DMV COLLEGE RECAP: WEEK 2

Week 2 Top 25 College Soccer

We’ve reached the end of Week 2 of the 2017 NCAA Men’s College Soccer season, with two DMV-area teams (University of Maryland, #5 in the country in the most recent United Soccer Coaches’ Poll, and Georgetown, #18) remaining undefeated and nationally-ranked.

Also included in the most recent coaches’ poll is University of Virginia, with Loyola and Virginia Tech also receiving votes. Old Dominion dropped out of the Top 25 following Friday’s 5-3 home loss to Saint Francis (PA), and Sunday’s 1-1 Overtime draw against Iona.

Here’s a recap of some of last week’s DMV College Soccer results:

University of Maryland

Terps Keep Rollin’

maryland terps

Since our first NCAA College Soccer recap last week, Sasho Cirovski’s #5 Nationally-ranked University of Maryland side have posted three straight home victories: a 2-0 win vs Hofstra on Monday 8/28, a 3-2 overtime-thriller against a UCLA side which came into College Park ranked #15 in the country, and on Monday a 1-0 victory against Cal Poly.

Terps’ junior striker Gordon Wild, who came into the season on the shortlist of Hermann Trophy candidates, scored in all three matches: a free kick against Hofstra, a penalty kick against UCLA, and another penalty on Monday night vs Cal Poly.

Also continuing his impressive season was senior Jake Rozhansky, who looks as creative in midfield as he does clinical when in front of goal. Rozhansky served up a picture-perfect assist for Maryland’s game-winning goal vs UCLA, scored by junior Sebastian Elney:

And continued to pull the strings on Monday vs Cal Poly:

Coach Cirovski was forced to test the depth of his team this past week, with the Terps playing 3 games in only 7 days. Three players: defenders Johannes Bergmann, George Campbell (Baltimore, MD, went to Mcdonogh), and Chase Gasper (Alexnadria, VA, played at Gonzaga and also played at Bethesda-Olney along with Jake Rozhansky) played all 188 minutes of the Terps’ first two games. In the overtime win against UCLA, Gordon Wild also played all 98 minutes, along with Jake Rozhansky and Gordon Wild. Maryland starting Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair was in goal for the entirety of all three matches.

That being said, on Monday against Cal Poly, Coach Cirovski was forced to give some guys a rest. Freshman defender Ben Di Rosa (Bethesda Academy) got the start against Cal Poly, and sophomore defender Miles Stray (Real Salt Lake Academy player and former U17 USYNT residency program player) also stepped up, starting the match and playing 73 minutes.

Eryk Williamson also logged big minutes in all three matches, and assisted on the second goal vs UCLA which was scored by Eric Matzelevich.

The most impressive part of this University of Maryland side is the depth at the coaching staff’s disposal, with a handful of nationally-coveted former youth players still not seeing much time.

Up next for University of Maryland: a Friday night lights showdown with University of Indiana, currently undefeated and ranked number 4 in the country (one above Maryland). The two teams will battle for top spot in Big Ten standings.

big ten soccer standings

Georgetown

Unbeaten Hoyas

georgetown soccer

Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese must be delighted with the way his team has started the season, posting an impressive 3-1 win versus Cal Poly on Friday before defeating nationally-ranked UCLA at Shaw Field on Monday.

Georgetown’s impressive 4-0-0 record to start the season sees them ranked #18 in the country, scoring 9 goals and only allowing 1 goal thus far. Junior standout goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Week, with fellow junior Peter Schropp also named to the Big East team of the week as a defender.

Sophomore forward Ifunanyachi Achara, who is originally from Nigeria but has an impressive youth soccer background from his days in Massachusetts, sat out most of last season with an injury after being named preseason all-freshman team by TDS.

How’s this for a comeback season so far?

In Georgetown’s first match, against American (Georgetown win 2-0), he comes on as a sub in the first half and scores. In the Hoyas’ second match against #19-ranked Coastal Carolina at home, he gets the start and scores again, late in the second half in a 3-0 victory.

On Friday, against Cal Poly, he scores the first two goals in a 3-1 victory, before turning around three days later and registering six shots, five on goal, and scoring the lone goal in the Hoyas’ 1-0 victory against the Nationally-ranked Bruins.

Achara has scored in every game so far this season, and is currently tied for most goals in the country with 5. When you look at Georgetown’s stats, he consistently leads both teams in shots and shots on goal, and appears to be a force to be reckoned with for the Hoyas, who currently sit on top of the Big East standings.

big east soccer standings

Up Next for Georgetown: at Uconn on Saturday night, 7pm

Navy Soccer

Midshipmen Making Progress

navy vs campbell

When we were at Navy’s soccer camp this summer, I was impressed with the atmosphere that second-year Navy head coach Tim O’Donohue was building. With a summer coaching staff that included coaches from Everton, Genk, Rangers, and Philadelphia Union, along with an impressive young Navy coaching staff that includes Alex Yi, Paul Killian, and Zach Bowman, it’s obvious that the Navy program is making progress, but nothing happens overnight. O’Donohue’s coaching staff has hit the recruiting trail HARD since coming on board, making appearances at practically every major USSDA event.

As a result, Coach “OD” is attempting to re-build the Navy Soccer program from the ground up, starting 4 freshmen Thursday night when I went to Annapolis to watch them take on a Campbell side which is currently #1 in the Big South conference.

The Midshipmen got on the board early, freshman Phillip Gustafson with a quality finish in the 7th minute to put Navy up 1-0. However, they were unable to hold on in the second half, dropping to a Campbell team with a host of attacking options 2-1 in overtime.

Navy has been forced to make a number of adjustments early on in the season, with senior captain Brock Dudley being forced to play center back (versus his preferred CDM position) due to injury.

But what really stood out, to me, was that five freshmen were on the field at one time in the first half vs Campbell, with Coach OD starting 4 freshmen in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

The freshman include:

  • Toni Adewole– LB- an athletic, pacy defender who competed in track and field in HS. All-American soccer player in High School, played club ball for OBGC.
  • Wyatt Millard– CM- Gatorade player of the year in South Carolina, South Carolina Battery Academy player, scored tons of goals in High School. 
  • Jarvian Wigfall– CAM- Coveted FC Dallas player, creative attacking talent.
  • Phillip Gustafson– Colorado Rapid USSDA player- Scored 24 goals in two seasons with club, spent time training with pro team, scored the goal with a great finish
  • Nicko West– F- USYSA Standout with Solar Chelsea FC where he was captain…Dallas Cup Finalist, USYSA National League and Disney Showcase Best XI team, USSDA experience with Dallas Texans. Energetic presence up top off of the bench,

These young freshmen, along with two nationally-ranked local recruits coming in next season, could make Navy an exciting young team to watch in coming seasons.

Up Next for Navy: A DMV Matchup against a tough JMU side on Saturday morning, 11am at Annapolis.

Also in Week 2:

UMBC beat Howard 3-0 in front of a record crowd at Retriever park. Lost to Villanova away this past weekend, 5-2. Nova was 3-2 up until 80th minute when they got two late goals on the counter. UMBC will play Monmouth away on Saturday, 7pm.

Loyola tied William and Mary 0-0, lost to Pitt 1-0 in a hard-fought match at home. Currently 2nd in Patriot League standings, take on Villanova on Saturday at home, 7pm. In last week’s college recap, we may have singled out Loyola CB Mickey Watson after watching him play vs St John’s. Watson had an outstanding match against Pitt, looking much more composed on the ball and making a number of quality tackles and interceptions. Congrats to Watson for being named to Patriot League team of the week, along with Freshman goalkeeper Chase Vosvick. Congrats to both players.

GW lost to St Francis Brooklyn 3-1 on Friday night. It looked like they might have bounced back against a quality William and Mary side yesterday, going up 1-0 in the 69th minute (goal scored by Oscar Haynes Brown), but were unable to hold on in a 2-1 defeat. Will face off against Navy in Annapolis next Wednesday (9/13) at 7pm.

JMU and William and Mary are both in the hunt in the CAA. JMU has only lost one game this season (Sunday, 2-1 loss to Pacific). William and Mary’s only loss was a 1-0 away defeat to Michigan.

JMU takes on Navy (at Navy) Saturday at 11am, which should be a great match to go watch. JMU has looked very balanced when I’ve had the privilege of watching them this season.

W&M travel to Philadelphia on Saturday for their first taste of conference league action against Drexel, 7pm.

caa soccer

 

 

 

What in the world is Arsenal doing?

A-fan-holds-up-an-anti-Arsene-Wenger-sig

It’s not very often that I take time to write blog posts about EPL teams, but as someone who tries to watch and study top European coaches and clubs, one has to wonder what in the world Arsenal are doing.

They finished in 5th place last season, which would normally mean, for a top club, that they would need to improve their roster to be more competitive in the 2017-18 season with Liverpool (who just put a 4-0 beat down on Arsene’s squad this past weekend), Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Manchester City all making moves to strengthen their squads.

The Good

The Gunners did sign Lacazette, who looked to be a good signing early in the season and in preseason, but then Arsene benches him against Liverpool insisting that the French International is “still in the adaption phase“, instead going with Danny Welbeck.

They do still have Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

There’s the good news, that’s about all I could come up with.

The Bad

hector

Over the past few seasons, Arsenal seemed to have a big void at the 6. There was a pretty good one available this past transfer window, and on top of it, he’s a French International… which seemed like a perfect fit for Arsne.

How Arsenal didn’t attempt to sign Blaise Matuidi still blows my mind, and it appears obvious thus far that Granit Xhaka isn’t even on the same planet as Matuidi, especially after his performance this past weekend against Liverpool.

So you sign Lacazette and bench him. Your best player and biggest star, Alexis Sanchez, looks ready to move on unless he sees the London team making some positive moves to strengthen their squad, so what do they do? Today they sell Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain TO THE SAME TEAM WHO BEAT THEM 4-0 THIS PAST WEEKEND!

And on top of it all, against Liverpool they lined up with 3/5 in the back, with three CB’s….so if you’re going to play with 3 CB’s, you probably need CB’s, right? They sold Gabriel after only a short amount of time, are reportedly trying to move Mustafi, with no reported news that they’re making these moves in order to bring in a new signing to upgrade that position. So now your CB’s are:

  • Koscielny
  • Holding
  • Mustafi- who is rumored to be on the move
  • Per Mertesacker, who made one appearance last season, an FA Cup match.
  • Callum Chambers, who wouldn’t start at CB for many teams in EPL and is more of a “tweener”.
  • Sead Kolasinac, who wasn’t one of the 3 first-choice CB’s this past weekend after Arsene sang his praises all summer.

In terms of outside/wing backs, Oxlade-Chamberlain actually started at RB towards the end of last season, with Hector Bellerin being benched. So if you’re Arsene Wenger and you think to yourself “gee, I had to convert a wing player to RB last season”, you would automatically assume that they would try to sign a new RB for this season, right? WRONG. Arsenal currently have TWO outside backs on their roster: Bellerin, and Nacho Monreal, with Callum Chambers apparently the second choice for both positions. If an injury occurs to either player, it could get very interesting. Don’t forget, Arsenal have to play in Europa League this season, along with FA Cup, EPL, and EFL Cup.

It’s baffling enough when Arsenal could have started in a 4-3-3 with Lacazette, Sanchez, and Giroud as the front 3, and Ozil at the 10. Not many teams in the world could compete with Sanchez and Lacazette’s speed on the wings and Ozil’s creativity, but they line up in a 3-4-3 and Liverpool blow them out of the water.

Sorry Arsenal fans. I was rooting for an exciting, attacking Arsene Wenger team which links up, strings passes, attacks you on the wings and comes at opposing teams at 100mph, but after this past weekend, coupled with the transfer moves they have made, and Arsene’s head-scratching recent decisions, it’s hard to believe that they will finish in the top 4 this season.

DMV College Recap: Week 1

We’ve obviously been tweeting out results and updates from our DMVSoccer.com Twitter feed, but after watching so many local teams in action this past week (and in the preseason), we thought we would share a few things that we noticed while watching local college teams compete in what was the first week of action for many local D1 programs.

UMBC

UMBC vs Bryant

Defeated Bryant 1-0

Next Match: Monday at home vs Howard, 7pm 

After defeating Bucknell and James Madison in preseason action, Head Coach Pete Caringi‘s UMBC squad opened their season on Friday night at home against a Bryant University side which finished with a 3-10-3 record last season, but was picked to finish fourth in NEC preseason coaches’ poll.

I was able to watch all three of UMBC’s matches so far. Against Bucknell, they won 2-0 but it could have been closer to 3 or 4. Former Archbishop Curley standout, sophomore Tre Pulliam, had a goal called back in that match, and in the second half especially, it seemed like the Retrievers were in on goal on a number of occasions.

Against tougher opponents like JMU and Bryant, scoring goals and creating chances weren’t as easy. Against JMU, a first-half penalty scored by senior Sammy Kahsai (from Hyattsville, played at Northwestern HS) was the difference, as Caringi’s side grinded out a 1-0 victory in the second half.

In Friday’s season-opener against Bryant, UMBC was off to a very sluggish start in the first half, not creating many chances and having a hard time stringing passes together. However, whatever adjustments or motivational “get your heads out of your @$$es” halftime talk that coach Caringi delivered at the break apparently worked, because UMBC came out firing in the second half. They had a number of corners kicks and set pieces which were nearly converted. Junior center back Kyle Saunderson converted a diving header in the 54′, but UMBC continued to push and dominate the second half.

They do have one weapon in particular which teams will likely struggle to defend throughout the season, a long throw from Saunderson which is on a frozen rope and headed to the far post from anywhere within 25 yards out.

Tre Pulliam provided some fireworks on Friday night, showing that he’s not just a speedy forward looking to get in behind every chance he gets. On two different occasions he turned and took on multiple Bryant defenders, megging them on a few occasions and getting the home crowd into the match. Sophomore Tre McCalla has also showed some skills on the ball in recent matches.

UMBC also has a goalkeeper battle on their hands. Redshirt-freshman Tomas Potts and fellow freshman Ciaran O’Loughlin (from Birkenhead Englandm just outside of Liverpool) were battling for the position, along with redshirt-freshman Hunter Trefny. O’Loughlin got the start on Friday, making 3 saves and earning the clean sheet.

After tonight’s match against Howard, UMBC has a pretty brutal 3-game stretch where they’re away to Villanova  and Monmouth, before returning home to face WVU. Coach Caringi and his staff should know a lot more about his team over next few weeks, leading up to their much-anticipated home matchup vs Maryland on September 26th.

Speaking of Maryland…

University of Maryland

Terps

Defeated Santa Clara 4-2

Next Match: Hofstra on Monday (home, 7pm), UCLA on Friday (home, 7pm)

Sasho Cirovski’s University of Maryland side, who won the Big Ten title last season, was picked to finish sixth in the country in the NCAA Preseason Coaches’ Poll, and it’s obvious why when you look at their roster. Junior forward Gordon Wild, who was a Hermann Trophy finalist last season, was placed on the Hermann Trophy Watch List this preseason. Former DC United Academy standout, Junior Eryk Williamson (from Alexandria, VA), comes off of an impressive performance at the Under-20 World Cup, and looks ready to anchor the Terps’ midfield this season.

On Friday night, the Terps defeated Santa Clara 4-2 in an away match. Senior Jake Rozhansky (Germantown, MD, transferred from University of Virginia) scored two goals, along with goals by Williamson and fellow former DC United Academy standout Freshman, forward Eric Matzelevich (Washington, DC).

 

It’s obviously a good sign to see so many attacking options for Coach Cirovski in early season action, with Wild, Rozhansky, and Matzelevich looking to impress. Senior midfielder George Campbell (Baltimore, MD, went to McDonogh HS) also played the majority of the match, along with junior midfielders Amar Sejdic,  DJ Reeves (Ashton, MD, went to Sherwood HS), and Sebastian Elney.

The Terps have a difficult schedule this season, playing four teams (UCLA, Michigan State, Connecticut, and Indiana) in the Preseason Top 25. They have 5 straight home matches between now and September 17th when they hit the road against Penn State, but look for Coach Cirovski to see what kind of depth he has in his squad over the next few weeks.

Loyola Greyhounds

loyola

Last Matches: Defeated La Salle 5-4 Friday night in Overtime, Defeated Saint John’s 1-0 on Sunday Night

This Week: At William and Mary, Sunday 7pm

Steve Nichols’ Loyola Greyhounds side won their first two games of the season this past week, defeating La Salle 5-4 away and St John’s 1-0 at home.

The five goal scorers on Friday night: Sophomore Barry Sharifi, Freshman Sam Brown, Sophomore Sam Carter, Junior Mickey Watson, and Sophomore Josh Fawole (Columbia,MD and Long Reach HS) all played a part in their second match, a 1-0 victory Sunday night vs St. John’s.

Sophomore forward and former DC United Academy player Nico Brown scored the lone goal on Sunday night, with some great link up play outside of the box with freshman Sam Brown. Loyola freshman goalkeeper Chase Vosvick (Phoenix, MD, Played for Baltimore Bays before attending Montverde Academy in Florida) let up four goals in the season opener vs La Salle, before bouncing back and having a strong performance on Sunday night, earning the clean sheet.

I was able to watch Loyola against St John’s, and thought they played a very entertaining brand of soccer. They try to stretch teams out and knock the ball, and have guys like Josh Fawole, Nico Brown, and Sam Brown who look to get at defenders with pace and attacking intent.

Sophomore forward Brian Saramago, last season’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year and who was picked as Patriot League offensive player of the year, didn’t play on Sunday and saw limited action against La Salle. However, it looks like they have plenty of attacking options to fill the void.

 

Local freshman midfielders Eddy Rodriguez, Collin Jouan, and TJ Walker will all compete for time at midfield, with Walker looking impressive thus far with his pace and eagerness to both defend and get forward. Sophomore midfielder Barry Sharifi also had impressive moments on the ball, and Loyola’s outside backs Ryan O’Connor and Jake Campbell both has very strong performances vs St. John’s. Center backs may be a cause for concern, Loyola let up 4 goals in their first match and on Sunday vs St John’s, Mickey Watson looks strong in the air, but left his feet and made a few risky slide tackles in Loyola’s own box. There was also a botched clearance from his CB partner which almost resulted in Saint John’s equalizing late in the second half, but Loyola was able to hold on to the result heading into their next matchup on Sunday vs William and Mary.

Some other DMV teams we’ve watched play so far:

George Washington Colonials– Lost to Binghamton 4-0 on Friday night, but bounced back with a 1-0 victory against Lehigh yesterday. Baltimore Local and former Calvert Hall player, freshman Brady O’Connor, with the winning goal, a header in the second half. Fellow DMV local freshman Jordan Saint-Louis (Bethesda Academy) was impressive in the match, running at defenders and looking to cause problems. GW head coach Craig Jones is working on finding the right mixture of young guys and upper-classmen. Former DeMatha player, senior Koby Osei-Wusu, started at the 6 vs Lehigh and controlled the midfield for the Colonials, but he could use a more active partner in midfield at the 8. Once Coach Jones and his staff finds out more about his team over the next few matches, including their next contest vs St. Francis Brooklyn on Friday which will be the third straight away match, before returning home to face William and Mary next week.

James Madison- I was able to catch two of JMU’s preseason matches, versus UMBC and GW, and thought they were one of the more balanced teams that I watched. With lots of depth and guys who know how to play, head coach Tom Foley’s squad was able to earn two straight results to start their season, a draw against FIU on Friday night and a 1-0 home victory against Pitt on Sunday. Freshman GK TJ Bush (Herndon, VA), Junior Billy Metzler, and sophomore Niclas Mohr (from Germany) were all named to the Wolstein Classic All-Tournament Team for their performances in JMU’s first two matches.

CCBC-Essex- Bonus Community College coverage coming at ya! On Saturday I went to check out CCBC-Essex take on Louisburg College from North Carolina, with both programs having reputations for developing players who later transfer to D1 programs. CCBC-Essex went ahead 3-0 early, shocking a Louisburg team who just got off of a long bus ride from NC. Freshman Varmah Siryon from Dundalk high school scored two for the Knights, along with Clement Blamo Jr who also played at Dundalk High. Former Baltimore Armour standout center back Jake Dengler made his CCBC-Essex debut, along with fellow freshmen defenders John Assaro (played for Baltimore Armour and Pipeline) and Walter Avila (former Bethesda Academy and Pipeline player). For Louisburg, Fela Osifeso (former Baltimore Armour, Pipeline, and Baltimore Bays player) was excellent throughout the match, and his older brother Tobi Osifeso (also played for Baltimore Armour) scored a wonder goal in the second half, a strike from 20+ yards out.

 

 

10 Potential Transfer Targets for DC United

dc united transfers

I will never pretend to be any of the following things:

  • An MLS salary cap expert
  • An International soccer agent
  • Anyone with any type of GM experience outside of FIFA Ultimate Team

Therefore, it’s hard for me to criticize DC United for not bringing in a big-name designated player over the past few seasons, but the club is working tirelessly to try to squeeze some moves in before Wednesday’s MLS transfer deadline to improve the team.

They signed Hungarian National Team player Zoltan Stieber (yes, that’s Bethesda-Olney Academy standout Gabe Segal in the background), sent Bobby Boswell to Altanta United in a move that can probably be seen as getting a contract off of the books, and sent Lamar Negal to Seattle.

But the news that really stood out, for me, is that they were willing to pony up a $4.5 million transfer fee and a $10 million salary ($5 million per year for 2 years) for experienced Chilean CDM Gary Medel.

medel

The club’s past hesitancy to splash significant money towards a relevant “superstar” signing and potential face of the franchise that has been missing for so long, has left supporters with the impression that the money simply wasn’t there to be spent. But with new stadium Audi Field being constructed, it’s refreshing to see the black and red make more of an effort to field a legitimate team for the remainder of the season, heading into 2017-18.

A few things that probably aren’t helping DC United’s chances in the current transfer market:

1. Name Recognition

Unlike a club like LA Galaxy, who can approach a player and his agent and list off names like Lampard, Beckham, Donovan, Ashley Cole, and a host of other International superstars who have played for the club, DC United hasn’t had one of those names in a long time. The club’s early success was built around USMNT standout players like John Harkes, Eddie Pope, Ben Olsen, Roy Lassiter and Richie Williams, coupled with rare International finds like Raul Diaz Arce, Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Ryan Nelson, and others.

However, the league has evolved, and the chances of finding these “diamonds in the rough” are becoming increasingly difficult. It’s quite possible that Brazilian Luciano Emilio, who was the team’s leading scorer between 2007-2009, was the last International standout to have donned the red and black, not named Andy Najar… who was only 17 when he was tied for DC United’s leading goal scorer in 2010….with five goals.

Front office can tell players and their agents about what it would be like to be the face of the franchise in the Nation’s Capital, and how great the new stadium will be, but players are going to do their homework before up and moving to a new club. When they start looking at past DCU rosters and having a hard time recognizing any of the names (no disrespect at all to current/past DC United players, we are talking about International name recognition when compared to the LA Galaxies, Chicago Fires of the world), it’s possible that you start realizing why they end up losing a talent like Gary Medel to Besiktas.

2. Not Doing Us Any Favors

In terms of International players weighing their options, and considering MLS to be a top choice, the following issues and/or people are not doing us any favors when it comes to MLS becoming a desirable destination for top International players.

  1. The timing. It’s the World Cup next year, and players will want to land with clubs in top-flight leagues where they will not only get minutes, but will also be pushed in training sessions every day to prepare them for the competition.
  2. Current Italian National Team coach Giampiero Ventura. Last season, Sebastian Giovinco was left off of Italy’s National Team roster despite being, arguably, the league’s most dynamic player. The reason given by Ventura: “MLS Doesn’t matter“.
  3. Past US Men’s National Team manager, and all-time International great Jurgen Klinsmann. The German has a son who is coming through the US Youth National Team ranks, yet despite calling the US home for a number of years, he continually criticized MLS whenever players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey chose their domestic league over playing abroad.

So What Now? 10 Potential DC United Transfer Targets

The MLS transfer deadline ends tomorrow, August 9th. The fact that DC United has made late moves to free up cap space by releasing Boswell and Neagle, along with the fact that the club appears to have made a significant pitch to Gary Medel, means that it’s possible we could see a significant signing.

When you start looking at some of the top players in the league, and what clubs paid to get them, such as:

  • Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, only 24 years old, reportedly moved from Torino to MLS for around $4 million.
  • Nemanja Nikolics, Chicago Fire, only 29 years old and 2nd leading goalscorer in MLS, moved to MLS for around $3.5 million.
  • Diego Valeri, still only 31, 4th leading goalscorer in MLS, transferred to MLS for around $2.35 million.

It’s apparently possible for DC United to obtain a real difference-maker for the amount they were willing to pay for Medel.

Here are ten names that, if I were playing Fantasy MLS GM, I might consider pitching as the next potential face of the franchise in the Nation’s Capital:

1. Sebastian Larsson

SEBASTIAN larsson

32-year-old experienced, skillful central attacking midfielder with loads of EPL experience. 90 Caps for Sweden. Reportedly close to signing with Hull City, has expressed desire to remain in top league, DC United transfer might be a long shot but he is currently without a club and no guarantee he will see minutes at Hull if he makes the move.

2. Zoran Tosic

zoran tosic

Skillful Serbian winger (76 International caps) who, at only 30 years of age, always seems to shine whenever he’s played for CSKA Moscow in Champions League. Started career early with Manchester United, before going on to make 182 appearances and score 37 goals for CSKA Moscow in 7 seasons. Currently without a club, initial transfer fee when he signed for CSKA in 2010 was only $3 million so it’s very possible they could get him for significantly less than Medel while pursuing additional options.

3. Ezequiel Lavezzi

lavezzi

The 32 year-old Argentinian signed for around $6.5 million when he transferred to the Chinese League last February. He has recently been criticized in China for a severe lack of judgement when posting what he believed to be a funny photo, so he may be looking for greener pastures. While his behavior off of the field may be in question, his ability to score goals on the pitch, coupled with his pace and creativity, would make an immediate impact. While his high weekly wages in China would be hard to compete with, his contract is coming to an end and it’s unlikely another Chinese club would sign him.

4. Ashley Young

Ashley Young

Past England International, 32 years of age. Reportedly in talks with Watford, contact with United expiring soon and injury issues have seen his value drop. Maybe he has noticed his old United buddy Schweinsteiger being reinvented in Chicago and wants to be the face of an MLS franchise?

5. Bryan Ruiz

bryan ruiz

31-year-old striker, former teammates with Clint Dempsey at Fulham, CONCACAF International player with Costa Rica. Loads of international experience, contract is coming to an end with Sporting CP in Portugal and United could probably afford to bring him in, as the player is likely looking for minutes (versus trying to break into a team elsewhere) heading into 2018 World Cup.

6. Salomon Kalou

kalou

32-year-old Ivory Coast International winger with pace, skill, and experience who is hoping to come out of International retirement before the World Cup. Maybe becoming the face of an MLS club would help those chances. Hasn’t agreed to a new contract with Hertha Berlin and has expressed his desire to move to MLS.

7. Roberto Soldado

soldado MLS

32-year-old Spanish striker who can find the back of the net. Contract is coming to an end with Villareal, club not likely to offer a new deal. Reportedly in discussions with Besiktas which means he likely wants to remain in Europe, but maybe USA is more appealing than trying to break into a Turkish side who just completed the signing of fellow Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo.

8. Vladimir Weiss

Vladimir Weiss

While he’s number 8 on my list, he’s the one guy who I would literally beg DC United’s front office to pursue. 27-year-old Slovakia international with pace, skill, and creativity to burn. Could play as a winger, center attacking mid, or possibly even striker in MLS. He’s only 5’9, so maybe he’s notice how well Giovinco has done in Toronto. Started his professional career with Manchester City, during a time when they were signing players like Tevez, Adebayor, David Silva, and Balotelli. Went on loan to a few clubs, most notably Rangers where he became a fan favorite. He constantly Tweets about a potential move back to Glasgow, and has bounced around a bit these past few years. He’s on the market, still in his prime, and could be a real difference maker in MLS.

9. Michel Bastos

Michel Bastos

34-year-old Brazilian with loads of International experience. Just signed with Brazilian club Palmeiras this past December, but hasn’t seen much action from what I can find, and has made a number of moves in the past few seasons. While getting up there in age, Bastos has the type of skill that few players in the world possess. Great crosser of the ball, has a cannon for a shot, and is very dangerous hitting set pieces. Can play winger, outside back, or possibly even CAM. Palmeiras signed him for around $4.7 million, but maybe if DC United made a big pitch for him to end his career as the key man in the capital of the United States, he could be persuaded.

10. Gareth Barry

gareth barry

If you’re still reading this and thinking to yourself “we’ve tried to sign two CDM’s, Medel and Nigel De Jong, yet the first 9 players on your list are all attacking threats”, I can’t say that I blame you. For those who still remember Ben Olsen’s playing days towards the end of his career (started off as a very pacy, dynamic young wing player, one of the top young USMNT prospects before injuries forced him to evolve) as a CDM, it’s obvious why DC United is pursuing a much-needed field general in the middle of the pitch.

Gareth Barry, 36, might not be the young, explosive, dynamic 6/CDM that he never was, but he reads the game well, can get box to box, and could bring some much-needed experience and leadership to the DC United locker room. I just feel like dynamic, skillful attacking players are what fans want to pay to see, and what the team needs to start building around.

Sure, the 6 is the most important position from a tactical standpoint, and the back line always needs extra protection. But DC United is not only in dead last place in this year’s MLS standings, they’re also in dead last place in goals for, with only 19 goals scored throughout 23 matches. Other clubs’ efforts to sign older CM’s for big money, such as Pirlo, Lampard, and Gerrard, didn’t exactly end well.

Argentinian Esteban Cambiasso, another CDM who is up there in age and might be willing to finish his career in MLS, would be another worth considering. But does DC United expect fans to get excited about Nigel De Jong, Gary Medel, or another “experienced” CDM helping to bring in the new Audi Field, when fans seem to be begging for an exciting attacking player who the team can build around?

 

 

How A Bethesda Academy Player Being Deported Can Make us Better

(Note: This is an Op-Ed piece. The views expressed in this article are my views and beliefs only. I plan on bringing up the sensitive topic of race in soccer, and would not feel right expressing my views and opinions without sharing my past experiences. I am not writing this to promote a political agenda.)

Bethesda U18 players come out to support their teammate. Credit: Rachel Chason/The Washington Post

Bethesda U18 players come out to support their teammate. Credit: Rachel Chason/The Washington Post

 

Back in January, when current president Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United State of America, thousands (and in DC, millions) protested against his victory in the 2016 Presidential Elections, for a number of different reasons. This isn’t going to be a history or sociology lesson, it was just earlier this year and you already know about everything that happened by now. Our country has been divided based on political party affiliations, with the subject of race being the elephant/donkey in the room.

Part of Trump’s political agenda during his campaign was to enforce the deportation of illegal immigrants, primarily those with criminal backgrounds who he and his supporters believe are a danger to our country.

On Monday, news started making its way around Twitter that Lizandro Claros, who this past season played for Bethesda’s u18 USSDA squad, and his older brother Carlos were detained by ICE following a routine check-in with immigration officials and were scheduled to be deported back to their home country of El Salvador.

Lizandro, listed as a defender on the team’s website, has been with Bethesda since 2015-16, making 24 appearances in 2015-16 and 21 appearances this past season. In other words, he has been a pretty integral part of a squad which managed to make the USSDA playoffs this past season.

Lizandro and his brother were deported back to El Salvador on Wednesday, despite numerous rallies and media reports making the argument that the young man deserved to stay in the country and fulfill his dream of playing college soccer at Louisburg College in North Carolina. Lizandro does not have a criminal record.

I coached as a volunteer in the Development Academy for 2 seasons, and it’s a LOT of work. 4 training sessions every week, travelling out of state every other weekend for away matches, etc. Competing in US Soccer Development Academy, while also fulfilling responsibilities as a student athlete, is something that Lizandro obviously worked very hard at in order to achieve his dream of playing college soccer, a dream which will apparently not become a reality after all.

DMV Soccer: The D is for Diversity

I’m a big goofy white guy who can’t dance or dunk, despite being 6’2″… seriously, as white as they come. I grew up playing youth soccer in PG County, in an era where simply finding a local soccer team to play for was difficult. There weren’t 2 or 3 travel clubs in every county in those days. You couldn’t watch EPL matches on television, big clubs didn’t come here for their Summer Tours, and 90% of Americans at this time probably thought soccer was the most boring sport ever played.

In PG County during the 90’s, my options were basically to play for a local rec team like Fort Washington or Waldorf, or if your parents had time and money (they did not), they could drive you all the way to Bethesda or Columbia. I was lucky enough to grow up playing soccer in a racially diverse area, where I was able to learn more about other cultures and get others’ perspectives on life.

Fact: DC, Maryland, and Virginia are among the most diverse states in the country. According to a recent report, Maryland is the 5th most diverse state in the country, with Virginia coming in at 14. Montgomery County is home to some of the most diverse cities in the country, along with Washington, DC.

Fact: Soccer is referred to as the World’s Game because of the cultural diversity that comes along with playing or watching the sport.

That being said, playing soccer in the DMV allows kids and coaches to interact with teammates and parents from diverse backgrounds that they may not have otherwise interacted with in normal day-to-day life.

THIS IS WHAT MAKES PLAYING SOCCER (IN THE DMV) SO GREAT.

One quick personal story. My younger brother and I grew up playing with/against 2 brothers from Honduras, Danny and Hector Funez. Anybody familiar with PG County Soccer in those days knows how good of a player Danny Funez was. Dude could play, which is all I cared about when it came to race, and he was the same way. “Game recognizes game”, no matter where you’re from or what color your skin is.

Fast forward to 2013, my brother and I were at the USA vs El Salvador Gold Cup Quarterfinal match at M&T Stadium. USA won the game 5-1, but the main story was the fact that the majority of those in attendance were not USA supporters. I guess I should have done a better job researching where we’d be sitting when I bought tickets, because we were practically the only USA fans in our entire section.

usa honduras

Around halftime, I looked down to a lower section of seats, and for the first time in probably 10 years I saw Danny and Hector sitting with a large section of Honduras fans who were coming to watch the second match, Honduras vs Costa Rica. My brother and I went down to say hello, and they both embraced us like no time was lost at all.

Later in the second half, when the US scored, someone in the section above us threw (what smelled like) an open beer towards the group of El Salvador fans below us. A few of them looked up at my brother and I saying we threw it (we didn’t, we weren’t that stupid). I think El Salvador was out of the game by this point, and it was obvious that these guys were a few beers deep and wanted to start some problems….which was unfortunate for us, there were a LOT of them and only 4 of us (my brother and I, his wife, and my female friend).

Things started getting a little tense. I glanced down to where Danny and Hector were sitting, and they must have seen some of the El Salvador fans turning and pointing to us because they already had their group of friends standing up, ready to come give us some back-up.

Danny looked at me and said “you guys good?”. I gave him a shrug like “yeah, we’re cool” trying to diffuse the situation. Luckily things calmed down, and we got out of there once the final whistle blew, but the fact that Danny and Hector would round up a group of a group of guys from Honduras who didn’t really know us, and were ready to help out these two white guys who their friend hasn’t seen in 10 years… it’s something that I still think about. Danny didn’t have a ton of white friends growing up, and I didn’t have a ton of Honduran friends. We grew up with completely different backgrounds. But we grew up playing together, respected each other, and still to this day have each other’s backs.

I still think about this, and if I didn’t grow up playing soccer in the DMV, I would never have been lucky enough to have met such a diverse group of people in my lifetime.

Using Soccer as an Outlet

Playing soccer is more than just a sport sometimes. It’s a way for young people to express themselves, and escape certain real-life dilemmas that can take a mental and emotional toll. During a difficult time for our country… reports of a potential war on the horizon, and with racial tension at seemingly an all-time high, it’s extremely important, in my opinion, for youth players to have access to a productive outlet like playing soccer without outside issues contaminating their experiences.

Today’s news that Lizandro has been deported, after working so hard to become a college soccer player next season, catapults real-life politics into the protective bubble of playing soccer, and affects more than just Hispanic families who are worried that the same thing might happen to members of their communities and families.

Hopefully people understand that Lizandro spent practically every day of these past 2 years with teammates and coaches from all different backgrounds, becoming more of a family member than just a teammate. I cannot imagine having to watch a teammate that I grew up playing with forced to leave the country, for a reason that many believe is unjust. And even the thought of a player that I have coached going through something like what Lizandro and his family have gone through this week…well, hopefully today’s news makes everyone appreciate their teammates and coaches just a little more.

Props to Coach Ney and the entire Bethesda Soccer Club for stepping up and speaking out on Lizandro’s behalf. Many coaches would have taken the high road and stayed away from such a politically-sensitive topic, but Bethesda coaches Matt Ney, Jonathon Colton, and Bethesda Soccer club as an organization stepped up and did everything they could to attempt to convince the authorities that Lizandro should be allowed to pursue his dream.

People Fear The Unknown

I’ve played soccer since I was 6 years old. This year will make it 30 years since I started playing, and through all of this time I have realized two things:

  1. I am very proud to have played with, and coached, people from such a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, and
  2. There are a lot of people in our country who haven’t had these same experiences.

If anything positive can come from today’s news, it’s that we can all make a better effort to understand where others are coming from. Politics may have the country divided, but playing soccer is a common bond that can carry on for longer than you realize.

We can all use today’s news to appreciate each other, treat each other with a little more respect, and not take each other for granted. Only one thing truly brings us all together, and that is the game of soccer.

2017 MLS Teams: Who Is Most Efficient?

MLS analytics

The MLS Season is more than halfway over…well, 64.7058% over, if you want to get “Analytical”. And with DMV-area MLS side DC United in dead last place in the league-wide MLS standings with only .81 point per game, many are wondering how Head Coach Ben Olsen and the DC United front office plan to turn things around before next season, when the black and red will have a new state-of-the-art home in Audi Field.

This past weekend’s 4-0 defeat to fellow bottom-dwellers and first-year team Minnesota United, who were coming off of a 5-game stretch without a win, has many loyal black and red fans searching for answers. Recent reports that ownership is trying to sell the franchise to a small list of potential suitors which includes Redskins owner Dan Snyder, believed by many DMV faithful to be one of the worst owners in sports, doesn’t exactly make loyal DCU fans feel more confident about the team’s direction.

And with fans begging for DC United’s front office to finally pursue a big-name designated player, which they haven’t really had since Dwayne De Rosario in 2011-2013, fans’ frustration CONTINUES to mount when reading reports that the team is seriously considering signing Nigel De Jong, who has broken more legs than he has scored goals. De Jong was in MLS in 2016 with the LA Galaxy, where he played in 18 games, scored 0 goals, had 0 assists, earned 3 yellow cards (one of these yellows, his horror tackle on Darlington Nagbe, should have been a straight red and a suspension) and 1 red card. Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy terminated his contract in 2016. De Jong moved to Turkey, where he played only 18 games for Galatasaray since 2016.

So from a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to feel frustrated when the DMV’s ONLY MLS team hasn’t had a bonafide big-name player serving as the face of the franchise in recent memory, we finally have a new stadium being built which should have been done years ago, and we’re expected to be excited about being the only team in the world thinking about signing a 32-year-old CDM who brings zero to the table offensively, will likely be suspended for multiple games, and ended the career of arguably the best young USMNT prospect, Stuart Holden, who was up for EPL player of the year when he was at Bolton in 2011?

In every sport, teams are forced to work with the resources that they have in place, from a financial aspect. Brad Pitt’s Moneyball, a true story about Oakland Athletics GM Billy Bean building a team on a shoestring budget after being forced to sell the team’s best 4 players in the offseason, highlighted Bill James’ Analytics-first approach to signing new players, which was later adopted by John Henry and the Boston Red Sox.

In the NBA, analytics has become such a big part of the game that former NBA great and current TNT announcer Charles Barkley spoke out against focusing on stats and numbers, over factors such as leadership, eye test, etc.

But in soccer, how can efficiency be measured when it comes to a team’s budget and overall performance?

As it relates to DC United, if the team can’t afford to compete from a financial aspect with big spenders like Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, are they at least getting the most out of the budget that they do have?

We compiled a spreadsheet which looks at every team’s current standing in the league, along with each team’s 2017 player salaries and total player compensation being paid out. We then ranked each team on the following four metrics, based on how they are trending to finish the 34-game season:

  • Average cost per game (what it costs each MLS franchise per game, based on total player compensation for the season)
  • Average cost per point earned
  • Average cost per goal
  • Number of goals allowed

We took those four metric for each team, and calculated the average rating for each team among those 4 categories (we will cal this ‘x’). We then took each team’s average standing in their conference (from 1-11, with the top 6 being playoff teams, ‘y’), added the total average from x and y together, and came up with efficiency ratings for each team.

You can view the spreadsheet by clicking here. Teams are sorted by overall efficiency, we explain more about how we came up with these numbers below.

Team in bold are currently in top 6 in their conference, aka current playoff teams.

 

Does any of this make sense? Probably not, but here’s what we came up with in terms of top performers in each category, as well as total overall efficiency.

Cost Per Game

Below are the top 12 teams when it comes to cost per game efficiency. This was calculated by taking total compensation, divided by 34. Any teams in bold (top 6 in standings) are current playoff teams.

Rank (standings) Club Base Salary Compensation Cost/Game (34 game season) Rank Cost/Game
3 Houston $4,837,899.98 $5,025,066.65 $147,796.08 1
10 Montreal $4,995,921.08 $5,215,855.89 $153,407.53 2
11 DC United $4,812,135.44 $5,272,447.94 $155,072.00 3
10 Minnesota United FC $4,926,046.04 $5,322,864.55 $156,554.84 4
8 New England $5,406,993.25 $5,800,118.33 $170,591.72 5
2 FC Dallas $5,690,579.28 $6,510,760.94 $191,492.97 6
1 Kansas City $6,365,856.00 $6,730,358.78 $197,951.73 7
6 Columbus FC $6,345,232.48 $6,747,544.99 $198,457.21 8
3 New York Red Bulls $6,313,982.00 $6,895,186.17 $202,799.59 9
7 San Jose $6,429,566.00 $6,959,287.11 $204,684.92 10
9 Philadelphia $6,516,876.00 $7,117,010.10 $209,323.83 11
8 Real Salt Lake $7,156,440.44 $7,734,355.44 $227,481.04 12

Cost Per Point

Below are the top 12 MLS teams based on what they pay per point earned. This was calculated by taking the current points per game average (through 20-22 games played), multiplied by 34 to come up with total number of points based on current PPG trends. We then took the total cost per game, divided it by total points for each team.

Rank (standings) Club PPG # of Points (34 game season) Cost/Point (34 game season) Rank Cost/Point
3 Houston 1.5 51 $2897.96 1
2 FC Dallas 1.7 57.8 $3313.02 2
1 Kansas City 1.64 55.76 $3550.067 3
3 New York Red Bulls 1.68 57.12 $3550.41 4
10 Montreal 1.2 40.8 $3759.99 5
8 New England 1.24 42.16 $4046.29 6
6 Columbus FC 1.39 47.26 $4199.26 7
7 San Jose 1.32 44.88 $4560.72 8
10 Minnesota United FC 1 34 $4604.55 9
6 Vancouver 1.5 51 $4659.38 10
5 Atlanta FC 1.62 55.08 $4768.87 11
9 Philadelphia 1.18 40.12 $5217.44 12

Cost Per Goal

Below are the top 12 teams based on cost per goal. This was calculated by taking each team’s goals for, dividing it by the number of games played, and multiplying that number by 34 to come up with total goals scored per game average based on a 34-game season, We then took the cost-per-game average for each team, and divided it by goals-per-game, to come up with the average cost per goal scored for each club. Clubs in bold are current playoff teams based on standings.

Rank (standings) Club GP GF Goals/Game # of Goals (34 games) Cost Per Goal Rank
3 Houston 22 39 1.77 60 $2,452.12 1
8 New England 21 36 1.71 58 $2,926.82 2
10 Montreal 20 30 1.5 51 $3,007.99 3
3 New York Red Bulls 22 40 1.82 62 $3,280.58 4
10 Minnesota United FC 22 29 1.32 45 $3,493.11 5
2 FC Dallas 20 32 1.6 54 $3,520.09 6
5 Atlanta FC 21 41 1.95 66 $3,956.99 7
6 Columbus FC 23 33 1.43 49 $4,068.19 8
1 Kansas City 22 28 1.27 43 $4,574.51 9
6 Vancouver 20 30 1.5 51 $4,659.38 10
9 Philadelphia 22 29 1.32 45 $4,670.51 11
8 Real Salt Lake 23 30 1.30 44 $5,129.47 12

Goals Against

We took the total goals against for each club, divided it by the number of games played to come up with goals against average. We then multiplied that number by 34. Top 12 clubs in terms of goals against average, starting with least number of goals allowed:

Rank (standings) Club Games Played GA Average GA Based on 34 games Rank
1 Kansas City 22 17 0.77 26 1
1 Toronto 22 22 1 34 2
2 Chicago 21 24 1.14 39 3
2 FC Dallas 20 23 1.15 39.1 4
9 Philadelphia 22 27 1.23 41 5
4 NYC FC 21 26 1.24 42 6
5 Atlanta FC 21 28 1.33 45 7
3 New York Red Bulls 22 31 1.41 48 8
5 Seattle 22 31 1.41 48 8
7 Orlando 22 31 1.41 48 8
6 Vancouver 20 29 1.45 49 9
11 Colorado 20 29 1.45 49 9

Total Club Efficiency

After calculating a rank for every MLS team based on each of the following measurable:

  • Cost per game
  • Cost per point
  • Cost per goal
  • Goals against

We took each club’s combined ranking for all 4 categories, divided that total number by 4 to come up with an average ranking for each team. So, for example, Houston has the following rankings for each category:

  • Cost per game rank: 1
  • Cost per point rank: 1
  • Cost per goal rank: 1
  • Goals against rank: 10

That’s a combined rank of 13, divided by 4 which equals an average rank of 3.25.

We then took the total average rank for each team, added the current number based on standing.

So Houston is number 3 in the Western Conference standings.

3.25 + 3=6.25.

We then took divided those numbers by 2, to calculate a total efficiency rating for each club (with the lowest rating being most efficient based on all combined measurables):

Club Average Rank Rank (Standings) Efficiency Rating (Average Rank + Rank in Standings) / 2 Rank
Kansas City 5 1 3 1
Houston 3.25 3 3.125 2
FC Dallas 4.5 2 3.25 3
New York Red Bulls 6.25 3 4.625 4
New England 6.5 8 7.25 5
Columbus FC 8.75 6 7.375 6
Atlanta FC 10 5 7.5 7
Chicago 13.25 2 7.625 8
Montreal 6.5 10 8.25 9
Vancouver 10.75 6 8.375 10
San Jose 10.5 7 8.75 11
Toronto 16.75 1 8.875 12
Philadelphia 9.75 9 9.375 13
Minnesota United FC 9.25 10 9.625 14
Seattle 14.25 5 9.625 15
Portland 15.5 4 9.75 16
NYC FC 16.75 4 10.375 17
Real Salt Lake 14 8 11 18
DC United 12 11 11.5 19
Orlando 17.25 7 12.125 20
Colorado 14.5 11 12.75 21
Los Angeles 18.25 9 13.625 22

Not every team will have huge budgets like Toronto, New York, or Los Angeles. But based on the amount that each club is spending, are they getting the most “bang for their buck” based on some of these calculations?

Take Kansas City, for an example. Only 6 other teams spend less than Sporting KC from a cost/game standpoint, yet they are top 10 in the other 3 categories, and as a result are not only the top team in the Western Conference, but are (according to these calculations) also the most efficient team in the league.

Take another team like Toronto, who spends more on player compensation than any other team in the league. They are on top of the Eastern Conference but are closer to the bottom in terms of overall efficiency.

And LA Galaxy, who are the least efficient team in MLS based on these calculations, can afford to sign a number of big-name players season after season, with 2017 being one where they likely miss out on a Western Conference Playoff spot.

What Does All of this Mean For DC United?

Let’s assume a new ownership group comes in, and takes the LA Galaxy approach to signing big-name players for the next 3 seasons. Will one or two big-name players guarantee success? Obviously not. But for teams like Kansas City, Houston, and other teams who are able to produce results on an Oakland A’s type of budget, what are they doing right that can possibly be duplicated here in the DMV?

A Family Affair

navy

Navy Men’s soccer hosted their second of two summer camps over this past Independence Day weekend. The players and coaches were all business on the pitch, but there was also a family atmosphere among the entire camp that made the grueling summer temperatures a little more enjoyable.

Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue had his daughter and young son running around on the Naval Academy practice fields, in addition to a camp coaching staff that had more of a “brotherhood” feel than that of a bunch of co-workers counting down the hours until they could get home.

This wasn’t a coincidence. It’s obvious that Coach O’Donohue focuses on creating an enjoyable (while competitive) family-like environment by bringing in positive, quality guys into his camp who he is familiar with. Coach O’Donohue, a 4-year starter in his playing days at Muhlenberg College, played for a coach by the name of Jeff Tipping. Coach Tipping was the Director of Coaching for the NSCAA between 2002-2011, and has been on the fields at the Naval Academy for both Summer Camps.

When “Coach OD” was head coach at Stevens IT (between 2001 and 2010), the team made it to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, along with 10 straight league titles. He worked with a player by the name of Paul Killian, who was rated the best Division 3 goalkeeper in the country in 2012 and voted first-team All-American. Paul, who is a DMV Local (played at Marriott’s Ridge), was an assistant at Stevens under O’Donohue. Paul is now one of Navy’s assistant coaches, and residential soccer junkie….he graduated High School in 2009, and yet could tell me all about Clint Peay’s High School soccer career, or the great DMV soccer players before his time.

Another one of Coach OD’s Former players at UConn, Mamadou Diouf, was selected in the 2014 MLS Draft and was a camp favorite. The list goes on of players and coaches who Coach OD has worked with, and loves having around.

Two of the coaches that highlight this weekend’s Navy Soccer Camp: Greg Statt, Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Rangers in Scotland, and Jeff Cook, u18 Philadelphia Union Development Academy Head Coach and Assistant Coach for Bethlehem Steel FC.

In our prior piece covering the first Navy Camp, we discussed youth player development with Peter Reynders from Genk’s world-renowned youth academy in Belgium, and John Doolan from Everton. We’d like to take a second to offer a sincere congratulations to Coach Doolan, who we found out this weekend has been promoted to assistant coach for Everton’s First Team, as well as U23 coach, and head of recruitment for Northwest of England and Europe. Congrats Coach Doolan!

In this follow-up piece, we talked to Coach Statt and Coach Cook to discuss additional topics related to youth development in the modern game.

Greg Statt

statt

Rangers FC, Scotland

You can usually tell how passionate a coach is about youth player development just from talking to them for a few minutes, and it’s obvious after sitting down with Coach Statt that he is as passionate as they come. Coach Statt, who is head of Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Scotland’s renowned Rangers FC Youth Academy, probably sounds like a pretty serious guy who walks around in a suit all day and sits behind a computer answering e-mails, right?

Wrong.

Coach Statt is extremely passionate about not only working with youth players, but also about being able to relate and understand the younger generations. His interactions with the campers are engaging and sincere, he even has an awesome Twitter profile where he poses for pictures with players, and lets everyone in on his day-to-day responsibilities. We asked Coach Statt some questions regarding Rangers’ approach to youth development in Scotland.

Me: “Coach, first off welcome to the States and to Maryland. At last Navy Camp, we talked to Genk and Everton youth coaches about additional sports or activities that your Academy implements for the youth players. Do Rangers offer the same at their Youth Academy?”

Coach Statt: “Yeah, absolutely. For the younger lads, dodgeball and volleyball are usual favorites. Then as some of the Academy players get older, we also have touch Rugby and Judo as well. We try to mix up the activities for the kids as much as possible.”

Me: “In terms of small-sided games for the younger players, what is Rangers’ philosophy?”

CS: For the u11 players, everything is 7v7. At u12, it’s 7v7 up until the end of the year or Christmas time, and then January to May they’ll go to full 11v11.

Me: We talked to some of the other coaches last week about the mental aspect of the game for youth players. Is this something that Rangers’ Academy dedicates additional resources to?

CS: “Ay, absolutely! We really focus on the mental aspect a lot when working with our youth academy players. Rangers actually employs a Mental Skills Coach, who works with the players not only in group sessions, but also in a 1-on-1 environment. We really try to focus on a “growth mindset”, versus a “fixed mindset”. A growth mindset is one where players believe that they can achieve their goals through hard work, working together with their teammates, and listening to the advice that their coaches are giving them. Those with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that their athletic talents alone are enough for them to succeed, and are less likely to work harder on things like grades or individual training, because they think that they are already good enough, and don’t need to do the extra work.

The mindset at Rangers Academy isn’t to ‘win at all costs’. The mindset is to support each other, everyone works together.”

Here are a few different resources on growth mindset versus fixed mindsets:

Me: ”It sounds like Rangers spends a lot of time on the mental aspect for their youth players?”

CS: “It’s absolutely vital for our young players to have the correct mindset from the beginning, but it also applies to our coaching mentality. Everyone wants to win, but we focus 100% on development, versus the ‘winning at all costs’ coaching mindset. For example, if we’re up 1-0 in a big game, and we have a player on the bench who has worked hard in training all week, but hasn’t been in the game yet, we make sure to get that player on the pitch. We don’t focus on ONLY winning, we prefer to do right by the players who put the work in and are serious about becoming footballers.

If we have a majority of players who are doing the right things: working hard, helping their teammates, are coachable and buying in, we spend more time with those players during the week than with the players who think they already know everything. At the risk of being singled out, the players who we don’t spend as much time with usually come around and buy in. Sometimes the players need positive discipline, from a mental aspect, for them to realize what’s expected of them.”

Me: “We also talked to the coaches last week about futsal for the younger players, is futsal something your academy implements for the younger players?”

CS: “Absolutely. World-class players like Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, they got to be as good as they are for a reason, and they all swear by it (futsal). We’re getting the hang of it (laughs). You might call it ‘medium-contact futsal’, but our lads are getting the hang of it.”

Me: “Thanks coach, one last question. For your Academy players, and their families. Do they pay for anything?”

CS: ‘No, they don’t.”

Me: Nothing? So the thought of parents having to pay for their kids to attend your youth academy, that would be pretty much unheard of then?”

CS: “Yes, it would never happen. The families don’t have to pay for a thing, everything is taken care of.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask Coach Statt more about Rangers’ facilities (as it’s something I discussed with coaches from Genk and Everton), but he definitely acknowledged that Rangers’ state-of-the-art training facilities is an integral part of the development of their youth players. The youth players train at Murray Park, also referred to as Auchenhowie. From their website:

Opened in July, 2001, the centre is divided into three distinct sections – an administration wing, a professional wing and a youth wing

The youth and professional wings have their own reception area, dining room, changing rooms, kit store and lecture room, whilst facilities such as the gym, medical suite and indoor pitch are shared between the professional and youth set ups.

Every piece of equipment in the £150,000 state-of-the-art gym is linked to the medical centre’s computer system to monitor every player. Each one has an individual code which activates a personalised fitness programme designed to meet their unique requirements.

The gym includes an isokinetic machine, which allows players to work within the constraints of an injury by testing muscle strength and reaction during a workout.

Murray Park also includes a 6 x 3 metre hydrotherapy pool with an angled, moveable floor and a series of massage jets and currents that allows a range of rehabilitation exercises to take place.

The 60 x 40 metre indoor synthetic pitch allows players to train whatever the weather and is laid on a bed of sand and tiny rubber crumbs designed to cushion the surface and prevent injuries. This revolutionary new surface closely mimics real grass and is used by other top clubs such as Ajax.

Sounds like a pretty sweet setup. A sincere thanks to Coach Statt for his time and willingness to discuss what makes Rangers FC Youth Academy so successful when it comes to developing youth players.

An American Coach’s Take

At both Navy Summer Soccer camps, we’ve talked to youth academy coaches from Belgium, England, and Scotland about what makes their youth academy programs successful when it comes to developing some of their country’s best players, but what about an American coach’s take on youth development? After all, it is Independence Day, right?

Jeff Cook

cook2

Philadelphia Union

This past season, Jeff Cook was the head coach of the Philadelphia Union u18 US Soccer Development Academy Team. Coach Cook will bump up to the Union’s U19 team next season, in addition to his role as assistant coach for USL side Bethlehem Steel. He has been with Philly Union’s Youth Academy since 2013. Prior to working with the Union, Coach Cook was head coach at Dartmouth for 12 years (2001-2013) where he won four Ivy League Soccer Championships, and made the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament seven times, including two Sweet 16 appearances.

Before Dartmouth, Coach Cook was Head Coach at University of Cincinnati for four seasons, where he was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, and took the BearCats to their first even NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament in 1998.

Last season, as u15/16 Head Coach for Philly Union, his team made it to the playoffs and was the 12th-ranked USSDA team in the country. Despite going undefeated in the group stage of the playoffs, they missed out on the quarterfinals on goal differential This past season, Coach Cook’s u17/18 side finished on top of a very competitive East Atlantic Division, but had a tougher time in the playoffs. But despite any of Coach Cook’s wins or losses over his successful coaching career, one thing that he is obviously passionate about is player development.

Coach Cook ran a session on combo play and build-up out of the back while I was there, and it was refreshing to watch a coach work on things that have made Philly Union teams so successful over the years. He coached the campers on things like breaking lines with their passes (versus shorter, more obvious options). He made sure the wing players were wide and up the field on every rotation, opening up space and passing lanes for his 6/8 to drop in and find the ball. He made sure the CB’s were wide when their GK collected the ball, opening it up for the 6 to drop in and distribute. He coached the players at the 6 position on different angles they can take when making their runs dropping in to find the ball, to open up space and be less predictable.

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These are all things that Union Youth teams in the past have focused on. I was lucky enough to be a volunteer assistant coach in USSDA at one point, and we played Coach Cook’s teams twice a season in 2014-15, 2015-16 seasons. His teams were always organized, always played and knocked the ball, and ALWAYS had players who could stretch you and attack out wide.

So from the outside looking in, it’s one thing to know what the Union teams are going to do when you play them. Watching their U18 coach run a session and work on the things that make their teams so successful, all while being willing to share this knowledge with the younger campers, is another.

Me: “Coach, first off great session. A lot of times, coaches will come to camps and work on some of the obvious things, while maybe playing their cards close to their chest and not wanting to give away too much from a coaching perspective. Do you owe Coach OD a favor, or is this how you always run sessions when others are observing?”

Jeff Cook: “It’s actually a full club coaching philosophy at the Union, from top to bottom. We share our coaching instructional videos publicly on our website, and we make sure we are very open in regards to sharing information that has made our coaches successful. Actually (laughs) sometimes maybe we’re a little too open about it all, but the goal is to improve how the game is played everywhere in our region, not just at our club.”

Me: “One thing we talked about last time with Everton Coach Doolan was- scouting youth players, and how players end up at the club. Could you talk about your scouting network, or how you identify potential Union Academy players?”

JC: “Scouting is important, but at the Union one thing we really focus on is the relationships with other youth clubs in our home market. The ownership is really dedicated to community outreach, so we host coaching nights and other events that benefit coaches at other clubs in the Philadelphia area. We make sure to maintain positive relationships with youth clubs in our home markets. Our philosophy is simple: if we do the right things, and do right by other youth clubs in the area….if we set up the proper environment where we are developing players, and we aren’t looked at as the MLS club constantly coming in and poaching the best players, then naturally players will want to play for us, and coaches from other clubs will want to send us their top players.”

Me: “Coach Doolan also talked about some of the financial aspects for top clubs in England. When Everton’s youth academy was awarded Category One Status, they receive around $1 million per season from the English FA. In terms of how the Development Academy continues to evolve, is this something that MLS needs to step in and start helping with?”

JC: “We are very lucky at the Union. Ownership is 100% committed to youth development, they contribute $3-$4 million per year to youth development alone. Development Academy is a pioneering effort, and the implementation of USSDA is changing the game in our country for the greater good. But yes, MLS will have to step in and contribute more to Development Academy clubs as MLS and USSDA efforts continue to evolve. Each USSDA club is independently-run and, from a financial aspect, are pretty much all on their own.”

Me: “So you believe that US Soccer and MLS can be doing more, moving forward, to improve youth development efforts?”

JC: “Not only from a financial standpoint, but also from a coaching education standpoint. Like I said earlier, we want the youth coaches at clubs in our market to possess the education and knowledge to succeed. But US Soccer can’t do it all. In a market like Philadelphia, there are 5-6 million people here. At one point, we would love it if Philly Union were looked at more as a top ‘federation’ figure on our area from a coaching education aspect. MLS and The Union want to start contributing more for coaching education. We think the next step for US Soccer, from a youth development standpoint, will be for the MLS and US Soccer to do a better job working together, in terms of offering more formalized coaching education.”

Me: “We talked about facilities, residency, and other youth development topics with the other foreign coaches. Can you talk to us about Youth Academy facilities at Philly Union?”

JC: “The YSC Academy, and the facilities at YSC, are a perfect example of Ownership’s commitment to youth development. The facilities are state-of-the-art, from the locker rooms to the strength training equipment and staff. YSC is a four-year school where kids get a quality education, and there is no charge for any of our youth development programs. We won’t offer actual residency for any kids under 16 years old, but for the kids in the YSC Academy program, their development has taken another step thanks to the program. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, players go through two sessions per day: one from 8:15am-9:30am, and another after school from 3:30-5:00pm. On Friday, we’ll have a mobility session, and days after games they usually have off. Our youth players go through 8-10 sessions per week, including games. We only had 3-5 players this past season who didn’t attend the YSC program, and it became obvious later in the season that they were not developing on the same level as the players who were YSC students.”

The Union Youth Academy players also work with Sports Psychologists, performance coaches, athletic trainers, and other youth academy staff members that Union’s ownership employs as part of their $3-$4 million investment each year in youth development. Union’s youth development model, as published on their website:

20160504.Youth Development Model

Me: “US Soccer audits every USSDA club each year on a number of factors. Can you talk to us more about what USSDA looks at during their yearly assessments?”

JC: “USSDA audits each Development Academy club on things like the clubs’ coaches and their licenses, facilities, player development, and how self-sufficient they are from a financial aspect. This past season, each USSDA club was audited by a company called DoublePass, a German company who goes through every aspect of our club. The goal is for US Soccer to eventually, hopefully, evolve USSDA into a criteria-driven league. The Das Reboot book (written by ESPN FC regular Raph Honigstein) is a great read for those interested in youth development, and how German clubs have managed to benefit from the Bundesliga becoming more criteria-driven.”

Me: “So over the next 3-5 years, what do you believe the future holds for USSDA and youth development efforts?”

JC: “Criteria-driven leagues, I believe, is the future for youth development. Hopefully USSDA can evolve to the point where MLS or US Soccer, or both, are able to reward clubs financially for doing the right things for youth development in the United States. Also, I think a professional pathway for the younger players would help. Reading United, Bethlehem Steel, and Philly Union are three options here in our home market. We would like to start working with players at the u16 age group, and getting those players on more of a professional pathway. Our goal, at the end of the day, is to produce players for the first team of Philly Union within our own academy system.”

We want to extend a sincere thanks to Coach Jeff Cook for his time and willingness to discuss youth development. An American coach at a top USSDA club is obviously a perspective that we value, so thanks to Coach Cook for his contribution.

Navy Soccer

OD

Coach OD

Throughout interviews with the coaches from Everton, Genk, Rangers, and Union, a similar topic kept coming up: mentality. It’s no secret that Navy’s men’s soccer team struggled a bit in Coach O’Donohue’s first season in charge of the program, but Coach OD is the first to admit that the transition from the last coach to his current tenure is a work in progress… in the right way, with 10 verbal commits for 2017-2018 season, two of them rated top 100 by TDS.

At UConn, as the associate head coach under legendary coach Ray Reid, he was part of a program that made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Men’s soccer tournament for three straight seasons. How does Coach OD, who is #1 in the country among active NCAA Men’s soccer coaches for win percentage, plan on turning things around at Navy? By implementing the mentality and work ethic that he attributes to working with Coach Reid.

Me: “Coach, thanks again for having us out for your camps. How did you manage to get all of these coaches out here this summer?”

OD: “Some of the coaches had connections through Coach Reid, but most of it was managed through Coach Tipping who I played for at Muhlenburg. The camps have all gone better than expected: we’ve had great turnouts, and the coaches who came over from Europe have had nothing but great things to say about our facilities and their experience here. At Navy, we are committed to excellence. We wanted to bring the best camp available to the area, with the best coaches, which I believe we have done this summer. But also, from a learning experience, it’s been great for myself and the other coaches to be around guys like Peter Reynders, John Doolan, Greg Statt, Jeff Cooke. Their demo sessions have been very informative, and now that we’ve had these guys stay with us for a few days, we plan on visiting them at their clubs over in Europe in the future to learn more from them. We’re only as good as who we associate with, and who we spend time with. Spending time with all of these great coaches, along with guys like Jeff Tipping, the guys from Pelota training have been here helping kids put some extra work in as well, and everyone else, it’s been a great environment, and we plan on continuing our coaching education as a program moving forward.”

Me: “Your first season at Navy, talk to us about what stood out, and what you hope to build on.”

OD: “Well, going 0-6 in league play is what comes to mind. That’s unacceptable, and will not happen again. The Patriot League is one with a lot of parity, so every team will give us a match this season. Moving forward, in addition to improving league play and finishing top 4 in our conferenc, the goal is to beat Army. We lost to them 2-1 last season, but over the next 2-3 years we hope to outclass those guys. This past Spring, we’ve seen some progress. We beat Villanova 1-0, defeated GW 3-0, and tied George Mason in a match where we had the majority of possession. We just have to keep working at it, the Spring season was important for the guys who were here under the past coaching staff to understand how we plan on playing moving forward.”

Me: “You were part of a very successful UConn program before coming to Navy. What have you learned from Coach Reid, and what is different between Navy and UConn?”

OD: “Recruiting is one thing that is a main focus. Coach Reid taught myself, and the rest of the coaches he has worked with, about how hard you have to work to recruit the types of players were are looking for here at Navy. I’m working on passing this down to the rest of my staff as well, and those guys have been spending 12 days at a time on the road, recruiting. We’ve been hitting every USSDA event, we actually just got back from Development Academy playoffs where we saw some great players play for some great teams. Alex Yi is out right now actually recruiting. One thing I learned from Coach Reid that I plan on implementing here at Navy, is: nobody will work harder than us at recruiting. That being said, we’re looking for American players here at Naval Academy obviously, versus at UConn. When I was at UConn, Coach Reid might call me and say “I need you to take a trip to Senegal tomorrow morning to talk to a kid”, and I’d be on my way. I think I made that trip 7 times while at UConn? We would go to Patrick Viera’s academy, Diembers, where we found some good players. Here at Navy, we’ll just have to work even harder on finding the best guys for our program, and our AD Chet Gladchuk and the rest of the administration has been extremely supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

Me: “In terms of an identity, what do you hope your team will look like next season?”

OD: “We want to play. I learned from Coach Reid that it’s important to do these camps, and make efforts to give back to the community, which we plan on building on. But on the field, we’re not going to park the bus and hope to get lucky moving forward. We’re going to open things up, we’re going to press high up the field, we’re going to knock the ball, and we’re going to recruit guys who know how to play the game.”

Me: “During your time here at Navy, have any of the other coaches or staff helped you out at all?”

OD: “The football team, I’ve been very impressed with how their coaches go about things from a mentality standpoint. They really hammer home the ‘brotherhood’ message, which helps the players stay together and work for a common goal. That’s definitely something, as you can see, that I’m trying to implement here at Navy. We’re working together to be more than a team, we want to create a family atmosphere and brotherhood type of feel throughout the program.”

.. We hope to continue to add guys who can play, but more importantly, guys who fit the image of excellence that we’re looking for here at Navy, in terms of their character and what they’re all about.”

In Closing

Spending time at the Navy Camp these past few weeks, and watching the campers and coaching staff interact with each other, has been a fun experience. At the end of the day, everyone is passionate about the game of soccer and becoming better players and coaches, which is a great environment to be around. Hopefully this continues to help raise everyone’s game, and put their best foot forward next season. Best of luck to Navy, and a sincere thanks to all of the coaches for their time.

Starboard: Everton & Genk Youth Coaches Discuss Youth Development at Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders from Genk, and John Doolan from Everton, were both at this weekend's Navy Soccer Camp

I’m going to show you a few pictures, and I want you to tell me if you recognize any of these guys.

Seriously, this is the test of your true soccer fandom right here. We’re going to show you pictures of a few players most of you have never heard of, but let’s see if you get maybe one or two.

Here we go.

baines

carrasco

Rooney

Benteke

davies

hi-res-41911fb56078d2e7faca585d41487586_crop_north

Rcourtois

osman

and last one…you had it right earlier…

How many did you get? Okay, so maybe these guys weren’t relative nobodies. They are, from top to bottom, WORLD-CLASS superstars:

  • Leighton Baines, England
  • Yannick Carrasco, Belgium
  • Wayne Rooney, England
  • Christian Benteke, Belgium
  • Tom Davies, England (maybe not world class quite yet, but Everton sound excited about him)
  • Divock Origi, Belgium
  • Ross Barkley, England
  • Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
  • Leon Osman, England
  • Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium

Okay….Cool. Why Do We Care?

You care because we’re about to blow your mind, that’s why.

All of these players have something in common…. they have all played for one of the two best youth academies in the world:

  • Everton F.C., in England
  • K.R.C. Genk, in Belgium

The Everton players are pretty obvious, because once Everton find a player they like, those players tend to stick around. We’ll tell you why a bit later.

But if you’ve never heard of Genk, or if you don’t believe us that all of those players played for them, well we can prove it if you’d like:

benteke genk

courtois genkl

de bruyne genk

Okay I lied, I could only find three photos, but that last De Bruyne pic is worth extra credit.

I was lucky enough to meet youth academy coaches from both teams: Peter Reynders, from Genk, and John Doolan, from Everton, this past weekend. Both coaches spent a few days in Annapolis, helping out with second-year Navy Men’s Soccer head coach Tim O’Donohue’s first of two summer camps.

It became pretty clear to me as soon as I stepped onto Navy’s practice fields that Coach O’Donohue, former associate head coach of a UConn program that reached the NCAA Men’s Tournament four times (three straight appearances in the NCAA Quarterfinals), had something special going on there this past weekend.

Coach O'Donohue prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

Coach O’Donohue, in Navy Blue, prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

I got there on Friday just before 2:30 and when I looked over, all of the campers (and there were a LOT of them) were just making their way back to the pitch.

Everton Youth Acadademy coach John Doolan, who is in charge of Everton’s U16 team and has a pretty decent playing resume himself, was about to conduct a combination play session, which had the players’ AND coaches’ section at full attention.

The players who were performing the demos weren’t too bad either. Recent Navy recruits Jacob Williams (Baltimore Armour u18’s) and Tyler Collins (Baltimore Celtic/Mount Saint Joe’s) put in some work, along with first-year volunteer assistant coach Zach Bowman. Tomas Potts from UMBC was among the GK’s, but coach made sure the camp GK’s (who made some pretty good saves, to be honest) were in goal for the drill.

DMV soccer legend (for those of us growing up playing soccer in the area around the same time) and Navy assistant Alex Yi walks by and looks ready to go 90 minutes without a problem. DeMatha head coach Andrew Quinn is attendance, along with Northeastern head coach Chris Gbandi, Binghampton Head Coach Paul Marco, Sean Topping from Muhlenberg, former NSCAA Director of Coaching Jeff Tipping, Brent Boone from Pelota Training, and finally, Peter Reynders from Genk in Belgium.

Coach Doolan (grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Coach Doolan (Everton top, grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Not a bad group, and it’s obvious that the campers are getting a quality soccer education during this week’s camp.

After camp let out for a break, Peter Reynders, from Genk, and Coach Doolan, from Everton, let me sit down with them and ask them some questions about youth development. Obviously, if we have two coaches in town from two of the most successful youth development academies in the world, it would be a pretty cool experience to talk to them, right? Below are some things we talked about.

Developing The Ginger Prince

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september

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It’s all about mentality.

Kevin De Bruyne is the type of player that would start on any club team in the world. At Manchester City this season, Pep Guardiola has used him at the 10 (CAM), as well as on the wing in big games later in the season, and the fact that he can play either position without a drop in quality or production is nothing short of spectacular. Pep tends to make some pretty radical changes, like Jesus Navas re-inventing himself at outside back, playing Kholorav at center back, Yaya Toure going from his agent having to apologize to get back into the team to starting at the 6 over Fernandinho midway through the season.

The mental toll that it can take on a player when they feel like they’re being played out of position can be underestimated, especially for a world-class talent with, at times, a matching ego. But after learning more about the club environment that Kevin De Bruyne was brought up in during his youth days, it’s obvious why these types of transitions are easier for him to deal with, from a mental aspect, than some other players.

Before I drove to Annapolis on Friday to interview the two youth coaches, I tried to do some research on both coaches and academy programs. Not necessarily an easy task to research a Belgium club, let’s just say Google Translate was used fairly often.

I used this article as a starting point when interviewing Peter Reynders from Genk, which I’ll translate in bits and pieces below, along with his answers and responses. Note: the article was from June 2014, around the time when KDB was recalled from Wolfsburg loan (10 goals in 33 appearances, at the age of 21) to re-join Chelsea, who he had transferred to from Genk’s professional team the season prior.

Peter Reynders: “The scouting knew that Kevin had some problems there (past club Ghent), and his parents were open to a new road for Kevin, who was already someone with exceptional play and football intelligence, but in mental terms, there was still a lot of work. Enthusiasm and the will to achieve his goals were very high. At Genk, the plan for every talent in youth education is identical: making the player better at all levels, and developing his particular qualities well, both technically, tactically, physically, and at a mental level.

Belgium soccer, particularly the Belgium National Team, went through a very tough patch between 2002 and 2012. They missed out on the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, as well as the EURO’s in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

However, their youth teams had a lot of promise, with their U-21 side making it to the semifinals in the 2007 UEFA U-21 Championship, a team that featured young players such as Fellaini, Mirallas, Vermaelen, and Axel Witsel.

belgium

Why do we bring this up? To explain their meteoric rise in past years, similar to that of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, which is almost a direct result of developing youth talent.

  • In 2014, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup, knocking out the United States, and finishing higher than ever as a country.
  • In 2016, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the Euro Championships, losing to an under-rated Wales side which saw Gareth Bale at his best.
  • For 2018 World Cup qualifying, they’ve had practically no problem thus far, finishing on top of their group and seeded in first place.
  • Currently ranked #7 in FIFA World Rankings

So what do Belgium youth academies, and Genk in particular, focus on to make their players so successful?

The mental aspect of the game.

Me: “You mentioned in this article that Kevin De Bruyne, when you worked with him….he had the passion to succeed, but maybe something was missing from a mental aspect?”

Peter: “Yes, we knew he was a great player from his time at Drongen and Gent, but he ran into some problems at his prior youth clubs. He was good from a tactical standpoint, his technical ability was superb, but from a mental standpoint, he needed a lot of work.”

Peter goes on to explain.

“He did not trust his teammates at all, and wanted to do too much. We knew he was a good player, he went on to play for our professional team and then made a move to Chelsea, but as a youth player, we really worked hard with Kevin to improve his mental approach to the game”.

In the article that I referenced earlier, this is reiterated.

“The big challenge for him was to use his technical skills in competitions. We talked to him very often and, having seen his exceptional talent, also had a lot of patience with Kevin. We tried to give him a good feeling by making him sometimes important. But that should not be constant either. We are careful in the education to place young people on stage.

We have many talents in our youth education, and it does not help them in their development as we continue to pamper them. In our training, each player must receive 70% of the playing time and therefore will not start the competition even if the larger talents do not even fall out of the competition. It is good to see how youth players deal with it mentally. Disappointments once belong to football, also in youth education. This allows you to recognize the real talent and winners.

Me: “So in this past article about De Bruyne, you mentioned that you worked harder with him on some mental aspects of the game. Do you remember any specifics in terms of what you did to help him realize his potential?”

Peter: “For Kevin, at such a young age, he needed to realize how good he actually was. Yes, we make sure not to pamper our players, or to put them on a pedestal, this is very important. But at the same time, Kevin (and other youth players who we’ve worked with) benefited from positive encouragement.

When he started not only trusting his teammates more, but also working on some mental aspects of the game- maintaining focus, not constantly putting his head down when things went wrong- and to pick and choose the times when he was able to take over a match, that’s when he started to reach his true potential, going on to play for our professional team (at only 17 years of age).”

More from the article, which I read to Peter throughout the interview:

We went on to work with Kevin specifically on his step technique, speed of execution, and timing and choosing his action and fit. In his first years, he played in a central position, in view of his exceptional trapping technique and game insight. Not yet pinned on a fixed pitch, but especially attacking and at times also at 6 and 8 to develop his game and to think about ball loss. His bias has always been a great advantage to play both left and right. Only after the promises, Kevin moved on to positions 7, 10 and 11.

Me: “So, you played De Bruyne out of position at times, to develop certain aspects of his game? Interesting.”

Peter: “Yes, but we did not play him much at the 6. When Kevin bumped back to the 8, ball retention and decision-making improved, but more importantly, the game slowed down for him tremendously. He was a lot more patient when he moved back to the 7/11 or 10, in attack.

Before, both mentally and physically, everything was moving so fast that maybe the end product was lacking. Once he moved back and saw more of the game, he made great strides in terms of his mental decision making and, like I said, the game just seemed to slow down for him”.

Landon Donovan at the 8? Pulisic at the 6? 

landy

Imagine a top youth club in the United States moving their best player, say an attacking mid or wing player, out of position for a few matches, all while risking a few results and/or the other players/parents thinking he (or she) was crazy? Very interesting to hear from a top European youth coach that he helped to develop one of the best players in the world by playing him out of position, and making sure he realizes how important it is for him to trust his teammates more in order for him to succeed.

In terms of mental preparation tools, and some other less traditional methods and exercises that Genk introduce to their younger academy players, Peter explained that it isn’t just about training 8 times a week and the actual game of soccer that they try to focus on.

Me: “In 2003, Genk built a brand new youth training facility next to Cristal Arena. Do you believe that the facilities themselves have helped when it comes to youth development”?

Peter: “Without a doubt. The brand new youth training facilities that we have at Genk have been great for the younger players to develop. In terms of football, between the ages of U7 and U12, the players only play small-sided games. First 5v5, then 8v8. Only at the age of U13 do they start actually playing 11v11.

Between U7 and U12, they typically get 3 training sessions per week. In terms of non-football activities at our facilities, we have a set training regimen for even the youngest players that we implement. At U7, we introduce them to boxing, judo, and gymnastics”.

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Me: “That’s interesting, so you’re telling me that some of the best players in the world (De Bruyne, Carrasco, Courtois, etc.) were doing gymnastics and judo when they were younger”?

Peter: “Yes, absolutely. We believe that these activities help with movements and exercises that are not always used when training for, or playing football. These activities help with overall mobility, athleticism, footwork. It also adds variety, new and different ways for younger players to get fitness and exercise other than training on the pitch”.

Me: “Wow, very interesting. And from the mental aspect, which we’ve talked a lot about, are there any specific mental tools or activities that you implement?”

Peter: “Absolutely. We have started introducing virtual reality, and we also have computer-based programs at our facility that all youth players ages 13 and up must complete. These help them to understand certain game situations, and overall perpetration from a mental aspect.”

Me: “Interesting, did you develop these programs in-house or can you share the names of the programs you use?”

This is a topic which Peter wasn’t so willing to discuss, and it becomes obvious to me that Genk has developed some important non-traditional tools and methods that are used to train their younger players from a mental aspect. These tools are essential properties that they are not willing to share with competing clubs like Anderlecht, Brugge, Standard Liege, and other Belgian clubs which hope to gain an edge when it comes to mentally preparing their younger players.

One other thing worth noting: Genk opened their brand new youth training facility in 2003. It was mentioned earlier that Belgium’s National Team drought was between 2002 and 2012. While we’re not saying that that Genk’s new facility was a main reason behind the Belgium team’s meteoric rise (currently #7 in World FIFA rankings), it would be hard not to believe that it played a part in the development of the country’s best players. We bring this up because facilities are a hot topic when it comes to youth development in United States.

One last excerpt from the article, which I read to Peter:

Kevin had an exceptional step-by-step technique and game insight. Because he thought a phase further than the rest, he was always playable.

We have tightened these specific qualities by training with high intensity, and in small spaces, which means that you need to respond quickly and act.

Me: “One last question about De Bruyne. You mentioned in the article that Kevin possessed one particular quality that made him stand out from the rest: He was able to think a play ahead, and predict what would happen in certain situations in a match before they ever happened. Was this a result of Genk’s training or mental exercises, or just something you cannot teach”?

Peter: “It is a skill and characteristic which cannot be taught. As coaches, it is our job for any youth player we work with to train them for certain situations, and to help them realize what they are capable of. But for Kevin, he had one thing that cannot be taught, and not many players possess: the ability to think one play ahead, which can at times be more important than any technical, tactical, or mental exercise we work on.”

Age: More Than Just a Number

benteke

When we found out that so many top Belgium youth players have come through Genk’s Youth Academy (yes, it was a surprise to us as well), we were curious as to what their ages were when at the club.

In the United States, as the US Soccer Development Academy program continues to evolve, certain studies and surveys are published which show what ages are most important when it comes to youth development, and players taking the next steps towards College Scholarships and Regional Training Center invitations.

The ages of 14-16, from almost everywhere I read, are when youth players begin to understand and implement more of what they’re trained on, develop more from a tactical and technical standpoint, and actually implement the skills and tactical thought processes that are coached throughout their youth.

The following players were at Genk’s youth academy, during the following ages:

Kevin De Bruyne:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 14-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-21

Divock Origi:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 6-15

Christian Benteke:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 16-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19
Sold to Standard Liege, Went out on loan ages 19-21
Came back to Genk Pro Team: Ages 21-22
Went on to Aston Villa for 3 seasons, scoring 42 goals in 89 appearances

Yannick Carrasco:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 12-17

Thibaut Courtois:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 7-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19

Coach Reynders mentioned that Kevin De Bruyne came into the Genk Academy needing a lot of work from the mental aspect, but it seems like once he was at Genk he was able to come into his own.

I asked Peter about another player on this list, Christian Benteke. Currently at Crystal Palace, he came to Genk at the age of 16, which is a little later than players like Courtois, Origi, De Bruyne.

Benteke was sold to another Belgium club, loaned out for a few seasons, and then came back to Genk, which I found interesting. Following another year with Genk, after bouncing around a bit, he made a move to Aston Villa where he scored an astonishing 42 goals in 89 appearances for the English Club.

Me: “It’s obvious that Genk’s training facility and methods, along with youth coaches, are able to mold and develop younger players over time. But for a player like Benteke, who was in the club, left, came back, and then seemed to find himself again, what do you remember about him”?

Peter: “For Benteke, it is true that it was always mental. He was a big, strong, physically overpowering type of player. Unfortunately, for Benteke, he needed to find himself mentally, find his confidence. Maybe not the smartest player in the world, but when we worked with him, we spent more time trying to build him up than the other players. We worked on his mental confidence and belief in himself, his self-confidence, which he always needed help with”.

While Peter wouldn’t say specifically that, if Benteke was in Genk’s youth training program at an earlier age and for a longer period of time, he might have had more of a chance to succeed at a big club like Liverpool, it’s fairly obvious that the work, time, and effort that Genk coaches spend on mental training and preparation are playing a big part in the development of their youth players, for both club and country.

Big John

As English, and Quality, as they come

everton

We mentioned earlier that Coach O’Donohue’s summer campers at the Naval Academy were able to watch and listen to another coach from a top youth academy in the world, John Doolan from Everton, who is in charge of their U16 team.

John was just wrapping up a combination play session which was very impressive. During the session (which progressed into different advanced phases), he was able to demonstrate his technical ability and fitness level at the age of 43, showing the campers what he was looking for at full speed, while explaining from a coaching perspective, all without being short of breath once. He was a very commanding presence, and it’s obvious that this is an ex-professional player who demands commitment and dedication from his players.

We mentioned his playing career earlier. From everything that we found, there weren’t many bad things said about him, all the way up to his later days where there was obvious coaching potential:

doolan coach

John’s Everton youth academy has produced some of England’s finest players, such as Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, Tom Davies (a prospect who Coach Doolan is obviously excited about), Jack Rodwell, Richard Dunne. Victor Anichebe….the list goes on.

Coach Doolan was sitting nearby while I was speaking to Coach Reynders, and was more than happy to chime in and discuss the Everton Youth Academy setup, along with what makes them so successful in England, a country where 5-10 different clubs could be competing for a local talent.

Me: “Everton’s Youth Academy was awarded Category One Status in 2012, which brought additional funding (a minimum of £775,000 per year) and resources. Was this a big moment for the club?”

John: “Yeah, absolutely. While it’s true that the bigger EPL clubs like Chelsea, Man United, Man City are all Category One, the additional resources that come with Category One status were a big part of what we’re currently doing with our youth system. Recently, in the U20 World Cup, which England won (John smiles ear-to-ear, proudly), we had more players represented than any other club. Five players: Jonjoe Kenny (20 years old, Everton Youth Academy), Callum Connolly (19 years old, has been at Everton since he was 9), Ademola Lookman (19, recent Evertonian), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (19, recent Evertonian), and Kieran Dowell (19, has been at Everton since he was 8).”

Young Lions Roar

england u20

Four of the five (Kenny, Lookman, Dowell, Calvert-Lewin) started in the U20 World Cup Final, a 1-0 victory over Venezuela. Calvert-Lewin scored the game’s only goal, his second of the tournament after being the first to score in England’s first match in a 3-1 victory vs Argentina.

Kieran Dowell scored the only goal in England’s third match, a 1-0 victory vs South Korea.

And Ademola Lookman, who Everton swooped up from Charlton earlier this month, scored 2 goals in their Round of 16 Matchup, a 2-1 win versus Costa Rica, and added another in England’s 3-1 semifinal win versus Italy.

Finch Farm

Finch Farm, Everton’s Training Facility

Me: “When it comes to identifying youth talent in England, you’re competing with a number of top EPL clubs- Man United, Liverpool (John cringes), and other English youth academies. Talk to us about your facilities, and what about your club or day-to-day activities that you think help younger players succeed”.

John: “We believe our facilities are top notch. 10 full-size pitches, one that’s lighted for night games and later sessions. A few small-sided pitches as well for the younger players. But one of the best parts of our facilities is that the young players have regular interaction with the professional players, since both teams train there. So a U16 player running into a player on the first team like Barkley or Lukaku on a daily basis is very special, and the first team players make an effort to interact with the youngsters”.

Me: “Speaking of small-sided, Peter mentioned earlier that their younger teams play almost exclusively small-sided games”.

John: “Ay. We are also big fans of futsal, we introduce it to the younger players almost immediately. They get more touches on the ball in futsal, and it helps a lot more from a technical standpoint when the ball isn’t flying every which way. It also brings the players back to the streets, there’s something about futsal that makes it seem authentic at times, brings out that fight and toughness”.

Me: In terms of additional training methods or exercises, similar to what Peter mentioned at Genk, does Everton implement any of those for youth training”?

John: “No, not really. Their parents send the kids there to learn how to play football, so the atmosphere at the club is almost 100% football. We obviously focus on the things which we believe are vital for young footballers to develop- proper nutrition and diet, training, we do also implement yoga so that might be one of the less traditional training methods. But the parents are sending us there kids to learn how to play football, not how to be gymnasts. They can do that stuff on their own time”.

Me: “In terms of typical training schedule, what’s that like for your U16 team?”

John: “The players train every day, and twice on Mondays. Sessions usually go from 6-8pm, but there will be times where they’re shortened to an hour and a half if we have a match coming up, or if a session the day before was more intense. So if we train twice on Monday, Tuesday would be a yoga day. Regular training sessions Wednesday to Friday, a game on Saturday, Re-gen on Sunday”.

Me: “How many hours would you say your u16 players spend, per week, playing soccer? There have been some studies here in the States that a typical u15/16 player is best if he spends 20 hours per week playing”.

John: “(counts it up) Typically, we spend only 15-16 hours per week playing. We don’t want to over-train the players, but it also depends on the players in the group. 3 years ago I had the best team I ever worked with, and they had to ask me to make the sessions harder because the players were so advanced (laughs).”

Me: “So in terms of scouting a player, there’s a page on the Everton Youth Academy website that says specifically not to send in Youtube video clips, and that you still receive thousands per week. Tell me more about how you scout and identify local talent”.

John: “We only scout players in the Liverpool area, within say a 50-mile radius. We want local players who are going to feel comfortable at the club- their families are nearby, they aren’t coming in from different parts of the country or from outside of England. That being said, we still compete with the big EPL clubs- Liverpool, United, City, the list goes on. So our scouting network is very important when it comes to identifying talent. In addition to our training facility, we also have Everton Soccer Schools setup, where young players can come play and be coached by our youth academy coaches. All of these are practically free. While we do have some talented players coming through the Soccer Schools, most of our talent is identified early on by our scouting network throughout the country”.

USA?

When interviewing both coaches, I asked them about what they knew about US soccer. Neither have spent much time here in the States, in fact I believe it was both of the coaches’ first trip to USA. Their responses are similar:

Coach Peter Reynders from Genk: “I have heard that soccer is developing in the United States. I have been very impressed with Navy and Coach O’Donohue’s camp setup, it’s a beautiful facility and the players are all eager to learn.

But it becomes very confusing to me when you start talking about things like ‘Universities and Colleges and Drafts'”.

Coach John Doolan from Everton: “I’ve been really impressed with everything I’ve seen here at the Naval Academy. The young camp coaches are eager to learn as well. One thing I would say to anyone reading this is- get your coaching badges as soon as possible. For our younger players, starting at U18, the players are actually required by the FA Category One clubs to start working on their coaching licenses and badges. It’s something you cannot start doing too early, to learn more about the game.

Aside from that, you have to realize that, from a soccer standpoint, USA is catching up. We have youth academy programs that have been in place for years, so I would say trust the process, but also realize that you’re catching up to other countries who have had Development Academy processes and facilities in place for a long time”.

Takeaways

One thing that will always come up when it comes to Youth Development in the United States is: money, which is responsible for a number of things, including facilities.

Back in 2012, when Everton was awarded Category One Status, they were awarded a MINIMUM of “£775,000 per year in funding from the Premier League’s youth development pot”.

As of 2015, the list of Category One youth academies in England:

Category One

So if there are smaller clubs on this list (at least when compared to Everton)- Reading, Derby, Norwich, Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., etc.

If the minimum allotment from the EPL development lot was £775,000 per year in funding, it’s more than likely that Everton’s youth academy is receiving over $1 million/ year JUST for being Category One.

Genk and Everton can afford to build and maintain top training facilities for their youth players.

Meanwhile, here in the States, US Soccer Development Academy clubs are responsible for providing and maintaining training fields (expensive) and game fields (expensive). The clubs who already have multiple fields at their disposal, like SAC (where Baltimore Armour trains), also have to schedule field times for all of their other youth teams to train on. So then they have to utilize additional local training options, such as Loyola University and Poly High.

For DC United’s Youth Academy teams, training on the RFK Auxiliary Fields and having different home fields (throughout VA and MD) every other game would probably be unheard of in England or Belgium.

The clubs have to pay the coaches and trainers as well.

In addition to the money and resources that USSDA Clubs are required to provide (with each USSDA club being graded among accordingly), the parents of youth players who are good enough to play at the Academy level are also required to come up with what can be looked at as EXTREMELY large amounts of money each season, depending on the club.

This can be upwards to $2,000-$3,000 per season depending on the club (or at least this was the number in the season before last when coaching in USSDA, we welcome feedback from others involved is USSDA), which doesn’t even include travel arrangements (flights, hotel rooms, meals, etc.) for the players or parents for Showcase events, and away games (DMV teams travel to Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania for regular season games, Florida and Indiana for Showcases and playoffs).

While most USSDA clubs will offer scholarship opportunities to the better players, a lot of the time the fees are covered by the players who are on the roster because they can afford to play.

Without getting into more specifics, the reality is this- USSDA is expensive. The Baltimore Bays lost USSDA status after Celtic was formed and they couldn’t keep the best players around. There were also financial reasons, and it took 4 clubs merging (Bays, Thunder, Pipeline, and SAC) in order to keep Development Academy soccer in Baltimore. The US Soccer Development Academy grades local clubs based on their facilities, coaching, and other factors such as player start percentages, but at one time one of the grading criteria were how self-sufficient the USSDA clubs were from a financial aspect.

That being said- like Coach Doolan said, we are catching up, but we are still WAY BEHIND. Yes, the Development Academy is producing top players.

Yes, the Development Academy is great for US Soccer.

But don’t even start to compare our youth development to those of Belgium or England, because we still have a long way to go. For youth development to continue to flourish and be compared to development efforts in other parts of the world, US Soccer or MLS need to figure out ways to assist Youth Development clubs in improving training facilities. The question is, how do we change this? We’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to both coaches Peter Reynders of Genk, and John Doolan of Everton, for their time.

Also, a special thanks to Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue. The Navy camp staff and setup were all VERY impressive. For anyone interested in checking out their second camp session (June 30th-July 4th) you can find out more on this page, we have heard that one of the higher-up Rangers FC (Scottland) coaches will be there, among others.

navy coach

 

Christos FC: Underdogs? Maybe to everyone else

christos

Christos FC: Underdogs, at least to everyone else.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Cinderella story of Christos FC, and their outstanding run in the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup which came to an end last night after an outstanding effort by the team in a 4-1 defeat to DC United.

If you haven’t heard about Christos or last night’s match by now, here are a couple of the typical headlines:

This amateur soccer team, headquartered in a liquor store, never practices and rarely loses

Liquor Store Soccer Team Scores First Against D.C. United

A team based in a liquor store that never practices scored a stunning goal on DC United

Fear The Beer: The Christos FC Story  

No Practice, No Problem For Christos FC Ahead Of Match Against D.C. United

How a Maryland amateur soccer team sponsored by a liquor store got its shot at DC United

And so on.

The stories that we’ve read all talk about the amateur trophies, the liquor store sponsorship, and the GoFundMe page that Christos had to setup in order to raise funds for travel arrangements. And while someone over at Adidas, who recently provided Christos with brand new lime green kits, and others who closely follow soccer in the DMV area understand that Christos is more than just a “pub team” or “a group of guys who will be back at their full time jobs on Wednesday”, there’s no doubt that the story lines write themselves.

What has seemed to fall through the cracks during the past couple of months of Christosmania is the actual quality of the players on this Christos team, who held their own against DC United for the first 70 minutes on Tuesday night in Germantown, before falling victim to the brutal heat and MLS-quality subs that DC United were able to bring off of the bench in Lloyd Sam and Ian Harkes.

Pete Craingi III, Christos’ captain and main danger man throughout the season, has a profile on the MLS website. Why? Because he was invited to the 2014 MLS Combine after a successful career at UMBC. These days Pete is usually spotted at the major youth soccer tourneys and matches, recruiting for UMBC. They have a pretty solid freshman class coming in next season made up of a few guys who can play a little.

If you see what we did there, “a few guys who can play a little”, hopefully you’re picking up on a theme.

This team has thrived on everyone else’s perception, some of it self-inflicted, as the humble underdogs, or in the words of Washington Post’s well-respected local sports journalist Dan Steinberg….”the beer league guys”.

The stories absolutely write themselves, there’s no doubt about that. And just as a note, Steinberg embraced the story and wrote a really cool piece on Washington Post about how “sometimes sports are good”.

Christos “the beer league team” was even featured on two different versions of ESPN Sportscenter last night, once by soccer buff and regular Sportscenter host Max Bretos (who else remembers the days of Max Bretos on Fox Soccer Channel?):

And once again by DMV’er and University of Maryland alumni member Scott Van Pelt:


The story was even on the front page of ESPN at one point!

Others who have gotten in on the story/clicks/views of the little pub team that could include:

Chicago Tribune: Christos FC continues storybook run in U.S. Open Cup, beats FC United

Sports Illustrated: Watch: Amateur team named after a liquor store scores on D.C. United

Denver Post: This amateur soccer team, headquartered in a liquor store, will take on D.C. United in U.S. Open Cup

and so on, you get the point.

Local Pub Team Does Good. We Get It. But Why Does Christos Embrace It?

We mentioned earlier that some, if not a lot, of the “beer league guys” persona is self-inflicted, liquor store sponsorship excluded. When your team is warming up against an MLS team in US Open Cup wearing #alldaysoff shirts:


It’s both hilarious, and genius. Find me someone who doesn’t love free publicity, and I’ll raise with someone who hates the sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice. Christos loves adding fuel to the media fire, but we don’t get the impression that the primary main objective is creating publicity.

While it may be true that the Christos don’t train together on a regular basis, and have full-time jobs that they had to be back at this morning at 7:30 am:


Everyone in that Christos camp, and everyone in the DMV area who is aware of their quality, knows that these guys are more than just your average “pub team”. This is a group of guys who, I believe, add fuel to the media fire for one main reason: the internal “let’s go show them” mentality which every great team possesses.

Write your stories. Do your interviews. Tweet your thoughts. We’ll happily answer your questions, ride the wave, and we’ll do something good with it…. like help donate 300 tee shirts to the crowd at Maryland Soccerplex last night, or look into starting youth soccer programs next season for kids who can’t afford higher-level club programs….and then we’ll go show you we can play.

And yes, this a group of guys who know how to play the game, both on and off the field.

Cody Albrecht, University of Maryland and DeMatha, does some private and group training on the side.

Phil Saunders, former UMBC GK, coaches in the area and very involved in the game.

Mamadou Kansaye, former UMBC captain, coaches at Ellicott City Soccer Club and scored a great free kick against DC United last night.

We know Christos is more than an average pub league team, we’ve seen the trophies and some of us have had to play against their teams in Over-30 ball. But what gets you more fired up and motivated on the field than when EVERYONE, opponents included, is under-estimating you before the game even starts?

Beer league bros to you, underrated to us. Speaking of underrated, aka the title of this piece…

The 6.

The position of CDM, aka the 6. Most of the time, the guy who makes everything look simple and does the dirty work which almost always goes unnoticed. Many will say that defensive midfielders, as a position, are no longer underrated with the emergence of guys like N’Golo Kante, Ander Herrera, or Naby Keita at Red Bulls Leipzig.

When you have a good 6 who can protect the back line, who can read the game quickly enough to be in position to cut off passing lanes, and who doesn’t give away possession, whatever you get offensively can sometimes be the cherry on the top.

Chrstos went 4-2-3-1 last night:

starting xi

With 2 guys, Kaoru Forbess and Mamadou Kansaye, in front of the back line.

20 minutes in, watching via DC United live feed, it seemed like Forbess had a license to get forward more offensively, with Kansaye dropping deeper whenever DCU were in possession. There were 3 or 4 times when Kansaye was able to read the build-up and break up DC United attacks, yet the announcer didn’t really mention his name much.

Pete Carringi, Cody Albrecht, Phil Saunders, seemingly every other Christos player is mentioned by now at least once. And to the DC United announcer, if you’re reading this, no shade thrown your way, great job last night. We’re just trying to set some context here.

Then comes a foul at the top of the box, free kick Christos. Announcer mentions DCU goalkeeper’s name, and then, after previously referring to him as “Christos FC”, Mamadou Kansaye, who actually called his shot (see interview below) scores a free kick goal, somehow managing to get the ball up and over the wall from such a short distance.

It’s what everyone wanted to see, after reading all of the stories. The beer guys scored.

The neon green shirts flocking to the corner flag to celebrate.

People running from the bench area in full sprint to join them.

Want to see the “Beer league guys THAT!” face?

this guy

You’ve probably seen at least 3 different live videos from the goal by now, and that’s because almost everyone in attendance last night was holding up their phones, hoping to capture that one brilliant moment of passion that every soccer player, coach, and fan lives for.

Did they lose 4-1? Sure. But that one moment, the moment when the “beer league guys” scored against DC United, that’s what was on full National display last night in Germantown at Maryland Soccerplex, during a time when many in our country are looking for a feel-good story.

You Said Something About the 6 Guy?

He Can “Play a Little”

Once again, just setting some more context here. I’m in the process of completing my ‘D’ Coaching License, and met Mamadou (below, in Chelsea jacket) for the first time during the course.

mamadou

Some really quality guys who love the game and are fun to be around, including a great instructor in Rob Ryerson, and an up-and-coming DC United Academy youth coach in Jason Boxx.

I’d never seen Mamadou play at UMBC. Heard he was a good player, but when we started playing during field demos that weekend and he told me he was a 6, I didn’t actually believe him at first. Shorter guy, skinnier frame, quick…he looks like a winger at first.

Then he steals the ball from you, smiles, and goes about his business and you’re like…”oh, okay, he’s a 6″.

Since becoming friends with Mamadou, a few things that I’ve learned about him: A very good coach with a great understanding of the game. Very generous with his time when it comes to teaching others, with a sincere desire to see others succeed.

But I’ve only known the guy for a few months. What do some others have to say about him?

Long-time UMBC assistant Anthony Adams, who coached Mamadou at UMBC, gave us a detailed description of what it was like working with Mamadou that left me with the impression that not many have asked him about such an integral part of the “beer league guys'” success:

Mamadou is one of the smartest soccer players I have ever had the privilege of coaching. He is also a general on the field that holds every player accountable. Along with his high character and integrity as a person, I can’t say enough positive things about him.”

Adams, who has coached at UMBC for 21 years and is as respected of a soccer coach as you will find, goes on about a player that he obviously holds in such high regard:

“After Levi created the free kick and Mamadou scored, it was a huge rush of emotions for me in all aspects. As a former coach of Mamadou, at the club and college level, and in my 18-year history with Christos FC…to be up against D.C. United in that setting, on that stage, it was just incredible. I couldn’t be happier for those players and the Christos FC organization.” –Anthony Adams

Someone else who knows a little bit about Mamadou’s quality: former Borrusia Dortmund player and DMV’er abroad Joe Gyau. Through his time playing overseas, and at Youth National Team camps, Joe is a guy who has been around hundreds of players, but was more than happy to talk about his close friend and former teammate:

(laughs) Yeah me and Mamadou go way back! We played together and won State Cup and Regionals together during our youth days with Potomac. Great player, very intelligent on the field. One of the smoothest natural lefties I know. –Joe Gyau

The Day After, How Does it Feel to Score Against DC United and Get on SportScenter?

Hear it from the man himself.

mamadou1

I spoke to Mamadou earlier today, asked him a few questions and it’s obvious from his responses that the moment itself hasn’t really phased him.

Me: “Hey man, congrats on the performance last night. Your goal was on SportsCenter, your phone has probably been blowing up all day, and you can probably barely walk. What’s the craziest thing to happen to you since last night’s goal?”

Mamadou: (laughs) You’re right, I can barely walk. My legs are killing me! It was a great game, and I thought we played really well as a team up until late in the second half. DC United, bringing on subs like Sam and Harkes….who was great by the way, I really like his passing range and a very smart player….but they were just too much for us there at the end.

I was really happy to score the goal, but we were all hoping for a better result so I haven’t really been paying too much attention to Twitter or Facebook.

The craziest thing that happened was, after the game I said hello to a lot of the Christos fans, looked around but couldn’t find my mom anywhere! I called her, and said ‘mom where are you’?

She told me she left early to beat traffic! She was like ‘well you guys weren’t going to win, so why would I stick around?!’ (starts laughing)”

Me: “Haha she sounds like a tough mom to impress! What do you remember about the goal, and the celebration afterward? Christos players supposedly don’t practice, did you used to practice free kicks a ton?”

Mamadou: “I’ve been working on free kicks from that position for the past few weeks, actually. I’ve taken a ton of them. I told the guys before the game, ‘if we get a free kick from the left side of 18-yard box, nobody touch the ball. It’s all mine’, and (laughs) this might sound a little arrogant or whatever, but I told the guys before the game I would score from there!

Levi did great to win the free kick, and before I set it up he actually said to me “don’t forget, you said you’d score from here” so he added some extra pressure. I remember the ball going into the back of the net, and from that moment on I basically blacked out. It’s all still a blur!”

Me: “Great stuff man, and a great story! So in terms of memorable moments in your soccer career, this has to be up there, right? I mean, dude, you were on SportsCenter!”

Mamadou:  “I’ve been really fortunate to have some great soccer memories. This is up there, but isn’t number one”.

Me: “I gotta ask, what’s number one then?!”

Mamadou: (laughs) Meeting Zizou! I met Zinadene Zidane in 2009 at an Adidias Youth event in Denver, that guy was the best player ever! I’ll never forget meeting him”.

Me: “Okay, that’s really cool. But in terms of playing moments, what would trump scoring vs DC United in front of all of those people?!”

Mamadou: “My senior year at UMBC, we beat Maryland at Maryland. That’s number one for me. Yes, I’m happy about the goal, and being on SportsCenter is cool. But like my mom said, we lost, which is all I care about. Beating Maryland, at Maryland? That was special.”

Underdogs

It’s obvious after speaking with my buddy Mamadou that Momma Kansaye did a pretty good job, and that he is a great example of what made this Christos story so memorable, both on and off the field.

The mainstream media coverage and feel-good story about the “beer league team” that scored against DC United is one that everyone enjoys. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t a bunch of average guys who got lucky, “drank regularly”, never trained and rolled out of bed one morning to beat professional teams. This was a group of guys who have played all of their lives, believed in themselves, stayed together as a team, did what they had to do, and made the DMV proud.

Underdogs?

Maybe to you.

What it was like to win U20 CONCACAF Championship – Guest post by Jeremy Ebobisse

USA vs Panama

The early part of the season was quite hectic. From numerous flights and bouncing around between the US Under-20 National Team and Timbers, I had little time to settle into my new home. I spent about a week with the Timbers before jetting off to Florida to prepare for World Cup Qualifying.

Unlike every other draftee, I would not have the benefit of an entire preseason to fully assimilate myself into my new team’s culture, both on and off the pitch, so I had to maximize the little time I had there. Like anyone else stepping to a new environment, I was quite nervous.

How was I going to make friends?

What was the right balance between not saying enough and saying too much?

How would I react to being the least experienced player on the field for a change?

Those questions would resolve themselves shortly thereafter.

Preseason: Welcome to MLS

The word preseason can sometimes come off with a sort of negative connotation, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe its my youth, maybe it’s the fact that it was my first (although limited) preseason, but regardless, it was the perfect introduction to my new environment. I felt right at home and vindicated for my decision to leave college early. The other Timbers players challenged me, but also guided me along the way. The two-a-days flew by and, before I knew it, we were playing our first games against New York Red Bulls and NK Istra.

It was my first taste of professional action and, though it was limited, I would remember those minutes as I went on with the US team, knowing that there was a lot waiting ahead of me when I got back.

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Off to Costa Rica

Though we had only been apart for about a week, it definitely felt good to be back with the US U-20 team as we prepared for our journey to become the first American team to bring home a CONCACAF U-20 title.

3 games in 11 days, along with two-a-days and meetings to prepare, meant that there were no breaks. We would be ready for our opening match against Panama, and to succeed in such a major tournament.

Since January 2016, I remember the team setting the goal of winning the CONCACAF U-20 tournament. If I’m being honest with myself, I had been waiting for this opportunity since I realized I wouldn’t be a part of the U-17 cycle several years earlier. It doesn’t matter how/what path we took to make the team, what was important was that we were together, shared a common goal, and knew how to achieve it.

 

USA vs Panama

A 1-0 loss to Panama early on, after a couple of successful tune-up matches, had us all fearing the worst, even if we didn’t necessarily admit it to ourselves. But we all knew, deep down, that one loss was never going to be the end of our CONCACAF hopes, as we proved. It definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to start the campaign, but maybe it’s what we needed in the long run.

Despite all of the anxiety from supporters back home, and increasing media criticism, the team never gave up hope.

USA u20 vs haiti

After a slow start against Haiti (tied 1-1 at halftime), we recuperated and bounced back, defeating Haiti 4-1. The vibe around our locker room was back…. we were ready to face anyone, and as a team, we could still improve and build on the result.

A final group game against St. Kitts was rather routine and professional (USA won 4-1), and we now had one focus: beating Mexico.

usa vs mexico 2017

There was quite a bit of build-up heading into such an important match against our bitter rivals, but we felt prepared and ready. We were able to score the first goal that Mexico conceded all tournament early on from a corner, held on for the rest of the match and won the match 1-0.

Next up was El-Salvador, who Mexico made short work of a few days prior, beating them 6-1. We knew that our dream of making it to the Final was ever so close, and we were focused on making that dream a reality.


We won the El Salvador game 2-1, with the winner coming from (fellow DMV’er) Eryk Williamson, who could forget that goal?!

It’s a Celebration

In the Final, we were able to beat Honduras in penalties and claim the U-20 CONCACAF U-20 Championship!

USA vs Honduras u20

The rush of emotions, the sheer joy from winning CONCACAF and making history would be something I’ll never forget. The streamers falling out of control, the victory lap with our fans, the unrelenting excitement, it was all so special. A month away from our family, friends, and clubs ended in the most spectacular of fashions.

We had done something that many great players attempted. We would go back to our clubs, carrying this piece of history with us, and taking valuable experiences to improve our game at the club level.

With one eye already on the World Cup, we knew that the next three months would be crucial, so it was straight back to work.

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