This is a guest post by Ken Sweda, owner of PresicionSoccerSkills. You can also follow him on twitter @Zone_14.
There is a belief in this country that US Soccer and its domestic league, Major League Soccer, have a goal to greatly improve the quality of the American player and the status of the sport in this country. US Soccer and its figurehead, Sunil Gulati, state unequivocally that the objective is the same as that of every other federation on the globe: to win a World Cup. MLS Commission Don Garber has stated his intent to make his league one of the very best in the world.
And yet, outside of broad pronouncements and colorful supporting materials, what does either entity actually do to ensure their stated goals are met? In my opinion, not much, and certainly, not enough.
In recent days, US Soccer has come out with its US Youth Soccer Player Development Model. It is a grand and admittedly exciting document, especially for a youth coach and student of the game like me who has recognized for some time the practical changes that need to be made in how we bring along our players. The document’s release comes in the wake of several other occurrences in recent years: the issuance of US Soccer’s Best Practices manual, the appointment of Claudio Reyna to the post of Youth Technical Director, and the long-wished-for (in many circles, at least) hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann to head coach of the USMNT.
Deconstruction of the Developmental Model
Taken together and at a distance, these things produce a flattering image of cohesive vision and purpose. However, much like a George Seurat pointillist work, when viewed more closely, the connection between the various components is lost, and, therefore, so is the vision.
How so? While the Federation has gone to great lengths to codify exactly what needs to be done in our youth program (the details and directives of which I wholeheartedly accept and am certainly glad to see), I can’t conceive of anything practical that will make very much of it possible on a local level. Further, I don’t believe that Sunil Gulati has the conviction or even intent to make it happen. With a daughter who plays at an advanced club level, I am all too familiar with the Wild West that is American youth soccer. State federations often seem bent on ignoring the Fed for fear of ceding authority, and local clubs have a similar relationship with their states. It is a nation of independently-minded and motivated non-soccer people, running clubs in their local cow-town, completely unwilling to give up their lucrative pay-to-play privileges and overtly monetized system. Anything that hints at a disruption to the gravy train is immediately scrutinized. My daughter’s prior club did not even acknowledge the presence of the Best Practices document when it came out (at least not in the way of a public comment to parents), let alone move to adopt any of its principles.
To give some more current examples, the Youth Player Development Model document states, among many other things, the notion that there should be no player tryouts below U13, no excessive (read: overnight) travel until U11 at the absolute earliest, and a much-reduced tournament emphasis. These are noble and necessary goals and ones I completely agree with, and yet I have absolutely no faith that Gulati and the Fed have the means or the stomach to impose any of them, or any of the myriad other ideas in the model. The thrust of the document is to give specific detail to the overall stated purpose of US Soccer, namely to move from a win-at-all-costs mentality at the youth levels to the ever-more-buzzworthy “development” approach, leaving the focus on winning to the much more mature ages. But let’s be honest: they’ll be demanding (asking nicely?) that state federations and local clubs voluntarily forego the buckets of cash that presently flow into their coffers like so much intoxicating moonshine, and I don’t see the Fed pulling out a 6-shooter to make that happen.
So what are we left with? Another document that contains simply more high-falutin’ dreams about moving to a system that will rival the world’s best, but no credible means of enforcement. Until or unless we can successfully impose the well-intentioned objectives in these documents, and give real authority to the new appointments within US Soccer, our youth development system will continue to do nothing more than line the pockets of the two-bit club sheriffs, while still producing technically and tactically deficient players of artificially stunted quality.
MLS : The Tail That Wags the Dog
And having now introduced the concept of “artificially stunted quality”, it is a perfect time to detail how MLS and Don Garber fit into this. They are the tail that is now wagging the US Soccer dog.
MLS has created a league, one sanctioned by Gulati and US Soccer, that Mr. Garber states will one day be among the greatest leagues on earth. For a league to be great, however, it must have great players, more than just a couple, and on more than just a few oddly “lucky” teams. Case in point: When Don Garber admitted that there were too many ties in MLS (I think he meant “draws”, but whatever), suddenly we saw the almost instantaneous formation of a couple Superteams, namely the LA Galaxy and RBNY, to shake things up. Further, when David Beckham came to the final year of his first contract in MLS and had not yet won the MLS Cup (which would have been a massive indictment and financial boondoggle for the league) suddenly Robbie Keane dropped down from the sky to help achieve David and Don’s cherished marketing objective. A compelling storyline, no?
No. Hell no.
At this moment, allow me to state for the record that I find nothing about MLS to be compelling except its absurdist contrivances.
The phrase-that-pays in MLS is “Competitve Balance” but in and of itself competitive balance is not compelling except to the undiscerning. Technically and tactically engaging football is. Call me a Eurosnob if you must (an honor I gladly accept), but I am not terribly interested in seeing largely soccer-deficient college graduates fight for scraps in a league that often pays them less than they might earn with their degrees. I prefer not to watch players who studied more than they trained over their college years, especially when I have satellite TV and can watch the very best teams in the world any time I want. But it’s not really the players’ fault. They’ve been let down, and they, along with more demanding fans, continue to pay the price. And let’s not get into the whole “high school and college soccer produce a more well rounded player and person” discussion. This is about soccer, end of. No country has won a World Cup, or produced a world-class league, by using a system such as ours.
It’s the Quality, Stupid
Have I tried to “support” MLS? Yes, several times. There have been years where my hometown Chicago Fire have made for some good viewing. But realistically, the more I watch soccer at its highest levels the less I find I can tolerate a league like MLS.
What would attract me permanently to MLS? It always comes down to quality of play, and MLS, in its present form, simply does not meet my standards. To truly raise the level of play, you need better players and better coaching. However, MLS has built a league on soccer-specific stadia that generally hold only between 20,000-25,000 fans. These stadia would rival those of 2nd division or 3rd division teams in most countries. So how, exactly, can you spring for 1st division world talent and pay for it with artificially managed gate receipts? You can’t. People cite the league’s salary cap as the main reason world class players aren’t brought in, and that is certainly a reason. But the salary cap is redundant: a team couldn’t afford even a couple $10M players when you max out at a crowd of 20-25k, and that’s just how MLS wants it. A club needs only (can only?) fill 20-25k seats, so having a league full of world stars in their prime is financially non-viable.
If, by some miracle in the next, say, 10 years, interest in MLS suddenly jumps from the steady build it’s been designed for to a much steeper growth curve, do we really believe the league will demand, and owners will build, an entirely new set of 45,000 seat stadia? Of course not. MLS is perfectly content with soccer being a niche sport in this country, remaining a non-threat to the behemoth that is the NFL. Indeed, MLS was planned with all of that in mind.
Luckily (predictably?) for MLS, then, the league has continued to move toward capacity with young (well, 23 year old) ex-college kids. And with growing attendance figures, the league has increasingly little additional capacity left to fill, so there’s no motivation to push for major increases in the quality. With that being the case, payroll increases can remain on a modest slope, and the finances continue to look good, which is all the league has ever really cared about. It certainly doesn’t care about the sport itself. MLS has masterfully created the perfect scenario that takes advantage of US Soccer’s failings, and frankly helps to sustain them. It is a self-referential and self-fulfilling cycle. The present-day American college player, a product of the flawed American youth development system, is exactly what MLS needs to maintain its financial vision—nothing more, nothing less.
The Uncertain Allure of the Development Academy
You might believe that the Development Academy system, and MLS participation in it, is an indication that all relevant institutions are, in fact, concerned with improving the development process. However, DA’s generally continue to charge their participants, rather than carry them as they would do in foreign clubs. The DA’s that do cover some or all of the cost often do so by passing the cost on to the other non-DA players in the way of higher fees (or at least they try to: this was a major reason why an MLS club I have intimate knowledge of recently began de-affiliation proceedings with its Juniors programs, as the Juniors program would not give in to this demand to charge its players more to fund the DA).
Ultimately, then, is MLS really interested in personally throwing the kind of money into their DA’s that would truly increase the quality of home-grown players? The quality out there right now—from the pay-to-play youth programs right through the HS and college systems—has proven plenty good enough for the needs of MLS. The sham, and shame, of our DA system is that it simply creates another revenue stream and added control for MLS, under the guise of giving a damn. In fact, I am aware of a 16 year old player who just left an MLS Development Academy team for a professional youth contract in Holland. Why? The DA training wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and the best possible outcome was that the player would still (and only) be fighting for a job in MLS rather than a top-tier foreign league. Not exactly the level of motivation one needs to take the sport seriously, or serious enough for someone who is already motivated. If MLS were truly on a par with foreign leagues, and the MLS academies were fully funded, I might have more faith that MLS involvement in this process was a good sign and a good thing.
Further, because there is no promotion or relegation in MLS, the last remaining impetus for pushing the quality barrier is removed. Teams can languish in mediocrity, knowing they’ll never have to suffer any real consequences of poor performance as other teams around the world might. The details of the pro/rel argument are many, and that discussion is best left for another column. Suffice to say, players, coaches, even owners, would push themselves much harder if they had a bigger communal fight on their hands.
So the league has no motivation to drastically improve quality, and as a result, I have no lasting motivation to continue giving them a shot. But guess what? The dirty little secret of MLS is that they DON’T WANT supporters like me, and, frankly, they don’t NEED ones like me. In fact, their business model was built to exclude us. Let me repeat that: the MLS model was built to exclude the hardcore learned soccer fan. They have created a league that exists only in a petri dish (gives new meaning to the idea of a soccer culture, doesn’t it?). They are content with raising, sometimes from scratch, roughly 20,000 “supporters” in each MLS city, fans who somehow are more enamored with the idea and experience of fandom than the actual level of play on the field. They have been sold the idea of “competiveness” over outright quality. And they have been bamboozled. These folks suffer from a classic condition: they are in love with the IDEA of being in love. They love the IDEA that they have a local team in “their” sport, one whose scarf they can wear, one that they can celebrate, cheer for, wring their hands over, enter in a fantasy league, have mock-drafts about. It’s more about the trappings, and is about as artificial as it gets. But it’s exactly what MLS, their PR folks and their brigade of citizen-robot bloggers worked so hard to create, and work so relentlessly to protect.
Meanwhile, Sunil Gulati and US Soccer continue to thumb their nose at FIFA and allow the league to operate as it does, with all the inherent accommodations and contradictions. Why? Because MLS is the real boss in American soccer. MLS is doing just fine with the existing sub-par American player, a few over-the-hill international stars, and an ever-increasing trunk-full of mid-level South Americans, some of whom might be happy just to be moving to a country where they have reliable electricity.
Pay to Play, and Keep on Paying
So when you evaluate these two entities—US Soccer and MLS— and their symbiotic relationship, the troubling issues in American soccer become apparent. The sport of soccer in this country is built on the backs of young American players who have been shortchanged in their development by a Federation and its President that increasingly talk about change but don’t have the wherewithal or honest motivation to actually fix its problems. And now that MLS has come along to rule the roost, the league acts like it is more than happy making sure US Soccer NEVER fixes its problems. How else can you explain Don Garber simultaneously blowing smoke up the collective ass of all those American college players, telling them they are the best in America and selling them on the “dream” of MLS, while paying them a mere pittance?
A more well-prepared player would never settle for the peanuts that are tossed around in MLS. The REAL dream for an American player should be the same as it is for every other player in the world: to give everything you have to the game, and be rewarded appropriately, wherever that may be. Unfortunately, in our American pay-to-play system the player ends up paying twice: first for his low-quality youth “development”, and second for keeping a 3rd-rate league profitable for its owners and commissioner. A player that dares to leave the system to seek better training and grander opportunities is seen by many as an in-grate. This is simply unfathomable.
Even a player like Landon Donovan, who has made quite an impression in his two short loan stints in the Barclay’s Premier League, is not allowed to stay there, because doing so would leave such a gap in the carefully crafted but pennywise/pound foolish MLS profit game. But I guess when you’re not producing 20 more Landon Donovans (like other countries do), you’ve got to milk him for all he’s worth. And when you don’t sell him, you don’t bring in the kind of real big international money that would help you fully fund your academies. Without real academies, those other 19 Landon Donovans never get produced and the self-fulfilling spiral of insanity continues.
The MLS PR Machine
And the insanity doesn’t end there. MLS falls all over itself these days to tout how well Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry are doing in their loan returns to the Premier League, claiming that this somehow reflects well on their own league. Seriously? Do they not understand the pedigree of these players? Each of them could have come to the US and played in a men’s open league for 6 months, then returned to England (where they had plenty of time to get back up to speed) and performed just as well. MLS had absolutely nothing to do with it. After scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup game shortly after his return to Arsenal, Henry let loose with a celebration that was nothing like, and had nothing to do with, his experiences in MLS. This was a fantastic moment, in a game that actually meant something, in front of a crowd that lives and breathes the sport. On scoring the injury-time winner in his final loan game for the Gunners, MLS dared to have a headline that read: “Red Bull Rescues Arsenal.” Unreal! Do they believe we’ve forgotten that Henry has stated repeatedly that he moved to NY precisely because he could continue to play the sport he loved, in a city he loved, without pressure, AND NOT BE NOTICED ON THE STREETS?! One of the best players in history, yet he knows he can go to the US and not be noticed. So much for MLS building one of the best leagues in the world.
The Real Big Picture
In the event that I haven’t sufficiently tied these things together enough for you, let me revisit the George Seurat analogy. Having decided in the opening not to trust our first “impressions” of the American soccer landscape, we instead approached more closely to scrutinize the seemingly random dots. With our newfound understanding of the details, we again stepped back to review the overall image, but to our amazement, we found that the image had changed, and not for the better. Where we first saw beauty and harmony, now we see ugliness and deceit.
It’s time the game of soccer in America was taken back from the know-nothings, the tin-pot youth club dictators and the restrictive and calculating domestic league, and given back to the players. Only then can we profess to fully appreciate and promote the art that is The Beautiful Game.
Ken S. says
Thanks Gary for this opportunity. Your site is like no other, and is greatly needed in this country. Hopefully my submission lives up to your usual quality. This was the result of literally months of simmering thoughts, somewhat random at first, but which I eventually felt deep down had a common link. I have no problems being challenged on any of it by you or your readers; it is simply informed (I hope) opinion, meant to raise some issues for consideration. Thanks again!
Fantastic post, Ken!
I think the culture in America and the reluctance to sell our Donovan’s is because the normal thinking American wants to see their home club team do well. Look at the other sports- World Baseball Classic, US Olympic hockey/basketball. Those are all dwarfed by the MLB, NHL, and NBA.
Any fan of a big 4 team in this country would take a MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA championship over a world title, any day of the week. This isnt so in soccer, in no matter what country you’re in. I’d be more than happy to have the Galaxy to never win a single game again, if that meant seeing a US World Cup victory in my lifetime.
I understand they want our stars here to build the league more, but if their mission is to really make the USMNT better, then they HAVE to let our stars go play in the big time.
Ken S. says
Thanks LB! I haven’t ever quite been able to put my finger on the particular American mentality you’ve brought up but it is spot on. We absolutely would rather have our team win the NBA title than the Olympic basketball title or a basketball world championship, and I would make the same trade-off about “my” Chicago Fire that you did with the Galaxy if we as a country could get our overall act together and win a WC. Don Garber actually tweeted a couple weeks ago (completely without irony) that “soccer is an international game.” And then he goes out and does almost everything he can to reject and confound that idea. We have a long way to go! Thanks again for your great point.
Thanks for your post, any friend of Gary’s is friend of mine!!
Given your comments about the developmental academy along with their recent decision for a 10 month season. I’m curious what you feel is the right direction for a U15 player who possesses the right skills and IQ to play at a high level( D1 , professionally,etc.)?
Ken S. says
Tough one Bill. This is where the rubber meets the road right now. You’ve got to consider what your and his real goal is and work backward, I think. Professional? If so, where? Be realistic about MLS and the salaries. A Generation Adidas player, if I recall, can make $175-200k (doublecheck for youself), non-GA probably around a thrid of that. How do you see your son’s path so far–does it rival that of the players that are being drafted? What do his coaches say (take that with a grain of salt) If it’s on a par, and you’re satisfied with that as a goal, playing DA and going to college might be worth it. Remember though that men’s soccer scholarships are not as widely available as womens, and the amount of money thrown around isn’t nearly as good. Further, you can get recruited and play for a college even without the DA route as long as your club or HS experience is high enough. If you believe your son has more headroom and loftier goals, you can try to give Europe or S. America a try. The boy in my piece left an MLS DA and went to Holland on the books of a 1st division team where he’s on a 2 year plan to make the first team. At least one parent had to move to the country in question (his did) and establish a connection with that country in the way of getting a job or starting a business. Similar rules apply elsewhere in Europe, not sure about S. America. Nicholas Gaitan, a 16yo from NY or NJ just joined Boca Juniors on a similar basis. If you are trying to choose between DA and High School, you have to weigh the strengths of each program. All things being equal, HS will start to fade significantly as a major focus for players that want to be professional. That’s really the whole point of the DA program–take the top 1% of talented and motivated players, and supersize their development. Allegedly 😉 You also have to consider if the DA you son might attend charges you for his training, and how much. My opinion, they shouldn’t charge anything, but I don’t think we’re that far along yet. Confused yet? I’ll say one last thing: my daughter is a heckuva player, but tiny. She’s 11, but put her in a college girl’s body and she’d outplay most of them right now from a technical and tactical standpoint. However, given her size, I doubt she’ll ever get a sniff from a major college or the WNT. We are, however, planning to go to FC Twente this summer and have her train with a couple of their girl’s youth teams. Why? For the experience, the soccer culture, and who knows, maybe a few contacts down the road. If she’s still playing at 17/18 (but with no options inside the US), it would be nice for her to still have somewhere to play, see the world, make a few (very few) bucks and then come back and go to college. Hope some of these thoughts help. It’s a confusing time for soccer in this country, no wonder you’re struggling with it. You’re not alone by a longshot.
Great post Ken! I wish I could share your enthusiasm about the new “Player Development Model” though. To me that document is so typical of the progress made by U.S. Soccer in the last 10-15 years: definitely a few steps in the right direction, but definitely not far enough – not by a long shot. I lost enthusiasm when I got to pp 18-20 and saw the recommendations for U6-U10: 1-2 training sessions + 1 match per week, and be careful of “burnout”. What’s that, 3-4 hours of play? On an international level, that’s an absolute joke, and everyone knows it. Telling parents that a training schedule like that is the way to lay the foundation for a possible path to the national team someday (let alone an internationally competitive, technically proficient national team) is patently false. What gets my blood boiling is that every single person involved in the production of that document must know that. They all know perfectly well that any kid with a dream of reaching the highest levels of the sport some day needs to live with the ball, play every day, practice on their own, etc… They all know perfectly well that there isn’t a single player in the CL round of 16 who only played 3-4 hours/week up to age 10. Are there even any on the US National Team? Certainly not Dempsey or Donovan. So, why the dishonesty? Why is it so hard for anyone in the US Soccer establishment (other than Klinsman) to speak the truth?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like in the Player Development Model, and in Reyna’s Youth Coaching Curriculum last year. For 95% of the kids playing US soccer, those documents (along with the best practices manual) offer a great recipe for raising the overall level of play and enjoyment of the game across the board. But for the 5% with the passion and talent to dream of greater things – kids who would live and breath the sport if given the opportunity – US Soccer holds them back from the beginning (with incessant warnings of burnout), then gives them a woefully inadequate youth system which still rewards size, strength, athleticism and physicality over technique and intelligence (as discussed in many posts on this board), restricts quality coaching only to those who can afford it, and at the end of all that offers them a path to a 3rd-4th tier league as the pinnacle of their aspirations. Maybe the reason that is all perfectly fine for the US Soccer establishment lies in those simple #s: the 95% have and are willing to spend a lot more $ than the 5% (some of whom don’t have any $ at all).
Ken S. says
Great points Mike. Agree with your take on the Development Model, but I figured I was going to do a lot of bashing and didn’t want to belabor every last detail of the document. But you’re exactly right: throwing around the term “burnout” is not unlike what we did with the color-coded terrorism warning system (sorry, got a little political just then.) It’s very easy to manipulate people by throwng around scary words. Fact is, if the “training” is done right at U6, it’s impossible to burn a kid out. Because at that age, it’s all about (or, more appropriately, should be about), fun, fun, more fun, physical literacy, touching the ball a lot, dribbling, oh, and more fun. It should be than ever-so-slightly focused child’s play. I dont’ know about you, but I never got burned out on fun (or 500, or pickup football, or dogpile or monkey in the middle) as a kid. And that’s what the earliest type of youth training should be like. Our job as youth coaches is first and foremost to make the children love the game, to go absolutely apeshit bonkers for it. The second job is to not let them down as they get more serious about it. And right now, we’re doing neither of these things very well. The document is a good, maybe even very good, start. We’ll see what really happens though.
BJ Pheasant says
I agree with the ‘burnout’ issue. Burnout is a symptom not a disease. It is a symptom of poor coaching and/or overbearing parenting.
Nice post! I agree with most of your sentiments although my causal conclusions are a bit different.
Personally, I feel that Gulati et al don’t actually constructively know how to structure soccer in the USA so that winning the World Cup would even be possible. As a result they don’t know which petty empire to topple in order to move us forward. From where I see, the core of soccer in the USA is the College game, and the professional game is a mere afterthought. Here is my logic.
At the youth level, the big “carrot” for parents is the college scholarship for players, which figures prominently in the marketing. Clubs tout their ability to get players scholarships first and foremost, of course truly successful pros are far and few between. The style of club, high school and college games all coincide quite well (frenetic, athletic and skill-challenged) as does the win-first, develop-never mentality. Players are chosen for their physicality first, and skill is usually only a side-effect of early luck, or culture. The winning consumes the development of the player once they are drawn into the system. All of this conspires to short-circuit the development of players who can compete internationally. Occasionally one slips through who isn’t ruined by the system.
I see a structure in the USA that pays lip service to development, knowing what to do in the abstract, but refuses to defuse the elements undermining it in practice. The youth soccer tournament factories continue to churn (College showcases!), and clubs keep striving to maximize their ranking as yet another marketing ploy, high school and college soccer keep their bizarre, one-off rules that further undermine our development. All of this goes on unabated, while the Federation mouths platitudes about being better.
Ken S. says
Thanks BillR. I agree with everything you say and see it firsthand in my daughter’s club experience, so I don’t see your conclusions as being all that different than mine. I think the reason I tied MLS into this is that they pretend to give the college player an additional carrot to strive for, but at the same time keep them (and the system they came from) just dumb enough to think there’s not a still-bigger carrot (Europe, etc..) out there. And the reason for that? Simply to squeeze more profit out of them, just like the youth development system does from day one. To me that is the great conceit, and deceit, of MLS and the system as a whole.
I think you make a lot of really good points, which is why I hate to question you. I was just wondering what you might do or try to do if you occupied one of those positions like Don Garber’s, Sunil Gulati’s, etc.. What are some specific things you would do to try to fix these problems you talk about. I don’t doubt that your heads in the right place, but I just think you might find that it’s a little harder to actually get stuff done from these positions.
Ken S. says
Hi Logan, thanks for the comments and question. It’s vital that we flesh out some solutions so I’ll try to state a few that I’ve had kicking around in my head, but I might come back to this at a later time if some more things occur to me.
These are admittedly very broad strokes:
First, let me start with the Fed. They need to absolutely wrest authority away from the states and the clubs. Too many things are called for at the top level that never get acknowledged let alone implemented at the local level. You want to be affliliated with US Youth Soccer, and received the benefits that entails? Submit to their authority and act in accordance with everything they require, including how to practice, what to practice, what formation to promote, how to evaluate talent, etc…It all has to be consistent to feed up the chain. Not interested? We’ll pull your affiliation and will not take a look at any player on your books for ODP or national team involvement. When players start leaving de-affiliated clubs for affiliated ones (assuming they’re in an area that has multiple choices) the de-affiliated ones might have a re-think about what they’re doing and how they’re developing players.
How do you fund oversight and enforcement? Tape random practices, send random enforcement “agents” to practices and games to ensure compliance. To avoid the feeling that this is simply big brother, the real point of these things should simply be communication of the standards and an open two-way channel. Clubs would love to brag that they’re doing well under the policies, so hopefully no tensions will arise and it can be a positive experience.
How do you pay for that? Every club MUST hold a tournament where all receipts go to the Fed for enforcement.
I’ve got some other thoughts but that’s a start.
On the issue of MLS, it’s a business, and they’ve got a business model. It’s one I don’t agree with, but if it’s making Don Garber a nice salary ($3M a year) and the owners are making a modest but predictable profit (as was designed) there’s really nothing we can do about it. They’re entitled to do that to their fans and players. We can’t un-ring the bell that created this single-entity league that is more about money that the sport.
Now, having said that, if we fix out developmental issues, and suddenly start producing loads of players that are, frankly, too good to stay in the US, then that may force MLS to open up the salaries and let them rise with the level of talent. Further, I would immediately restate the purpose of MLS: make it a stepping stone league, nothing more, nothing less, until the US starts producing better talent. Brazil’s league produces amazing talent, but they don’t have the money to keep it there. There’s no great shame in that. Wouldn’t you want MLS to have produced a player like Neymar, even if we can’t afford to keep him? I would sit in Toyota Park in February (yes, I’d change to the international calendar as well) to watch the equivalent of the Brazilian league. No reason we can’t take that approach. We have a vast untapped resource out there in our youth program, and we need to fix that first. Keph Fuller is a frequent commenter here, and he’s trying to go out and find players like Neymar in our back yard (and he’s doing so, if you’ve ever seen any of his academy kids). Right now his goal is to get them a chance in Europe, but if MLS ever recognized what kind of league it should and could be, and let teams actually spend money, I’m sure Keph would love to have his boys show the world how we do it in the States by letting them start in MLS. Right now, it’s a waste of time, however.
Woah! Slow down there Ken! My son is a U7 who’s a member of Kephern’s JogaSC and it sounds like you’d be kicking us out of USYS if you took over. The Player Development model says we should only do one 45-60 min training session + 1 match per week up to U8 (p. 21 here: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/assets/coaches/US_Youth_Soccer_Player_Development_Model.pdf). Kephern encourages his players to play 7 days/week from U5 on. As the director of training for FPYC Soccer, I run programs that allow anyone in the club from U5-U8 to get 6-8 hrs of training per week, year round, and encourage the more advanced ones to supplement that by training with Kephern and practicing at home on top of that. If US Soccer says that is too much (which it does), there is no way I would “submit to that authority.”
I’m not really trying to give you a hard time b/c I know that’s not really what you intended, but the point is that there is still a lot of progress to be made w/in US youth soccer, and until that happens, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that clubs like ours allow fanatics like me a little bit of free reign to go outside the current boundaries.
Another thing you might want to consider, w/ re: to the requirement that every club hold a tournament. There are over 60 separate soccer clubs in the DC metro area (NoVa and S. MD). If every one of them held their own tournament every year – that’s all we’d ever do is play in tournaments.
Ken S. says
Thanks Mike. First, we are absolutely on the same page. You and Keph are doing great things. I must have left you with the wrong impression. What you guys are doing is above and beyond the model US Soccer is recommending, so by no means am I suggesting he and you step down your efforts to fall in line with the model. Their fears about burnout are, in my opinion (as I’ve already stated) unfounded. Informal play, street soccer, panna, futsal etc.., all components of Joga will not burn kids out. This informal creative play is exactly what we need more of, and I would never quash that. Nor should US Soccer, They need to recognize when a club/academy is bringing more value to the process and allow them that leeway. The issue clearly is that for the Youth Dev Model to have any meaning, it has to be enforced to those clubs that are NOT even approaching those standards. We can quibble about the details, but Joga stands out on the positive side. This is directed purely at the many, many clubs that stand out on the negative side and which need to raise their game. Some means of enforcement needs to be in place. There’s no way a club/academy like Joga or FPYC should be de-affiliated. Only an unsophisticated enforcement of “my plan” would cause that to happen.
On the issue of tournaments, you are not required to play in every tournament that is held in your area, correct? You get to pick and choose? And you get to choose how many tournaments you, yourselves, put on? In short, I’m not advocating adding any tournaments to the process (well, not necessarily) My main point is that one of a club’s tournaments be solely for funding Fed monitoring of standards. Easiest solution is that I would simply replace one of the existing tournaments each club currently holds (to, let’s be honest, help their bottom line) with a tourney whose purpose it is to fund the Fed. I believe too many youth coaches use the US Soccer training/licensing process to just earn another credential, which they then take back to their club to attract more players, but they don’t really implement the ideas they learned. US Soccer needs a way to say “we’ve trained you with certain principles, and we need to be able to ensure you adhere to them.” That takes enforcement, enforcement takes manpower, manpower takes money. Biggest moneymaker for clubs, besides membership dues, is tournaments. I think there should be an obligation on the part of clubs to train players the way they’ve been instructed. Diverting some of cashflow to this process is needed. I don’t foresee such a clusterbomb of tournaments that all you ever do is host or play in them. Total numbers wouldn’t really change if managed well.
Last though: you’ve found a good guy in Keph, and he in you. Make it work. We need more forward thinkers out there.
Ken, I know what you mean and I agree – there needs to be more enforcement of the good things US Soccer is advocating (SSGs for instance). I am just personally hesitant to encourage them to flex their muscles any more for the time being, until I have more confidence that they really “get it” when it comes to recognizing what needs to be done to foster the type of environment necessary to develop elite players. I keep coming back to this but I can’t help it – a recommendation of 1 day a week is just laughable.
For the tournaments, you could just impose a % fee (tax) for any tournament sanctioned by USYS, and prohibit member clubs from participating in non-sanctioned tournaments. The problem again though comes down to trust. Where will that $ go? Building fields and futsal courts in the inner city? I highly doubt it.
Ken S. says
Good points. I would love the $ to go for futsal courts etc.. but for right now, I think we just need to be able to monitor that what is being taught in the existing clubs/facilities is what we want it to be. Observation/video etc..is a step in the right direction, but even that will cost money. Maybe one day we can move beyond that. There will need to come a critical mass of an educated fan, player and parent base that all recognize what needs to be done, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. I’ll settle for actually seeing the the training ideas put into place. Then we can move ahead.
I’ll quibble with you on one point: you don’t want the Fed to flex their muscle any more. but I’m not sure they’ve ever really flexed it at all. These documents are nothing more than “serving suggestions” until we find a way to get the majority of clubs to support in and work toward it’s success. The Fed has let the clubs ignore them or bully their way out of adherence. I think it’s time the Fed grew a pair. We’ll see what clubs “get it” and which don’t. Just my opinion. 🙂
i like the approach that Germany took in their youth academy, they invested in youth academies, got the clubs on board and moved forward with a discernible philosophy.
Their’s need to be a reward system i think. How about your a youth club and you produce a player for the national team, well the US Fed should give let’s say 500,000 for that player. Like have a scale for a U17 WC player 30,000, for a U20 player more 70,000, and U23 100,000 more and 500,000 if that player appears for full team.
If you have a philosophy and a certain club is producing the type of players needed for the National team and they start to make money in way of donation from US Feds than its a real competition to develop players in the right fashion.
You could have a scale for pro players developed as well, now clubs feel the need to develop high level talent, without philosophy and the reward of producing those players the system will struggle to move forward.
Now for college level talent you could get a 1,000 or something smaller but now that money would go to the club to develop further talent.
Ken S. says
Love this idea. That would make the big stick approach a little more palatable for clubs as there is a tangible reward. Foreign pro clubs invest in their own youth academies because they’ve done the math on how many will make the 1st team and “repay” the club through gate receipts or by being sold. DA’s could still operate that way here (albeit on a much small scale) but there needs to be incentives for independent clubs to produce talent. I think your idea has a lot of merit.
Gary Kleiban says
It’s a good idea to improve the management of clubs since that will affect the quality overall, but to mandate a style of play and how to practice is shortsighted. All sports, including soccer are alway evolving and adjusting to opponent’s tactics. The possesion style was also an innovation and is very successful so you should not rule out or discourage people from trying to find new ways to compete and innovate. Fundamentals are important standards, but tactics and styles of play and practices should always be allowed some creativity.
Brandon Elwood says
Wow…very well put and to be honest…educating. I wanted to comment on this passage…
“by some miracle in the next, say, 10 years, interest in MLS suddenly jumps from the steady build it’s been designed for to a much steeper growth curve, do we really believe the league will demand, and owners will build, an entirely new set of 45,000 seat stadia? Of course not. MLS is perfectly content with soccer being a niche sport in this country, remaining a non-threat to the behemoth that is the NFL. Indeed, MLS was planned with all of that in mind.
I have to say that the youth system in place right now is building fans of soccer. More kids play soccer right now that baseball, and football combined on a non- competative level. So that leads me to wonder whether or not these kids will become fans. Its just a though. I too have a young Son that is involved in the developmental process right now. ODP, PDP. MLS academy, club. I worry that its all just a money grab. And time is just ticking for his development. He is also small….very small. The same size as another well known player at his age. And players like this are kind of a beacon to show just how far we need to go when it comes to fostering our youth. They need to look a little harder and expect a little less financially. And it will come.
Ken S. says
Thanks for commenting Brendan, and good luck to you and your son. It will be a battle no doubt. I’ll address your post by saying I just read an interview with coach Sam Snow, who is also a blogger for US Youth Soccer. He mentioned that most kids that play soccer quit by the age of 12. He may have provided an actual study/figure to back that up but I wasnt able to re-locate the article after a brief search. Point being, how many fans can MLS really produce from this particular group of people as they age, if the vast majority of the millions of kids give up their interest so young. And again, just my two cents, I think there are probably tens of thousands of kids who quit because they’re not what American coaches want: not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough, too “cute” with the ball, don’t like playing direct dumbed down soccer because “that’s not how their immigrant father says the game should be played”. If these kids grew up in any other country, they’d be made to feel welcome, they would be valued, they wouldn’t be shouted at for their lack of physicality, they’d be celebrated for their technical inclinations and tactical awareness, and those things would be fostered. So add this to the many other reasons kids quit soccer, including shifting to sports and the persistent idea that soccer is an unsophisticated child’s game only for the very young–yes, this idea still persists even with a growing number of people who use it to get their kids to college. And again, I’ll use the idea of the self-referential cycle: bad youth training leads to unsophisticated players and fans, who lap up MLS like it’s the best thing going, and nothing changes.
You got it!!! This a major problem and is easy to fix.
“I think there are probably tens of thousands of kids who quit because they’re not what American coaches want: not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough, too “cute” with the ball, don’t like playing direct dumbed down soccer because “that’s not how their immigrant father says the game should be played”.
The solution is to encourage the “immigrant father” to coach… or better yet join the board of your local league and respect what he says. He know the sport. He loves the sport. He will help you win against all of those other crappy, arrogant neighboring towns. I marvel at how the real soccer fans; usually Dads and Uncles because let’s face it in other countries it is mostly men playing soccer; sit on the sideline with the rest of the parents complaining about the coach, etc. One by one we need to push them to serve our youth leagues. At the very least I am advocating we all initiate Sunday Sunset pick-up games at our home fields. Sunday is a great night to gather for pick-up ball because nobody practices. We’ve been doing this with gathering momentum and some of the most devoted attendees are families with immigrant Dads who just can’t get enough of soccer from the structured weekend games. They get out there and flash their ball handling skills and subtle deceptiveness and send the signal to the kids that this is what good soccer looks like. Let’s get these guys coaching and watch boot-and-chase disappear, watch as the 10 year old who needs to shave between halves is sitting on the bench, and watch as our game starts to look good.
I played soccer as a kid. I also watched the World Cup as a kid. It never occurred to me that I was playing the same game. It was almost like watching cricket during baseball season. It is the same sport though. That is the beauty of it. Unfortunately, there are too many youth board members, coaches, and parents that do not see the international game as being the same as our own; like cricket is to baseball. They are obviously wrong and have no place in leadership of our youth system. They either need to see the light or be forced out.
Brandon Elwood says
Since you mention it, their is a steady drop off in our area for rec ball at right about that age (12) you spoke of. So I suppose they may not transfer to fandome as heavily as I suggested. Too bad. Here is another solution. High school should have Friday night games…wear the jerseys to school on Fridays and have cheerleaders….:) Uh Oh…did I say high school soccer. In the mean time we will keep hacking the La Masia’s coaches and scouts emails with videos of my son and dreaming of beaches in Barcelona….;}
John Pranjic says
I’m not sure if I’m catching onto this correctly. If we lose the pay-to-play method for our entire youth system then wouldn’t we lose coaches? I think most teams that opt out of paying for training end up using moms and dads. Then, we’re back to square one. I know that’s probably not what you’re trying to say, but it could be viewed that way.
I think you’re trying to say that MLS teams should foot the bill for players, facilities, training, traveling, etc. for their own Development Academies so that kids don’t have to worry about the price tag. If they”re good… they just play. Right? I like that idea a lot. But what about the kids in North Dakota? Or Oklahoma? Or all of the other areas where it would be virtually impossible for kids to join DA teams that would be spearheaded by MLS? If a family is too poor to pay a monthly fee then they would most likely be too poor to pay for gas to travel hours and hours each week to practices and games. Do the teams then provide them with gas money? At what point does that become being paid-to-play?
Do you think it would be feasible for US Soccer to put out a recommendation on what clubs should charge players to play? What clubs should pay coaches? Or even go as far as what referees should be paid? I know that a lot of the money we spend at my college club goes straight to the officials. Kind of bogus if you ask me. That’s a different animal, though.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that MLS teams should definitely dump as much money into their DA programs as possible. I just don’t think that completely scrapping the pay-to-play system would benefit us much either. I think setting guidelines to ensure people aren’t getting ripped off with hack training would be better, but I don’t have the slightest clue as to how that could be done. Also, having scholarship programs that teams could apply for in order to accommodate players that can’t make the financial commitments would be nice, too. Again, that would take some sort of guidelines because different teams charge different prices… but what if there was a universal pay table? Probably impossible, but damn wouldn’t it be nice?
I like the idea of rewarding clubs that produce good players. What if the DA teams were set up in a relegation/reward format? Teams in the top flight receive a certain amount of funding from US Soccer, MLS, or a different sponsor. Teams in the bottom division would be rewarded for advancing. Coaches would then make a certain salary based off of their teams performance.
Too many ideas… must stop 🙂
I think your criticisms of the MLS model are entirely off base. NFL stadiums are about 70, 000 and the NFL is way more than 3 times as popular. German teams like Werder Bremen and Leverkusen have stadium sizes in the low 30s. MLS has a long way to go to reach BL popularity. Keeping a sustainable model for MLS that does not overshoot is very important, half empty 40k stadiums will not sell TV contracts. Also, as a new league is an era of significant capital investment relegation is a no go. What rich person would be dumb enough to put 50 million plus investmen (counting initial operating losses) in what could be a USL team the next year. And how is any USL team supposed to upgrade to MLS stadium and payroll. You are trying to impose an entire European soccer model without any of their infrastructure. You need to get out of your soccer bubble and figure out how popular soccer is in the real world and how much money and org a league takes to run.
As to quality of soccer, the remarks are completely ignorant, my English friends support horrible local teams, have you ever watched the English Championship, not good soccer at all. See what happens if you go to Stoke and tell them you won’t watch until they play like Barca- you won’t walk out. But lots of fans like a local team regardless. Maybe your Chicago Fire just suck, but my Galaxy have been a great experience at games since I started watching in 97′. Cobi Jones, Cienfuegs, Pescadito, then the modern era with Donovan etc. Especially with all the UCLA and other local connections this a genuine local team with a mostly great fan experience in a fan friendly stadium.
I’m sorry you are such a euro snob that you can’t enjoy local soccer. My guess is that if you lived in a european city with a second tier team they would think you were a complete poser for sitting on your coach watching Barcelona instead of rooting the local team on in the stadium.
-But your various development points are great, and I do hope that somebody comes along who can stylistically change MLS.
Ken S. says
I really don’t have to say much in response other than, I’m glad you like your Galaxy. I’m glad Keane dropped in your lap to make sure the Beckham experiment would be a success for your club and MLS, and I hope you enjoy Landon Donovan for another few years, seeing as a team in any other team would have moved him and invested the money in it’s operations and academy. Unfortunately, because MLS takes part of the cut of any player, and because they can’t possibly let someone of LD’s stature go, you get to enjoy him a while longer. Good for you. Like I said: the league doesn’t me, because they have you. I’m ok with that.
Who ever said English soccer was good? It has an elevated stature but plays like MLS. Rooting for garbage soccer is just ignorant, IMO.
Ken S. says
Good questions and points. I’ll try to clarify. My hope is that the 1-2% (?) of kids that find their way into a DA (I believe this figure was roughly what was mentioned in an SA piece) do not have to pay a dime for their training, so pay-to-play at that level HAS to end. DA obviously needs to be good training, and I would again bring up the monitoring and enforcement ideas. If we do a better job of invitation/scouting of clubs (and select individuals that don’t have access to DAs), and improve the training of those kids, the numbers we get should be plenty for improvement of our domestic league and national teams. Now, what to do with the other 98%? They still have club ball, they still have HS ball. I completely acknowledge that we can’t remove HS and college from the landscape, but to me anyone who begs out of a DA opportunity because of the social (or other) aspects of HS/college ball isn’t someone who is willing to put everything they have into soccer as a career. Sound mercenary? Of course, but part-time soccer players taking a HS and college path (what we have now) have never (and I believe WILL never) seriously challenge for a WC title or help make up a domestic league that will rival the best. And that’s fine, they will continue to enjoy the benefits that do indeed exist with that alternate path. The US is plenty big enough to take the top 1-2% of our youth players and produce the same numbers in our talent pool that other quality nations have. However, we can’t lament those who bypass HS/College under that system; they choose it knowingly. They have bigger goals in mind, and playing soccer for a (good, not MLS level) living is what they want to do. We need to make that opportunity available for them. We’re under the illusion, because all our other sports have such a big school component to them, that this will work for soccer. It hasn’t. Do we really believe that most guys that play football or basketball in college are in it for the education? They’re using college because that’s the only way to the pro’s. If there was another path (DA-like) for those sports, they would be every bit as mercenary.
For non-DA clubs, they would have a choice to make, as would their members. Should a club keep charging for a non-DA club program, and do parents want to pay? Should they reduce fees? Go under? I don’t really know. Undoubtedly some clubs would fold. Would I be upset? Frankly, no, seeing as so much of the focus is on money, rather than training. Youth club soccer is a dirty, political little world, and some of them just need to disappear. What I would suggest to any club that wants to remain is this: keep improving, doing things the way US Soccer has suggested, do it for the kids because they deserve it, and maybe one day you’ll be given DA status. Or, alternatively, non-DA clubs that exist in areas with DA’s might work out an arrangement of being a feeder club. Hopefully enough money comes into the process (we already know the money exists) to be used appropriately, perhaps as a partial funding downstream, to be used at the DA clubs discretion for providing talent upstream.
Again, these are very rough, top-of-my-head thoughts.
MLS needs to start becoming a selling league, immediately. LA keeping Donovan is a massive mistake in my opinion, as I stated. He could have be sold outright, and the money put right back into their academy (if MLS would allow such a sale of a standout player, and didn’t take a cut….) I want to see those 19 other LD’s out there, but the money streams that are available to other leagues are not being realized here. I do think that needs to change. The Fire wanted to charge the girls Fire Juniors program extra to fund the DA on the boy’s side. That’s an indication that there are money issues with funding the DA (not sure if they exist in other MLS DA’s), and that they’re trying to solve them in some very unseemly ways. It’s probably the main reason that the Fire (as of right now) intend to de-affiliate with the Fire Juniors. Luckily we’re no longer there (as of very recently) so we won’t have to deal with the fallout.
Obviously not all DA’s are MLS supported (I think there’s 70+, only 19 have MLS ties.) So US Soccer needs to directly fund the rest. That’s why effective monitoring needs to happen to make sure only “deserving” clubs get chosen. And again, perhaps the Fed “over-funds” some in more populated areas but stipulates some $ has to go down to 1-2 additional clubs to feed the DA in that area at the older ages.
On your idea of what happens in rural areas (“paid-to-play”) this is a tough one. But kids around the world are paid to play. They are moved to different countries, different cities. It sounds forboding and foreign, but it is done all the time. Something on a much smaller scale would need to happen here for isolated areas/clubs/individuals. The Fed, imo, if they see someone they absolutely want or believe in, should have some mechanism by which they show that family their interest level and work with them. Stipends, whatever. It’s obviously a tough call. Ultimately, more kids will probably be left out of the mix than we want, but I think all of these things would still produce a much bigger talent pool than we have now.
Your idea of tiers of DAs is interesting. I’m not sure I’d promote or relegate them, but maybe we rank them based on # of players produced, and teams get a staggered bonus and as you mentioned, coaches get a higher salary (or again, a bonus). All DA’s should be fully funded regardless (if US Soccer chose them, they did so for a reason) but the actual production needs to be measured and rewarded. Not a bad idea.
Ken S. says
That last (long) response was to John Pranjic, somehow it went out of order. John, “coach juggles” linked to this SA article on Gary’s newest post. It applies very much to your questions as well. http://www.socceramerica.com/article/45734/not-every-kid-wants-to-play-high-school-qa-lei.html
Andrew S. says
I assume this was why Sockers FC ‘merged’ (took over) the Fire Juniors West program (Naperville area)? I had actually considered the FJ program, but there are plenty of other options in our area. I’m not a fan of pay to play, but there’s just not really all that much out there in it’s place. I would love to see that change, but I guess I’ll keep up what I’m doing now, have my kids in a travel soccer program, and also coach them in a recreational park district league as well to supplement. (for a tiny cost per year).
Ken Sweda says
Hi Andrew, there is a lot of dirty laundry that preceded the CFJ/Sockers merger, having to do with the Fire (pro club) believing CFJ was doing a poor job of development up to the first team, to CFJ accusing the Fire of wanting to charge the girls program more to pay the way of the Academy boys as a way to eliminate pay-to-play for those “excellent” players. The merger it’self is not a bad thing, Sockers have a very good reputation, but it is still pay to play. Short answer is I think the Sockers philosophy will help the players in Naperville tremendously.
Derek Richey says
People should obviously stop watching college basketball because it is inferior in quality to the NBA, and draws fewer fans than the NBA. If the whole rationale about stadium capacity and attendance had ANY relevance in this piece at all then most of the Serie A and much of La Liga should be designated as low quality as well as average attendance difference between Serie A and MLS, for example, is practically negligible. Some good stuff in many parts of the article, but the whole “Quality Stupid” segment is illogical. People support their local club for a lot of reasons beyond quality–but to say the quality in MLS is THAT poor is to say you’re not paying attention. If it is the STYLE of play you do not like, I suppose that’s your perogative, but to crap on the lack of quality is unfair at best, and borders on euro-snobbery for snobbery’s sake–regardless of the facts.
Have I tried to “support” 3four3? Yes, several times. There have been articles that have made for some good reading. But realistically, the more I read articles at its highest levels the less I find I can tolerate a blog like 3four3.
Gary Kleiban says
I would love to get your reading list.
LP please share
Sorry guys, you missed the joke. It was a simple play on the first paragraph of the “It’s the Quality, Stupid” section.
For me, admittedly maybe not a learned fan, it’s very simple. Look at this week’s WCQ at the Azteca. Every single USMNT player used that night had MLS experience. Every single one. Five of them (E. Johnson, Davis, Besler, Gonzalez, and Zusi) still feature with domestic sides. You mention that Donovan is not allowed to leave MLS, but you don’t mention Brek Shea, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, DeMarcus Beasley, or Maurice Edu? Just from the small group of players in this latest match, they have been sold by MLS to foreign clubs.
MLS, while certainly imperfect, provides more opportunities for US players to play. Could the style of play be better? Sure, of course it could. But it takes time. The English First Division has been around since 1888…. Serie A 1898…. La Liga 1929…. Bundesliga 1963. Unless your name is Sepp Blatter, you probably realize that this doesn’t happen overnight.
Mark F says
I wanted to echo LP2’s statement above re: the relative age of MLS compared to the rest of the world’s storied leagues. One has to appreciate the success that the league’s had over its short existence: almost a doubling in size, growing attendance, and slowing growing a TV audience.
Your pillory of the DP system is a bit awkward. You note that Robbie Keane was brought in deliver Beckham an MLS title. You neglect to mention that all MLS sides have the opportunity to invest in Designated Players. It’s not LA or AEG or NY or Red Bull’s fault that they choose to exercise these options.
I’m sorry, Ken, that you feel that hardcore MLS supporters are “bamboozled” by fan experience into supporting their teams. Most of the ones I know across the league know full well the limitations of the league and its business model. Just as you prefer to watch your football on weekend mornings on TV, they prefer to support their local sides, and do so unabashedly.
I believe that as MLS continues to grow in stature and in size, we may full well realize the kind of sell-first, invest in development strategy you’re seeking. You may even see an erosion in single-entity, allowing for a more traditional ownership system. These things are a generation away, however.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece. As the father of a U9 boy, you’ve given me a lot to considering concerning his development.
Derek Richey says
“Let me repeat that: the MLS model was built to exclude the hardcore learned soccer fan.” Baseless and total hogwash. The more I read this article, the more I smell the stench of elitism and self-elevation. I’ve been a “hardcore” fan for over 30 years. I watch the EPL, Bundesliga, AND MLS. I think its hilarious that this article contends over and over again that MLS quality is so low. To me, that could only come from someone who hasn’t watched much MLS in the last couple years. Its melodramatic exaggeration at best, and total junk rationalization for not watching and supporting the domestic league; the kind of rationalization your hear from too many self-proclaimed “Learned” -elitist-soccer-snobs. It took me many years to open my mind and heart to MLS in an unbiased way and I’ve learned a lot since then. I suggest the author do the same.
NOVA Mike says
I support my local MLS team – DC United, because there’s nothing quite like going to a live match. They have always tried to play a relatively attractive, possession based style of play, for the most part. I also support them because while making $ may not be the only necessary ingredient for improvement, it is still a necessary ingredient.
However, with regard to this comment: “to say the quality in MLS is THAT poor is to say you’re not paying attention,” I must disagree.
To say that the quality of play ins’t that poor in the MLS says to me that you do not know what quality is.
Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but try this for an experiment. Record 2 games – 1 from MLS and 1 from La Liga. Watch them both, but switch back and forth every 10 minutes. Pay attention only to things like 1st touch, passing accuracy, how often the ball stays on the ground vs in the air ….
It is like watching two different sports. Last week I switched to a Chivas USA game right after finished watching Barca v Rayo. During one sequence in the Chivas game there were three 1-touch passes in a row between the CB and LB. Very similar to what happened a lot in the Barca game, except in the MLS these were between CB and LB from 2 different teams! The midfielders were like the net on a tennis court, watching the ball go back and forth over their heads.
I have to agree with Nova Mike. I watch English, Mexican, Spanish, German (until GolTV got axed), MLS (only rarely now if nothing else on), and French (since BeIn Sport). Mexican, German and Spanish sides are a joy to wath. Great 1st touch, passing / moving, tactics, skill. I have had several experiences to then watch MLS. It’s several levels lower in tems of touch, passing, moving, tactics, skill. MLS is a C-grade EPL league. Power and speed, but not quite at EPL level. It is not a knock, or elitist . . . just the way it is.
As a comparison, watch a team like Rayo Vayacano or Espanyol. I’ve seen some games where it is simply beautiful stuff. Amazing movement and passing. Yet they are towards the bottom of La Liga. Then I watch teams like NYRB, Columbus, Chicago, New England (from variety of levels in MLS) and the beautiful game is nowhere to be found. I consider it “ugly” football, but some like vanilla and some like chocolate.
I truly hope MLS improves in tactical and skill and creativity level so I’m closer to tha taction as an avid fan. But it ain’t happening right now.
Derek Richey says
That’s the most ridiculous suggestion I’ve ever heard. Your assumption I don’t know quality is laughable. I do not plan on watching La Liga (every euro-snob’s wet-dream example) side by side with MLS. First, I never said MLS was at La Ligas level–so your suggestion would only reveal what I already know. It makes me wonder, did you bother reading my remarks? If you did, would you really suggest I watch La Liga and MLS side by side? Where did I say that the leagues were on the same quality level? Or even played similar styles? Of course, I would notice a difference!–I’d notice a difference if I watched Stoke-Sunderland vs Barca-RM! There would be MANY differences. Your suggestion is ABSURD. These two responses read like they’re straight from the “MLS is shit” playbook/manual of euro-fan responses. They’re all exaggerations, cliches, full of euro-fanisms and melodramatic biases that have nothing to do with the actual quality of MLS. MLS is a much more physical league–for sure–but the improvement in overall play over the past two seasons has been noticeable, and obvious. To say the “beautiful game is nowhere to be found” is the exact cliche mumbo-jumbo exaggeration I’d expect to hear from someone who has a lot of assumptions about MLS, but never really watches it.
I’d just like to thank you Dereck Richie, for voicing the opinion of the MLS supporter. This article offends me. I just don’t have the time, or respect for the author, to put this into words. Thanks for doing that for “us.”
ok derek and skemeeli, tell us what is quality about the MLS. Why should I watch, support it, and devote myself to it? Most MLS Supporters are blind to the fact that soccer in America is sold as a “thing to do” and a stadium with people in it means progress. But is that real progress or just entertainment. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME IN THE WORLD, IT SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH! Like why is someone an MLS Die Hard, who are they and why would i run with that crew? I’m not trying to clown you, but i want to know what makes ya’ll Real Supporters? Showing up and screaming at a stadium isn’t enough for me, that’s something you can join and get some buddies and have a beer and act crazy, oh wait that’s 99% of the MLS Supporters. What about the league, the clubs, the supporters is real unbridled passion?
The World has shown what top level soccer is so for the MLS to compete that must be their goal. Soccer in the rest of the world is a religion, a way of life so when a league like the MLS is put forth you don’t have that “feel” or passion that permeates throughout the league. You can feel and see the passion of Barca or Real through the club, the supporters, the city itself without even going there. But the league doesn’t give off that “feel”, its “Not About that life” when it comes to true real passion. They want to sell you a product which is fine, which is what most if not all American sports do but they have no clue how to create a product that those who know quality want to buy into. So you have 2 things that MLS says they are about passion and quality, but i think they are neither because 1st you need passion to have the drive to pursue quality. Its not there, the owners of MLS say we should be happy we have a league, Really? i should support that, when i know around the rest of the world how the game is portrayed?
So now you have those who know what top level is and what is required to make that, but in the MLS and top US Soccer officials you have a group that wants to produce a mediocre product and put a shiny new stadium and call it progress. You may call it that but when you want to be great or you really really have passion for soemthing, it consumes you, it defines you, your whole vibe, swagger is all about that pursuit of Greatness. What the MLS want to do is give you the thrill, not redefine what soccer in the US should be. And for someone like me i don’t feel that and won’t rep that. This game is everything to me, i don’t know what i would do without it, i want to develop the first world class soccer player, i want to build a soccer club that one day can be the best in the world. I’m crazy i know, but it consumes me, i have no stadium, no major sponsorship, no pro league that i’m attached to currently but what i do got is the heart, drive, and balls to build a legacy no matter what obstacle is in my way. Now when the MLS gets some people that feel the game like that then we can talk…..
Derek Richey says
“The World has shown what top level soccer is so for the MLS to compete that must be their goal.”
The world? Classic eurosnob-centric response that makes no sense at all. The WORLD has shown us this?–and yet you go right back to using La Liga as your example? La Liga is NOT the WORLD?
Here is the point you just can’t seem to get through your head: NOT every league can look like La Liga or the EPL or Serie A or the Bundesliga. Would you recommend that leagues around the WORLD with inferior play shut down shop and stop playing? Should the Finnish, Swedish and Austrian leagues shut down because in many ways they are worse, with smaller stadiums and crowds than MLS. The play is certainly no where near even a peg above MLS. Should all leagues that don’t live up to the QUALITY content of the Top 4 leagues in the world just throw in the towel? Are all their fans posers because they support a team in a league where soccer is “inferior and low quality?” Perhaps Danish domestic fans should stop supporting their clubs? Certainly the Norwegian league is full of slow, ugly, low-quality play comparable to MLS. Why watch that? Their fans must be stupid and blind to the fact that their league is so far down the totem-pole of leagues in Europe. They must be bamboozled as well. And don’t bother telling me soccer in these leagues are ahead of/better than MLS, because I’ll just chuckle, as they aren’t. Your argument is flawed. Go on watching La Liga. I’m fine with that. Its a great league. But get off your high-horse long enough to realize how absurd, offensive and ridiculous your point of view is.
Ha offensive really, so the rest of the world doesn’t matter when it comes to mls product, we should just accept our scraps and be quiet ha alright man keep lovin u some mls
I don’t think Derek’s arguing that “the rest of the world doesn’t matter when it comes to MLS product, we should just accept our scraps and be quiet.” I’m actually not sure where you draw that conclusion from, maybe the first sentence of his last paragraph? If anything, I think he’s saying that the POV demonstrated in this piece, when taken out of the MLS context and put into nations with more established, non-big-4 leagues, does not make sense. Are fans of Ajax (just as an example) being duped because they don’t play like Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi passing circles around Deportivo La Coruña? Probably not. If we take the view of the author of this piece, that “It always comes down to quality of play,” and the play of a team like Ajax or Galatasaray, “in its present form, simply does not meet my standards” then these fans should stop watching/supporting their teams and instead watch the annual two-horse race in La Liga or the Big Four rearrange the deck chairs in the EPL? It is quality soccer that these teams play, to be sure, with the best players on the planet, but there is more to the sport than that. Perhaps there isn’t for the author, I don’t really know.
I suppose the arguments here boil down, for me, to a comparison of someone who will eat only the finest dishes immediately and has the means to go out to the restaurant and do so and someone who wants to eventually make those fine dishes themselves, knowing that it may look pretty rough at times in the efforts taken to reach that level, if they ever do. I am not valuing one over the other (although I tend to put myself in the latter camp), but I think that there is certainly room for both in the soccer market. Indeed, the growth of the game in the US *needs* both, just as it needs people who fall between those two extremes. It just seems like the comments bagging on MLS for being a swindle are unfair, as the league is far from a finished product.
It’s only been 17 years since Wynalda scored his goal with San Jose. These other leagues, when discussing a “soccer culture” have been around for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that an entire culture has grown up with them. Imagine that. I will be the first to admit that many MLS marketing efforts that harp on “tradition” and “history” ring pretty hollow, but these things have to start somewhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Kids growing up never having known a time without a major domestic professional league is going to have a major, positive ripple effect for the game in this country. They will have their “hometown teams.” I do remember the quality of play in MLS even just five years ago, when my team (Columbus) won the title, and it has grown by leaps and bounds since then. For me, as a fan since I went to the games at the Horseshoe, to watch that team improve over time is a really great feeling. And it is that feeling that is one of the aspects of the game that I love, even if that means that I have to watch a clunker of a game every now and then.
Could things be done differently? Certainly, and Ken makes a few good points about the pay-to-play nature of development in this country and others have commented on the unwillingness of accepting sweeping change at the club level. However, his dismissal of MLS as a league that is made up of “largely soccer-deficient college graduates” fighting “for scraps” just sounds condescending and devalues/ignores the positive strides the game has made in the league and in the US.
i get his point, the problem is there is not enough calling for improvements and the league will go on duping others into believing they truly want to improve american soccer when the passion to do it is not there. We sell soccer so short here in America, read the blog like this article by 3four3 http://blog.3four3.com/2012/10/11/how-much-time-does-us-soccer-need/
everyone should read it again and see that all the things the MLS praises rises in attendance etc is a way to shield it from criticism, Blatter was killed for his evaluation but in some way i agree, the US should not be aiming to compete with Finland, heck even Holland when we have the population and resources to be the top soccer nation in the world. But if you don’t have that passion, then you have the vision and desire, what i just said sounds stupid or as Derek put it “Classic eurosnob-centric” way of thinking.
I’m not saying the MLS should be La Liga, but we should understand that we should start demanding to improve our league and stop throwing celebrations because a stadium is built. We can go much much farther. I’m going to stop now cause those who don’t get it, most likely never will
No, I see your point, and the impatience is coming through loud and clear. I tend to take a more conservative approach to growing the league (for example, I think the soccer specific stadiums are actually a big deal for the game in the US), but that has it’s drawbacks as well. This is the part where I was saying that the game in the US absolutely needs the people who support their teams above all else and, just as vital, the people who want to push the game in the US, and in MLS, to be much greater than it is. The MLS fans could use more of that demanding of accountability for their teams’ progress, and the Euro fans, if that’s what you want to call them I don’t really like the pejorative “euro-snob,” could perhaps check back in with their teams and seeing them as more than just the 11 guys on the pitch.
Does that make sense? It’s late, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. I think both camps have valid points that they bring to the table and US soccer could benefit from both, because it is going to take a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to grow the game here in the US.
I’m going to stop now cause those who don’t get “it, most likely never will”
That’s why I’m shutting up Kephern. I”m a “euro-snob” full of cliches 🙁
Sorry jiust wanted to state read the old 3four3 article again to get my point:
You’re funny Derek. The CONCACAF finals is an all Mexican affair for something like 4 out of last 5 years. Why so protective of MLS? I watch MLS, but it for sure is inferior.
How many former MLS players in top leagues in Europe? How many times MLS players in FIFA player of the year? How many MLS coaches considered tops in the world? How many MLS Acadamies world-class? How many times has MLS struggled with USL or Cal FC in Open Cup?
MLS is what it is and has to chart its own path. They don’t need to throw in the towel, but quality has to improve. If not, that’s their problem. Unlike NBA or NFL or Baseball, MLS has to compete on a world stage for viewership, media attention, ticket sales. If we have a choice of MLS or La Liga, guess where most of us are going to chose?
Your thoughts, in their present form, simply does not meet my standards.
BJ Pheasant says
Along with developing youth players we can still build the base of the pyramid – participation. In the US only ~34% of potential soccer players are involved in the sport. As part of my work in youth soccer (started 6 HS programs, 2 clubs, and consulted with ~20 more) and my potential PhD thesis I developed an algorithm that determines how many players there Should Be in a geographic area based on demographics. Using census data I have calculated state-by-state (see link below) and for all 3,000+ counties in the US.
Nick B says
This article is an absolute joke and anyone who thinks they have been “educated” by it are kidding themselves. Please do some independent research and don’t let this piece of garbage influence you. He isn’t an elitist who has no idea what he’s even talking about.
Nick B, please back your statements up with a reasoned argument.
Man, don’t hate MLS just because your daughter will never play for The Chicago Fire.
It would help if MLS teams didn’t consistently lose to Liga MX teams in the CCL.
On the other hand, it was pretty ironic who scored last night. Shouldn’t a player who got his start in the Mickey Mouse Joke Spazzo Nads League not even be able to make the bench in any other pro league?
There is one element to all of this that hasn’t been addressed (sorry if I missed it while skimming) that is relevant to the 25K stadia capacity. Obviously Ken didn’t have the space to cover everything, but it seems to me that the real money in the US is in TV contracts and a full 25K stadium is way better than a 1/4 full Rose Bowl. While I agree with most of Ken’s points, I think the turning point for Sunil/MLS is going to be when TV contracts are actually an important revenue source like they are for the rest of the big clubs. If 2nd generation MLS fans can fill a stadium regardless of the quality on display, the bigger cash flows will then be available for real investment in real player development. While I believe Sunil is a big tool for stunting player development in this country, he can’t be a complete maroon (can he?) and might have a roadmap where US Soccer/MLS is supposed to go. However, we just don’t know and he’s not saying.
I am a youth coach that coached in Chicago and now live in Orlando.
What you said in the article, I have been thinking and every other youth coach with common sense!! The stuff you said in your article is 100% dead on!! The DA down here is operating (Orlando City) and every body is
talking about it like it is going to change Florida soccer!! The bottom line- Non soccer people running the league will be its downfall- They do not want MLS to prosper- they just want it to function!!!
Ted Westervelt says
Ken got most of the ideas for this article from me. He is one of my loyal lap dogs. Cheers Ken.
I’m going to get crucified by Fire fans for this, but I think Chicago could elasiy support another MLS team if it were located in the city somewhere off an el line. The metro area is 8.5 million people. The Fire play in a suburb called Bridgeview and while it’s not an exurb, Chicago is the type of city where a lot of people just don’t drive to get places. If I drive myself from around Wrigley Field, it’s an hour or more and I can’t do much drinking when I get there. If I take one of the buses, I have to be on the bus 2.5 hours before the game and get back to the bar maybe two hours after the game is over. Public from my house would be two hours each way. My understanding is that the Fire were originally offered the parking lot across the street from US Cellular Field (where the White Sox play) for $1 and turned it down to go to Bridgeview. That location is walking distance from an el stop, a commuter train stop, just off the highway and borders many neighborhoods with large, soccer literate populations. The Fire could play in the burbs and City of Chicago FC could play for us city dwellers.