS:

A section 501(c)(3) organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals, or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests. No part of the net earnings of a section 501(c)(3) organization may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. A private shareholder or individual is a person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization.

Once again, this is all copy and paste on my end, I am not a lawyer and I have no idea where that thick, 200pixel-wide line of “conflict of interest” is crossed… I’m just listening to Jermaine Jones and speaking out if something doesn’t add up, and all of this just doesn’t add up for me.

USL to Baltimore: An Interview with Fred Matthes

There have long been rumors that USL has been seriously considering bringing a professional USL soccer team to Baltimore, with the help of a DC-area potential owner. This individual (whose name I am leaving out of this article, everything I’ve heard is from inside sources but not completely verified) is part of a successful DC-area tech company with ties to the youth game, and has reportedly been scouting possible locations for a USL stadium in Baltimore City.

For those who aren’t familiar with our petition to help bring a USL team to Baltimore City, you can view more details and sign the petition here.

There have been many questions regarding a potential professional soccer team in the Baltimore area, after previously failed attempts to bring professional soccer to Maryland by Crystal Palace FC, Real Maryland, and Baltimore Bohemians of the PDL, who announced they would be going on hiatus.

Would there be a new stadium? Would it be in the city or in Baltimore County?

What would this new team do differently from the past teams? Would Baltimore support a professional soccer team? What does USL look at and take into consideration when reviewing potential USL markets?

I discussed all of these issues with Fred Matthes, a professional soccer consultant. Fred has over 23 years of experience in sales and operations for professional soccer teams in the US. He was with DC United’s ticket sales operation at the beginning of the franchise in 1995, with DC’s ticket sales department winning multiple MLS awards under his watch as Senior Director.

Fred later went on to work with Sacramento Republic FC, a growing USL franchise named in November by MLS as an expansion finalist along with Cincinnati FC, as their Vice President of Ticket Sales . Fred has also worked as a consultant with Fresno FC, a new USL franchise starting in 2018, headed by GM Fred Yallop (former assistant at DC United), who asked Fred personally to come to Fresno and assist with staffing and operations efforts.

I’ve heard Fred’s name mentioned in multiple soccer circles, especially for his work in the early days of DC United. One of the main reasons why I wanted to speak with Fred is because he has 23 years of experience inside MLS and USL franchises, especially as it relates to business, marketing, and operations. I believe his insight to be truly valuable, as we search for answers related to professional USL soccer in Baltimore.

Below are some things we discussed.

Baltimore as a Professional Soccer Market

Me: “Fred, thanks for your time. Baltimore has been rumored to be in contention for a USL team for some time now, but some are saying that past teams have tried and failed. What’s different in 2018 and moving forward versus in the past?”

Fred: “Of course! Thanks for having me. I do believe that the Baltimore market is one with a lot of potential as a USL city. When you look at the rich soccer history in the Baltimore area, the fact that it’s a major metropolitan city, and a number of other factors at play that USL looks at (discussed below), I believe USL should seriously consider Baltimore as a future market.

USL is in the process of expanding. They announced last year that they would be launching a USL Division III in 2019, which means they’ll need to add teams and franchises to the league as they look to continue their growth. It was also announced recently that USL would be sanctioned by US Soccer as a second-division league, so there are a lot of owners out there who see potential as promotion/relegation discussions continue.

So when you look at markets where MLS clubs have launched their “B” teams- Vancouver, New York (Red Bulls), Seattle, and other cities- they aren’t getting many people out to those games. Maybe 600 or so, on a good day. When you compare those attendance numbers with those of say a Sacramento, or Cincinnati, or Phoenix, there is a debate as to whether or not it makes sense to have those MLS II sides actually compete in the top USL Division, or if down the road you eventually bump those MLS II sides down, and in the meantime add franchises in other major cities which can get fans out to their stadiums.

As USL continues to grow, and you see certain markets like Philadelphia who has Philly Union at MLS level and Bethlehem Steel in USL, or other major markets which have 2 professional teams, I believe that USL and others in the past overlooked Baltimore and just assumed they were part of the DC metro market. This thought process has since changed. You can’t get a lot of people to drive an hour plus (in traffic) from Baltimore to see a DC United game, and I believe USL is more aware that. In certain major markets, there in enough room for two pro teams to be successful as the game continues to grow in popularity.”

Me: “Well there would be another DC United professional team launching in Loudoun County, they just announced approval for a USL stadium and plan on bringing a USL team to that area.”

Fred: “Correct, but DC United has always wanted to have a “headquarters” type of setup where they can have all of the front-office staff, players, coaches, youth academy, everyone at one key central location (with RFK and the RFK auxiliary fields not being the most professional club atmosphere).

Their plans to expand to the Loudoun County area, where…again, people in Loudoun County and outskirts of Virginia will pay for tickets and go see games locally, but it’s a big ask for them to pack up the family and travel to DC for MLS matches on the weekends….but that offers even more opportunity for Baltimore as a USL market. DC United’s new stadium is in DC, and their USL stadium will be in Virginia, so it’s possible that families and soccer fans in areas in between Baltimore and DC- such as Howard County, Anne Arundel County, and other big parts of Maryland- might identify more with a Baltimore-based franchise than with DC United, if they had to choose.”

What Factors Do USL Consider When Reviewing a Potential City?

Me: “Interesting. So when you say that USL in the past might have overlooked Baltimore, and assumed it was part of the DC or ‘DMV’ market, what are some things that USL actually look at when assessing a potential market? And how would you compare those factors in Baltimore with those of other USL markets?”

Fred: “Well like I said earlier, Baltimore has potential for so many different reasons.

The first is the youth soccer market. In Maryland, you have 175k-200k kids playing soccer. While many of these kids might live in counties closer to DC like Montgomery County, PG, or Southern Maryland, there are still big counties (in terms of population) closer to Baltimore like Baltimore City and County, Harford County, Howard County, Anne Arundel County, and so on which a new USL franchise could market to.

Overall population is something that USL also looks at.

Note: The top 10 counties in Maryland by population, according to census numbers published in March 2017:

  1. Montgomery County (1,043,863)
  2. PG County (908,049)
  3. Baltimore County (908,049)
  4. Baltimore City (621,000)
  5. Anne Arundel (568,346)
  6. Howard County (317,233)
  7. Harford County (251,032)
  8. Frederick County (247,591)
  9. Carroll County (167,656)
  10. Charles County (157,705)

So when you look at the number of kids in Maryland playing soccer, compared to existing USL markets like Cincinnati where around 60,000 kids play soccer, or Louisville (Cincy’s local rival) with around 14,000 kids playing soccer, I’m sure USL sees a lot of potential there.

You also have a neighboring state in Delaware which a new USL team could market to as well. Some of the soccer folks in DE might make the drive to Philly for a Union game, but there are parts of Delaware that could also become fans of a professional Baltimore USL team.

Another factor is Baltimore’s soccer history, obviously. Baltimore is a traditional soccer city, dating back to as far as I can remember.

You have a strong college soccer presence in Baltimore as well. USL really relies on the college market, younger people come out to games and support professional teams in USL based on my experience and with great local colleges in the Baltimore area, coupled with evolving college soccer rivalries like Maryland vs UMBC, Loyola’s recent emergence, and the number of colleges in the area with kids who would come out to games, they’ll take that into consideration.

And of course, the fact that Baltimore is a major city is a big factor. There are a LOT of corporate sponsor opportunities in the Baltimore area. In Sacramento, our kit sponsor was UC Davis, which was huge for us. In Baltimore, you have John Hopkins, Under Armour, McCormick & Company, T. Rowe Price, Legg Mason, all right there in Baltimore City.”

What Makes Sacramento Successful, From A Marketing Standpoint?

Me: “I wanted to bring up the stadium topic, but first I wanted to ask you about your experience with other clubs you’ve worked with, particularly Sacramento. What are some things you experienced in Sacramento, from a marketing and promotional standpoint, that you would want to see replicated in a new potential market like Baltimore?”

Fred: “If a USL team lands in Baltimore, the BIGGEST MISTAKE they can make is marketing it as a ‘semi-pro’ team, or as a team in a division under DC United.

That was probably an issue with past teams’ efforts. If people are under the impression that a USL team in Baltimore is a semi-pro team, or one that doesn’t actually compete with DC United and other MLS teams, it will scare away potential corporate sponsors, potential season ticket holders, and overall public interest. In Sacramento, we marketed the team as a professional soccer team, and that’s how it has to be presented. You’re not going to attract major kit sponsors or supporters if everyone thinks semi-pro soccer is coming to Baltimore, it won’t work. Period.

When you look at a USL market like Louisville, that’s one of their biggest obstacles, the public perception that it’s ‘semi-pro soccer’, especially when compared to local rivals FC Cincinnati who market their team as a professional sports franchise.

Baltimore can’t be like Louisville, it has to be more like Cincinatti, from a marketing standpoint.

You also want to make sure you’re hosting corporate events, and going after younger working professionals. Soccer families are great, but if a stadium ended up in Baltimore City, families from the suburbs will likely only come to games sporadically since they usually have multiple engagements. In Sacramento, we had great success marketing to millennials and younger working professionals, they became supporters of the team and many of them bought season tickets. So you want to do what you can to maintain an active presence in the local business community, but also go after the local craft brewery crowd, which we did in Sacramento, and maintain a presence where people are looking for something else fun to do in the area.

Lastly, the biggest marketing message in Sacramento was that we were community-based. Our message was ‘Live, Work, and Play in Sacramento’. We always made an effort to support the local community, and maintain an active presence locally. I agree with your petition that a new Baltimore USL franchise could do a lot for the local youth, but it won’t happen overnight or right away.

Building more futsal courts in the area, getting the pro players out in the community (which they enjoy anyway, the younger guys love interacting with the locals and building their brand locally), doing whatever you can to give back to the Baltimore community. You have to remember that local politicians need to support the team, so building a political base in the Baltimore area will come as a result of community involvement and the franchise ingraining itself into the local community. You look at how DC Scores has evolved in the DC area, or in Sacramento we had a Street Soccer organization helping to get homeless people involved in soccer….a lot of these community organizations have been able to do such great work because they’ve had the support of their local professional soccer franchises. So if you build a stadium in Baltimore City, and only go after families in Baltimore or Howard County, and ignore the local community, it’ll never work.”

Let’s Talk Stadium

Me: “All of this is great stuff, Fred. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was related to a potential stadium. Talk to me about how things worked in Sacramento, and how you think a new stadium could potentially work here in Baltimore.”

Fred: “So in Sacramento, our first couple of games (in 2014) were played at Charles C. Hughes Stadium, which is a lot bigger than the soccer-specific stadium (now known as Papa Murphy’s Park) that was under construction at the time. But it’s interesting how it worked out, from a business standpoint.

So Charles Hughes Stadium holds around 20,000 people, but the new soccer stadium only held 8,000. But by managing to sell out the first few home games at Charles Hughes Stadium, we were actually able to create a higher demand as we moved into the smaller soccer-specific stadium, because there was a lot less of a supply of tickets. That being said, we were able to sell a lot of season ticket packages, in addition to the VIP Corporate area where we hosted a number of influential local business customers who brought their clients to the matches.

As a result, we expanded the stadium from 8,000 to over 11,000, and we improved the current seating… (laughs) I actually remember the staff out there bolting new backs onto the seats when they came in…and we signed a new corporate sponsor for the stadium naming rights.”

Me: “Interesting. So if a soccer-specific stadium was built here in Baltimore City, a lot of people in the local community are wondering if it would be privately funded, or built by taxpayers. How did it work in Sacramento?”

Fred: “The cost of the initial construction wasn’t very expensive, it was only around $3.5 million to build. It was paid for privately, but the local concessions company split the cost with ownership. People have to remember that a small 5,000-8,000 seat stadium can be used for a lot more than just soccer matches. We had a stage installed, so the stadium hosted smaller concerts, rugby matches, expos, and other events. We even had drone racing, which was actually a big hit.

So initially, the concessions company was happy to split the cost of the stadium construction, based on the fact that it would be selling concessions at all of these events. Eventually, public funding was used to expand the seating of the stadium, but it was a no-brainer based on the value that the stadium was adding to the community.

In Baltimore, with lacrosse being such a popular sport, a smaller soccer-specific stadium could also host college lacrosse, college soccer, concerts, pretty much anything you could think of as long as it didn’t tear up the grass on the pitch.

In Sacramento, when the stadium was being built, there was a local district that was created along with it- new restaurants, bars, and other local attractions. I’ve heard the rumors of Swann Park, which would be interesting. It’s in a fairly-undeveloped area of the city with younger working professionals nearby, it’s easily accessible from I-95, and the new Under Armour headquarters in Port Covington is only a stone’s-throw away. So that would be interesting, assuming the new franchise would be able to build relationships with nearby corporations.

In terms of what USL requires in a stadium- it needs to be at least 5,000 seats, they don’t want any football lines, they don’t want a track around the field, and they don’t want artificial turf (even though some teams still play on turf). We had a great full-time grounds crew in Sacramento which kept the pitch in prestige condition, so that’s also something to consider.

But in terms of Baltimore or Maryland taxpayers paying for the cost of the stadium, I don’t think that’s much of an issue. A new stadium in Baltimore would offer so much to the city in terms of local business opportunities, increased tourism from new events at the stadium, and so forth.”

Thanks!

A special thanks to Fred Mattes (link to his Twitter profile) for his time and insight. Like many of us here in the Baltimore soccer community have said for years, there’s no reason why Baltimore still doesn’t have a professional soccer team based on all of these factors. The history of soccer in the area, along with the value that a professional USL soccer franchise could bring to the community, could be the reason why USL-to-Baltimore rumors continue to circulate. While it’s great that DC United will soon have two professional soccer teams (and stadiums), I think we’d all agree that Baltimore is just as deserving of the opportunity to support our own local professional soccer team.

 

Social Media Promotion in Soccer: When is Too Much Too Much?

I was at last week’s United Soccer Coaches’ Convention in Philadelphia, and ran into a number of coaches from the DMV area from both the collegiate and club levels. One of the best things about these conventions is catching up and discussing things in person with coaches who you interact with or know personally, versus the normal day-to-day interactions when we all see each other on Twitter or Facebook.

One popular topic when I caught up with coaches from the area was social media promotion, and how Twitter, specifically, has evolved over the past couple of years as a self-promotion tool for clubs and college programs. It’s common knowledge that Twitter and other social media outlets serve as valuable marketing tools when it comes to youth clubs and college programs promoting their teams’ and players’ accomplishments, but the overall consensus that I got from a number of respected coaches in the area is that there’s a fine line between marketing your product, and being a little too self-promoting.

Youth players also use Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to try to promote their highlight videos to prospective college programs, or to show off a quality goal they might have scored to their friends and peers.

The question I always wonder is, what kind of example are certain clubs setting for their youth players when they are constantly congratulating themselves on Twitter in an attempt to promote their accomplishments? We’re always telling players that they shouldn’t only be playing for the “atta boys” and pats on the back, yet a number of DMV clubs seem ready and willing to ignore the knowledge that they pass onto youth players when it comes to their own clubs’ social media marketing efforts.

I’ve heard from college assistant coaches in the past who have said that a prospective player spending too much time on Twitter could be a potential red flag during the recruiting process, yet you look at the players’ youth club’s Twitter profile and there are new Tweets every 10 or 15 minutes, congratulating themselves as a club on past players’ accomplishments, current teams’ results, coaches’ new positions within the game, etc. You might think that the intention of the club is sincere, “Congratulations to former (insert club name) player John Smith on his 4th consecutive start for (insert college name)!”, but then at the end there always seems to be that “another reason why our club is awesome” statement or hashtag that leaves you with the impression that they were more hoping for Retweets and likes in order to promote their brand.

Are We Setting the Right Example for Youth Players?

#WeTheBEST!

One thing I’ve enjoyed after not coaching for a year is looking back on some mistakes I made as a coach. I’m the first to admit that I started DMVSoccer.com (while coaching) in order to help promote the accomplishments of USSDA players in the DMV area, based on the fact that high school and USYSA players are constantly subject to write-ups and coverage from local newspapers, and receiving all-county, all-met, all-conference, and other awards and accolades. It’s hard for me to say that coaches and clubs need to walk a fine line between constantly promoting their own players and club accomplishments in their Tweets, knowing that I was guilty of the same thing a few seasons ago while trying to help promote our players’ accomplishments and visibility to collegiate programs, all with a self-promotion “pat myself on the back as a coach” undertone. But we all learn from our mistakes, hindsight is 50/50, and hopefully this doesn’t come off as me on my high horse, because I’ll admit that I was guilty of the same thing at one point.

If youth clubs are looking to set an example for their players when it comes to how to conduct themselves both on and off the field, then I always wonder what it would be like if players Tweeted the same way that their clubs constantly promoted their accomplishments on Twitter.

So if I’m a junior in high school, I play for a local club, I’m watching my club on Twitter and decided to replicate their recent Tweets based on my day-to-day activity:

8h “Moms just made breakfast, eggs and bacon and the toast was perfect, threw it down like a champ with a glass of OJ but no time for that pulp.” #ImTheBomb

8h “Dressed and ready for school, got those fresh J’s that my parents bought me for Xmas, you know what it is.” #ImTheBomb

7h “Driving to school, this lady was driving too slow in the fast lane so I passed her, didn’t even turn my blinker on cause that’s how we’re rollin” #ImTheBomb

7h “Just got to school, Becky said she liked my new J’s and asked me what I’m doing for lunch, shout out to Becky with the long hair” #ImTheBomb

7h “Got to homeroom on time, teacher called my name and I was like…’here’ #ImTheBomb

6h “Got a C+ on my Algebra exam, shout-out to everybody in Advanced Algebra 3rd period with Mrs Smith that class is no joke” #ImTheBomb

6h “Jay said he finished fourth in Fortnite last night and I’m like ‘lol’, he can’t even build” #ImTheBomb

5h “Just got in my locker and you already know it only took me one time to remember the lock combination, 3 straight weeks gotta keep this streak goin!” #ImTheBomb

You get the point.

Who would ever want to be friends with that person, let alone look at him as the example on how to Tweet? You’d think he was pretty full of himself to think that we actually cared about half of the stuff he was throwing out there.

 

Sometimes, Less is More

It’s obviously a new world that we live in, with CNN and practically every news outlet constantly commenting on our President and his sporadic Tweeting habits, with a lot of them being self-promoting. There aren’t many people out there, based on the conduct of past Presidents when it comes to setting an example for how to conduct themselves, who would look at President Trump’s tweets and think to themselves “that guy seems like a pretty stable, down-to-earth, focused guy”. Sorry, not to make this a political topic, but when psychologists and others come out saying that his social media behavior shows narcissistic tendencies, I’m not one to argue.

The professional players who don’t Tweet 18 times a day about their own accomplishments are usually looked at as too busy and focused to engage in self-promotion. There are certain athletes who you follow on Instagram or Twitter and you’re like “Geez, get over yourself”, constantly sharing pictures of themselves or videos of themselves in training. But if youth players followed the example of some of their clubs, finding themselves constantly in need of the “CONGRATS! YOU’RE AWESOME” feedback or enamored with others liking their Tweets, then what kind of players will they be in the collegiate level when it’s time to keep their head down and work hard, put the phone down and focus on their studies?

That being said, we all agree that Twitter and other social media platforms can be valuable tools when it comes to marketing and brand awareness.

But the question that I think the more self-promoting youth clubs should ask themselves, aside from whether or not they are setting the right example for their youth players in how they conduct themselves on social media, is… are the majority of your Tweets actually adding value for your players and parents?

2018 MLS Combine Guest Blog Post: Chris Lema, Georgetown

This is a guest blog post from 2017 Georgetown captain Chris Lema, a New York Red Bull Academy product who has been involved with the US Youth National Team at both U-17 and U-20 levels. Chris spent the past few days at the MLS Combine in Orlando, as he prepares for Sunday’s MLS Draft. Chris was nice enough to share his Combine experience thus far with DMVSoccer.com.

Chris Lema Georgetown

The Days Before

Leading up to the combine, my nerves were calm, but I was excited to get back in touch with a soccer ball. Being that my Georgetown team had been done with the season since our NCAA second-round defeat, I had not been able to play soccer on a regular-sized field in quite some time. New Jersey (where I live) had an abundance of snowstorms over the winter break, which made it a lot more difficult to get around. In order to prepare for the combine, I had to find indoor pick-up spots all over New Jersey, and do both my workouts and runs indoors in my local Planet Fitness.

I was later introduced to RC Performance, where I was training alongside Brandon Allen- going through some high intensity soccer and agility drills that I believe helped both my technical ability, and fitness- leading up to the combine and draft. Training prior to the draft was something that I knew was important, especially because I knew my body would have to adapt to the Florida climate.

On Monday, January 11th, I arrived at Newark Liberty International airport for my one-way flight to Orlando, where I met up with two other players (Brian White of Duke, and Mamadou Guirassy of NJIT) who I knew were also traveling to the combine.

The flight was comfortable and quick from New Jersey to Orlando, but as soon as I got off of the plane I felt the dreadful Florida heat and humidity. This was the reason why I pushed my boundaries in terms of fitness over the past couple of weeks.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I could read all of the signs welcoming the 2018 MLS Combine Players. Everything from hotel key cards to pre-printed schedules which had “2018 MLS Combine” featured on them, and that’s when it started to sink in.

2018 MLS Combine

Chris Lema

Throughout the trip, all of the players had a first-class experience. We had our own personal Player Combine Lounge where we could enjoy some snacks, drinks, and of course play some FIFA 2018 (on Xbox One). We had three meals a day, and everything was healthy and delicious. One of the best parts about this week was that we had quite a bit of down time in between games where we could hang out with other players, catch up on some TV shows, and have meeting with numerous MLS teams. These meetings were considered “interviews” in which the team’s staff would ask you questions pertaining to both your soccer ability and personal life.

The idea was for teams to get to know you as both a player, and as a person. After the questions pertaining to how much you were enjoying the combine, some of the more popular questions were:

1) Do you like to win or hate to lose?
2) What are some strengths and weaknesses that you have?
3) How was your college experience, and how has it helped you develop?
4) How did your youth career help you get to where you are now?
5) Tell us a little bit about your family.
6) Give us a rundown on how you thought you played.

Throughout the day, you would hear players talking about their interviews with other MLS teams, and joke about the weird questions they got asked, which included riddles with a certain amount of time to answer. Once in a while, a team would throw you a curve ball question that requires a lot more brain power than usual, to try to catch you off of your game.

When players weren’t talking about their meetings, they were certainly talking about their stock going up or going down, as several articles and forms of social media post opinions on how players are doing. I tend to not let these things affect me. I just keep my head high and play the style of soccer that I’ve been playing for the past 21 years of my life, which I believe is the secret to performing well in the  combine. I wanted to control what I had control over, and play my game.

If someone one day asked me if I had any advice for them leading into the combine, I would tell them to play the way you know how to play, keep the game as simple as possible, play both sides of the
ball, and try to get as many touches on the ball as you can. That’s what I wanted to focus on when I played at the combine, and I believe I did well in the three matches I played. I was happy with my performances, and was able to go home excited for what is to come in the next few days. Can’t wait for the draft!

DMV NCAA Soccer: 2017 Review and 2018 Preview

NCAA DMV Soccer Schedule

It was an exciting college soccer season in 2017 here in the DMV, with plenty to be excited about heading into next year. We’ll also have a new Division I program, Mount Saint Mary’s, competing in the DMV in Fall of 2018.

DMV Tournament Teams

University of Maryland was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they lost in PK’s to a tough University of Albany team, behind an outstanding performance by Albany goalkeeper Danny Vitiello.

There is little doubt that Coach Sasho Cirovski and his squad will be looking to come back stronger next season, and make a return to the College Cup. Graduating seniors include starters Jake Rozhansky and George Campbell, but the good news is that the Terps will be coming into next season with another year of experience under their belts, using the devastating tourney loss at home as motivation. The team is stacked with juniors like Eryk Williamson, Sebastian Elney, Amar Sejdic, Gordon Wild, the list goes on. Donovan Pines and Dayne St Clair will come back even stronger, and the Terps have a pretty decent recruiting class coming in which includes locals Justin Gielen (a dynamic forward from DeMatha who has professional ambitions), as well as defenders Nick Richardson who has been in the u-17 National Team mix and won last year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year…as only a junior…as well as defender Brett Saint Martin, who was voted All-State, All-American, All-Everything. All three players are on Coach Barry Stitz‘s Baltimore Celtic 2000 team, who compete at every level and are one of the best teams in the country.

Georgetown had another successful season under head coach Brian Wiese, winning the Big East Championship and earning a first-round NCAA Tournament bye. The Hoyas lost a heart-breaker at home to SMU in the NCAA tourney with only FOURTEEN seconds left in double overtime, but have an extremely young roster more than capable of returning to national prominence next season, highlighted by Junior standout goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski, who was outstanding all season for the Hoyas and seems destined to be a big-time professional goalkeeper once his playing days are over with Georgetown.

VCU was this season’s DMV Cinderella story, beating Maryland at Maryland 3-0 in the regular season, beating Rhode Island twice, and earning a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament. It was the third NCAA Tournament appearance under 8th-year head coach Dave Giffard, who continues to establish himself as one of the top NCAA Soccer coaches in the country, looking to continue to build the Rams into national contention again next season.

 

UVA finished the season in the Top 10 in National rankings and will likely come back strong next year like they always do, earning a first-round bye in this year’s NCAA Tournament and finishing the season with a 12-4-5 record in a very tough ACC Conference. The Cavaliers finished with a 12-3-5 record, losing only 3 games despite being ranked number 9 nationally in the NCAA RPI Rankings. The Cavaliers’ Head Coach George Gelnovatch will enter his 23rd season in 2018, and 2017 was his TWENTY SECOND straight NCAA Tournament appearance, an NCAA record.

ODU won Conference USA, won their first-round NCAA Tournament game against NC State, and have a young nucleus in place highlighted by freshman standout midfielder Brandon Purdue. The Monarchs finished with a 13-6-2 record, were ranked 28th in RPI Rankings, and will look to return to the NCAA Tournament for a seventh time in the past nine seasons under head coach Alan Dawson, who has served as ODU’s Head Coach for 21 seasons, making the NCAA Tournament 12 times since taking over in 1997.

William and Mary won the CAA Conference Title and also made the NCAA Tournament, led by Junior striking sensation Antonio Bustamante, who finished the season with 15 goals and 5 assists, and scored FOUR goals in William and Mary’s CAA Quarterfinal game vs Hofstra.

And Virginia Tech also made the NCAA Tournement after a successful season in a tough ACC conference, beating Air Force in the first round before eventually bowing out to Michigan State in the second round.

In total, SEVEN teams from the DC/MD/VA area made the NCAA tournament in 2017, but the prospect of even more teams from the area competing for a spot next season is just as exciting.

Looking to Compete for an NCAA Tournament Spot Next Season

George Washington finished with a 9-7-2 record this season, competing in the Atlantic-10 conference. Freshmen Oscar Haynes Brown, Brady O’Connor, Simon Fitch, and Peirce Williams all got valuable minutes this season, and look to take the next step next year as head coach Craig Jones and his coaching staff continue recruiting efforts as they look to continue to build a competitive program in DC.

UMBC competed with a number of teams who made the tournament this season, beating Maryland at home, beating New Hampshire, and beating Albany in the regular season before losing to them in the conference tournament. The Retrievers graduate a few key seniors this year with starters Gregg Hauck, Cormac Noel, Tom Paul, and Sammy Kahsai all making way for younger players to step up next season. Matt Bailey and goalkeeper Ciaran O’Loughlin were both voted to America East All-Rookie team, and with U-17 National Team goalkeeper Quantrell Jones committed to UMBC for next season, the competition every day in training for Coach Pete Caringi’s Retrievers will start from the goal and hopefully work it’s way throughout the rest of the team, as UMBC look for players like Bailey, Tre PulliamTre McCallaPatrick Jean-Gilles, David Harris, and James Gielen looking to replace the goals that they’ll be losing with Kahsai moving on.

Loyola missed out on an NCAA Tournament spot despite playing an exciting brand of soccer all season. Steve Nichols‘ Greyhounds will come back even stronger next season, with a good young talented squad. Freshman Goalkeeper Chase Vosvick made First-Team Northeast Regional Team as a freshman, as well as Patriot League Rookie of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year. Sophomore Brian Saramago will look to stay healthy in 2018 after being voted First-Team All-Patriot League, and the amount of talent that Coach Nichols has at his disposal next season with guys like Barry Sharifi, Nico Brown, Sam BrownJosh Fawole, as well as standout incoming center back Jake Dengler, who (last I heard) was set to transfer to Loyola from CCBC-Essex for next season, should see the Greyhounds be in the Nationally-ranked conversation next year.

Making Progress

George Mason, who were receiving votes for National Top 25 at the beginning of the season, will look to bounce back next year with a revamped squad after they graduate six seniors this season and 1 graduate student. One of the graduating seniors are leading scorer Henning Dirks, who scored 10 goals and added 7 assists this season. The Patriots finished with a 5-9-2 record but are very well coached under Head Coach Greg Andrulis, who will be looking to build on this season heading into 2018.

James Madison, who I thought looked very balanced at the beginning of the season, finished the season with a 9-7-3 record but earned some victories against quality opponents this season. They beat William and Mary 4-3 in regular season (before losing to them in Conference Championship Semifinal), beat 15th-ranked UNC Wilmington 2-0, and also defeated an FIU team in preseason who ended up going on to second round of NCAA Tournament before losing to Duke. JMU is only graduating one senior this season, and have a good core group of young players returning, including sophomore midfielder Manuel Ferriol who led the team in scoring with 7 goals, as well as midfielder Ben Dao.

Navy, for as much as we wrote about them in the offseason, were bound to have another difficult season ahead of them as Coach Tim O’Donohue and his coaching staff continue to revamp their squad.

The Midshipmen started four freshmen throughout most of the season, with a number of guys getting valuable minutes heading into next year.

Navy’s recruiting class is looking pretty impressive for next season, with TEN high school seniors currently committed to Navy, including local standout center back Tyler Collins from Mount St Joe’s (also a part of Baltimore Celtic 2000 team), Baltimore Armour U18/19 player Jacob Williams (one of the team’s leading scorers), two outstanding young goalkeepers in Tyler Fahning of Minnesota Thunder Academy, and Johan Penaranda who starts for a very talented NYCFC U18/19 USSDA team. A full list of Navy’s verbal commitments:

Navy Soccer

But what many don’t realize is that the DMV will have ANOTHER division one program competing in the area next season.

Mount Saint Mary’s, located in Emmitsburg, Maryland, has reinstated their Men’s Soccer program and are returning next season after a few years on hiatus. This is a program which had some success under former head coach Rob Ryerson in the early 2000’s, and will compete in the NEC Northeast Conference.

mount st marys soccer

New head coach Bryan Cunningham, who was formerly the Head Coach at UCF, has a reputation for developing MLS-level talent, including three first-round MLS Draft selections in Romario Williams (2015/1st rd/3rd overall pick), Deshorn Brown (2013/1st rd/6thoverall pick) and Hadji Barry (2016/1st rd/13th overall pick), in addition to current US National Team and NYFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson (2010/4th rd).

We had a quick discussion with Coach Cunningham earlier today, and he is more than excited about the quality of players his program has been recruiting ever since this past January when he took over as head coach.

“We’re very lucky to have the full support of the University. The President and Administration are all very serious about athletics here at the Mount, and we’re very excited about the team we’re putting together. Between the incoming freshmen, JuCo transfers, and other guys coming in, we think we’ll not only be competitive next season, but could make a case to become a Top 25 program.”

Coach Cunningham named Trevor Singer as his assistant coach back in August. Coach Singer was formerly an Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at George Mason, who also spent some time at Temple. He has Academy coaching experience with FC Delco, and also serves as a National Team scout within the Region 1 ODP Program.

I asked Coach Cunningham about what he and his coaching staff thought of the quality of talent here in the DMV area, as they continue their local recruiting efforts which have resulted in verbal commitments from players at clubs like DC United, Baltimore Celtic, SAC, Baltimore Armour, and a host of others.

“In Florida, there were tons of quality players in the area from a host of different backgrounds, so we were lucky to have a lot of quality to choose from. We didn’t really have to leave our home market a ton, and here in the DMV area it’s very similar. The quality of talent here in this area is outstanding.”

Coach Cunningham wasn’t able to shed too much light on next season’s team until National Signing Day, but from what we’ve heard and what he tells us off the record, the prospect of ANOTHER Division 1 program competing in the DMV can only help raise the level of play here in the area.

“In terms of non-Conference games, we’re lining some matches up with top local programs and having discussions with a few teams that should see us with a Top 50 schedule next season. We definitely plan on playing local DMV matches, and are excited to compete in an area with so much talent.”

In terms of what to expect from Mount St Mary’s in Coach Cunningham’s first season, don’t expect them to park the bus every match either.

“We’re going to to attack. We’re not going to stay defensive and grind away to get results. I’d rather go 0-18 and play the right way, then have a winning season sitting in all match. Obviously I don’t expect us to go 0-18 with the amount of speed and athleticism we’ll have next season, but look for us to knock the ball and look to attack from the start”.

2018 NCAA DMV Season

Should Be Exciting

 

Between the seven teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament this season (Virginia, Georgetown, VCU, Virginia Tech, Maryland, ODU, William and Mary), the teams who competed this past season and look to take the next step in 2018 (Loyola, GW, UMBC), and the teams rebuilding through youth who are looking to play an attacking style of soccer next season (Navy, Mount Saint Mary’s, American U), there is a lot to be excited about heading into Spring NCAA Soccer and leading into next Fall.

Be sure to keep following us on Twitter @dmvsoccerdotcom as we’ll keep you updated on recruiting efforts for all DMV NCAA programs.

 

DMV NCAA Tournament Guide

The 2017 NCAA Men’s Tournament bracket was announced on Monday, with SEVEN teams from DC, MD, or Virginia participating in this year’s tournament.

Below you will find the 2017 NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament bracket, each DMV team’s matchup,  links to purchase tickets for home games, as well as live stream links for each team.

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

NCAA Tourney Bracket

Thursday DMV Home Games

University of Maryland

Ludwig Field- College Park, MD

vs Albany, 7pm

University of Maryland soccer

 

Tickets:  $10 for adults, $5 for youth

Watch Live: BTNPlus

William and Mary

Martin Family Stadium at Albert-Daly Field- Williamsport, VA

7pm vs Columbia

William and Mary Soccer

Buy Tickets $8 for adults, $3 for youth

Watch Live: N/A

Virginia Tech

Thompson Field, Blacksburg, VA

6pm vs Air Force

VA Tech Soccer

 $10 for adults, $5 for youth

Watch Live: N/A

Old Dominion University

ODU Soccer Complex, Norfolk VA

vs NC State, 7pm

ODU Soccer

Buy Tickets $8 for adults, $3 for youth

Watch Live: N/A

Sunday DMV Home Games

Georgetown Hoyas

Shaw Field, Washington, DC

vs winner of SMU and Central Arkansas, 1pm

georgetown soccer

Buy Tickets $10 for adults, $5 for youth

Watch Live: N/A

VCU

Sports Backer Stadium- Richmond, VA

vs winner of Butler and Lipscomb, 5pm

VCU Soccer

Buy Tickets $10 adult $8 youth

Watch Live: N/A

University of Virginia

Klockner Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

vs winner of Fordham and St Francis, 5pm

UVA Soccer

Buy Tickets $7 for adults, $5 for youth

Watch Live: N/A

 

Youth Soccer Development in the United States

When I decided to write a piece on youth development, I immediately started focusing on the same questions that many of us have been debating and discussing since Bruce Arena and the US Men’s National Team were eliminated from World Cup Qualifying:

  • Why don’t we have promotion/relegation yet?
  • How can we make youth development academy programs more affordable?
  • Are kids better off going to college and MLS, or going to Europe at a younger age?

And so on.

But after spending countless hours reading articles online, listening to podcasts, reading Tweets, and listening to others debate the same questions over, and over, and over again, it made me wonder if it’s actually possible for me to sit here and write a piece that says “here’s what’s wrong with US Soccer, and here’s how we fix it”…. nor would I want to come off as, in the words of Claudio Reyna, “arrogant” enough to actually think that I know more than the fine coaches, scouts, and administrators throughout the country who dedicate a large portion of their day-to-day lives to help kids get better at playing the beautiful game.

So what I decided to do was ask the opinion of those who are involved with youth development efforts on a day-to-day basis, as well as those who have actually lived it as a coach and/or player.

Thanks to the following contributors who were nice enough to give us a few opinions on youth soccer development in the United States, in alphabetical order:

  • John Ellinger– Former U-17 US Youth National Team Head Coach, former Real Salt Lake Head Coach, currently Director of Technical Operations at the Soccer Association of Columbia and Baltimore Armour.
  • John Harkes- Former US Men’s National team captain. Won 2 MLS Cups with DC United, also played in England for Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, West Ham, and Nottingham Forest. 90 Caps for the USMNT. Still actively coaching with Mclean Youth Club.
  • Ryan Martin– Former Wake Forest and FC Cincinnati Scouting Director, currently DC United Academy Director.
  • Bill Moravek– “A”-License coach who has previously served as an assistant for the Jamaican National Team, former academy coach and scout for Southampton and currently a head coach in Bethesda Soccer Club’s Development Academy, as well as a current scout for Fulham FC in England where he and his sons spent 5 years abroad before returning to the United States.
  • Matt Ney– “A”-License Head Coach of Bethesda Academy U17 Team who has been involved with the Development Academy for a number of seasons. Coach Ney’s U-15/16 team made it to the quarterfinals of USSDA playoffs last season, only to be eliminated by a very talented Atlanta United team 4-1.

Each of these coaches bring a unique perspective to the youth development conversation, and I’d like to thank each of them personally for taking the time to participate.

It should also be noted that I spoke to John Harkes on a number of these topics. His responses were dictated and sent to him for review, we hope to add his contributions once his official responses are received.

I interviewed each coach, and the first question I asked each of them was:

More kids are playing soccer in the United States than ever before. Do you believe some of them are falling through the cracks?

Ryan Martin, DC United Academy Director

Ryan Martin DCU Academy

“Yeah, definitely. Some of the best players we’ve been able to bring over to DC United we found playing on a middle school team or in some sort of rec program. One of the biggest responsibilities that we have at DC United as an MLS Academy is to discover and develop the best talent in the area, but it isn’t always the players who are playing in organized travel programs.

So since I came on board, Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper, and myself have made it a priority to improve our scouting network. We’ve scouted over 700 players between the ages of 11-15 so far this year. We’ve promoted John Bello to Full-Time Scouting Director, and we’ve added 8 part-time scouts to the program who are out there helping us to identify more talent in the DMV.

Our goal is to discover and develop the next Andy Najar (who DCU discovered at a tryout). We plan to constantly improve our scouting network, as well as our relationship with other local youth clubs by continuing to establish partnerships.”

John Harkes:

John Harkes USMNT

“Yes I do, but this does happen around the world. It just happens at a slightly higher rate in the US, due to our size as a country. I think we need more scouts, and more organized opportunities and sessions for top players.

Also, what is the criteria for a scout in the US? I don’t think it should be based on someone taking a low salary or per diem just to fill the role.”

I went on to ask John about how scouting played a role in his success as manager at FC Cincinnati:

harkes fc cincy

“I had been fortunate to have coached at all levels in the US, so I had a massive network of players from youth, PDL, college, USL, NASL, and MLS that, when combined with Ryan Martin, we knew what we wanted when we were scouting players. Ryan’s experience and the conversations we had while he coached Ian with Jay Vidovich at Wake Forest were great. We were on the same page.

The final decision on many talented players came down to character. We discuss technical ability for a possesion-style attack, physicality, speed of thought, and pure speed, but the deciding factor was character.”

Matt Ney, Bethesda Academy Head Coach:

Matt Ney Bethesda

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any question that there are masses falling through the cracks. I think this will continue to be the case until we have more clubs. I think we have to get to the point where there is a youth club in practically every neighborhood, and in every different pocket of the DMV. I’m talking about a kid in Bailey’s Crossroads not having to go play for Alexandria or Arlington, but a home club in his actual neighborhood. A kid from a Baltimore suburb not having to travel to play for Armour or one of the traditional Baltimore-area clubs, but they have an organized and competitive club in their actual neighborhood or general area.

I think we need more clubs popping up, either under their local YMCA or through other means. And as more clubs develop, it benefits the USSDA clubs like Arlington, Bethesda, Baltimore Armour because they’ll develop partnerships with more local clubs and improve their scouting network as a result. But I don’t think there are enough clubs offering kids the option for competitive club soccer. Take Gabriel Jersus, for example. Started off in a small, tiny youth club in Brazil, and is now playing for Manchester City and the Brazilian National Team.

So as more clubs begin to form, and the bigger clubs like DC United and other MLS Academies start going after their talent, the question becomes….what incentives do these smaller clubs actually have to develop players from ages, say 8-14, and then just let them leave for DC United or Philly Union? They get nothing. The players play in a youth club for however many years, DC United comes in and offers them the chance, but then what do the clubs get in return?

That’s what we have to start figuring out.”

(We’ll expand on this below)

John Ellinger, Former USYNT Coach and Current Baltimore Armour Director of Technical Operations

Baltimore Armour

“I don’t know if it’s a case where players are falling through the cracks. US Soccer’s youth scouting system is very good.

The only thing I would add is that I feel that more players who are scouted as potential National Team players should be given the chance to participate in camps with current National Team players, instead of just saying ‘well, they are close, but not there yet.'”

Bill Moravek, Current Bethesda USSDA Coach

bill moravek

“I think the obvious answer is, yes. Between the costs usually associated with playing USSDA, and even competitive USYSA travel programs, as well as the amount of travel involved, it’s a huge commitment that isn’t affordable for everyone. There are scholarships available for some players, but the amount of paperwork and the overall process that’s involved can be rigorous, at best.

And it isn’t just an inner-city or lower-income problem, either. It has to do with the landscape of our country.

In London, you could have 10 youth clubs within walking distance. Here in the States, everything is more spread out. There is a lot of travel involved just to make it to your training sessions every night. And in terms of cost…growing up, all you had to pay was a small fee to cover insurance, you got your kit, and you’re off. But now it’s a lot more of a business. Clubs have to cover field rental fees, referee fees, lighting, uniforms, coaches, etc. the list goes on.”

“One of the biggest issues in the USA, and Reyna touched on this, is perhaps the arrogance and smug demeanor of so many in high level coach/admin. positions. We cannot go on speaking about developing players in this country and comparing non-USSDA to MLS USSDA or even worse, comparing either of those to top academy programs in Europe, as there is no comparison or overall frame of reference.

It just isn’t possible.

And unfortunately, there in lies the problem. We need more ‘cultured’ coaches/scouts who have a broader spectrum, a realistic perspective of just how different the environments are, and how best to gather methods to catch up with more advanced footballing nations.

How may we do that when none of our top has experienced anything of the sort from a coaching or scouting perspective outside the USA?

For me, unless you have lived that side of it, it is impossible to know. Granted, these opportunities are hard to come by, but we have many capable coaches/scouts here in the USA who would really benefit from more than just a 1-2 weeks trip to a club overseas. I don’t have all the answers, but do believe this would be of benefit to so many. We have so much potential and talent in this country, we are on a good path but the system needs some fresh ideas and implementation.”

My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:

My conclusion to this question is going to basically summarize what I think about youth development conversations, in general, over the past week… and that is that everyone has a different opinion, and everyone has a different point of view.

This is why I was excited to get so many different opinions, from so many different viewpoints.

Ryan Martin is an MLS Academy Director. His job is to do whatever he can to identify and develop the best players he can, and to help DC United become the top youth development club in the region.

John Ellinger is a non-MLS Academy Director who has experience coaching one of the country’s most successful youth national teams ever.

1999 U17 YNT

He’s also been a head coach in MLS. I know, from my experience as a former volunteer assistant at Baltimore Armour, that Coach Ellinger is extremely involved in the US Soccer landscape, participating in National coaching seminars and attending USSDA Showcases. His opinion, as both a coach and USSDA administrator, hold a lot of weight for me, because his day-to-day activity revolve around youth development.

John Harkes, who has made 90 appearances for the USMNT during his playing career, has played in Europe and also has a son coming through MLS, believes (based on his past experiences in the overall US Soccer landscape) that we are hiring scouts who are affordable, versus US Soccer having a set procedure when it comes to hiring scouts.

Bill Moravek, currently a head coach of a non-MLS USSDA program who has experience in the youth soccer landscape in Europe, also brought an interesting perspective to the conversation.

But what resonated with me the most was my conversation with Matt Ney, and here’s why:

I was lucky enough to be involved in the US Soccer Development Academy for 3 seasons: Baltimore Bays USSDA U13/14 for 2 seasons, and Baltimore Armour U15/16 for one season. In fact, here’s the first ever post on the site from 2013, Bays U14 vs Richmond Strikers, Brady O’Conner (now playing at GW) with one of the goals.

There is a lot of pressure to succeed when you’re a player or coach in USSDA, and the term “succeed” isn’t necessarily defined as “developing promising youth talent”. Making the playoffs, winning records, and style of play are three things, from my experience, that many define being a “successful” player or coach in the Development Academy.

Is USSDA too results-oriented? In my opinion, yes. But it’s hard for me to say this when I’ll be Tweeting out two weeks later that a club is struggling because it’s lost it’s past 2 matches, so there ya go.

The point of my story is this. As a coach of a non-MLS Academy Club, it’s hard enough to compete week in, week out…keeping all of the players’ start percentages as high as they should be, keeping all of the parents happy, four training sessions a night, countless hours of travel, late night training sessions, etc. without also having to worry about losing your best players to another club like DC United.

When you’re coaching kids in the Development Academy, you’re spending a LOT of time with them to help them develop. So I understand if it’s a bitter pill to swallow if you’re Matt Ney or any other USSDA coach, you’ve spent years coaching the kid (4 sessions/week, traveling every other weekend, etc.), you’re helping to develop the player, and when DC United approaches the player and convinces him to switch teams, the developing club has lost their best player, and has received nothing in return.

This can be especially frustrating when you look at how much youth players are worth in England and other European countries, and you wonder how big of a problem it is that our youth players hold practically zero value in the way things are currently structured.

This is from the England FA’s website:

fa

If a 12 year-old who is being developed at a Category 3 club is sold to another English club, the training club is entitled to £12,500.

Now obviously this sparks the debate, do we want to be selling kids to and from youth clubs? US Soccer will inevitably say “absolutely not”, and I can’t say that I blame them. Here’s an interesting article from the Telegraph in England:

How youth players are being left on the scrapheap thanks to exorbitant compensation fees

But we do need to figure out, in my humble opinion, how our youth players can build and maintain some sort of value, and how we can give youth clubs the INCENTIVES to develop players who will later go on to play college or professional soccer. I’ll come back to this later in the article, I want to go through a few more questions first.

The next question I asked everyone was related to how US Soccer can help non-MLS USSDA clubs evolve and thrive, a conversation which came up in my interview with Philly Union U-18 head coach Jeff Cook this past summer.

Does US Soccer or MLS need to do a better job helping USSDA clubs, especially non-MLS clubs, financially?

Ryan Martin, DC United:

Ryan Martin FC Cincinnati

Ryan Martin was at Wake Forest before going on to work with Harkes at FC Cincinnati. He later would later take over at DCU Academy.

“I think MLS has done a lot to help expand youth development efforts. The Generation Adidas Cup, the partnership with Liga MX, I think MLS is doing a great job.

But I think US Soccer needs to follow suit.

I think different clubs need different scouting, and I think we need more scouts, to be honest. There are too many kids slipping through the cracks, and our country is so big, geographically, that one Academy Technical Adviser can’t be expected to cover a territory as large as ours- from Richmond to Southern NJ, among all clubs and all different age groups- and not expect kids to slip through the cracks. I think if anything, US Soccer needs to start adding more scouts.

You look at Germany, and I bring this up because we’re completing our second round of evaluations from DoublePass, but a country like Germany has over 300 scouts who are evaluating youth talent on a daily basis.

I think that adding incentives to the Academy setup would make sense, similar to Germany and other countries. Each club gets a rating based on different criteria, and maybe US Soccer adds a financial incentive for each club who are able to meet different standards, but also penalize clubs who fail to measure up.

In terms of facilities, you look at Atlanta, Salt Lake, LA FC, obviously our new training facility which is being constructed….all of these clubs are all pushing the envelope when it comes to building world-class training facilities. Improving facilities is an obligation for every MLS USSDA club, but it takes money.”

 

Matt Ney, Bethesda Soccer Club 

Bethesda Academy

Matt Ney’s Bethesda U-16 team made it to Quarterfinals of USSDA playoffs last season, before losing to Atlanta United 4-1. Atlanta United brought a number of players down from their U18 team for the game, after that squad was eliminated.

“Do I think US Soccer should be helping Non-USSDA clubs more, financially? Absolutely.

Do I think it will ever happen? Not really.

A lot of people believe that the best players should be playing for MLS USSDA clubs. But if you look at some of the current U-17 players- Josh Sargent isn’t playing for an MLS USSDA club, nor is Timothy Weah. There are tons of players out there who have the quality, but it would be silly to say that a player isn’t good enough if he doesn’t play for an MLS youth club.

You could look at our result in the USSDA Playoffs last season- we lost 4-1 to Atlanta United- and say ‘well that’s why our best kids should be playing for an MLS Academy’, but tell that to Jeremy Ebobisse (who played for Bethesda-Olney) or Gedion Zelalem, or Joe Gyau, or Chris Odoi-Atsem, or Jalen Robinson, or Bill Hamid, all of whom developed at our club.

I always compare it to Chelsea, how many youth players who they develop or young players who they purchase actually crack the first team at first? Not many. De Bruyne ends up being sold, Lukaku, Matt Miazga had to go out on loan, the list goes on. So if an MLS youth club dangles the chance of playing for the first team in front of the parents, and then the club ends up with 33 kids on each USSDA side, isn’t that a little stifling for their development?

As DC United and other MLS clubs pursue players that we and other Non-MLS youth clubs have developed, I think tensions will continue to rise. If US Soccer had a compensation plan in place for acquiring players, it becomes a different conversation.

But there isn’t a plan, so tensions are extremely high between clubs, as we all believe that we’re the best option for the player to develop. It’s arrogant to think that a club helps develop players at a higher rate just because the club has a professional title. If the system is open, and everyone is on an equal playing field, then development becomes more competitive, the best will rise, and those who can’t compete will fail. Just like in any other business sector today.”

John Harkes:

John and Ian Harkes

Father and Son- John and Ian Harkes

“Youth clubs are generally doing a good job developing players. It is vitally important for the youth club to provide opportunities for all players to have the opportunity to be included. Our country is massive, we need clubs in every community if possible. If a club develops a player to pro level, the club should be compensated. That compensation can be used to lower costs for families, and pay coaches. Discussions with US Soccer regarding a proper business structure are needed.”

John Ellinger:

John Ellinger

“There is no question that supplements from US Soccer would help the non-MLS DA Academies.

The pay-to-play v. free play model in the older DA age groups is a difference maker.”

My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:

I don’t think that we need an open market where youth players can be sold to other clubs. There’s enough pressure on our youth players as it is, what happens when they find out they’re worth a few thousand dollars if they’re sold?

But I do believe, in my humble opinion, that US Soccer could consider implementing an incentive-based structure where all clubs (not necessarily only USSDA clubs) are rewarded for developing a player and helping to funnel them into the College/MLS pipeline, or if the player goes on to play professionally elsewhere. If DC United goes after a Bethesda player, and the player makes the switch, then Bethesda is awarded some type of financial incentive as a reward for developing the player.

I, personally, in my humble opinion, believe that this could be a way for clubs to reduce the astronomical fees associated with competitive travel soccer. They can charge less if they know that they will be compensated for developing players who will later go on to play professionally or at a competitive collegiate level. Instead, what seems like the short-term solution to a long-term equation…clubs have to charge parents thousands of dollars each season to cover field rental fees, insurance, etc.

I also believe that an incentive-based structure could be a way for more coaches to become interested in getting involved with youth development efforts. If a coach makes $6k per season, that seems to be the short-term solution.

But if the clubs and coaches are compensated based on how many NCAA division one-caliber players they’re developing, or if they’re able to help develop a player who later goes on to play professionally, the coaches then have the ability to earn more money based on their performance, and are more invested in the player’s development process. Would the youth coaches put more effort into helping introduce players to potential college programs? I believe so.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be cash that is awarded to the clubs based on meeting certain incentives, either. The impression I got from Matt Ney, and the impression that I’ve gotten from many within the USSDA landscape, is that they want to expand their clubs. They want to eventually be able to offer a professional option to their youth players, which would almost certainly benefit the overall youth development efforts in our country. It might be possible that US Soccer could help these clubs reach their goals, but the constant question of US Soccer’s relationship with MLS might make this a more difficult conversation than we think.

The next question which we asked everyone was about coaching education. Currently, US Soccer and the State Youth Associations are responsible for hosting and offering coaching courses.

Philly Union U-18 head coach Jeff Cook told us this summer that he believed that the MLS clubs in each market could eventually evolve into the federation-figures that help out with coaching education efforts in their markets.

Should US Soccer be responsible for all coaching education, or should MLS clubs become more involved?

Ryan Martin, DC United

ryan martin dcu academy

“As an MLS Academy, it’s our duty to help improve coaching education efforts. Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper, and myself make an effort to put an emphasis on coaching education, and we’ll continue to improve and expand those efforts.

We currently have partnerships with 17 different clubs in our area who we help offer coaching education courses to. We have 9 DC United players working on their ‘B’ Licenses, and are actually serving as assistants in the youth development training sessions. 2 of our guys are in the French Federation UEFA class, and we’ve been working with coaches from clubs like Inter Milan and Benfica to learn even more.”

John Ellinger:

“US Soccer is doing a great job at the moment with coaching education. They are currently running some B License courses for MLS players at the club level, which is a fantastic opportunity for those players.”

 

Matt Ney:

“I think we do a pretty good job educating our coaches. We have 2 outside coaching consultants who help us with continuing education courses and we make an effort to get more of our current players involved in coaching education courses.

I think the bigger issue is, can US Soccer bring in more scouts, and can we do a better job working together? We need to do a better job improving the number of players that US Soccer is actually scouting.”

Bill Moravek:

“Yeah, coaching education can always improve, but the bigger issue is scouting.

I’ve said this for years, US Soccer isn’t scouting enough players. You might see some guys getting looks at the USSDA games, but US Soccer sends practically zero scouts to some of these bigger USYSA tournaments and events, which is a shame. There is still a lot of quality talent at the USYSA level, but US Soccer seems to only be focusing on the USSDA clubs and players.”

My Conclusion, after speaking to everyone:

Scouting seems to be a big void when it comes to developing youth players in our country. It’s an issue which has come up across the board, with everyone I’ve spoken to.

I agree 100% with Bill Moravek’s comments regarding USYSA players not getting enough attention.

I’ve heard one local Division 1 assistant coach who is very active in the local recruiting scene imply that, while USSDA programs do a good job teaching kids how to “play”…aka play out of the back, keep possession, stretch the field and play a more attractive brand of soccer, it’s the USYSA players who are actually becoming more accustomed to the physical style of play that is similar to that found in a lot of Division 1 college soccer.

Which brings me to my next topic: youth players moving overseas at an early age, versus the college and MLS track.

If you’re a youth player, are you better off overseas at a younger age, or playing in college?

John Ellinger:

“I feel experience has shown us that it depends on the individual player. Everyone jumps on the go to Europe bandwagon when our players are actually getting useful minutes in first team games, but the moment they stop playing, you hear that they should have signed in the MLS. College v Home Grown, again it depends on the individual. Some players are not mature enough to deal with the demands of being a young professional player and then should make the decision to play in college.”

Bill Moravek:

“I think that a change of scenery is great for any youth player. If you play in the same environment your entire youth career, you’ll only know what you’re familiar with. We were in Europe at Fulham, and I thought it would be a good move for the boys to come back home and play for a few seasons in the States. That being said, it’s not the same for everyone. You have to be ready to learn a new culture, learn a new language at times, be away from your family and friends. I don’t think there is one right or wrong answer, it depends on the individual player and what’s best for him.”

 

Conclusion:

While it’s true that Pulisic, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and others have found success at younger ages playing in Europe and other countries, the majority of our best USMNT players have come up through the college and MLS system. These include:

  • Brian Mcbride
  • John Harkes
  • Clint Dempsey
  • Geoff Cameron
  • Carlos Bocanegra
  • Tab Ramos
  • Claudio Reyna

So I tend to agree with Coach Ellinger that the “Move to Europe early” bandwagon is easy to jump on when a player like Pulisic is thriving in Germany, but are we looking to develop one world-class player (a needle in the haystack), or a USMNT team of guys that compete in World Cup Qualifying?

The college game can still improve. I’ve watched countless NCAA soccer games this past season, and there’s no question that it’s making progress. But let’s not just assume that we need to send all of our kids over to Europe for our country to succeed as a soccer-playing nation, in my humble opinion.

The last question I asked each participant was about promotion/relegation.

Many think that a structured second and third division of MLS would help offer younger players more first-team matches. Do you believe in promotion/relegation?

Ryan Martin:

“Yeah, I think it would be a good thing. But I don’t think it’ll ever happen. When you look at the MLS franchise fees and what some of these MLS owners are paying, versus the USL franchise fees, there’s a huge gap there.

We have a USL team coming soon, and I’m excited about our younger guys getting some first-team matches. But do I see promotion/relegation happening in the US anytime soon? Probably not.”

John Ellinger:

“Personally, I like the addition of USL clubs like Red Bulls II, Monarchs (RSL II), etc. It allows the MLS clubs the opportunity to sign their young players to pro contracts, so foreign clubs cannot get away with signing American players for zero development fee.”

Overall Conclusion

So, as I mentioned in the beginning of the piece, there isn’t one overall consensus or solution to the question “how do you improve youth development in US Soccer.”

Many believe that we’re developing the talent, but US Soccer isn’t doing a good enough job hiring and developing scouts who will go out to the USYSA events and non-USSDA games to identify potential talent. Scouting was something that almost every participant mentioned as something that US Soccer needs to improve, whether it be hiring more scouts, or reviewing the process that is currently in place for training and developing current scouts.

Many believe that US Soccer should do a better job when it comes to helping our youth players become more valuable, versus allowing them to pick and choose their clubs, free transfers, etc.

When someone says “youth travel soccer is too expensive”, that may be the case. But if club fees are lowered, and US Soccer helps us to transition into a system where youth players are being sold for large fees, are we adding pressure on the youth players when a 14 year-old finds out he was sold for thousands of dollars? Do we want an open market where teenagers are being bought and sold? Probably not.

I do believe, personally….in my HUMBLE opinion….that US Soccer could consider implementing an incentive-based program where clubs are rewarded for developing players who go on to MLS Academies, professional clubs both domestically and Internationally, and competitive Division 1 NCAA programs. While many would say that “NCAA soccer is not a revenue-generating sport, why should US Soccer reward clubs who go on to play NCAA soccer?”, it’s hard for coaches to develop players who go on to compete at the NCAA level, which is what US Soccer seems to be hoping for (players who play a few seasons of college and enter the MLS Draft), without the clubs receiving any type of incentive for developing the talent.

Another huge issue which seems to be ignored is the amount of money that clubs spend every season on field rentals and facility fees. If we’re comparing youth academies here in the US to those overseas, and we look at facilities…the idea of a Category One or Category Two youth club in England playing their home games at a local high school or State Park would probably be laughable.

If I really wanted to get carried away with a radical idea, it would be that US Soccer needs to partner with top youth clubs on a long-term basis to help improve facilities nationwide, versus offering grants to local municipalities and organizations to build more fields or improve current fields.

You can build all of the fields you want, and these programs are an amazing solution when you talk about making the game available to everyone.

But are we really doing a good enough job helping youth clubs who have a track record of developing our country’s top talent develop club facilities that our youth players are excited about every night on their way to training, and that are comparable to the facilities in other countries?

“If only I knew a millionaire”….is that what top club administrators should have to think to themselves when they’re trying to improve their facilities, applying for a number of grants and still having to organize additional fundraising efforts on top of it all?

Again, if we were talking about radical ideas…US Soccer has partnerships with some of the country’s top corporations.

Taken from their 2016 Guides to Grants document on the USSF Website, they have partnerships with:

Hellas Construction:

hellas construction

 

Musco Lighting:

Musco Lighting

Hunter Irrigation:

Hunter Irrigation

And hundreds of other corporations.

If we were talking about radical ideas, why can’t US Soccer purchase land in certain areas? They can help introduce the clubs to potential sponsors, who would want to be involved with improving each club’s facilities based on the projects being backed by US Soccer.

US Soccer owns the land, and helps the club build more fields. US Soccer offers financial incentives at the end of each season to the clubs based on the players they are developing, who go on to play for MLS Academies, college or professional programs, etc. Each season, with these incentive funds, the clubs can increase the amount of stake that they own in the land, help develop facilities by building additional fields, clubhouses, training centers, etc. and everyone is working together to improve development efforts.

Clubs can eventually offer professional first-team options as they secure additional corporate sponsorship, and the youth coaches now have incentives to focus on developing players who will be prepared for the next level, whether it be professionally or at the collegiate level.

Again, this is a dream world, radical idea.

But one of the main messages that I’ve come away with, between Claudio Reyna’s “we’re too arrogant” statement, and John Harkes saying when I spoke to him that “we need to do a better job working together” is this: while it may be true that competitive travel soccer in the United States may be too expensive, and while club administrators and coaches may become nervous that parents will be hesitant to continue to invest thousands of dollars every season in their child’s soccer development, it appears to me….in my HUMBLE OPINION…that we can all work together to make youth development efforts more profitable for top clubs to expand, top coaches to continue to develop talent, and top players to play in an atmosphere that prepares them for that next level. As clubs continue to expand, similar to franchises, they can partner with additional youth clubs in their area, or even help to launch more clubs in additional neighborhoods, with those clubs’ coaches having incentives to develop talent and introduce them to a higher level of soccer.

But no matter what that answer is, can we ALL….US Soccer, youth clubs, parents, and players….work together to come up with a long-term solution to a LONG-TERM problem.

Because, as it appears in the current landscape, all that we’re offering right now are short-term solutions.

 

We’re Still Not Even Close

For anyone who watched ESPN FC last night, Craig Burley’s statement “I’m done hearing about pay-to-play, promotion/relegation, etc.” was pretty much spot on for me. The main topics which have come up since the US Men’s National team crashed out of World Cup 2018 qualifying, finishing FIFTH place in CONCACAF, are youth development, pay-to-play youth soccer, and promotion/relegation.

But what if the players that we had representing the United States National Team for this cycle just weren’t good enough?

Did we actually give some of the younger guys a chance to succeed throughout the qualifying process, or did we rely on the same old players (as US Soccer tends to do for literally EVERY World Cup cycle) once again?

Say what you want about Jurgen Klinsmann, but when he came on board as US Men’s National Team manager, he did the one thing that US Soccer was in desperate need of- he expanded the player pool for National team selection.

Bruce Arena said after Tuesday’s loss to Trinidad and Tobago that, even if the United States did qualify, the roster would have needed an overhaul for the Yanks to actually be competitive in the World Cup. This seems obvious to anyone who watched the game.

Michael Bradley jogged around the pitch as if it was a Sunday pub league match. Our two starting center backs, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, were forced to step up and make a number of tackles, constantly being stretched from each other and out of position. Jozy Altidore, recently voted as the worst striker in Premier League history after scoring only 2 goals in 70 appearances for Hull and Sunderland, could be seen at midfield literally stopping and throwing his arms up in the air when he lost the ball, with his touch constantly letting him down and struggling to get into the game. The same could be said for Bobby Wood, whose name you barely heard throughout the entire match. Arriola and Nagbe struggled in unfamiliar central midfield positions, and in a 4-4-2 diamond system which relies on outside backs to get up the field to provide width in the attack, both Deandre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana seemed so overwhelmed with their defensive duties that they weren’t able to provide much to the Yanks’ efforts moving forward.

But what stood out to me, with Bruce Arena’s side down 2-1 with 3/4 of an hour left in the match to find the equalizer, was the lack of options off of the bench that were available to provide a spark.

Clint Dempsey came on at halftime, and probably had the best chance to make it 2-2 with his shot going just wide of the post.

Kellyn Acosta came on for Villafana at left back, although you began to wonder why Fabian Johnson wasn’t out there.

Benny Feilhaber, who seemed to be in USMNT exile in recent years, was the third substitute, but didn’t provide much.

Are you telling me that the hopes of US Soccer were rested on a 34 year-old Clint Dempsey, Kellyn Acosta out of position, and Benny Feilhaber?

Lack of Depth

The lack of depth at basically every position for the US Men’s National Team was a concern for many early on in the qualifying process.

In Klinsmann’s last match in charge, a 4-0 loss at home to Panama, there were younger players available on the bench such as Sunderland’s Lynden Gooch, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Julian Green, but the starting XI was very similar to Bruce Arena’s Tuesday night squad (Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Omar Gonzalez, Christian Pulisic).

Relying heavily on veteran players is nothing new for the US Men’s National Team, coming from someone who has watched them religiously for 30+ years and who has covered them as a journalist.

One of the biggest problems we have is that we rely heavily on players like Clint Dempsey, who has bailed us out with big goals time after time after time, Landon Donovan, and Brian McBride. We always have 1 or 2 guys who can provide a moment of brilliance, but when you compare our roster to the depth that’s available at some of the “hot shot” European countries, Bruce Arena’s statement becomes laughable.

When Spain beat Italy in early September, a few of the substitutes coming off of the bench:

  • Pedro, Azpilicueta, and Morata from Chelsea
  • Saul from Atletico Madrid
  • Deulofeu from Barcelona
  • Thiago from Bayern Munich

Again, those are their SUBS.

When France beat Netherlands 4-0 back in late August, here’s who they had coming off of the bench:

  • Blaise Matuidi from Juventus
  • Kylian Mbappe from PSG
  • Alexandre Lacazette from Arsenal

And England’s subs for Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Lithuania:

  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Liverpool
  • Raheem Sterling from Manchester City
  • Daniel Sturridge, Jermaine Defoe, Chris Smalling, the list goes on.

England bring three center backs off of their bench in Smalling, Gary Cahill, and Eric Dier that the United States would kill to have, but Bruce Arena thinks that their team would have a hard time qualifying in CONCACAF?!

Sorry, but it just seems like we’re all becoming a bit delusional when it comes to how much progress US Soccer has actually made over the years. We don’t even have a legit second division in place yet, while England has this many:

english_league_pyramid

Read David Beckham or Zlatan’s book and realize how many pro clubs in European countries will go after a young player with talent. Zlatan was only 18 when he was already starting for Swedish Allsvenskan side Malmo, going on to play for Ajax at age 20 and starting for Juventus at the age of 23.

We have kids over in Europe, which is great, but when it comes to being discovered by a local professional club here in the United States, the options are as follows:

  • MLS.

We’ll get to why MLS is actually part of the problem in a minute, but first:

Same OLD Story

I took the time to do the math. For the entire United States roster during Qualification, the average age was 28.56.

  • Spain’s average age for their World Cup Qualifying roster, even with older players like David Villa, Pepe Reina, Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, was only 27.46.
  • France’s average age among their entire Qualifying roster was 25.69.
  • England’s average age among their entire Qualifying roster was 25.30.

Like I said earlier, we decided to rely on older veteran players throughout the ENTIRE Qualifying process, instead of trying to introduce younger players into the fold.

This isn’t anything new.

Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup side, which made it out of the group of death (Ghana, Portugal, and Germany), was one of the younger rosters that we’ve had since 1994, with the average age being 27.30. The team who won it, Germany, had an average age of only 25.73.

The average age for the 2010 US World Cup roster (we advanced to second round, losing to Ghana) was actually lower, with the average age being 26.86. Jozy was 21, Bradley was 23, Jose Torres was 23 and the rest of the squad was 25+. The team that won it that year, Spain…their average age was 25.91

The average age for the 2006 US World Cup roster (didn’t advance out of our group) was up there, at 28.26. The three teams in our group that year- Czech Republic was 28.56, but Ghana was only 24.60 and Italy was 28.30.

In 2002, with a 20 year-old Landon Donovan who won the 2002 World Cup Best Young Player and a 20-year old Damarcus Beasley, our average age was still up there at 28.26 thanks to the inclusions of 34 year-old Jeff Agoos, David Regis and Earnie Stewart who were both 33 at the time, etc.

In 1998, when the United States lost all three group games to Germany, Iran, and Yugoslavia, the average age was 28.27 and included a 34 year-old Roy Wegerle, Thomas Dooley at captain at the age of 36, and Preki who was also 34.

In 1994, when we made it to the second round losing to Brazil on 4th of July 1-0, our average age was 26.36. This included a 20 year-old Claudio Reyna, Brad Friedel was only 23 at the time, and a number of other players under the age of 25.

World Cup Year Average Age of US Roster Did they advance? Average age of WC winners/
others
2018 Qualifying 28.56 Did not qualify Spain- 27.46
France- 25.69
England- 25.30
2014 27.30 Yes Germany- 25.73
2010 26.86 Yes Spain- 25.91
2006 28.26 No Italy- 28.30
Ghana (advanced from group)- 24.60
2002 28.26 Yes Brazil- 26.17
1998 28.27 No France- 26.72
1994 26.36 Yes Brazil- 27.41

US Soccer’s historical hesitancy to name younger players to World Cup squads, and tendency to instead rely on older, more established veterans, could be related to lack of quality young players available for selection, but I personally believe that part of the problem is not trusting our young players enough, because the MLS career path results in players turning professional at later ages when compared to European talent.

The 2017 Gold Cup would have been a perfect opportunity to get some of the younger guys involved, but once we made it out of the group stages, what did Bruce Arena do? He called in Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Nagbe, and Clint Dempsey. As a result, we sent Dom Dwyer and Kelyn Rowe, both of whom were impressive throughout the tournament, home. Neither, of course, were involved in World Cup Qualifying.

That being said, it’s kind of hard to develop younger players and introduce them to the National Team fold when we CONSTANTLY rely on older veterans, even for a practically meaningless tournament like the Gold Cup.

So Who’s Fault Is It That Younger Guys Aren’t Getting a Chance?

In Part, Ours.

Between the Twitter tirades and debates between US Men’s National Team supporters, constant media scrutiny surrounding US Soccer for every match/tournament, and practically everyone suddenly having an opinion on US Soccer and why we’re so much better than the other CONCACAF teams in our region, the fact of the matter is that the position of United States Men’s National Soccer coach comes with more pressure to succeed than ever before. Klinsmann became extremely frustrated with our “the sky is falling” approach every time we draw or lose a match, and he’s one of the managers we’ve had in recent years that actually tried to give some younger guys a shot.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s harder for a manager to sacrifice results by introducing younger guys when the media is constantly pressuring them over every result. We, as a country, need to do a better job having patience when we play these friendlies and Gold Cup tournaments trying to build the player pool out by playing younger guys. We have to get younger.

US Soccer shares a picture from their Twitter account of some rain around the track in Trinidad and Tobago, and all of sudden “it’s an embarrassment if we can’t beat a third-world country like T&T”. A reporter asks Bruce Arena if it’s below some of the European-based guys to have to play in that type of atmosphere, triggering his “European hotshots” remark, and all of a sudden a few journalists and bloggers have turned it into a National fiasco. The lead-up to the T&T game was nothing short of everyone looking for the story lines, and whoever takes over as next USMNT manager will need to have experience dealing with a media base which will always be looking to Tweet the big headlines.

United States Soccer’s culture has gone from the underdogs who want to work hard to prove everyone wrong, to the team who can’t lose based on us being “MERRCA!!”. Have we made progress? Of course. But the rest of the world hasn’t exactly gotten worse.

How Is MLS To Blame?

Maybe the problem isn’t that the National Team manager isn’t giving the younger guys a chance. Maybe the younger phenoms like Landon Donovans and Damarcus Beasleys just don’t exist, with the exception of Pulisic who made an early move to Europe.

Think about the path of a normal MLS player. Jordan Morris- plays 2 years of college soccer, gets drafted by Seattle Sounders and becomes a professional at the age of 22.

Paul Pogba, who’s only a year older, made his Manchester United debut at 18. He was playing Champions League soccer for Juventus when he was 20, the same age as when Jordan’s taking chemistry finals.

Some other players who were born in 1994, the same birth year as Morris:

  • Aymeric Laporte, made professional debut at 17
  • Raheem Sterling, made professional debut at 18
  • Saul (Atletico), made professional debut at 16

MLS players don’t usually turn pro until later in their careers, which means our young talent is 4 or 5 years behind the rest of the world. That might be a problem.

So let’s say they’re a quality player like Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley, maybe they make a move to Europe eventually. But now MLS comes in with these ridiculous amounts of money for our best players, bring them back home, are playing at an MLS level, and our National Team program has suffered as a result.

I have a hard time believing that Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey are getting the same level of training and competition at the MLS level as they were in Europe. I’m sorry, but to watch Michael Bradley’s quality continue to drop off since he made his move to Toronto FC is disheartening. This was a guy who was, at one point, starting for Roma, but on Tuesday night he looked like he should have been playing for Christos. He’s jogging around the pitch, cant make a tackle, and his overall pace of play was just slow and lethargic.

Another issue I have with MLS is the fact that they continue to expand and accept new MLS teams, collecting the $200 million franchise fee and continuing to head down the same path which saw the NASL become diluted and, as a result, lead to its failure as a league. They refuse to accept a second division, yet continue adding teams to the league.

There are currently 22 MLS teams, with Don Garber announcing additional franchises being added over the years.

There are 20 EPL teams, 20 La Liga teams, 18 Bundesliga teams and 20 Serie A teams. So when the MLS gets up to 26 teams, a new league which doesn’t even come close to the quality of any of the other 4 leagues that I mentioned, we’re not going to see a diluted level of competition?

MLS needs to seriously consider how the quick $200 million franchise fee is a short-term answer, with promotion/relegation being the long-term answer to improving the quality of our domestic league. A second tier under MLS will give younger guys a chance to turn pro at an earlier age, and advance their careers. Currently, if a kid is 16 or 17, they might be scouted by their local MLS club if they’re playing USSDA, but even then they typical roadmap is the kid will go to college, play for a few seasons, get drafted by MLS, and maybe play in his first season if he’s quality. By then the player is 20-22, versus in Europe when clubs develop their youth players and introduce them to first-team professional action at a lot younger age.

We need more kids who want to go pro at younger ages, and we need to get them professional experience as soon as possible. If we continue to introduce players to the professional ranks at 20+ we will continue to be years behind.

This means that MLS needs to work together with US Soccer and USL/NASL to develop second and third divisions, and eventually introduce promotion/relegation. As we add more clubs to the second and third divisions, these are also new youth academies which can help to develop local talent, and younger guys can get a chance to play professionally at 17 or 18 versus 21 or 22.

Youth Development

When I talked to John Doolan from Everton and Genk u16 coach Peter Reynders this past summer about youth development, the idea of the kids in their academies having to pay money made both of them laugh. If you’re a decent youth player in England, you might have 4 or 5 clubs trying to sign you. Here, you might be recognized by a local MLS or USSDA club, but the gap between MLS USSDA clubs and those outside of MLS is still a pretty big one.

Each USSDA club are on their own, financially. US Soccer and MLS need to figure out how to fix this problem. The fact that kids and parents are still paying for Academy soccer should tell you how far behind we are, when you look at the training facilities that top English, German, Belgian, and other European clubs have available for their youth players. We still have USSDA clubs playing home games at local state parks, having to nickel and dime parents to cover field rental fees and to cover travel expenses. The fact that youth soccer is still all about the money should tell you all that you need to know. Imagine Sir Alex going to Paul Pogba’s mom with “hey, um, you were late paying Paul’s club dues last month, the credit card didn’t go through”.

Wake-Up Call

Ring ring. We’re not as good as we thought we were, and still have a long way to go.

 

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