For those not aware, the Hermann Trophy is soccer’s equivalent to the Heismann.
So I’m scanning the blogs out there, and I came across the following comments on this post concerning the 15 semifinalists for the award.
12 forwards and 2 mids in that list. Seems like the trophy is skewed towards goal scorers.
To which Adam replied:
It has to be – there is no way that there are 5 people in this country who can honestly say they’ve seen each of these kids play numerous times this season to really get an idea of who is the best player, therefore they have to go off of stats. They even make an attempt to incorporate D1 coaches as if that’s a “fair” way to do it. In reality, D1 coaches only know where their players fit in with other teams in their conference. Have any of these semifinalists been on the same field in a game together this year? If so, how many times has that happened?
It’s an inexact poll – take it for what it is. It’s not like the Heisman where every game is televised and every person with a vote at least has the opportunity to see every single player in every game.
Well, they’ve both got it right of course. Stats rule here. And if or when there’s a player with less than stellar numbers, pedigree and hype are what work. It’s just the way it is. Even ‘extra-soccer’ factors sometimes come into play. Ever notice, had experience with, or suspected how seniors get sympathy votes or awards?
It may not seem like much, but all these things serve to undermine who makes it to the professional ranks and who doesn’t.
Take Creighton striker Ethan Finlay. This year I’ve watched 14 of their games and I can tell you with zero doubt that he isn’t even the 3rd best player on that team! My opinion of course. But it is glaringly obvious that the boy can’t finish. Yep, with 14 goals to his name I’m saying that. You don’t have to be an elite striker to put up that stat on this Creighton team. He also struggles tremendously to take a player 1v1, can’t hold possession when receiving as a target, and is generally a poor decision-maker.
I’m sure he’s a fantastic human being and he definitely works hard on the field, but one of the best 15 players in the country is ridiculous.
That’s the state of affairs.
With 203 D1 teams, little televised coverage, and little college soccer analysts, what can we expect?
The box score rules!
Let’s face it, even if coaches etc. did see more games the box score would rule, very few people tend to know talent when they see it. The trend I am seeing in the American game is one that I don’t know whether to be mad about it or excited about it. Whenever you talk to coaches, they talk about how they value skill and possession over athleticism, they like to have the ball and they have fliar, 90 percent or more of interviews with an american coach that I have seen have said this. When you go to youth soccer club sites everywhere you say player development over winning, and how they want to develop more technical, skillful, and creative players. This is a good thing obviously, but at the same time, if everyone in the country is saying this why is the same garbage soccer being played and why do useless big dumb animals continue to be selected?? Are coaches and staff and media etc. saying this because it’s one of those “key words” or “cool things to say” with the dominance of Barcelona, and either a) they say it because they think that’s what people want to hear and it will draw them in, even though they have no desire of changing or b) are they just absolutely clueless about how to change and aren’t aware that they are still not making progress to playing a better quality game of soccer? Hearing the right things being said is nice to see, but at the same time watching the end product that is being put on the field continue to be the same old crap almost makes me angry like they are lying right to our faces because they know what we want to hear. Just wanted to see what your thoughts are on that. By the way the updated site looks great!!
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Kevin! And thank you sweet Jesus that someone else recognizes the difference between “development” (the lip service), and “development” (the real thing).
I don’t think that people are necessarily lying when they speak about development, and their intentions regarding it. They simply don’t know what they’re saying or doing – it’s amateur hour.
And a coach or pundit can’t change from one day to the next. It’s not a switch. It’s an entire philosophy. Something that will take a ton of time and re-education.
I think Iniesta’s El Clasico performance says it all about what should be valued in soccer, where stats don’t show that he was absolutely the best player on the pitch with a magical performanance where he had no goal or assist but everyone i talked to were raving about him!!! I don’t really pay attention to college but maybe there’s a reason I only scored 4 goals in a four yr career but got an opportunity in Netherlands and they said i was good ha My teammates in college were like “wait you only scored four goals” guess that explains the thinking here in the states.
Gary Kleiban says
So sad I watched it on a crappy espn3 stream. I couldn’t appreciate anything! Oh well, my bro’s got it on DVD so I’m sure I’ll see it again.
But yeah, I’ve heard that before … “he’s only got x goals and y assists”. Well, when you don’t have an eye for quality, what can you do? Oh I know … you end up thinking Conor Casey, Brian Ching, and Wondolowski are fantastic.
Gary Kleiban says
Oh and about Iniesta.
If he was a 21 year old American, 10 out of 10 times our coaches would choose Brek Shea instead. Yes, yes, not provable of course and probably not believable to most. But if you’ve been deeply involved in the game for a long time and share the philosophy of the world’s greats, then it would be obvious. You would have experience year over year, selection after selection, age group after age group.
Ha! We have a current example right now with college soccer. Ethan Finlay (think something worse than Brek Shea) is now 1 of 3 finalists for the games highest award, while Kelyn Rowe (a baby Iniesta), isn’t in that conversation.
Jesus, only in America could it be said without everyone around falling on the floor hysterically laughing that Ethan Finlay is a better player than Kelyn Rowe. I had mentioned before that I thought he was being over rated in the u-20’s, I’d like to be able to see those games again now because you nailed it on the head this kid is special! He is playing a different game from everyone is and is a men among boys, in the final 4 game, where he is subbed in!?!?! he was superb, never loses the ball, always makes good decisions, he glides around the field getting on and off the ball with ease, can run at players and take them on as well as keep possession, every ball is perfectly weighted, and the goal he scored was pure magic to play a dynamic 1-2 on the top of the 18, split two defenders and then bury it, that is a goal of a special player not these MLS goals of the year that are stupid wonder strikes from 40 yards. Before I get to excited though, it’s hard not to worry he won’t just rot on MLS benches with other potentially class players such as Ampai which Casey, Shea, and Wynne play every minute.
The list of top 100 prospects show another reason we are behind. Here the descriptions:
An exceptionally quick forward that can also play wide midfield. He’s got a nose for the goal and a powerful shot.
Tall, strong fast right midfielder with good crosses and hard on the ball.
I don’t know the guys or seen them play so i don’t bash them for that, the question is with those descriptions of most of the players it seems to be a little skewed towards the fast athletic being the only prerequisites to be considered a top player for the draft. I’m sure there are some talented players on the list but we must get a focus about what we look for in players and evaluate them accordingly so the general public wakes up and see what a real soccer player is!
Great point Kephern. I think what you describe is common in most soccer media outlets in the U.S. (including most of the blogs-I saw something similar on Soccer by Ives recently). The soccer press in the U.S. analyze the game using an american football vocabulary and value system which, in my opinion, stems from the ability to inflict violence as its root. That’s the NFL’s big selling point: watching dudes have a few months chopped off of their life expectancies every game. The sensationalism that follows from the violence of the NFL is a journalists/pundits dream. I think the soccer press (and at least some within the MLS leadership) take a lot of cues from NFL culture/journalism and would like to see soccer in the U.S. take on an identity more like the NFL (EPL/SPL etc…) as opposed to emulating consistently successful soccer cultures/systems like Spain, Argentina, Holland that are more subtle or less visible.
As it becomes more and more obvious that trying to play soccer like American Football is a recipe for mediocrity (U.S., England etc..) and that the skillful/tactical approach is, and always has been, more likely to produce consistent success, the questions becomes when (or if) U.S. soccer pundits/coaches/league executives will get a clue and stop talking about/evaluating players like they’re going to try out for wide receiver or start MMA training if this whole soccer thing doesn’t work out.
It really speaks to putting out a product that satisfies customers. MLS is almost unwatchable due in part to the “bigger, faster, stronger” mentality of MLS coaches and front offices and hyped up by journalists. On the other hand, I go back and watch months old Barcelona games on crappy ESPN3 feeds because of how entertaining it is to watch–like a song that I can listen to over and over again and never get tired of it.
Thankfully, I think some people get it and are becoming more influential especially at the college level. Really excited to seem the teams that Caleb Porter puts out for Olympic qualifying. UCLA and Creighton (despite the ugly game against Charlotte) were both more entertaining to watch throughout the tournament.than any MLS game I’ve ever seen. Makes me think that if you just took one of those teams and “promoted” them intact to MLS you’d probably have a more successful team both results and attendence wise than many current MLS teams.
Gary Kleiban says
Yes, yes, and yes.
It’s kind of wierd though isn’t it? Aren’t these bloggers/journalists/whatever trying to be legit soccer people? They certainly think they are. Why would they go against the international standard? I know … cuz they haven’t a clue what that is.
Jacques Pelham says
I think it’s part systemic in that most journalists in both new and old media trade off of access and familiarity with those in power. It’s a big part of the business model. The other part of that is laziness–why think for yourself and argue for the greater good when you can make a living quoting “sources” about the upside of some 6’5 college centerback who can’t trap or pass? It’s depressingly American: look the part long enough to where people start thinking of you as an authority because you’ve been around longer than the other guys and the big names will return your call. To make an analogy: guys like top drawer soccer are the David Broder’s of soccer journalism while sites like this are the zero hedge or naked capitalism. The former has no commitment to bettering the sport, they just want to be invited to the right parties and have twitter conversations with Eric Wynalda. It’s the same reason there are D.C. finance/political journalists still defending/admiring bank CEOs and finance players who should be in jail.
Gary Kleiban says
For those who truly know this game, I follow your argument. We have felt the pressure ourselves. And we actually hold back quite a bit of information / opinion. I don’t know where to draw the line.
But I think in the vast majority of cases, these writers actually believe their garbage. They genuinely believe the opposite of what this site says. They think Brek Shea has international written all over him, and Finlay is top shelf.
99.9% of soccer blogs out there aren’t making any money. There’s no business model there. So I can understand the few Sports Illustrated and Topdrawer soccers out there. But everyone else?
Oh I agree. The analysis is generally terrible and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of intellectual curiousity in discovering what makes more succesful soccer cultures tick. Some people just dig the more violent, physical side of the sport and I’d argue that there are some masculinity projections/stereotypes that get wrapped up in that. I think in most cases It’s a feedback loop of the weirdness of American culture combined with insecurity and lack of quality exposure to alternatives (with a little bit of subtle racism/xenophobia mixed in).
With regards to invidiual player evaluations, my question is whether college/pro decision makers actually regard those journalists as credible sources of analysis/information. I don’t really have a problem with people supporting guys like Shea trying to go for Europe. I think it’s a net positive for the U.S. no matter what regardless of my opinion of his playing skills. But do you think guys like Joe Mauceri and Ives Galarcep really have influence with MLS coaches or European scouts? To me that’s really the issue: is the nonsense these guys are spouting off actually influencing decisions. I hold out some hope that it does not but I really have no idea.
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t know about those guys specifically. What I do know is that every country has their “king-makers and breakers”. And the media is huge part of that.
In the US, I think those things are still being sorted out. We’re in virgin territory – the wild west – and people are jockeying for position.
While I was reading this post, I thought “did I sleep write this?” In other words, it has lots of great points.
The USA’s sports culture is dominated by physicality, and the NFLis the prototype. This is where all the inane comments like, “what if Kobe, Shaq, Lebron, Randy Moss, et. played soccer? We’d win the World Cup every year” crap comes from. These comments only focus on the physical aspects of an athlete while ignoring the (more important for soccer) mental aspects.
This is the negative thing to escape from along with all the positives that this website is all about.
This analysis by the German Assisant Coach Flick shows how to analyze players in a game on Ozil and Khedira:
“From our perspective, he played a good game. I have absolutely no understanding why others have negatively assessed him,” Flick told the DFB’s official website.
“The movement he showed, his passes, his reception of the ball, his ball-control and his IDEAS – all these were very good. It must be said, however, that Barcelona after the equaliser managed to close down space very well when Real were in possession of the ball.”
Flick also analysed the performance of Sami Khedira, another German international for Madrid, who replaced Lassana Diarra with just under half hour to play.
“For him as a defensive player, it was hard to put emphasis on the offensive. I think he played to his strengths. He organised the game and fulfilled his tasks well,” he added.
This is a more accurate analysis than anything that Lalas has ever said lol! Nothing of what we hear here, when i hear them talk about U.S. soccer saying we should play 442, well why, what’s your reasoning, do they understand 4-3-3 is actually 3 attackers compared to 2? It’s a cop out i always hear in British punditry about Arsenal, they should stick another striker up front, play it up to him, and “get up in em” lol, horrible,
I’m going to need England to go on collapse on the world stage again in the Euros to “zip em up”(ha bad xavier v cincy brawl reference) ha
I’m a little confused here. No one can argue that Barca is the best team in the world and also play the most attractive football. That said, why is the EPL considered the top league in the world. The majority of their teams play very fast and very direct in many cases. it is certainly considered the most ‘physical’ league as well. (Personally, I think barca would have a hard time winning the EPl given their style..but that’s another post.)
Are Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, etc. etc. not “athletes”? Of course, so are Messi, Piquet, Abidal, Puyol, Busquets and even Xavi and Iniesta. Most of these (Barca) players have been around each other for a while. Plenty of team chemistry.
My point is, it takes different types of players to win games. A team full of Xavi’s and Iniestas and messi’s likely won’t win major trophies. Gotta have the ‘athletic’, physical players too.
So, where does that leave us when identifying the best players?
Obviously, technique and brains are the foundation for developing players. I get that and so do most of the people reading this blog.
But, I’m also a big fan of getting stuck in (legally) and physical defending in general. So, based on a player’s position, all of these characteristics come into play. How many slow, 5″6 central defenders play professionally?
Not bloody many.
I think stats are simply a starting point/frame of reference when evaluating players. Unfortunately, Americans tend to look at the lowest common denominator.
frankly, I’d rather see more people using comprehensive data (depending on position) to evaluate performance. As opposed to being totally subjective.