I’ve watched a lot of football in the last couple of weeks on FSN and ESPN (along with Wimbledon and the Tour de France), see a couple of weeks off work have a bright side (and Tour de France every morning live!). While the big European leagues are in their off season there has been plenty of international games with the Woman’s World Cup (yes Karen, the Woman’s World Cup, how times have changed), the Under 21 and Under-17 World Cups, Gold Cup, Copa America along with a few MLS games.
A lot of interesting football played, some very impressive performances. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Woman’s team not too many of them have come from American teams. The 4-2 score in the Gold Cup final was somewhat flattering to the US, Mexico should really have had another couple.
The US Mens U-17 side lost to Uzbekistan and tied New Zealand 0-0 and the U-20 team never even made it to their World Cup loosing 2-1 to mighty Guatemala in the qualifying tournament earlier in the year. For a country that promotes it’s youth system as second to none these are very embarrassing failures and US Soccer president Sunil Gulati has to start by admitting there is s problem with the roots of the game.
The US has more elite level women than the rest of the world combined and needed other results to go their way in the final round of qualifying to get in. It’s 12 years since they last appeared in the championship game (and that was at home) and this year the opening game saw a very unconvincing 2-0 win over North Korea. Since then it’s got better with the last two games having some very impressive team wide performances and produced entertaining football.
In the junior ranks the Womens U-20s were knocked out by Nigeria in the quarterfinals, the teams worst performance in the tournament ever. But still better than the U-17 who failed to qualify for their World cup.
The US Woman’s team should be good and are performing OK, but anything other than a final appearance would be considered a disappointment. Other than I think it’s fair to say there are issues through the system, the first step is to get US Soccer to admit it.
I think the youth system is in deep trouble, there is a tiny trickle of players coming through. And those that do make it are not technically proficient. Look at the MLS, it’s a physical league and this accurately reflects a youth system that puts athleticism above skill. Winning cups at the U12 and U14 level does nothing to promote great players; the strict grouping by age gives those that physically mature first a huge advantage in the youth game at the expense of the pure skill players.
The few true skill players that come through (Agudel, Adu, Dempsey) the MLS ranks are the exception rather than the rule. Look at players like Messi, Tevez or Arshavin and I wonder if they would have made it through the US Youth system. They are skill players, undersized and because of this may have not have made it with the current setup in the US playing against bigger, more physical players.
If a player is good enough with the ball they should be allowed to play at the best level they can, not be restricted to their age group and that’s it. If a player is skilful enough to play a year or two ahead let them, it can only aid the development of the skill players.
One thing the US youth system does do is preparing kids for the college game. Once again it’s a fast, bruising style of play is reflected in the MLS. Again we have the strict age limits (18-21) in addition to limited technical coaching, restrictions on practice time and some strange substitution rules in the college game it does not prepare players for the top level game.
Compare this to the Academy’s in Europe, there players are prepared to play the way the club demands from the beginning. If a kid is good enough to play the next level then they will be challenged. They get good technical training, access to great facilities and once they hit 16 no limits on training.
Ok, so I think there are issues in the roots of the game. The MLS reflects the system that supplies it, and unfortunately the US Men’s National Team does the same. I think it’s time from Bob Bradley to go, players don’t look motivated or interested, are struggling against teams they should beat and according to whispered rumours in the media he’s lost the team. He inherited a very proficient and well drilled squad from Bruce Arena. But there seems to have been no development since then, they play in the same physical way while the best CONCACAF (the real opposition, the teams they need to beat to be in Brazil 2014) teams have tactically moved forward with a more passing orientated game.
The USMNT still relies on out-dated route-1 football with Landon Donovan holding everything together. There are few MLS players in the starting 11, most of the squad are European based, coming off along year and having to fly to the US for midweek friendlies 6 or 7 times in the last year.
Why not have the camps in Europe during the season? Plenty of other countries do, for precisely this reason, most of their players are based there. It’s not exactly out the box thinking…