The title of this post relates to the fact that the United States has failed to develop thoughtful, creative, dynamic, attacking minded soccer players. Now I know that this is a very bold statement. We have seen players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Christian Pulisic, and many more. I don’t want to take away anything from these players, and I rate them all very highly, but the reality is that they were developed outside of the American system. Dempsey and Donovan were before the USSDA (United States Soccer Development Academy) was in existence, while Pulisic started in it and jumped ship to Borussia Dortmund to continue his development. None of this is really the point though. I believe that this issue goes much deeper than a few players on our national team. I believe that the true fault lies within the philosophy that we are teaching our players from a young age.
It is estimated that 5 million youth players are active at some level every year in the United States. Out of these 5 million players every year one would assume that we would be able to produce a consistent group of players to compete at the highest levels of the game. To put it into perspective 5 million people is about half of the population of Portugal, the 2016 European Champions.
Who is Making the Decisions
The highest ranks of US Soccer are held by people who have never really played the game. Sunil Gulati, an economics lecturer at Columbia University, and now Carlos Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs parterre in charge of creating the environment needed to create world class players. How does this possibly make any sense?
We are Copy Cats
US Soccer has a history of simply trying to copy the ideas of others to find their own success. In 1988 France opened a national training center, Clairefontaine. France wins the 1998 World Cup. So what is the US response? The opening of the US Residency program in Bradenton, Florida. Spain wins the 2010 World Cup with their signature tiki-taka style of play designed around a 3 man central midfield within a 4–3–3 formation. The US response: require all teams in the USSDA to play a 4–3–3 with a focus on the tiki-taka style of play. Germany wins the 2014 World Cup. The US response: US Soccer hires the german company Die Mannschaft to audit each youth academy in the USSDA.
How can we expect our players to be creative when we cannot be creative enough to come up with our own path for development of our players?
Does Winning Really Matter?
Being American is a disadvantage in the argument about whether winning is everything. The American culture of competition teaches us from a young age that the only thing that matters is winning. In the words of Ricky Bobby,
“If you’re not first, you’re last!”
While this was said in a very satirical way it is only funny because we all know the truth: we are all brought up to believe this. Most of this is fueled by parents who failed to reach their own athletic goals so they push their children harder and farther so that they can try to relive their failed glory through their children.
This is the first part of how creativity in youth soccer has died.
What is the Role of US Soccer?
There is no question that US Soccer has a role to play in the development of youth players in this country. My question is this, “What should their role be?”
Right now US Soccer is in charge of the USSDA for both boy’s and girls. They believe that it is their job to develop the next US National Team superstar. What I find questionable about this is that USSDA is a league that has teams from all of the MLS organizations in it. US Soccer grades each Academy on things such as formation, style of play, number of players signed to homegrown contracts, facilities, training sessions, and many more things. While I do not disagree that a scale by which to grade an academy is a needed service, why is US Soccer doing the grading? If you are an MLS academy shouldn’t you be designing your training sessions for the sole purpose of developing players for your first team? If they find themselves on the National Team that is great, but the main job of any academy director is to place players on the first team.
This is just a scratch on the surface on this discussion so please leave your comments below. The point of this is to spur discussion. Please be respectful in your responses. This is the only way that change will occur.