So, I’ve harped on the fact that competition in the US isn’t a good gauge of where we’re at. International competition is the barometer.
As such, the past 5 years we’ve gone on international trips with a group of players to play in legitimate competitions against the best academies in the world. Full matches vs FC Barcelona and Man City, among others, have been captured.
The latest installment was with our neighbors down south, Mexico.
The top 4 Mexican teams joined 4 MLS sides in a round-robin at #LigaMXInternacional.
Our first 3 games were vs MLS sides. All of them were won with 6 GF, 0 GA. 9 points. Which practically assured advancement to the final.
In the final we lost 4-2 to Xolos.
I encourage you to watch the match as I think there’s a lot that can be learned.
I’m more than happy to comment on the array of conclusions that were drawn (hint: they’re almost all positive – the team was excellent, and the individual players are on a top level trajectory).
There’s one overarching conclusion I’d like to share here though. It’s the one I opened this article with, and is a constant across all our international experiences.
With due respect, playing against youth clubs with no pro team (i.e. amateur clubs) does us no good. It’s too easy. Pound for pound, not only is our roster superior, but the entire development environment from proper training, to facilities, to incentives, make the team too good to play against the amateur sides.
Against current domestic opponents, our players can take plays off knowing we’ll rarely get punished.
Against current domestic opponents, our attackers can take 7 touches in the box and still get a shot off and score.
Internationally, you don’t have these luxuries.
Same goes for every player in every position. Domestically, there’s far more time and space. Internationally, you can barely breathe.
In other words, our competitive environment instills poor habits and impedes development.
Remember, the context is developing top shelf professionals. That’s the objective of a legitimate academy.
What’s the status quo solution?
If MLS academy teams are the strongest, then superficial logic drives one to conclude they should just be playing each other and not against academy teams from amateur clubs.
For us, though, that would still be a problem. MLS teams are all pretty much the same. They don’t really give you different looks in terms of style of play. On the team front, there’s almost no top-shelf orchestration going on. Yes, a few coaches are trying some orchestrated tactics, but it’s simply not up to snuff.
On the player front, in general, they don’t have that intelligence, that nastiness, that craftiness, that wisdom, their international counterparts do – they’re very naive. That, in turn, contributes to our players staying naive as well.
Yes, in terms of the scoreboard, a game may be lost here or there. But the lessons derived from those losses aren’t remotely the same.
Now, that’s just looking at our particular player development needs. If we zoom out, the status quo solution is still a poor one for all clubs and franchises across many factors – from the impracticality of economies of scale, to the lack of establishing a wealth of fierce regional competition which makes for a healthy local talent pipeline.
What’s the proper solution?
Well, the reason MLS academies are stronger than youth-only clubs is simple – they have a pro team.
That, by default:
- Siphons the *better players away from the amateur clubs to the pro organizations.
- Generally provides a better overall environment.
You open the soccer economy to all clubs. For those of you who aren’t aware, that means opening the pyramid (aka promotion & relegation at the pro level).
When you open the pyramid, there is more competition for MLS franchises.
They will no longer have a monopoly on their geographic player pool.
They will no longer be the only ones with an incentive to develop professionals.
Opening the pyramid provides a real business case for existing lower division pro clubs to take player development serious. Currently most don’t even have youth teams, let alone take it serious. So of course MLS academies aren’t being challenged.
It also provides historically youth-only clubs a real business case for launching their own first teams. That, in turn, obviously stimulates them to take player development seriously.
It mobilizes investors & capital currently locked out of MLS to flow into lower division clubs, which as mentioned above, would now have a strong incentive to develop and field far more serious youth sides.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how top performing ecosystems work.
It’s called an open economic market. Open markets create fierce competition.
Competition, which as we’ve described and MLS academies will attest, is currently weak.
So, if we want to give the LA Galaxy academy fierce local and regional competition, this is the solution. If we don’t, that’s fine, just start understanding our country’s development potential will not be realized.