The following is perhaps the most accepted as insurmountable.
Soccer in the Home
The scapegoat is usually of the “soccer isn’t popular” variety. Which of course implies that daddy wants to play catch with the kids; not kick the ball. And even if all those daddy’s chose to help their kids with soccer, they never played the game themselves, so what can they possibly teach them? The game just doesn’t flood the household. So by induction, our kids fall far behind the big soccer nations.
That’s pretty much the argument, right?
Well it’s a good one. Those kids are at a disadvantage.
But this neglects something. It neglects a large slice of the US population – around 15% – that does not suffer from that cultural problem.
That puts us at roughly 45 million. And even if you want to come up with reasons to chop that number down, you would still end up with a hefty pool of potential quality players. Players who were born with a soccer ball. Have daddys who played and are teaching them whatever they know. Players who don’t give a hoot about the Dodgers or the Kansas City Chiefs. Indeed, we have soccer players. A lot of them!
If the common household culture is pointed to as being insurmountable in the near term, then shouldn’t more focus be placed on the community that doesn’t have that dilemma?
We don’t need 300, or even 45 million soccer lovers, how does 10 or 5 million sound? Because we’ve got that.
The upper levels of American soccer seem to want to be England ’66, which was a fine team, but maybe not the model for success that they seem to think it is. After all, there was never any England xx. But there was Argentina 78 and 86, and Brazil 58, 62, 70, 94, and 02. Or if you want to stay in Europe for some reason, there’s Germany 54, 74, and 90, or Italy 34, 38, 82, and 06. So there are four philosophies that have had much more long term success than mid-century England.
Personally, I think the New World route is the better way to go. As you said, those players are already here, if we would just be willing to tap into that source. People act as if Brazil develops skillful players because of something in the drinking water or that it’s just some inherent quality of Brazilians. Bull. Brazil develops skillful players (who couldn’t score against Paraguay, grrr) because that’s what the clubs are looking for, because that’s what wins games in Brazil. If the US decided to go all out for skills, it would take a decade or so, but the change in the players would happen.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Carlos!!!
Like you, I just wanted to throw out a different perspective.
Soccer culutre is part of it, but even with 45 million soccer lovers (or less), we’re still larger than many soccer powerhouses (quick Wikipedia check reveals . . .Argentina 40m, Peru 30m, Ghana, 24m, Portugal 11m, and Spain just bit higher at 46m). So size doesn’t matter.
“Soccer culture” (i,e., how engrained in fabric of society) is important. USA doesn’t have it. Big impact 0n psyche of young players. “I wanna be like Messi” mentality is huge!
The issue at national and elite playing level seems to be player identification. Jozy Altidore and Gale Agbossoumonde (sp?) are my poster-boys of what’s wrong with our system. Big athletic specimens with below average talent.
We do have very talented kids with lots of upside potential. I see them all the time. But American football and basketball mentality is USA’s “soccer culture” by proxy. The adage “you’re a product of your environment” seems to be true in terms of player identification.
I think all we need is a powerful, influential well-known coach at USMNT level. Stuff rolls downhill. Pia Sundage has made paradigm shift for women’s team. We also need similiar “soccer mind” to replace Gulati. It all starts from the top. Need leadership. We have the talent, just need leadership.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Lalo.
Something I need to follow up with is in regards to population per unit area (ie population density). For instance, Uruguay may only have 3.5 million people, but look how concentrated they are.
This is where the US has a disadvantage of sorts. But the research needs to be done to fully understand the problem-solution matrix.
I would argue that the 10-15 million households you’re talking about are either
a) in isolation within a community that does not foster a culture of soccer or
b) concentrated within a disenfranchised low income community;
and I think the latter is more problematic.
In Boston for instance, the raw talent and culture of soccer within the West African and South American communities is immense, but these communities lack the champions that bring the political and financial capital needed to support programming. So while the numbers quantitatively suggest that we should be producing more talent, we aren’t supporting an infrastructure that can effectively develop and identify players from these soccer families.
Gary Kleiban says
Josh, I agree. But only to a point.
I’ll take the microcosm that is Southern California as example. Without a doubt the vast majority of the best players here are latinos. And yes, most are low income.
Now, our pay-to-play system does filter out much of the talent, but what’s most interesting is that even when money is removed from the equation, there is still a bias against that type of player. Not in the sense of racial discrimination, but more of a soccer preference that does not suit the latino player. That, and I’m certain the clubs have an interest in not having the top teams without a healthy caucasian representation.
Very touchy subject …
I just noticed it was a very touchy subject about a year ago but let’s talk about it anyways.
I like this article by Paul Gardner: He states in it:
“Back in 2001, when I wrote of the USA being in denial as far as Mexican soccer is concerned, I ended that column with a suggestion: that, because I felt certain that the Hispanic presence and talent in the USA would continue to be ignored . . “then there is only one answer. The Hispanics in this country must produce their own leaders and set up their own national organization.”- Paul Gardner
Its time hispanic Americans, and for me personally African Americans to stand up and change the game. How did basketball change, when they started to create the better players and make it to the top. So how do we get these kids to the top without dealing with the crap of U.S. soccer, because we know they’re out there, we need to make it happen
Gary Kleiban says
It needs to happen on both ends Kephern.
All of us at the grass roots level need to get organized, bigger, and louder
We need real soccer leadership at the top that will hire the best coaches and fire the inept ones we currently have, all while maintaining/growing the financial health of US Soccer.
STEP #1: Education of the soccer masses (this includes most perceived authorities). This is our biggest hurdle. They just don’t know.
then we should start something, nationwide, find like minded leaders in the soccer community start to change how we do things. I’m a little familiar with basketball AAU they inner city programs made and trained their own and now they dominate basketball. UNC and UCLA’s know they have to go these programs for talent or they don’t have a chance to compete If you get a big enough base together and show the success i.e. pro contracts overseas, college scholarships, maybe some MLSer’s (its getting better but still not where it could be).
The top will not change because essentially they make money, ppl get enthralled by wins like the women’s wc and makes it seem everything is ok, which means they don’t give a crap about changing anything because they are happy where they are.
So why don’t we become our own authorities??? I look at football and basketball structurally and these college to NFL, NBA programs cannot survive without these young majority black athletes in their program. Its true they can’t and they have to go through AAU programs, dads, moms, uncles, or street agents, to ge the kid. They control the opportunity at the top but not how the talent is developed.
We know we have Europe, Mexico, and South America as possible places to send top players. Heck even get a club together in Europe, with enough clubs supporting it we could get it done.
Pretty much until you show that you can be more successful than their system stateside it won’t change. Basketball proved it, Baseball in Latin America proved it and see who dominates those sports…
Sadly Kephern, you still believe Europe is the cure all for our problems. We’ll just send them to Europe or abroad! That will make them better! That doesn’t address the central problem. American players are all over Europe and have been for decades. We sent Jozy to Europe, right? We are talking about players developing at 3-16 years old. The grass roots level. Europe is irrelevant in this. It’s not their club’s job to develop our players. This is all about MLS. Guys like you have to realize MLS is the most important force in American soccer now. They pretty much determine if soccer ever succeeds here. A country simply cannot develop players without clubs in their top flight league doing it. This is the way it is done in South America and Europe.
When MLS starts paying huge money for young American players, then things will change. More Americans will start to push their kids into soccer.
NOOO SADLY STEVE, i know what i’m talking about being that i’m in contact with players in these so called MLS ACADEMIES BUDDY. The ones who are serious tell me that the players, staff, and overall organizations are not about developing talent. Its about the brand that’s it. I brought a kid to Europe just last month, and he doesn’t want to go back to his MLS Academy why??? The environment is not the same, the drive, the pressure, the experience you name it is not here. So how you going to tell me something….
Sorry Gary and Brian but I’m going to have to let this dude know right now!
Steve, players at 13-18 are not challenged here, a fact! MLS been around how long not one player is world class!!!! watch this academy right here:
Develop them and send them to Europe, Gervinho, Toure brothers, Zokora etc……
MLS is the most important force are you having a laugh, the game is in the suburbs unfortunately they are not driven to make it, look at the vid we are competing with the world.
We need to find hungry dedicated players and you keep thinking the MLS will make them want to do it, they are not even looking to develop top players its all talk. NAME 1 US player that the world is raving about right now??? None, so clearly the system ain’t doing nothing when compared to the rest of the world so shut it!!
So Gary and Brian thank you for helping the first american to make Barca’s academy, sending your players to Argentina and around the world, you are part of the solution!
Steve that comment lets me know you do not study sports in the U.S. “They pretty much determine if soccer ever succeeds here. ”
Basketball where is the talent coming from?
Football where is the talent coming from?
Soccer where is the talent coming from? and who develops them, the MLS does not and until they make 1 player you can take that dumb comment and read up on some stuff. Just check out Brazil, the people came together, to make the clubs like Vasco de Gama and Santos, not a franchise
Culture is the main part of this argument, get the latin youth opportunity and let them shine and influence the club, make clubs from the hoods and then you will see world class talent, and stop thinking a big organization who is only about money is going to create world class stars, because not one NBA, NFL, NCAA or MLS has ever produced one world class talent from the youth ages, I’m really interested to see if the MLS can at least make one!
I’m thinking a “Divide and Conquer” Strategy….not saying this is a race thing either, just like back in the day they didn’t let certain types of ppl play bball but they went out on their own. Here’s exactly the route we have to go.
Football arrived in Brazil in 1894 courtesy of two relatively unassuming Britons, Charles Miller and Oscar Cox. Such was the very British nature of football’s beginnings in Brazil, the Anglo-Saxon approach to the game was always destined to be woven into the soul of futebol in South America’s largest country.
In the early days of the game in Brazil the British “way” of playing was very much in evidence as the dominant approach. Methodical tactical planning, rigidity, even, in combination with direct build-up play characterised the performances of clubs such as Fluminese, their personnel almost exclusively consisting of the sons of Brazil’s European social elite.
However, as the European influence in the country began to fade, there followed a radical democratisation of football, it became the game of the people. Brazil began to shape football in its own social image. Clubs borne out of the working class emerged, Vasco Da Gama, for example, won the national championship with a team full of native black players and members of the white working class.
As a result, the way football was played in Brazil was transformed forever, the English approach was largely replaced with the flamboyant style we all now associate with those who pull on the canary yellow shirt.
Now is that not the EXACT description of the US of A! Sorry man I know we don’t need them, we need each other to support what we want to do!
I am a hispanic Father of a great player. I do see that , because my son is a small player, he has to go the difficult route. He is smart, has the dribbling, the posession the passing etc. but, when it comes to opportunities on the field, coaches want to match size to size (like in American Football) not skill to skill.
Poor English mentality that will keep the US program below soccer poverty standards.
Gary Kleiban says
Pleasure having you here Gerard!
Hey isn’t that an English player? 🙂
I’m exactly the person whom you speak about. Twelve years ago I know next to nothing about soccer, except my daughter was about to start playing, and I was being wrangled by my neighbor to be a U6 coach. It was only five years later that I realized how totally inadequate I was to that task. By that time I realized that the education of my children in the game was best left to others who could excel at the skills I could only try to execute.
In those five years I did the best that I could to learn everything I could about the game. I put a great deal of effort in to figuring out how to be a soccer coach. In retrospect, I really under-appreciated the necessity to focus on fundamental ball skills at those young ages. I was probably the kind of coach that Gary rails against. The problem is the lack of willing adults to coach the young age groups. Finding enough skilled coaches to provide a proper skill foundation is a massive problem. Perhaps we need to enlist those legions of young adults with skills working under the guidance of older adults to provide an appropriate environment. Eventually, we might have enough parents who actually are suitable to coach.
I began to really love the game. I had been an athlete growing up playing (American) football and wrestling. Soccer was a foreign sport and not to be trusted. Since high school I had become increasingly disenchanted with American sports, and the increasingly shallow nature of the game as propagated by ESPN. American football has been warped into a bizarre gladiator sport played by mutants. Many players are utterly grotesque, and while extremely agile for their size are physically repulsive.
Soccer offered something fresh with true athletes possessing excessive skill, and extraordinary fitness. The game is global and complex with many interesting competitions. It has tactical nuance and subtlety. Players with imagination and guile are incredibly successful. It is everything American sports are not. American sports are blunt and straightforward relying mostly on speed and strength. No wonder the United States National team is most well known for a style of soccer that draws upon those American characteristics.
I read a story about Jerry Rice and how he started practicing football in high school. Through talent and hard work he became one of the greatest ever. Inspiring stuff to be sure, but if he played the other kind of football, the story would have ended much differently. Soccer requires the development of basic skills much earlier, and the American Jerry Rice’s of soccer cannot happen. The problem with soccer is that it does not follow the American model (when it comes to skill, baseball is a closer comparison).
So I have left my children’s soccer education to others who know the game better. I learned that a soccer player’s skill is honed by intense and dedicated practice. It is this that I have given to my children, taking the age- old tradition of having a “catch” to have a “kick”. I would offer myself time and time again to practice passing, striking and receiving the ball. Allowing repetition to help build a skill to be relied upon. My son has taken this to heart and works daily on his skills. I am most proud that he is known as an intelligent and skilled player.
The culture issue in the United States takes a step forward. Insofar as soccer is concerned, my grandchildren will have advantages my children did not.
my guess is that you are part of a very small minority and that the majority of people in this country who see their children choose soccer don’t make any effort to understand the game. instead (as proper americans) they just assume that the game can’t be that hard and that their immediate assumptions are right. then they go to games and yell and scream, stuff like…”RUN!” “SHOOT!” “SCORE!” with out any real idea of what is going on.
the game here needs more people like you and a wide-spread movement, not just to be passionate about your team (ie March to the stadium, cut logs when your team scores, and outwork everyone) but to understand the history and the varying styles of play and the intricacies that make it the unique experience it is.
your american football insights are interesting but i must take issue w/jerry rice comments. players at that level (regardless of sport) get there b/c they put in an extreme amount of work – but also, when you speak of those who are among the best ever, have a feel for the game that is almost supernatural.
Your description of American parents seems spot on although I’ve noted that as kids get older, the parents get smarter (especially evident when refereeing games!).
The Jerry Rice vinnete comes from the book “Talent is Overrated” another discussion of the “10,000 hour rule”. His story isn’t all that different from Michael Jordan’s. Both men have World class talent combined with World class work ethic. I have seen this own life. Two men I played high school football with made it to the NFL. One was the best raw athlete I have ever known (6’1” and a 4.3 40), and he had a short undistinguished career (but a super bowl ring, never actually playing). The other guy had great talent, but intelligence and work ethic to boot. He started for eleven years although never getting the ring (since he was in the same division as the 49’ers under Joe Montana throwing to one Jerry Rice!).
It’s the combination of work ethic with raw ability that the book was highlighting, but the duration of their devotion to excellence is shorter than the great soccer players. I am unaware of any World class soccer player who only became serious about the game as 15 year olds. This is the point about soccer, you simply cannot pick it up in high school and expect to be World class. This is probably because the motor skills necessary to execute technique need to be learned when the brain is younger, and the teen brain is too developed.
If anyone knows of a 15 year old who picked up the game and became World class, I would love to know about it.
that is valid point. the technical ability associated with being a world-class soccer player doesn’t really compare to football at all.
don’t confuse a knowledge of the rules of the game with knowledge of the game itself. the rules of the game are pretty short but the history of the game spans decades and continents.
Gary Kleiban says
Bill, you brought something to my attention when you wrote:
“I was probably the kind of coach that Gary rails against.”
If you were entrusted with teams and players in the top flights of youth soccer, then yes, I’d be pissed off.
It is those guys who are gatekeepers to the player pools at the higher levels. And it is those guys most responsible for the refinement and polishing of our next batch of college/pro/national team players.
Point taken. I still think there are better people than me to take the reins of U6 and U8 coaching. This is part of the bigger issue. As the kids get older there is no excuse for not having knowledgeable, skilled and well-trained coaches.
Gary Kleiban says
BillR — Your comments about mutant American football players made me laugh. Great stuff! Agree with your Jerry Rice comment as well.
Gary — USA is large and is one of our strengths, but it’s also a weakness. Like going to a restaurant with way too many menu choices. Confusion, comparison, and second guessing leads to indecision or wrong choices. Small countries like Uruguay and Portugal need to almost take what they find and then develop them as the pool is so small.
There are high level and Academy clubs who are predominantly latino players. Aztecs and Nomads for example in SoCal. They also use scholarships. There are also numerous clubs in SoCal that get players from “lower-income” sector (not necessarily latino).
Clubs like Surf and West Coast get relatively high income families in SoCal, but SoCal has a good mix. I’m sure same is true elsewhere and the pay-to-play issue may be a generalization.
Coaches can’t work for free and USSF / MLS isn’t footing the bill. So we do in fact need to pay-to-play to large extent. And even if all MLS teams paid full ride, what about the other 99% of clubs? They need to pay for fields, insurance, coaches, admin, etc . . . . When coaches see good players who can’t afford, I’ve never seen or know of situation where some club or another won’t pick-up that player. Same is true for ODP.
I think pay-to-play is easy, overly used scapegoat.
Gary Kleiban says
I agree. We have lots of easy scapegoats.
PTP (pay-to-play) can be used as one, but it is a big consideration.
Since coaches have to get payed, the budget is definitely considered when making roster decisions. I’m not just speaking from personal experience, but with open discussions with other coaches and DOC’s of big clubs.
Now, some clubs or teams do circumvent this with subsidizing mechanisms, intense fundraising, or a sugar-daddy. And then of course there’s the MLS.
That is why I specifically didn’t focus on PTP in my comment above. Instead, it was more based on player preference – ‘raw athletic power’ vs ‘technical, creative, & intelligent’. Again a generalization, but one I know holds.
Juan Torres says
Thanks to all, I’m learnig a lot from your comments.
Power and money and the business models set up to achieve these two things is why the US does not produce any superstars or groups of outstanding soccer players.
The business model of youth soccer in Europe and the rest of the world is set up to financially reward programs who produce outstanding and therefore valuable individual players. They sell these players sometimes for millions of dollars- look at Ajax’s record over the last few years these player’s fund the entire program. The coaches are rewarded with continued employment based on the number of saleable assets they produce. Hence the focus is on individual player development and technique rather than team tactics to win a match. these players with their wonderful technique return to their “home” countries to make up their national teams.
In the US the youth soccer business model is quite different. The US business model financially rewards the organization for producing winning teams. Winning teams attract more players and the financial success of the organization is directly related to the number of players and the margin each player brings with him or her. The model is: Get big -the more players with the greater margin the more financially successful my organization will be. To attract the players they need a hook. Sometimes the hook is a well known coach (who only coaches the most successful teams) but most often it is a winning record and associated with that- prestige. So to be successful within their model the clubs need to win games. We know how that goes to ultimately exclude a little technical player in favor of athleticism.
You would think the USSF DA would help the US business model to be more successful. If you believe the hype, the USSF is not concerned about results in the DA. Yet the champions continue to be celebrated and firsthand knowledge tells me they DOCs continue to be very concerned with results. The DA should be the hook to bring in kids and top coaches. It alone should bring the prestige and results should no longer matter in the smallest kids age groups where the technical player is rooted. Results should not be important because the prestige is earned by the club in its DA status alone. The presence of DA affiliation should keep players (boys at least), read money, in the club no matter the results at U10. The coaches should be free to teach technique and possession even when inevitably in little kids, the possession breaks down and a quick counter attack by the precocious puberty kid on the other team results in a loss. But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.
Gary Kleiban says
Well written and I agree with you on business models Eli. I touched on this here:
And yes, contrary to the marketing, winning is certainly important in the DA.
The myth, however, is that lowering the importance of winning will take us to the player development promised land. The coaches here simply don’t have the capacity – they would need to be completely re-educated! And I don’t know if that’s possible.
In a word the missing element to US soccer is “sophistication”.
There is nothing that is wrong with current status of US soccer that cannot be explained by us being so young. We are almost 100 years behind the power houses of the world; Italy, Brazil, Germany, etc. Be patient, my friends, we are catching up fast. However, one thing that frequently gets overlooked is the fact that the international game evolves too. On the whole our system seems to chase the English style, then again many in-the-know crave the Brazilian style (especially new young parent coaches that played growing up but are not fans), and we at 3four3 all know that possession style (ALA Barcelona) trumps them all currently. Making it to the top is a moving target.
Howver, things like our large population, diversity of methodology, and the untapped inner-city resources are all attributes that will eventually define our style… but that takes time. Also, we should regard fitness, technology and sportsmanship as special US attributes that should set us apart once we catch up with the basics.
My beloved US still seems to be in a phase where it does not know how to value soccer participation. Is it just a pastime for our toddlers and youngsters? Or is it the most competitive thing on the planet?
The #1 thing that keeps the cultural value of soccer more like a pastime in US and less like all out war with a ball (like it is elsewhere) is a very basic misunderstanding IMO. Not being able to use your hands enhances a ball sport, it does not degrade it.
Because we are hands dependent animals this simple stipulation opens the door wider to determinants like team work, will, strength, speed, foot/head skills and, yes, to a certain extent luck too. However, by the same token it seems uninteresting to new-comers not witness the awe inspiring skill potential of a human hand on a ball; Tiger Woods backspin, Jerry Rice leaping catches, Michael Jordan fade away jumpers, Nolan Ryan 100mph pitches at age 40, etc. This is likely why international football as we know it was popularized because domestic handball (in whatever form) is boring. Have faith! Lack of sophistication is remedied with time and exposure.