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.

 

The three biggest US Soccer disappointments of my lifetime

I’m not writing this post as a Bruce Arena bashing. I grew up a DC United fan and what he did for the club in the early days is beyond words, but the fact remains that he was the manager of the US Men’s National Team for 2 of the 3 most disappointing USMNT events that I can remember.

3. 2006 World Cup in Germany

bruce arena 2006

USA loses to Ghana and Czech Republic, draw eventual World Cup Champions Italy to finish dead last in their group without a win. Coached by none other than Bruce himself, the team featured a young Landon Donovan who was voted as the 2002 World Cup best young player, Kasey Keller in goal during his prime, Captain America Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey before he went to Fulham, and Brian McBride who was in London for 2 seasons already.

Here’s how the US lined up against Italy:

USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 6-Steve Cherundolo, 23-Eddie Pope, 22-Oguchi Onyewu, 3-Carlos Bocanegra; 4-Pablo Mastroeni, 8-Clint Dempsey (17-DaMarcus Beasley, 62), 10-Claudio Reyna (capt), 15-Bobby Convey (13-Jimmy Conrad, 52), 21-Landon Donovan; 20-Brian McBride

It was a tough group, but starting the tournament with a 3-0 loss to a Czech Republic side which featured Pavel Nedved, who won a Ballon D’Or in 2003 and was voted to three consecutive UEFA Teams of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2005, partnered with Tomas Rosicky, who scored a belter from distance for the Czech’s second goal:

 

Meant the US started the tournament with work to do. A 1-1 draw with Italy despite being down to NINE men was seen as a success, but the following 2-1 loss to Ghana (Dempsey with the goal, but Appiah with the winning penalty) saw the US crash out of the tournament. 4 years later in South Africa, with Deuce finding his way in Europe and Landon continuing his winning ways, the US was able to come out of a group with England, Slovenia, and Algeria.

2. 1998 World Cup in France

Steve Sampson

In 1998, under head coach Steve Sampson, the United States were drawn into a favorable group which included Germany, Yugoslavia, and Iran. Sampson’s squad fell to Germany in the opening match 2-0, with Jurgen Klinnsman among the goal scorers for Ze Germans. Sampson was questioned by many when he decided to line up in a 3-6-1 formation against a German side which was #3 in FIFA World Rankings, including the following players as his Starting XI:

STARTING XI

John Harkes was 31 at the time and was looked at as one of our best players, captaining DC United to MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997, but he was surprisingly left off of the 1998 World Cup roster when Sampson announced his squad.

What was also curious was the surprise inclusion of David Regis into the squad, seeing as he had only become eligible to play for the USMNT in May of 1998. When the US dropped the first game against Germany, many assumed they would rebound against Iran and Yugoslavia.

usa iran 1998 world cup

But in what many believe to be the most politically-fueled soccer match in recent history, the United States LOST TO IRAN by a score of 2-1. Iran was ranked 37th in FIFA World Rankings, and many believed the Yanks would have no problem getting their first win despite all of the political storylines leading into the game.

They were wrong.

The United States went on to lose their third match vs Yugoslavia 1-0, and Sampson was fired before eventually taking over as LA Galaxy manager in 2004 after managing Costa Rica.

Number One: Failure to Qualify for 2018 World Cup

ELIMINATED

Whether Sunil Gulati, the players, Jurgen Klinnsman, or Bruce Arena is to blame for the Red White and Blue failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, the fact remains that we just didn’t get it done.

Listening to Tim Howard’s post-game interview talking about T&T manager Dennis Lawrence, who was an assistant at Everton under Roberto Martinez, the USA shot-stopper does seem to suggest that the United States was possibly out-managed on this particular occasion, with the United States not doing a good enough job trying to break down the Trini defense.

Trinidad & Tobago dropped 10 and sometimes 11 behind the ball, stayed compact, and when they got the ball they were able to exploit the lack of width that Arena’s preferred 4-4-2 diamond left open.

The first own goal from Omar Gonzalez was kind of a fluke, but then when he went sliding in and almost giving up a penalty a few minutes later, the United States were lucky that the scoreline wasn’t worse.

Playing a 4-4-2 diamond with two players at the 8 who seem more comfortable out wide in Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola, along with Michael Bradley’s sub-par performance defensively, did not help the United States’ chances, and it becomes clearly obvious that USA Soccer is in desperate need of a 6 who can protect the back line in the near future.

Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were serviceable through the years at the position, but with so many players like Dempsey, Jones, Beckerman, Howard, Beasley, and others coming to the ends of their careers, one position that we have practically no depth at currently is in the middle of the field at 6 or 8. Hopefully that will change before 2022 World Cup Qualifying, which is a frustrating FIVE YEARS AWAY.

We’ve waited since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil which saw the United States finish in second place in a difficult group made up of Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, only to be knocked out by Belgium but holding our own. We were all hoping that US Soccer was progressing, and could one day possibly challenge for a World Cup, but the fact remains that…. even though we are still making progress, it’s not like the rest of the world is sitting on their thumbs not getting any better.

In the above two examples, the following World Cup was a success for the United States. Hopefully this epic failure will see some changes made, and we can field a team that we can all be proud of as a country moving forward.

 

DMV’S Finest: Joe Gyau

Not Your Average Joe

Borussia Dortmund, US Men’s National Team, and DMV’S Finest Joe Gyau shares some fond memories of playing in the DMV, and sheds some light on his rehab progress

Joe Gyauby George Murphy

While current US Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinnsman may, for some, be on the hot seat following his team’s failure to reach the Gold Cup Final on home turf this past summer, one thing is for sure: he has no problem giving younger guys a chance to shine.

The German-born head coach and all-time great striker has no problem giving younger players the chance to prove themselves at the International level, which has resulted in a deeper pool of players to select from. Want some examples? Just take a look at guys like DeAndre Yedlin, who is poised to feature for Tottenham this season, Gyasi Zardes, and a host of others.

DMV native Joe Gyau is no exception. The Borussia Dortmund II standout received his first full USMNT cap on September 3, 2014 against Czech Republic, 13 days before his 22nd birthday. He was able to showcase his speed, willingness to run at defenders, and all-around game which excited USMNT fans everywhere.

Gyau, who is from Silver Spring and grew up playing for the Bethesda Roadrunners, came through the US Youth National Team system, representing the Stars and Stripes at the u17, u20, and u23 age groups. He’s been playing in Europe since 2011, enjoying success at the youth level at German clubs 1899 Hoffenheim and FC St. Pauli, before making his move to Dortmund in 2014.

Not many young American players draw interest from a club like Dortmund. But for those who are familiar with the Gyau name in the DMV area, it’s not much of a surprise.

Joe’s Father, Philip

More Than Just a Soccer Dad

philip gyau

Philip Gyau during his time with the Maryland Bays

 

Joe’s father, Philip, is the current head coach of the Howard University Men’s Soccer Team. As a player, he made 6 caps for the United States Men’s National Team, between 1989 and 1991. Philip had stints playing for the Baltimore Blast, Washington Warthogs (for those fellow Warthog fans who can remember going to games at USAir Arena, or the Capitol Centre, whatever it was called back then), and a number of other clubs in between.

He transitioned into coaching in 1998, managing the US Men’s National Beach Soccer Team, Bullis High School Girls’ team, St John’s High School, and a number of other club teams. His successful coaching career has helped him develop 20 players who have represented the United States at the Youth National Team Level, and he was inducted into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.

That all being said, it is obvious that Joe was exposed to higher-level soccer at an early age. He recalls memories from when his dad was coaching, which helped shape his career and work ethic at a young age.

“I would do soccer camps with my dad for 10 weeks in the summer, every day, from 9 to 5” says the Silver Spring native. “My dad was working camps all summer, so I was there all day. Then he would have clinics after camp, where I would train after. Some days, we would be out from 7 in the morning, and not come home until around 9-10pm. So we were touching the ball literally all day, every single day.”

At the youth level, while still playing in the DMV, Joe played for the Bethesda Roadrunners club team which challenged for National titles. He has some very fond memories of playing soccer in the the DMV area, and says that he still stays in contact with a number of his teammates and friends.

“We played against all of the Maryland teams. The guys I remember playing against the most are from MSC United, guys like Julio Arjona and Peabo Doue. I still stay in contact with my old Varsity teammate Rodney Wallace from the Timbers, Bill Hamid from DC United, Jalen Robinson. Paul Torres, who is currently playing in Norway, Dallas Sikes, who is in Luxembourg. And of course Lester Dewee, my best friend, who is currently playing in Sweden. All the guys.”

Joe also has fond memories of watching Maryland Terps and DC United games live, and of course, of watching his father on the pitch.

“When I was still living in MD, I always watched University of Maryland play, and we would also go to a lot of DC United games. My father was also playing in a Caribbean Mens’ League. Those games were the most fun to go to, just because I got to see my dad play! There were a lot of old Jamaican Internationals playing, old friends, and I remember the food was always good. The one guy I remember watching play when I was younger, though, was Isreal Sesay, we called him Issy. Man, that dude was a beast back in the day, he played for our older Bethesda team. And Chris Agorsor (who went on to University of Virginia), who was playing in the Baltimore area. He was definitely a force to be reckoned with as well.”

Joe’s DMV memories also extend off of the pitch, but he says that there is one thing in the DMV that he doesn’t miss that ALL of us can relate to.

“The main thing I miss when thinking about the DMV is my family and friends…just hangin’ at home, and being around my loved ones all the time. That’s what I miss the most. I come back to Silver Spring around twice a year, winter and summer. I miss the Chinese Food carry outs there, my Barber Shop, Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house, pickup basketball, neighborhood football, and pickup soccer games of course, haha. I miss a lot of things. I don’t miss the traffic though, at all!”

Hard Work

How It’s Helping Joe Through Adversity

Joe Gyau rehab progress

Joe while in action for Dortmund, doing what he does best…terrorizing defenders.

There’s no doubt that Joe’s constant early exposure to the beautiful game, along with the strong work ethic and passion instilled in him by his father at a young age, has helped him to become one of the most promising young prospects in Klinnsman’s USMNT selection pool.

 

But having to look adversity square in the eye is something that every great athlete has to go through, and Joe is no different.
Joe Gyau vs Ecuador

Joe in his second USMNT cap vs Ecudor

Joe was able to impress Jurgen Klinnsman and the USMNT coaching staff enough during his first full cap that he started his second match, just over a month later. On October 10th, 2014, Joe started a friendly against Ecuador. After just 15 minutes, he had to be subbed off with what was initially thought to be a sprained knee.

However, it was later announced that Joe had torn his lateral meniscus, and was likely out for the 2014-2015 season for his club, Borussia Dortmund.

Recently, reports have been surfacing that Joe has been suffering setbacks during his rehabilitation. He was hoping to be ready for the 2015-2016 season, but rumors continue to surface that there is a chance that he could miss a big chunk, or possibly all, of this next campaign.

Joe was kind enough to let us in on how his rehab is going.

“Rehab has been going really well, I’ve actually recently arrived in Munich and I’m doing some work down here. Things are going well, and I’m always improving. Yes, it is true that I had some cartilage damage, so the surgeon had to do a transplant procedure. They extracted some of my existing cartilage, grew it in the lab, and then 3 weeks later put it back in the damaged spot. I’ve been doing work each and every day, which is tough sometimes, but it’s what has to be done for me to come back stronger. The facilities, physios, and doctors at Dortmund have been with me every step of the way. As for me being out for the whole season, that’s not true. I’m definitely going to be back much sooner than that. But I have to be patient, and keep working hard.”
Joe has confidence that, in the end, his work ethic and love for the game will prevail, and that this small bump in the road will make him a stronger player, and person.
“Personally, I’m not trying to rush back into anything and hurt myself again. I’m still young, and my main goal is to fully recover because I know that, once I do, I’m going to pick right back up where I left off.
Before this injury, I never really had to do the rehab components of life, I was just a pure athlete. Being given the chance to work with so many trained experts, I’m definitely going to come back stronger and faster.
This time away from being on the pitch has also given me a chance to study the game a bit more as well, and to train my mental state of mind. Believe it or not, the professional game is much more mental than a lot of people think, you have to be mentally strong and prepared if you want to play consistently at a high level, and very confident of your abilities. So I have definitely grown during this period, and can’t wait to see how it all translates on the pitch.”
Joe is able to lean on his family, club doctors and physios, coaches, and teammates when he’s in need of motivation. But when we asked him which players he watches and tries to model his game after, it’s obvious that he also looks to a couple of legendary forwards when seeking inspiration.
“I wouldn’t say that I try to model my game after anybody in particular, but I do have players that I’ve always looked up to. First, obviously, I’ve always looked up to my father, because he was a really direct forward.
I admire Maradona, he has so much passion for the game and he never gave up. Also, Ronaldo Lima. Those two guys are my all-time favorites, but Ronaldo has become more of my favorite lately, because he had 2 or 3 potentially career-ending injuries that could have seen him never player again. But he was never deterred by all of the outside talk and speculation whether he would ever be the same or not. He came back from each injury through hard work, and performed on a World Class level, so I admire his resilience. I also admire both players because they both had that one-on-one ability, and could leave players behind with speed, which is one of my main qualities.”
If you’re a fan of DMV soccer, it’s hard not to know the Gyau name. Joe and his father, up to this point, have been a model of what can happen if you work hard, and are passionate about soccer.

 

Yes, it helps to have world-class speed, and quality coaching at a young age. But there are examples of players, not just in soccer, but every sport, who give up and fold after an injury or other setback.

 

To be hearing things from such a young player like “I’m working on becoming stronger mentally”, and “I’m continuing to study and use this time to make myself a better all-around player”, in addition to Joe’s obvious knowledge of the game and respect for those who have come before him, should make all of us hopeful that he will return to the field a better all-around player, and get back to his old ways. A player who will return to the field at the International level, continue to make defenders worry about his next move, and make all of us in the DMV proud to call him one of our own.

 

Good luck Joe, and keep working hard!

 

A few notable photos from Joe’s Instagram account:

Amazing coach … Sad day. #ThanksKlopp #BVB

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Being embraced by former BVB manager Jurgen Klopp

2009… Life changes quick.. Stay humble and don't forget who your fam is… #301 #240 #Rack

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


On the playground is where he spent most of his days


His father, Philip, in action for the USMNT

Late night gym session #Work 💪

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Taking a selfie break<

#Throwback #TheBeginning #BVB

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Coming on as a sub, alongside captain Mats Hummels

#Preach

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


A quote that gives him inspiration during his rehab process

DMV’s Finest: Maki Tall

A Tall Order

DC Native Maki Tall hopes to rehab from injury and suit up for USA in 2016 Olympics

Maki Tallby Tim Sitar

Not many soccer players in the history of the DMV are compared to Premier League legends, but there is a striker with a DMV connection making a name for himself in Europe who has drawn such comparisons.

That player is DC-born Maki Tall, a young and exciting 19 year-old forward who is already making a name for himself in Europe.

Tall left the region when he was just seven years old, but if he can have a big impact with his new Swiss Super League club- FC Sion- and go on to achieve his goal of representing the United States in next summer’s Olympic Games, there is no doubt that the soccer community in the DMV will proudly proclaim him as one of our own.

“Since I left DC when I was very young, I did not get many chances to play for local youth teams there.” says Tall, when asked if he has any DMV soccer memories worth sharing. “However, during my summer holidays, I did go play a few times with my dad at the Mall, around Constitution Avenue.”

Drawing comparisons to a legend

Tall is very well-traveled. In addition to DC, he has also lived in Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and finally France, where Tall would draw comparisons to new Montreal Impact signee and Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba.

Maki says that he welcomes the comparisons, but also says he has a ways to go before they hold any weight.

Maki Tall Drogba comparisons

Didier Drogba after winning 2012 Champions League final, where he was MOTM

“I am honored, of course. But Drogba is unique. I have a long way to go before I can be compared to a great player like him. I think the reason why people compare me to him is because he trained at the same youth academy in Le Mans. My style is that of a fast and powerful striker. I am also sure-footed in front of the goal. Drogba at his prime was a master in all these areas. I hope to be close to that level some day.”

Some of Maki’s other favorite players include Ibrahimovic, Aguero and Teves. Not a bad attacking front 3.

Yank abroad: adjusting to life overseas

Tall developed into one of the most promising prospects at the academy of French League 2 side Le Mans. His on-field exploits dazzled club officials, as he led Le Mans in scoring at four different age groups (U15, U16, U17, and U19). But Tall had quite a few obstacles in his way as a youth player in a foreign country trying to prove himself.

“When I came to Le Mans, I was almost 14 years old. I had to adjust to the cold weather since I was coming from Cote D’Ivoire, and I had to learn tactically how the game was played in France. The physical intensity of the game is also something that I had to adjust to.”

Off the field, his everyday routine also wasn’t exactly that of a normal high school player.

“Language was not a barrier, since I already spoke French. But aside from my father coming to visit every month, I had no family around. We also trained twice a day, and still had to take normal classes.”

His success at Le Mans Academy led to a contract with Lille in 2013, and a four-month loan with third division French club Red Star last season. While his minutes were limited in his first two matches for Red Star, when he did get on the field, he was able to show some glimpses. He was involved in his team being awarded 2 penalty kicks after coming on as a substitute in a League Cup match.

“All together I played in 4 games out of 12 for Red Star, but I missed most of the season because of National Team duty. I must say it was also difficult coming in at mid-season, in a team that was playing well and with a striker in top form (Kevin Lefaix was top scorer in the league). Still, it was a great experience training with very experienced players like (former Manchester United player) David Bellion every day.”

Proud to represent the Stars and Stripes

Tall spurned early offers from the French National team program. Later, he would suit up for FFF youth national teams, but the U.S. never left his mind. Perhaps his Christmas and summer vacations back to the DMV kept him grounded in the possibility of representing his land of birth.

“I go back to DC twice a year, when my schedule allows it. I am a big Wizards fan, and of course I do not miss any Redskins games on TV or through the internet. I have a permanent subscription to NFL and NBA League Pass, so I try to keep up with the Redskins and Wizards.”

“Hail to the Redskins!” Maki says on his Instagram account.

Maki wondering who would win in a foot race, him or John Wall.

His father, Madani, hoped to see his son in the red, white, and blue of the USMNT, rather than donning the kit of Les Bleus. His father’s hope became reality, at least at the U-20 level. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos called Maki into camp after the January qualifying tourney in Jamaica. When asked seeing his son step onto the pitch for the first time as a United States Youth National Team Player:

“I was very proud. The culture in America is that if you work hard, you will get your chance. Maki seized his chance when he was called up to join the U20 team, and it was a very great moment for all the family.”

1-0 vs Croatia #nike #usa #salzburg

A post shared by Maki Tall (@makigoal) on

The young and dynamic forward wasted little time adjusting to Ramos’ system, and found the back of the net two times in the team’s final four tune-up games before the U-20 World Cup.

Overcoming adversity

Tall would go on to start in the 2015 U-20 WC opener against hopeful minnow, Myanmar. Tall netted the first goal in the 2-1 win for the Yanks. Yet, his time on the international stage was as almost brief as his stay in the DMV.

The right-footer left the Myanmar game in the 49th minute, never to return to World Cup action after suffering a broken left big toe. We asked him how his rehabilitation process has been going.

“I am rehabbing very well. I should start running next week, and I hope to play my first game with FC Sion in early September, after a game or two with the reserve team in order to be in full shape.”

Tall hopes to feature for the reigning Swiss Cup champion, FC Sion, this season and continue to improve. If he finds playing time, there is no doubt that he will stay on Jurgen Klinnsman’s rader.

Will an early World Cup qualifying call-up and cap tying appearance be in Tall’s future?

“That is what every soccer player dreams about. There is a lot of talent in the various USA teams, from the full side to the different youth players coming through the ranks. It will take hard work and a little bit of luck to be part of the full USMNT. Before that, my focus is on the Olympics.”

A young, dynamic, and exciting USMNT prospect who has set goals for himself and is prepared to work hard on (and off) the field to make them a reality. If Maki is able to complete his injury rehabilitation process and make a name for himself in the Swiss league, his dream of representing the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and of going on to represent the full United State’s Men’s National Team one day, may become a reality.

From everyone in the DMV, good luck Maki. Make us proud.