Posts Tagged ‘USA MNT’

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
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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
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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?

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.

The “American Style” of Soccer

Posted: February 17, 2012 in US Soccer
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With the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann as the head men’s coach of the US National Team there has been a lot of talk the last six months about finding the “American Style” of soccer.  It’s been a debate for decades in the United States, but has been something that Jurgen has raised to the forefront of the soccer community in the USA again most recently.  It’s an issue that I keep going back and forth on, and now with the announcement of the US Development Academy moving to a 10 month season we see more of a push for our youth to conform to our European counterparts.

What is this elusive “American Style” of soccer?  One side says it needs to have a Latin presence, another says it needs to be a counter attacking style, and with the recent hiring of Klinsmann we’re seeing a push for us to become a more attack minded nation.

First, let me preface this with a comment; US soccer as it is right now is not competitive enough at an international level.  Considering we are one of the most advanced nations in athletics as a whole with our progressive training, nutrition science, facilities, resources, and the social importance we place on athletics it is a wonder that we can’t be more competitive at this sport.  Our society is a ripe environment to foster progressive athletics, but we seem to have missed something in soccer.  Thus the continual debate over what exactly is missing and what we can do to catch up to the rest of the world.

Right now I am sitting in on a Sports in Society class that studies the sociology of sports, specifically in US society.  The arena of sports is not exclusive to the United States, but it is clear that our country has helped revolutionize athletics as a business and elevated the entertainment value of these games.  The professionalization of athletes to the multimillion dollar enterprise it has become was spearheaded by the US social structure.  Athletics, and athletes, have always been a major social structure in the world history, but never have we seen so many resources poured into games that are expressly for the entertainment of the masses.  Not only are athletes making a living off of this industry, but sports scientists, fitness trainers, nutritionist, sport psychologist, coaches, advertisers, agents, and even grounds keepers have full time jobs to keep this industry moving forward.  This is the world we live in, and yet we trail behind the rest of the world in this beautiful game.

Growing up in a country outside the United States I had the opportunity to see how the rest of the world views athletics.  In the European culture sports has become just as much of an industry as it has in the United States, but it has developed much differently than in the US.  During the industrial revolution we saw the development of sports clubs in each town that provided facilities and sometimes coaching for local residents.  They would pay their fees and participate in these sports clubs and would challenge neighboring towns.  As athletics developed these sports clubs became professional businesses and started paying athletes to come represent their club.  When sports leagues were officially organized they were structured around these sports clubs.

In the United States we had sports clubs at one time too, but the evolution of sports took a much different route in the USA.  With the importance of education and the role it played in our society we see colleges take the role the “sports clubs.”  The collegial environment of scholastic sports developed at the same time as our sports clubs for amateurs, and thus it has become a very important part of the fabric of our athletic culture.  No where else in the world can you find 20,000+ people paying top dollar for seats at a secondary school sporting event like you can in Texas on a Friday night.  It’s absolutely unheard of, and yet in our society there is something about the identification of a scholastic institution with their sports teams.

So how does soccer fit into all of this.  With the rise of soccer in the United States we’ve begun to see a shift in the direction our governing body, USSF, wants to take the development of athletes.  And, as mentioned earlier, there is a huge need for us to catch up with our counter parts in Europe and South America.  But my question comes down to this; is it right for us to sacrifice our culture for the sake of winning?  If we are trying to find a way to rival the world with an “American Style” shouldn’t we try and find the “American Way?”

Maybe playing for your high school or college team plays an important role in the development of competition and team spirit that playing for a club can’t give us?  The one thing I love about watching the US Men’s National Team is the confidence that we will never give up and we will fight to the last whistle.  We have that will to win, and that spirit to fight for our team and country.  Is this an important piece of the “American Style” that we might be cutting out by eliminating scholastic sports from the development of our youth?

Growing up overseas I didn’t see a lot of countries trying to change their development of basketball and track athletes to mimic our scholastic development system.  Even though I would say that we have been a forerunner in these events we don’t see a lot of European countries trying to adapt their sports culture to be more like the USA.  So do we lose something when we ask our youth to sacrifice this important cultural event so that they can be trained by the same coach for 20 of the next 24 months?  Is it right for us to force a social shift in this one sport?

And I speak from a limited point of view.  I’m sure there are other sports that I’m not aware of that have to got through something similar here in the United States.  But I see this debate raging back and forth all the time about the US Style and System, and what I’m really seeing is a push to be more like someone else rather than a push to discover what it is we can be.

Is there a way for us to play on the strengths of the US sports culture and incorporate the best of what we see happening around the world?  Do we need to sacrifice who we are and how approach athletics that has made us so competitive in other areas, because we feel at such a disadvantage right now?  Is there a way to find our true American Style in the way we have become so dominant in the other arenas?

Not sure I have all the answers, but I do feel like we are going to look back on these couple of decades in the development of this sport I love and wonder why we gave up our American way.  Maybe the best thing isn’t to keep sending our youth overseas and disconnect them from this great country and the social structure we have for athletes?

Something does need to change, but I’m not sure we’re going about it the American way.

Attending an International Game

Posted: June 13, 2011 in US Soccer
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A few months ago I wrote about helping my club, and college, players fall in love with the game of soccer.  One thing I noticed living overseas that we lack here in the USA is national pride in our national sports teams.  Growing up in a different country y0u learn quickly how important national pride is, and sporting events give a country something to rally around.

I think one of the biggest challenges in the USA is how large we are geographically as a country.  We feel disconnected and distanced from each other as states.  We have major pride in our local teams, no doubt about that.  When I relocated from California to Nebraska I had never seen an entire state identify themselves with one college team, but the University of Nebraska is THE football team in the state.  I wonder sometimes if our national pride is diminished because we are such a large country with some many sports teams (college and professional) that we only recognize international competitions when one of athletes from “our team” makes the national squad.

I wanted to expose some of my club and college athletes to this national team pride.  When the Gold Cup venues and schedule were announced I jumped on the opportunity to take a group down to Kansas City, KS for the USA v. Guadeloupe game June 14th.  I thought I would be lucky to get 20 guys to go down with me.  Instead I had a huge response from not only the players, but their families as well!  We are taking a group of 48 players and families down to the USA game from South Dakota!

I really believe, given the oppotunity, that families involved with the sport of soccer would become huge fans if someone would help them connect with some of these events.  If a small soccer club with barely 100 members in a small town in South Dakota can generate enough interest for 48 people to attend an event, what could happen at some of these other associations?

I think the key is exposing players and parents to the highest level of soccer available in your area, and make an event out of it!  I know the clubs in Dallas did this a lot by having a club night at an FC Dallas game, or a college game like TCU and SMU.

If the highest level in your area is high school soccer, get all the U10-U14 players to a game.  Take the U14-U19 kids to a college game in the state that offers a high level of soccer so they have something to aspire to.  And if you’re fortunate enough to have a USL, NASL, or MLS team in the state I believe we should make a big deal of attending a game and being a fan of that team.

Pumped for the USA game!  Pumped to see the first team in action this week!

On the eve of the 2011 season a lot of my players have been giving me a hard time. I love the MLS! I think it’s a huge privilege to have a professional soccer league in my country. My players on the other hand think we need to be supporters of European clubs to be real fans of this beautiful game.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching European soccer. I’ve been watching EPL, La Liga, and Serie A matches since I was a little kid. I spent part of my childhood growing up in Europe and Asia, and soccer was much more available on public TV than it was here in the USA. The quality of soccer in these traditional regions is undeniable (along with Latin and South America). But one thing I learned hard and fast growing up as an expatriot was a deep passion to see my country develop and succeed. Any international competition was a matter of pride. As a US citizen I had to rely on the summer Olympics, baseball and basketball to really come through for me. But something happend in 1994 that shaped my love for the US-MNT forever; we didn’t fair too badly! In fact, we out right belonged at the World Cup! I was able to hold my head up high around the neighborhood and not be ashamed of how my country men faired in the greatest competition of the world.

When I moved back to the USA I started supporting the MLS right away. Here was our chance to make an impression and develop the internationals that would challenge for World Cup glory. Sure it wasn’t as sharp and beautiful to watch as some of the soccer I saw growing up, but it’s OURS!

I still love to watch international clubs. Watching Barcelona dominate every match with beautiful team play and amazing ability is something you can’t take your eyes away from. And yet there is something about sitting in the stands of a professional soccer match here in my home country supporting a sport I love, and want to see grow from where it is right now.

We’re starting to make our mark on the world. The 2002 WC was another very exciting time for us, and whether you thought 2010 was a success or a disappointment the fact of the matter is we have higher expectations of our MNT than we did in 1994. We expect to make it out of qualifying as one of the top two teams in CONCACAF. We expect to come away with points out of our group at the WC, and we even expected our team to win the group and press on in the finals of the WC. This shift in our presuppositions has a big part to do with the development of our domestic league.

So what is our obligation to our home league? Do we owe it to the MLS to pick a team and sit through the season pretending to be a fan? WHY NOT? These boys are playing the best soccer our country has to offer (and I’m not one of them even if though I tried my hand at it). I’m coaching young, aspiring athletes and my dream is to see them play at our collegiate or professional ranks. What am I communicating to them if I don’t even watch it?

Why not be a fan of MLS? Doesn’t mean we can’t have our favorite teams in La Liga or EPL! But if we were real fans of the game wouldn’t we want the best in our nation to be better? And how can our league grow and expand if the soccer faithful here don’t even support it?

I really didn’t have a club in the MLS because I grew up moving around so much as a kid. California, Colorado, Georgia, etc. So when I finally landed in Dallas, TX I adopted FC Dallas because it was the first city I had the privilege of living in that had an MLS franchise. I attended as many games as I could, took my players to local SMU and FC Dallas games, and became a fan. Even though I don’t live there anymore I’m committed, and I make that known to my players. I still support PSV and Everton, but I make sure people know my first love is the MLS and our MNT. We need to start developing a national pride and support for our home teams. We need to be passionate when we talk about the USA WNT dominating international competitions. We should be sitting around TV’s on game nights supporting our MLS clubs like the American football and baseball fanatics.

The soccer culture in the USA needs to make this transition to become a real sport culture in our society. If we don’t have national pride and support for our own soccer, we’ll never develop the growth or the players to compete. And I believe it’s happening. Some of the clubs in the USA are really showing how local support is growing (FC Dallas struggles a bit though). Let’s keep it going! If you’re a citizen of the USA and haven’t found an MLS club to support I challenge you to adopt a team that puts even a small fire in you.