Woke up nice and early to eat some breakfast and prepare the boys with a tactical walk through. We centered on how we wanted to attack in possession and defend against Soccer Stars USA’s 3-4-3 formation.
Boys looked ready and anxious. Got them prepped in our locker room and around 10:15 we took to the field for warm up. If there’s anything the tournament lacks, it’s proper warm up time on the field. Games start without delay every hour. Most facilities don’t have sufficient space to have a proper warm up with the ball so it’s just a little 15 by 5 strip of turf adjacent to the goals.
We opened with our 4-3-3 formation and came out with lots of intensity. We started our only early 2000 (in terms of age), Nathan at left back since Togo was having some pain in his foot during warm up. A few minutes into the game and we were in on goal. Misa cleverly dummied a ball at the half way line and the center back bought it leaving him in on the wing 1 v 1 with the keeper. Uly was making a dashing run on the weak side accompanying Misa directly to goal. Misa decided he was going to finish by himself and his effort went straight to the keeper. An early chance to take the lead was wasted.
It didn’t take long to create a second chance. Same scenario, but this one from the left flank. Misa was in the box and this time squared the ball to an open Uly. His first touch to settle got away from him and then his shot was blocked. Probably should have 1-timed it. Again, a chance wasted that we knew in a game like this had to be put away.
To USA Soccer Star’s credit, they knew how we play … building up out of the back and through our midfield, and did a great job pressuring us into mistakes. One of those mistakes almost cost us midway through the half. Our keeper, Jesus, made a brilliant foot save this time to keep USA stars off the board. Their pressure on our goal kicks never let us get comfortable on the ball. Turnover after turnover in the back. Our midfield was lacking the precision in our passing to get the ball to our front 3 who were all 1 v 1 with their 3 man back line. We suffered to get to halftime with the 0-0 scoreline.
At the half we quickly rehearsed with the boys how we wanted to come out of the back. How to play short on goal kicks and each time our GK had possession; but to bypass our 3 center mids who were all marked tight and get it straight to our forwards.
The boys understood the plan but, with little rehearsal in training, had a difficult time executing. Midway through the second half USA Soccer Stars broke through and scored after having a shot blocked at the top of the 18, the rebound was collected by an unmarked player and finished into an empty net. It seemed offsides to me since there was only 1 player between the ball and the striker when he received (as gk was on top of 18). We will look at the video later to confirm but the fact is we were now down a goal with just under 12 minutes left.
We switched to a 3-4-3 ourselves to: (a) match their numbers in midfield (b) attempt to get more men in the box when getting the ball wide to our winger, and (c) create 2 v 1 situations a lot easier on the outside with our midfield now having to cover shorter distances to get to offensive third.
We created a great opportunity through Uly on the left side as he dashed into the box, a clear hand ball by the defender was waived off by the ref (a clear pk, but the ref gave advantage) and Uly crashed his shot off the top crossbar. Again, we felt the pk would have been a lot better than getting the advantage call.
The minutes ticked on and we created one last half-chance off a corner that Misa headed high and wide. Out of the cup we went. The boys gave it their all in this closely contested match, but the athleticism and size of the older USA Soccer Stars proved to be too much. We give up 6 months to a year in age to most teams in the tournament.
After this devastating blow we addressed the boys in the locker room. It seemed like a funeral service as the boys were in tears. This group is not used to losing games. In fact, they’ve only lost one match in regulation over the last 2 years in all tournaments and competitions and it was when I was handed a 1 match ban for questioning a referee about a violent foul on our GK . Needless to say, we consoled the boys and told them to let this be a learning lesson. We use this pain to fuel the fire in each player – it will propel them through the upcoming season. As I’m sure you know, one can usually take more valuable lessons from a loss than a W. For the coaching staff, it was time to rehearse a plan B when playing older and more athletic opponents. We need the boys to know exactly what to do when being pressed inside our defensive third and how to solve this problem on the fly.
Ajax (yes, the real Ajax)
Lucky for us, the pain and tears didn’t last long. The Ajax head coaches contacted our tournament guide and requested a friendly for that same night at 8pm. They had scouted our team in anticipation of playing us in the quarterfinals and we both ended up losing in round of 16. We quickly accepted the invitation.
Danny and I spoke with the boys to inform them of the news. We got a mixed reaction as most of the boys were still crushed from being eliminated and didn’t really look enthused to play. It was time to share the significance of playing such an elite soccer academy like Ajax. The dutch school has provided one of the best pipelines to professional football in history. Also, the message was loud and clear. The sign of a true champion and competitor is shown the game after an adverse result. The boys eyes lit up and they were now ready to compete.
Kickoff was at 8pm local time under the lights at L’estartit stadium. We had seen Ajax play in their pool play games in which they went 3-0 with 34 goals for and 1 against. This was an aggressive team that wants to attack, attack, and attack. They play a 3-4-3 with a high line who wants to press you and keep you inside your own half. At kick off, we instructed the boys to play a ball in behind their high back line to our right winger Jonathan Estrada. Alex Mendez delivered the perfect ball and Estrada got in behind to round the keeper and give a 1-0 lead 10 seconds into the game. What a dream start!
Ajax quickly rebounded and 8 minutes later equalized off a clear offsides missed by the ref. Another quick note, in all preliminary games leading to the quarterfinals it was a 1 man ref system with no linemen. It’s not an easy job so you have to live with the close calls. Our boys kept pressing them with their high line leaving a ton of space for us to get behind. Alex Mendez again sprayed a beautiful ball behind their line that Neymar junior (Uly) collected and finished. Charly nabbed a 3rd goal to give us a 3-1 lead at the half. Again, our boys were having trouble finding a rhythm playing short out of the back with the high pressure Ajax was bringing, but never once did we resort to punting the ball a la americana.
We reviewed again how to beat this high press with playing our CB and him 1-timing it by our midfield to a winger that would check out and back to the ball to lose his marker. We changed half the team at the break to get all the boys equal time against such a prestigious rival. The team came out a little flat and before we knew it 3 goals in quick succession had us down 4-3 with under 10 minutes to go. You knew Ajax can score and score in numbers having won 19-0 the night before when we scouted them. Made some changes and brought our attacking firepower back on. Sure enough, on a quick restart after being fouled near the Ajax box, Alex Mendez used his smarts to pick out Jonathan Estrada who again calmly beat a defender and finished inside the 6 yard box. 4-4!!! What a game!
The final whistle came and boys were again sporting big smiles. Ending the trip on a high note playing against and tying Ajax was a huge accomplishment.
Sidenote 1 – Ajax players were all super super technical. They were amazing with the ball at their feet and all of them can hit a bomb from 30 yards. It was clear how they are being taught technique way before team tactics. Also, it is always attack mode for all 11 players. Defending is not their strong suit, although high pressure is definitely something they work on when losing possession.
Sidenote 2 – In between our r16 game and Ajax friendly I drove out to Torroella de Montgri to watch Barcelona vs Leganes quarterfinal game. Ben Lederman started and wore the mythical #10 shirt. He put on quite a show during the first 25 minutes. He has the cleanest ball-handling skills on his team. He is different, with an elegance on the ball rarely seen in a player his age. Hans Schonhoffer, a friend of mine and professional coach at Espanyol B watched the game with me. I asked him at half what he thought of Danny Lederman’s son so far. He asked me which player it is? It told him #10. He could not believe that was the American boy in the Academy. He truly thinks that Ben is a special talent and may one day make the break on the international stage if he keeps up with his development. Barcelona won the game 6-0 to secure a spot in tomorrow’s semis vs Manchester United.
Video with examples to follow.
Soccer Purist says
Outside of the USA Soccer Stars being bigger, did they actually try to play soccer against you guys when they had possession?
Brian Kleiban says
Hey Soccer Purist,
I don’t recall Soccer having one 5 pass sequence the entire game. USA Soccer Stars does have a ton of athletic/individual soccer talent but collectively offered very little throughout the tournament. One thing they did impress me with was their work ethic in each game. The boys were super fit, pressuring opponents from beginning to end and had a ton of heart to fight back and win their quarterfinal game.
That’s the problem, too much emphasis on athleticism in the US and not enough on technique.
Players have a lot of heart/passion/drive but a lack of creativity and true confidence on the ball in difficult situations.
Do you have full length video of any of the games you played over there? If so, would it be possible to obtain a copy, particularly of the Ajax game?
Also, I remember mentions of coaching software in one of the other blog posts. Longomatch is freeware that is pretty powerful. Nothing’s automated, like with prozone, but it has most of the same functionality. Considering the alternatives are several hundred dollars on the low end, it’s a pretty worthwhile piece of software. Google and you can find the website. I’ll burn games off my DVR onto DVD, convert the DVD into whatever format Longomatch needs, then I can break down film from games on TV.
Related to that, I would suggest to anyone who is interested in match analysis to look into the League Managers Association (LMA). They have an online course run in conjunction with prozone that teaches you how to develop your idea of playing, what indicators will be important for you, etc. I’m halfway through and have learned a lot (although it’s statistics heavy and can be a bit dry).
This might be a dumb question but is Uly now going to stay and train at La Masia?
Brian Kleiban says
No question is a dumb question here. The picture above is Uly with our Barcelona USA Club president Paul Walker during his presentation as a new club signing earlier this year. Hopefully Uly or some of the boys from this trip will have that opportunity in the future.
Sounds like a tremendous experience! Will the double rondo exercise video be included in these soon to come videos? Also, there are full games on youtube, but I don’t think any of this team’s games are on there unfortunately. But the final with Barcelona and Atletico is on youtube, the full game is on there.
1st half- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsMeDyG8m6U&feature=plcp&context=C45f2260VDvjVQa1PpcFMoj1b9xE4isx3izCQsyIsvpbK_r0Qvaec%3D
2nd half- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkCYHySwLbA&feature=plcp&context=C46682f6VDvjVQa1PpcFMoj1b9xE4is3vSHvVMzhIfig4tdr-DtQ8%3D
Soccer Purist says
Curious about the professional clubs sub pattern. Does every player play? Is it equal playing time? Have they expressed thoughts to you on the importance of playing time in regards to development or more a model of playing time earned? At what age does it change?
Brian Kleiban says
Very interesting that you mentioned this. In most cases, every player does play and playing time is fairly equal. However, during this years MIC tournament, most of the top academies present played to win, including FC Barcelona. Some players saw limited minutes while others didn’t see the field at all.
In the early Academy years, u9-u12, they preach development over results and in most cases I have witnessed that to be true. For FCB, they only truly care about winning when they play their local derby’s vs Espanyol.
How much are the players exposed to different positions? I’ve heard of many academies playing kids in 2-3 positions, but if you look at the websites of pro academies, they often have rosters broken down by position, even at the youngest ages.
From what you’ve experienced, do players have a primary position and then 1-2 secondary ones? How much time would you guess they spend at each spot (like 75% at primary and 25% at secondary or similar)? Do the goalkeepers ever play on the field or are they purely in goal the whole game?
Brian Kleiban says
The players at FCB are primarily playing one position for the season. They do cross over in terms of the forward line of 3 interchanging positions. The 3 center mids are interchangeable. Same applies to the back line. I have seen the outside backs tuck in to play CB or the CB playing outside back.
GK’s are never on the field but in each training session they actively participate in most activities with the rest of the team. A Barca GK needs to be technical and good with his feet. Most GK sessions involve receiving and passing drills.
Just curious, but ask this in a sincerity: did you see that potential in Ben Lederman prior to his selection by Barcelona Youth Academy? Obviously he was a very good player but did he stand out to you so much from your (the or any) other players that it was that obvious? Could you have predicted two years ago that he would have been singled out like that and chosen by such a high caliber/profile youth club?
Brian Kleiban says
Ben always had special qualities that set him apart from the rest of his peers. The difference Ben showed was that he had what they call “Barca DNA”. The unique way he carresses and moves the ball, his body fakes and control, vision made/make him different. The ball is almost an extension of his body when he’s in motion. It’s natural, not forced or rehearsed through training exercises. But his mental strength played a big part in his success once on trial in Barcelona last year. He had to prove in a few sessions that he was not just as good, but better than the players currently in the Academy to secure his place. It was not an easy task especially when they threw him in with the Academy team 2 years up on the first day.
Can I have predicted this? Certainly not. But through the experiences of the last several years and interaction with the director of the Barcelona Academy I have developed a sense of the type of player they are looking for and we plan to showcase many more talents in the years to come.
Ken Sweda says
How many of the U11’s and U10’s do you think have the ability to move to La Masia, now that you have a feel for what they’re looking for? Are any of them at Ben’s level (at the same age), or that may rival him in the next few years?
Brian Kleiban says
We have numerous players in our Academy with that type of potential. Time will tell how many end up with the opportunity to showcase themselves on trial in the future. That is our primary objective, to be able to move the kids with that type of ability and hunger on to bigger and better things. What is better than La Masia? I don’t know of many programs stateside that can provide more for the kids to develop than our program but there is nothing better than the real thing.
Rob A says
Interesting notes on how they are “super super technical”. At U11 did you see any evidence that they have at least a tactical framework to play in the 3-4-3? Or is it just a “natural” knowledge of soccer growing up in Holland and knowledge of the principles of play? Do you guys at Barca-USA do it differently? From the videos, your players are very technically proficient for their age.
Brian Kleiban says
Again, suuuuuuper technical. Especially the centermids and outside wing backs and forwards in the 3-4-3. Tactically, they were not well prepared. It is unforgiveable to play such a high line,especially at kickoff, and not get exposed. On the offensive end they had some rehearsed build up and combination play that led to concrete goal scoring opportunities with numbers in the box.
At Barca USA we combine the technical and tactical aspects and give each equal importance. Each player has a strong technical base but it’s the tactical understanding and system that allows them to play so well collectively and monopolize possession. Each player knows his role within the system and has the necessary awareness (taught and hammered into them over and over and over again in each training exercise) to keep the ball moving into a less congested area of the field until they find good attacking numbers to get forward. If not, a simple reset to the back, circulate the ball until we like our numbers to prepare another attack.
“Soccer is a simple game…but it is very difficult to play it very simple and well”
Good stuff Brian
Brian Kleiban says
Very true Nuno. Thanks. We are always working to improve and transmit these things to the players.
Kids are not allowed to play simple because adults confuse them with too much wrong information. Kids learn better from other kids. Most parents and coaches have little experience with playing a simple game such as futbol. Coach-driven sports in the US such as football, basketball, baseball corrupt the minds of soccer coaches. Soccer is a player-driven sport. That is why kids need to develop during the early years primarily on their own with the supervision of qualified coaches not someone just collecting a pay check.
Here is a sample of the double rondo that Gary referred to ( video not of his team)
Kevin K says
I went to an Ajax clinic years ago at Sonoma State and one of the coaches was the then assistant at Ajax to Van Gaal (both of them were at Barca a year or two later). My recollection is that all Ajax positions have a number which the kids are taught from U-8 up and they are also taught a 4-3-3 from the beginning. Their whole philosophy is based on being in possession 65%+ of the time. They also made a point that much of their training changes very little from youth to senior (just obviously at a higher level). They were very detail-oriented, especially about how you play the ball to teammates (weight of the pass, which foot or side, etc.).
Is Catalan being taught to the foreign boys in the cantera, or is Spanish the only language taught and spoken within the team?
Brian Kleiban says
I’m thinking it all depends on the age. Most foreign boys start off with spanish lessons. The local boys primarily speak in Catalan but the coaches speak in both to the kids.
The beautiful thing within FCB is how team always comes first. You should see the team spirit in all the Academy teams. Each goal is celebrated just like the first team with all 10 field players running to congratulate the goal scorer. Above all, FCB teaches the boys to be good people before great soccer players.
Thanks for sharing us with all of these great information. I followed your travels and you sure made us proud.
One thing, among many, about your team, not only do the players have skills to execute the passes, but their soccer IQ is phenomenal. I bet they watch tons of soccer, unlike many other American kids. I bet also they come from soccer background and most of all they seem to be enjoying the game, rather than feeling under siege from coaches and parents. The use of left/right backs for outlet passes and the overlaps are exquisite, especially how the transition from the back and the width and depth they provide to each other. The through balls and the way they play with rhythm and then deliver the final finishes are just way too advanced. Now, please don’t send these kids to play in colleges.
We sure envy your players. I have a tough time just getting players to practice. Most American kids just want to stay home and play video games. Parents have little soccer IQ and fan interest. Most parents wouldn’t care about soccer if their kids were not playing. Makes it difficult to create great players if their family environment is not immersed in soccer.
Gary Kleiban says
And it’s difficult to create great players when parents try to interfere with coaching / club decisions. That case is independent of soccer heritage.
I couldn’t agree more with the both of you on this, Oscar and Gary. In this age of helicopter parenting where people try to engineer the most favorable, immediate results for their children, it is difficult for a coach to exert his influence. Money is a strong driver, yet coaches have every right to try to make a living from their hard work. What could be the remedy?
Gary, you and your brother have alluded to the principle of PROFESSIONALISM that needs to be instituted even at the lowest levels, and that is a key to improving the quality of training. I would like to see more coaches operating at a higher level of professionalism. As a parent, I have a few simplistic “acid tests” that I use to rate a coach’s or club’s professionalism. One of them is whether the teams do proper warm-ups and cool downs.
When my kids played in Europe, I noticed that virtually all clubs teach the warm-up/cool-down routine right from the beginning (pre-benjaminos) and they would do this before every practice and every game from then on. Hence, proper warm-up and cool down would become a part of everyone’s soccer DNA, from the top down. What a shock it is to me that, here in the US, even in the Southern California hotbed, even at prestigious academy clubs, how few are the teams that do this! And almost no one does the cool-down! I don’t want to seem like I am nit-picking, but to me, this is an important detail for any athlete.
Interesting you say this, because I read an article with some technical director, I can’t remember where saying that every minute you spend side shuffling, doing your high knees etc. is just one less minute a kid has with the ball, this was geared more towards young players but an interesting response to the whole warmup/cool down. He also pointed out how over the weeks and months and even years the time lost with the ball really adds up.
I think the importance of teaching proper warm up & cool down principles at the earliest of ages is a necessity. These warm up and cool down movements and activities also help to improve biomotor abilities that are essential for proper physical development. I see the case and point of the technical director, because for many kids in the US the 3 hours of practice per week is the only time they spend on the ball. However skill is not built in the 3 hours they spend at practice, its what they are doing with the ball in the other 165 hours of the week. (that is not to negate the importance of quality instruction and time on the ball they should be receiving)
Gary Kleiban says
Hopefully by the time these kids are ‘of age’, we’ll have some player agents with real credibility and influence abroad. Or foreign agents are seriously shopping in the States for talents. That way these kids can bypass the death trap of college, pdl, usl, mls.
And if that’s not the case, hopefully our own global network gets bigger and stronger so that we offer them opportunities.
My husband keeps trying to describe to me the concept of vision on the soccer field. How does my 9 year old instinctively know where everyone is and how to get the ball to them? His Dad says that it’s because of this “vision” concept. Guess it’s part of that soccer DNA. Anyhow, I love watching him play and I love how excited he gets when he makes an awesome assist. It’s hard being around people that don’ t know anything about soccer while this is all going on because they don’t realize that the goal actually started in the back – and all of those little brains and bodies had to make predictions, and assumptions by using their “vision” and creativity. Truly a beautiful game. Beautiful smiles when they win, but the tears are beautiful too. The tears are proof of the passion – and the passion will bring the next win.
And congratulations on your win against Ajax – another mythic academy. And thanks for the update on Ben. Tell him he already has lots of fans and our family is sending our very best wishes and hopes to him and his parents.
How does the USA Soccer Stars look like for the MIC tournament 2013
Im looking for any soccer club/school around the world it would be my dream to become a footballer I’m 15 years old