Archive for the ‘US Soccer’ Category

Had the opportunity to sit in on US Soccer’s Regional Workshop a week ago and learn from the national coaches and national technical staff.  It was a jam packed four days of great information on the developmental pathway US Soccer has laid out for the youth in our country, how the coaching education pathway is changing and becoming more connected, and how to be a better individual coaches and instructors.  Below are my notes from Jurgen Klinsmann’s “state of US Soccer” presentation that kicked off the week.

Klinsmann (2)

REALITY

The state of soccer in the USA after this last World Cup cycle.  Klinsmann noted that the USA has not produced a FIFA top 10 player since 1990 (the modern era of USA soccer).  In that same period 15 different countries have reached the FIFA World Cup semifinals while the USMNT has only reached the quarter finals once (2002).  And the MLS has struggled to produce and success at the continental level (one CONCACAF champion in 2000).

The point is simply the United States struggles in player development.  In the modern era of soccer we haven’t produced a world class player out of the hundreds of thousands that come through our “premier” youth ranks.

OBSERVATIONS

  Couple of things that Jurgen has noticed scouting the younger generation of USA talent are related to technique and focus.  We lack players who have a combination of physical speed AND quality technique.  This is one of the primary reasons the USA lacks a dangerous push into the final third of the field.  And the other observation is we lack focus for 90 minutes.  Klinsmann pulled out examples on both sides of the ball for the USMNT where a lack of concentration resulted in allowing a goal or missing an opportunity to score.

KEYS TO IMPROVEMENT – COACHING

So how do we tackle these short comings in the next World Cup cycle and beyond?  Coaches need to obtain the top coaching credentials.  Does having an “A” License mean you are one of the top coaches in the United States?  Not necessarily, but according to Klinsmann it gives coaches credibility to the players and parents.  It fosters a culture where professionals desire the credentials laid out in our field to improve themselves and their teams.

Another key was to use all available learning platforms to teach and engage players.  This is a technologically advanced generation, and we need to keep up to engage them in every facet.  And we need to use these resources to connect with players and to get them thinking about the game.

Other keys that were mentioned; treating every day of training like game day.  Players need to train harder and more intensely. Coaches need to help players realize the importance of off the field attitude and behavior as much as on the field.  Areas like fitness, nutrition, sleeping patterns, and lifestyle all play a role in the development of a player.

Jurgen concluded that coaches are the foundation of player development, and we need to take our role in this process seriously.  We need to model and practice what we preach as coaches.

MY THOUGHTS

It was interesting to hear Klinsmann’s thoughts on the state of soccer in the USA.  I agree with several of his critiques; we do lack those difference makers, game changers, to break open a game at the senior level.  Our top level of talent does not play as many games in a calendar year as the other nations we are competing with internationally.

I believe US Soccer has made some great strides in player development with the introduction of the DA.  Having a system where coaches and directors must have the top licensing, and training is monitored and evaluated regularly adds to the consistency of growing the game.  But as always, there are some factors that are outside of our control. At the end of the day our best athletes are not making the choice to play soccer over American football and  basketball.  The geographical size of the country makes identification of top talent and playing good competitive games much harder than our counterparts.

The growth of soccer in the USA is definitely on the rise, and we need to keep it going in that direction.  We are better off than we were 20 years ago, but we still have a lot of ground to gain.

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With all the talk from last week’s announcement of the US 23 man roster for Brazil a lot has been mentioned about a new era of US Soccer especially with the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the World Cup.  A question was even raised about how good the senior national team is now compared to 1998 and 2002.

Here are some stats I found about the level of soccer at the senior international level.  I’ve divided international soccer for the United States into four distinct periods…

The Forgotten Era (1930-1950)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 0 draws – 4 losses (-9 Goal Differential); the obvious highlights are reaching the semifinals in 1930 after two shutout victories in the group stage before being eliminated by Argentina.  Another highlight has to be the victory over England in the 1950 WC Group Stage is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 0 draws – 3 losses (-12 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The National Challenge Cup (now the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup) was created in the 1913-14 season and the American Soccer League was reinvented as the professional organization in the USA during this period.
  • Key Contributors: Bert Patenaude is credited with scoring all three goals in the 1930 victory over Paraguay, and thus holds the record of the first hat trick in World Cup history.

The Dark Ages (1954-1986)

It’s not that we lost soccer all-together during this period, but it was mostly imported from outside of the USA.  This was made very evident by the lack of success at an international level for the USA and Team America finishing in last place in the NASL during the 1983 season.

  • World Cup Highlights: None, didn’t qualify once during this period in history.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 3 draws – 7 losses (-25 Goal Differential)
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 6 wins – 4 draws – 2 losses (+4 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The birth of the North American Soccer League in 1968 gave the USA it’s first viable and competitive professional league that lasted until 1984.  The Major Indoor Soccer League continued to carry the flag of professional soccer in the USA from 1978-1992.
  • Key Contributors: The New York Cosmos and owner Steve Ross fueled the game by bringing international superstars to the USA in the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Beckenbauer.

The Modern Reformation (1990-1998)

  • World Cup Highlights: 1 win – 1 draw – 8 losses (-11 Goal Differential); made the Round of 16 when they hosted the 1994 World Cup.
  • Olympic Highlights: Beginning in 1992 the Olympics became a competition for national U23 sides
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 16 wins – 2 draws – 3 losses (+20 Goal Differential); Won their first, and only championship during this period in 1991.
  • National Highlights: After the success of hosting the 1994 World Cup a new professional league was started in 1996, the MLS.
  • Key Contributors: Alan Rothenberg lead the US Soccer Federation as president from 1990-1998.  He was instrumental in hosting a successful 1994 World Cup and played a key role in the development of the MLS.  Bob Gansler also has to be noted for his ability to help lead the US MNT back to WC qualification during the 1990 campaign.

The National Awakening (2000-2011)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 4 draws – 5 losses (-4 Goal Differential); 2002 was a breakthrough year for the US MNT when they defeated Portugal and Mexico to advance to the Quarterfinals before falling to Germany.
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 32 wins – 4 draws – 4 losses (+48 Goal Differential); this run includes four championships and two runner-up finishes.
  • National Highlights: The MLS continues to strengthen in attendance, financial stability, and TV ratings.  In 2009 the US MNT finished 2nd in the Confederations Cup, their first appearance in a FIFA Final.
  • Key Contributors: Sunil Gulati, current president of USSF, hired Bob Bradley who led the US MNT to the 2009 Confederations Cup Final.  Don Garber’s impact on the national development of soccer as the MLS Commissioner since 1999 also must be mentioned.

Since the “Modern Era” of US Soccer (usually deemed 1990-present) the level of play and the pool of the national team has increased.  The team has become more and more competitive in international competitions where we have a realistic expectation to win the Gold Cup every two years and finish on top of World Cup Qualification every four years.  Just 25 years ago we were shocked to qualify for the World Cup in a given cycle, and now the expectation is to compete.

I’m interested to see where the  next era is going to take us in this country, and it started with the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011.  He is ushering in a mentality that the United States should play a more attractive style of soccer and that it must be fostered down through all tiers of development in the country.  The philosophy and methodology of our coaching education has seen drastic changes in the past three years along with the development of the MLS and other leagues in the USA.  Another factor that I think will be a key to the dawn of this new era for us is television.  Never before have we seen networks make such a financial investment in the game of soccer for the USA, and the recent deal between Fox, ESPN, and Univision with Major League Soccer for eight years could make an amazing impact on the culture of our sport.

Exciting times.

So the US MNT 23 man roster for the 2014 World Cup was announced yesterday afternoon and I’ve had a little bit of time to think it over.  I’ve seen the tweets and blog posts all stating their opinions on both sides of the debate.

Jurgen Klinsmann alone is the man who can give the clearest perspective, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from chiming in with our two cents.  However, I believe we won’t understand or appreciate the full impact of this move (positive or negative) until July 31st, 2018.  One of two things will happen; either we will be praising Klinsmann for his foresight and genius that led the USA to one of their best WC finishes in the history of US Soccer, or we will crucify him for wasting away two WC cycles and wondering what could have been.

As any fan of the US MNT I am extremely disappointed in the squad that we are taking to Brazil, but as a coach I do understand (or at least I think I do) the long-term perspective Klinsmann is taking into this tournament and what he hopes to achieve in 2018.

No one can argue that this is a roster for the future with the likes of Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and DeAndre Yedlin included.  And in 2018 we might be singing Jurgen Klinsmann’s praises for bringing in the team of the future so they could get WC experience early on.  The potential for future success is evident in this roster and it’s exciting to think that we might be on the verge of a new generation of players who will make quality runs in Russia and Qatar because they had the foundation of participating in Brazil.

The competitor in me hates to see us sacrifice this World Cup, but the coach in me sees the value and wisdom in building for better things to come.

It’s also hard to imagine the US MNT having success on the field without the likes of Landon Donovan for a generation that was on their feet in 2002 and 2010 as he streaked down the field and scored five World Cup goals.  But sometimes we need to put our ambitions for immediate gratification on the shelf and trust in the foresight of a coach who wants bigger things for the USA than a win against Ghana and a draw against Portugal.

Here’s to an okay 2014; and a GREAT 2018!

Brek Shea Deal All But Done

Posted: January 31, 2013 in US Soccer
Tags: ,

Stoke City has announced that Brek Shea received his work permit today and they are trying to push his transfer through by tonight’s deadline.  Definitely sad to see a player with such potential leaving FC Dallas, but I know it’s the best thing for his personal development and the continued development of US Soccer.  It’s been a good transfer window for USA based players going to Europe!  Hope it translates to an improvement at the International level for the US Soccer Federation.

http://www.stokecityfc.com/news/article/shea-work-permit-631504.aspx 

Interesting

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Major League Soccer, US Soccer
Tags: ,

I read this article published by the Wall Street Journal Jurgen Klinsmann challenges the mindset of US Soccer internationals and our soccer culture as a country.  It’s interesting because I’d have to agree with him in some respects.

As a country we’ve taken it as a personal challenge to be the best at almost every sport we attempt in international competition.  And for the most part we’ve found a way to be successful.  No one can deny our dominance in such sports as basketball, baseball, and women’s soccer, but look at the other sports that are not popular in the USA that we have developed to become the best.  We won a gold medal in hockey, compete in wrestling off and on, and have developed a successful culture in winter events like skiing.  So why not soccer?

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the USA when we look at participation, but we are unable to develop enough athletes to put eleven men on the field that can consistently compete against the top five nations in the world.  Given our natural presupposition to do what it takes to be the best at everything, it is kind of strange that we haven’t found a way to at least be a little more relevant in soccer.  Our biggest accomplishments in the sport since the 1930’s is a single win in the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup final appearance.  Our FIFA international ranking usually fluctuates between 15 and 30, when we are one of the largest countries in the world with shear number of kids participating in the sport.

Maybe we have become complacent when it comes to soccer.  When we are satisfied with a World Cup appearance and advancement to the knockout rounds are a successful campaign we might want to re-evaluate what success is?

I believe it’s okay to demand more from ourselves, and I think we need to start doing that.  We need to start demanding a higher level of play from our domestic league (after we start supporting it), and demanding more from our professionals.  We need to hold the national team staff to a much higher standard, and should be ashamed when our U23 and U20 National Teams are eliminated from qualifying!

Maybe it is time for a change? Maybe we need to find that “go-old American competitive spirit” again and demand to be the best?

Well, I’ve had a few days to reflect on the course and try to determine the highlights of the process.

One thing that really sticks out to me about the “A” license that I really enjoyed was the amount of quality feedback that we received on multiple occasions.  The instructors stated that the Federation was making an effort to teach coaches how to improve through the licensing process, rather than simply evaluating coaching ability.

For instance, the technical analysis review is something I’ve never seen before.  In the previous coaching courses I’ve participated in we conducted a match analysis, developed a training session based on what we saw, turned it in and waited for two months to find out if we passed.  Giving us the USA v. Guatemala game to watch ahead of time and then spending time to give us feedback on what they thought of our analysis was a big help.  Adding the match analysis as our oral exam also made a lot of sense to me.  As coaches we have to learn how to analyze a game and then verbalize that to our players.  Really thought this was a positive change to the licensing process, and it was added to all three levels of the residential schools.

The dialogue after practice training sessions was also a huge change.  In previous courses instructors have brought candidates in after every practice session and dedicated a few minutes to their thoughts of the session.  What areas could use improvement and what areas were good.  But the amount of quality information that we received (and maybe it had more to do who the instructors were) was a very positive experience for me.  I felt like every session analysis was a coaching seminar in itself.  The attention to detail and the things we were given to improve ourselves as coaches was a positive.  I knew exactly what the instructor was looking for me to change and areas he felt I needed to improve before the final assessment.

However, there were some things that I felt were lacking considering it was an “A” license course.  Although the instructors provided a lot of quality feedback, they were never around for interaction and discussion outside of the structured environment.  Every course I’ve attended prior to this one the instructors made a point to at least be around the candidates one or two nights throughout the process and made themselves available for conversation and just building a rapport.  The Federation has always been a little more distant than the NSCAA courses I’ve taken, but this was on a whole different level.

In general I was disappointed with the camaraderie of the entire school.  Our housing situation wasn’t ideal (candidates were spread out through a condo complex), and the candidates rarely saw each other outside of structured sessions and meals.  It wasn’t until the last couple of days that I really started to find coaches who wanted to hang out and dialogue about the course and the sessions.  The instructors were housed in a separate location, and never made themselves available to the candidates outside of the lectures and field sessions.  In previous courses I’ve found the interaction away from the schedule to be more valuable than some of the content covered in lectures.

Every course has positives and negatives, and overall this was a very good experience for me.  I learned a lot about myself as a coach, and I learned a lot about the game from the instructors.  The positives outweighed the negatives, but I would have to say it wasn’t my favorite course to date.

So this was the final push.  We tackled 15 candidates of the 20 on day 8, and had five candidates left on day 9.  I happened to be number 17, so I was second on day 9 which did not bother me a bit.  I don’t know if the candidates were extremely nervous, but I felt like the quality of our final training sessions as a course were not on par with where our practice training sessions were.  It was strange because several of us felt like the groups on a whole got better as the practice training sessions went on, and they should because later candidates are listening to the feedback that the instructors are giving and applying it to their sessions.  But it seemed that as a whole we took a step back in our final sessions.

There were some very good sessions, don’t get me wrong, but there were some mistakes that seemed to be pure nerves.  My final sessions felt weird.  I took the comments that my instructor made on my practice session and made a very focused effort to minimize the stoppages and coach specifics to what I saw.  I felt like I was leaving a lot about my topic unspoken, but I was much more brief than I was on my practice topic.

My over all personal evaluation is that I underperformed.  Based on how I did in my last few coaching courses (the “B,” Advanced National and Premier) I was very disappointed in my level at this license.  But I did my best to learn from the practice session and apply the comments he made to me, and I hope it was enough.

Now the waiting begins!  Two months before we start getting our results and finding out if we did enough to pass.  Either way I can’t be done learning.  Achieving a specific license is a great accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning.  As coaches, leaders, we can’t be done learning in our short lifetimes.  There is so much better that my players deserve from me, and I need to do my part by trying to stretch myself and grow as a coach and an individual.

Overall I thought the course was quality.  The instructors were top class with their insight and wisdom about the game.  There were some administrative glitches, and the housing situation hindered the social aspect of the course, but it was a good course.  Learned a lot from tactical sessions with my two roommates watching the USA v. Guatemala game over and over again.  We did spend some time as a course together outside of the USSF activities, and it was great to sit down with some guys and get to know them better as people and not just coaches.

A very positive experience for me, it was an opportunity for me to grow as a coach and a person.  There are lots of nuggets that I am going to take away from this experience and apply to my coaching career.

But first it’s back home to my wife!  Then catch up on work and classes, then maybe I’ll get a chance to evaluate the week more indepth.

This is the home stretch, and the end is in sight.  This evening we have our technical analysis interviews (the old oral examinations), which is part one of our pass/fail.

Since we worked so hard on Thursday to finish up the practice coaching sessions we got a little time to sleep in before we kicked off our lectures in the morning.  Jeff Pill’s lecture covered the development and use of possession.  He had put several clips together of the USWNT and clips from the 2012 FIFA WC technical report to discuss the different possession tactics that are being used in the modern game.  Jeff does a great job of organizing his topic and communicating the essential points.  You can definitely tell he is a teacher.

We wrapped the morning up with our last lecture of the course on fitness.  The staff brought in the director of the exercise physiology department at the Florida International University to cover this for us.  He did a great job communicating the demands of soccer, the reasons we do fitness testing, what to do with the results of that fitness testing, and application of the program.  Some of the information was a little indepth for a room of soccer coaches who work with club kids two or three times a week, but the information was solid and had a lot of application for a college level team.

The oral examinations were specific questions about the tactics we saw in the USA v. Guatemala match.  Several candidates had questions on flank play, defensive tactics of the USA or Guatemala, and my question was to describe how the Guatemala backline and midfield combined to get forward in the attack.  I thought it was a fairly manageable question, and I believe I passed the oral exam.  I think this application of a match analysis is a very good change in the Federation’s course.  Talking to candidates in the “C” and “B” licenses it is something that is being done for all three levels, although the games might be different.  The baseline for coaching is the ability to evaluate our players and determine what they need to improve on most to be more effective playing the game.

I was one of the first candidates to go for my oral exam, so I was done by early afternoon and I decided to take a little mental R&R for myself before our final field sessions kicked off tomorrow.  I went down to the beach, took a small jog along the shore, swam for bit, then had dinner at a small seaside cafe while I started putting my thoughts down for my final practice session.  My topic for the final is “Coach a team to produce crosses to score.”  I think this is a manageable topic that I can apply the comments Mark Berson made on my practice session.  I spent the rest of the night bouncing ideas off of my roommates and finalizing my session outline.

Tough day for me mentally.  The morning went by fairly quickly with candidate practice sessions.  We seemed to be running behind slightly so pushed the lecture to the afternoon block.  The lecture covered restarts and systems.  A good topic that could have had a lot of depth and content, but unfortunately we were on a bit of a time crunch and so we covered highlights and moved on.

What I really enjoyed was Paul Rogers sharing one of the USWNT pregame restart film sessions with us.  He specifically chose the pregame analysis for their match against Canada in the 2012 Olympics.  The breakdown of the opponent’s tendencies and how the USWNT would deal with them.  What the USWNT wanted to do to Canada on set pieces and why based on their past performances.  It was very interesting.

I kicked off the afternoon practice sessions with my training exercise, and I was just very unhappy with the way I handled the session.  My topic was coaching a team to defend deep and highlight which passes to allow and which passes to deny.  I had spent a lot of time putting the session together and making sure I had a majority of the coaching points on the outline, but I feel that I over-prepared in the end.  I talked to long on each stoppage, over coached the hypothetical scenarios, and I didn’t achieve the standard that I have established for myself.  The feedback from Mark and the other candidates was helpful, and I just have to do better with my final topic.

We completed all of our practice training sessions today, which allows us a day of physical recovery tomorrow, and a late start.  We had the night off to prepare ourselves for the oral examination based on our tactical analysis of the USA v. Guatemala game, and so my roommates and I watched it again for 3rd time and made up questions to ask one another.  Tomorrow are the oral examines, and the last two days are final testing on field sessions.  Almost there!

Content is starting to get pretty thin from a schedule stand point, but the instructor’s feedback and candidate comments are just as good as any coaching seminar I’ve ever attended.

The day kicked off with two field sessions led by Mark Berson.  The first was addressing possession through the thirds of the field.  I enjoyed how he handled this topic and used small restrictions to help the U18 IMG Academy boys recognize that short, quick possession is used to gain ground up the field towards an end goal.  I’ve seen a lot of teams who possess the ball for the sake of possession with no apparent purpose in mind, and Berson’s session always kept the end objective of scoring a goal in mind.  He followed up this session with a training on flank play.  Fairly standard session, but the coaching points were solid and they players improved their flank play.

The rest of the day was spent on practice coaching sessions.  Every day I grow to have a deeper respect for the depth of knowledge that Tom Durkin has of the game.  I know I must sound like a broken record, but the attention to detail, and his recognition of the small things that make a big difference is remarkable.  Listening to his critique of the candidates during and at the end of sessions is a coaching clinic in itself.  Rough day physically, we’ve been blessed to have IMG kids available for every session but for the afternoon we had approximately three girls available.  We were spoiled leading up to this point only needing three of four coaches per training session, and for this afternoon you could notice an immediate drop in intensity level as every practice session passed and old legs got heavy.  I really do enjoy playing and contributing, but I also recognize that I’m not in the best form I could be to help the other candidates out.

Tomorrow we begin with practice coaching again, with one lecture to finish out the morning, and then it is practice coaching all afternoon.