March 29, 2007
Youth Soccer Turf War

By Mike Woitalla

Do players benefit when an increasing number of organizations compete for a piece of the American youth soccer pie?

''National youth championships in the USA are the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard in my life,'' says Horst Bertl, the Dallas Comets longtime director of coaching. ''Whoever thinks these up should be stoned.''

That would take a lot of rocks, as recent years have seen a flood of new competitions promising national crowns to children. Youngsters still in elementary school can now aim for national titles.

The granddaddy of the national championships is US Youth Soccer's McGuire Cup, crowning U-19 boys teams since 1935.

By 2001, USYS had national championships for six age groups for both boys and girls, from U-14 to U-19, the path to which comes through 55 state and four regional cup competitions.

US Club Soccer has the National Cup for U-12 to U-17 players, in addition to the Champions Cup promising the title of the ''best boys or girls club in the United States,'' and a regional Youth World Series from U-8 to U-13.

The Super Y-League has its 10 North American Finals, from U-13 to U-17.

There's the recently launched U-17 Red Bull National League. And now USYS, which also has a national championship for ODP teams, plans to launch a national youth league.

Why would USYS create yet another? Youth clubs already have plenty on their schedule, including showcase tournaments, not to mention old-fashioned league play in their community.

Larry Monaco, the USYS president, attributes the decision to ''listening to the marketplace.''

''More and more elite teams are saying we need another avenue for better competition and more competition,'' he says. ''We think we can provide a better product, and, to be quite frank, we have the national structure in place. We think we can provide a better, more consistent product.''

Bertl objects to national competition for fear of player burnout from extensive travel -- it's a huge country! -- and too many games. Including high school soccer, his boys play as many as 70 games per year. Some elite players who make national teams play up to a 100.

And in a youth hotbed like North Texas, Bertl says teams already play in a satisfactorily competitive environment. What players need is rest.

''These boys are still growing,'' he says. ''They need some time to be kids.''

Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer Director of Youth Development, advocates playing 30 quality games a year as opposed to 70, and playing more locally rather than traveling all over the place.

Jenkins says youth club coaches often agree, but ...

''The structure isn't set up for that,'' he says. ''It's much more set up to win and keep your job, rather than develop players.''

If they're not out trophy-collecting, the paid club coaches fear they'll disappoint parents and lose players to rivals.

''If you take almost anyone of the initiatives out there, whether it's a tournament, or it's a league, an ODP, whatever it is, as a stand-alone event, it makes perfect sense,'' Jenkins says. ''It's when you start putting one on top of another, or one next to another and another and another -- it becomes a real issue for me.''

When Bob Gansler was the U.S. U-20 coach, he said the USA was ''suffering from a huge case of tournamentitis,'' and cited a need for quality over quantity.

Nearly two decades later, Gansler, who has been U.S. World Cup coach, U.S. Soccer technical director and an MLS coach, remains convinced that increasing the number tournaments ''makes no sense.''

''Good players need good competition,'' he says. ''And, of course, you need some tournaments, but not the prevalence you have today, especially if they're set up for the wrong reasons û because they're cash cows.''

Mistrusting the impetus for launching tournaments is why Dallas Texans coach Hassan Nazari welcomes USYS's plans to create a national league.

''What makes a USYS tournament unique, is it isn't sponsored by any club,'' he says. ''There is no conflict of interest. And USYS has very good experience because it does the regional championship and they do the national championship, and you really don't question their motives.''

Others, however, believe USYS's motivation stems from a desire to prevent other organizations from entering what it considers to be its turf.

''They're continuing to attack everyone who's not USYS,'' says Gary Sparks, the Premier Competition chairperson of Southern California's Coast Soccer League, which has 1,900 teams, more than 180 clubs and more than 30,000 players.

When CSL affiliated with US Club Soccer and the Super Y-League, Sparks says USYS's Cal South tried to create a league to lure clubs away from CSL, even though CSL is also USYS affiliated.

''I don't know why they react like that,'' Sparks says. ''Maybe they don't understand it, and think our clubs are going to abandon USYS.''

CSL uses USYS to run its leagues within Cal South, for its national state cup tournaments, to give players access to USYS ODP, and Cal South offers coaching clinics.

US Club Soccer provides a convenient roster and registration system for clubs traveling to out-of-state tournaments. Super Y-League affiliation allows clubs to compete in its regional tournaments in a quest to reach its national championship, while the CSL Premier League doubles as qualifying play for the Super Y-League North American Finals.

Also, CSL players are eligible for the Super Y-League's ODP and US Club Soccer's id2 -- two programs that can lead to national team program selection.

''We like to offer our members all we can possibly offer them,'' Sparks says. ''It serves a great purpose to belong to all three because our members benefit from every single option open to young players in the United States.''

That US Club Soccer and the Super Y-League created alternatives to USYS ODP has been seen as a threat by some USYS leaders.

''I think there probably is a turf war, fortunately or unfortunately,'' Monaco says. ''Clearly there is competition, like in any marketplace. We just have to put out a better product. I hate to say it's like any business, but it is and we just have to learn to compete.''

US Club Soccer and the Super Y-League tout the advantages of their identification programs -- lower costs to players and less reliance on tryouts compared to USYS ODP.

''We feel by merit that we have a great national youth league, we have a tremendous national network of highly qualified technical directors and coaches involved with us to help the national teams [identify players],'' says Matt Weibe, managing director of the Super Y-League.

He believes USYS should be more concerned with serving its recreational constituency than competing with his organization, which focuses on the competitive clubs.

''USYS has served a great purpose for the game in the country for the last quarter century,'' Weibe says. ''They have brought the grassroots numbers up to 3 million. But their focus over the last seven years has been on less than one half of one percent of their membership [the elite players].

''Instead of worrying about elite-level players, and going out and formulating competing leagues to what we're doing, and spending 99 percent of their time on that, they should be focusing on how to get 3 million recreational players to 6 million recreational players.''

US Club Soccer, which sanctions leagues and tournaments including the Super Y-League, has a similar take on USYS and the state organizations under its umbrella û that by having to serve its recreational teams it can't provide optimal service to elite clubs.

''Now there's competition in the youth market,'' says Chris Baer, US Club Soccer's Midwest Representative. ''Previously as a competitive club you had one point of access in terms of your programming. What it gives now is an alternative and choices. Self-determination. More freedom.''

But US Club Soccer is also in the lucrative tournament business, creating more choices for clubs on where to direct their players' money. The more teams they entice, the more income.

As a result, clubs face an array of choices on where to send their teams - and to whom the checks will be written.

For Sparks, he believes his coaches won't see much merit in jumping aboard the new USYS national league. His clubs already have access to good competition. In other parts of the nation, clubs may welcome the new league.

For sure, American youth soccer now requires coaches to sift through myriad options and decide what's best for their players.

''I was fine when there was just USYS,'' says Biff Sturla, who coaches teams for Pennsylvania's Lower Merion SC and FC Delco. ''And it's fine that there are a lot of choices now. But it changes yearly and you have to do a lot more homework.

''We sit down before the season and assess all our options. Call other clubs and find out what they're doing. Then we decide where to send which teams. It is a turf war, but eventually the clubs figure out what's right for them. And when they get on the field, the kids don't know who's running the competition.''

(This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

March 28, 2007
MLS Aims To Make Its Own Stars

MLS clubs are taking a variety of approaches in response to the league's Youth Development Initiative, which requires them to have youth programs in place this year.

By Mike Woitalla, Soccer America Magazine

It's a system that is figuratively and literally foreign to American sports, but is now being adopted by MLS, whose Youth Development Initiative requires its clubs to field youth teams and gives them rights to the players they nurture.

Get the rest of this Soccer America Magazine article HERE!

March 27, 2007
YSF.com Coaching Course: Lesson 1

When children first become involved in organized soccer, the coach's job is simply to create an environment that gives the children a chance to enjoy the sport. It's such a wonderful sport that setting up goals and letting them play usually does the trick.

March 26, 2007
Words of Wisdom: Landon Donovan

''It's amazing to me that people put so much emphasis on trying to be tactical and worry about winning when it doesn't matter when you're 12 years old. It's sad. That's something that's going to have to change if we want soccer in this country to develop.''

-- Landon Donovan

March 24, 2007
'Play first, win later'

By Mike Woitalla
(From the October 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine)

Claudio Reyna, the veteran of four World Cup teams played top-flight soccer in Europe longer than any American in history.

Born and raised in New Jersey, he was coached first by his father, Miguel, who played pro ball in Argentina.

''My father's coaching philosophy was, 'Learn to play first, learn to win later,''' says Reyna in his book, More Than Goals: The journey from backyard games to World Cup competition. ''He would rather us play well and lose than go out and play ugly and win.''

When he and his teammates were about 10, Claudio says his father encouraged them to string passes together and heaped praise upon them when they were able to keep possession. He didn't mind if they lost to teams that depended on booting the ball to a big boy up front.

''Playing possession soccer would pay off in the long run, even if it doesn't get results at the youth level,'' Reyna says. ''He knew that when players advanced to higher levels, the direct, long-ball approach would become ineffective, because it's a predictable strategy and it becomes especially futile when the team no longer has a size advantage.''

In the pros and for the USA, Reyna has played attacking and defensive midfielder, on both flanks, on the frontline, and as an outside back. That versatility started early.

''My dad had us switch positions all the time,'' Reyna says. ''A lot of star players are only used in the center during their youth career. When they join a team that already has players to fill that role, they can't adjust to another position, and their career comes to an early end.''

Remember, It's Playtime

Taking the drilling and screaming out of youth soccer will make the game more enjoyable and create better players.

By Mike Woitalla, Soccer America Magazine

Let's take the approach so many adults bring to youth soccer to other children's activities.

Take a bunch of 6-year-olds to the playground, but don't let them scamper off to explore the different structures. Make them all line up and wait patiently to take turns on the monkey bars. If one of them wanders off toward the swings, scream at him.

Be sure to tell them exactly how they should climb. Yell at the slow ones to go faster. While they're hanging from a bar, shout at them to ''grab the next bar!''

At the sandbox, don't just let them start digging around willy-nilly. No building mounds or castles until we teach them the proper way to hold the shovel. Line them up for the shovel drill and don't forget to yell, ''Dig, dig, dig!''

After 50 minutes of instructions on the various aspects of proper playground usage, give the kids 10 minutes to play.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? So do these scenarios, but they're real and all too common:

A 9-year-old dribbles downfield and comes to a screeching halt because his coach doesn't let defenders past the halfway line.

In an 8 v 8 game of 7-year-olds, two players on each team are forced by their coach to remain planted in front of their own goal. Wouldn't want to be vulnerable to a counterattack, would we?

A 6-year-old girl who started playing soccer a couple weeks earlier dribbles the ball toward the goal while her coach moves along the sideline screaming, ''Kick it into the goal! Kick it hard! Kick it into the goal! Kick it hard!''

And I'm wondering what it would be like to have someone four times as big as I am hollering at me while I try to perform a skill that is barely within my capabilities.

One of my favorites is the ''Spread out!'' scream. I hear this from coaches, directed at 6-year-olds. Apparently they haven't noticed that these kids can barely kick the ball more than five yards, so it's a bit unlikely that they'll be able to exploit the flanks and whip in a cross.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of youth soccer is the insistence on making young players do drills instead of just letting them play small-sided games, the way Pele, Diego Maradona and Ronaldo did when they were young.

In America, children start playing organized soccer three or four years before those guys did. That's the way it is, because in today's world they usually can't just go outside and play pickup soccer for hours on end. But that doesn't mean they should have to show up at a practice and be instructed as if they haven't left the classroom.

Besides the fact that, after obeying adults all day at school while planted in a chair, children deserve and need playtime without overbearing adult interference, children learn soccer from playing and mimicking others, not from instructions.

The Brazilian and Argentine players who delight us so much developed their skills playing without adults looking over their shoulders stifling their creative impulses and critiquing their ''mistakes.''

Said Juergen Klinsmann recently about the decline of German talent: ''Today all the youth soccer is played in organized tournaments, we don't have kids playing in the streets any more. But it's in street soccer where the real talent appears.''

So it would make sense for coaches to replicate the kind of soccer the Ronaldinhos of the world played when they were under 10. But there are youth coaches - lots and lots, I fear - who feel they're being generous if they devote a third of their practice to scrimmaging. I imagine a 6-year-old Maradona would have quit the sport if his introduction to it entailed doing the drills we make our kids do instead of letting him run around trying to score.

Of all the hundreds of successful American and international players I have interviewed or researched, they have had in common the fact that they played soccer as much as they could outside of their organized leagues - in their backyard, in their house, at the local park. They did so because they had fallen in love with the game.

The chances that children will develop a passion for the game are much greater if they have a good time playing it. And I can't imagine anyone with a soccer background will disagree that the most fun part of soccer is playing a game, with goals to score on.

And when children play mini-games they should be allowed to play as they please - explore the game and not be talked to constantly by the coach.
Above all, young children shouldn't be discouraged from dribbling.

Expecting an under-8 team to develop a passing game is like forcing little kids to figure out Rubik's Cube instead of letting them play with Legos.

Young kids can comprehend the concept of dribbling and they like to do it.
So they should be encouraged. After all, a look at higher levels of the game reveals what a precious skill dribbling is. We have far more good passers than good dribblers. Moreover, dribbling develops ball skills that will help players become good passers.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation is trying to send the message to youth coaches that ''the game is the best teacher,'' a favorite phrase of Manfred Schellscheidt, who contributed to U.S. Soccer's ''Player Development
Guidelines: Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States.''

Schellscheidt, the head of U.S. Soccer's U-14 boys development program, has won national titles at the pro, amateur and youth levels. Richie Williams, who played on Schellscheidt's two McGuire Cup-winning teams before winning college and MLS titles, described Schellscheidt's practices: ''Our training sessions were basically just playing.''

A key part of ''Guidelines'' are recommendations for team sizes and goalkeeper-use at particular levels, and which rules to apply or not apply - for example, 3 v 3 games without keepers for children under-8.

''Guidelines'' encourages coaches to create practice sessions that simulate pickup games, to organize less, to say less, to allow players to do more, to encourage the dribbler ...

One hopes that ''Guidelines'' will have an impact on the well-intentioned adults who run our youth leagues but sometimes forget that soccer for young children is playtime.

(This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

March 23, 2007
Words of Wisdom: Bob Jenkins

''If you want your 8-year-olds to win tomorrow, you're going to address that group differently than if you say, 'I want my 8-year-old to win when he's 18 years old.'''

-- Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer's Director of Coaching Education.

Landon Donovan: 'Always be with the ball'

By Mike Woitalla
(From the October 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine)

Landon Donovan didn't win titles when he was a boy, but, by age 23, Landon Donovan lifted three MLS Cups.

He won two in San Jose, scoring once in his first MLS Cup and twice in his second. Last season, he powered Los Angeles to the title with four goals and two assists in postseason play.

''Before my first MLS final, I thought to myself, 'I can't remember ever winning anything with my club teams growing up,'' says Donovan, 24, who has scored 25 goals for the USA and has played in two World Cups, U-17 and U-20 world championships, and the Olympics.

''It's amazing to me that people put so much emphasis on trying to be tactical and worry about winning when it doesn't matter when you're 12 years old,'' Donovan says. ''It's sad. That's something that's going to have to change if we want soccer in this country to develop.''

The Southern Californian credits his skill development on playing youth ball with a team comprised mostly of Latino kids coached by a man, Clint Greenwood, who ''was always focused on a lot of ball contact.''

Says Donovan: ''His theory was absolutely perfect: As a kid you need to touch the ball as much as you can. You should always be with the ball. You should have a feeling that wherever the ball is, you can do anything with it. No matter where it is, where it is on your body, how it's spinning, how it's coming at you, the speed it's coming at you, anything.

''You can learn the tactical side of the game later. We're Americans, we're athletes. But if we never learn at an early age to be good on the ball, then it's just useless.''

March 20, 2007
The Fruits and Flaws of ODP

By Mike Woitalla

Nearly three decades since the creation of the Olympic Development Program, the question remains: Are we finding the best players that this huge nation has to offer?

AN EXTREMELY TALENTED YOUNGSTER -- national team material according to his club coach -- has his parents drive him six hours to attend a U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP) camp. He trains some but ends up watching most of the games from the bench.

Quite upset about the whole venture, he and his parents agree it's a waste of time and money.

Another boy attends a summer camp hosted by a major university's soccer program. The assistant coach encourages him to attend Sunday ODP sessions, which the boy enjoys immensely. They lead to spots on the state and regional teams, and eventually the U.S. U-17 national team.

Such stories of disappointment and success have swirled around the U.S. Youth Soccer ODP since it launched in 1977 to identify players for the U.S. national team program.

In 1978, fewer than one thousand players took part. In 2005, more than 100,000 entered the process that starts with tryouts at a local level and leads to the national team pool.

USYS oversees its ODP while the four regions and 55 state associations create their own selection format and choose the coaches who will pick the players.

It's a multi-million dollar venture whose direction is dictated by administrators who must please the other administrators who elect them and the parents who provide the bulk of the funds.

Since its inception and up to this era in which the USA has more children playing soccer than most of the countries the U.S. national team competes against, doubts have been cast on whether the ODP system finds the best talent for the national team pool.

A chief concern is the cost. ODP fees and travel can add up to thousands of dollars per year for a player, especially when combined with the costs of playing club soccer. Imagine what American basketball or Brazilian soccer would look like if players from low-income backgrounds were shut out.

The reliance on tryouts has its flaws.

Throwing players together who don't know each other won't bring out the best in certain personalities or certain types of players.

Many of the coaches at state and regional levels are college coaches. ODP provides them a chance to scout and connect with future recruits while many ODP administrators unabashedly defend the high costs to parents by implying that college scholarships beckon.

The college game is different than international soccer. Is an ODP college coach inclined to advance the kind of players he may want to see on his campus over the player who, whether because of playing style or academics, isn't suited for NCAA ball?

During its evolution, USYS ODP has increased its demands on players' time. Regional teams travel abroad and to myriad competitions within the United States. State teams compete for a national championship.

So club coaches complain about having to give up their players to ODP events that conflict with their own ever-expanding schedules -- while ODP's advocates tout the kids' experience with other select players as beneficial to their development.

The standard opinion of American youth soccer coaches is that ODP has been very successful -- and that it has many flaws.

Billy McNicol, who played pro ball in his native Scotland and in the USA, was heavily involved in USYS ODP for about two decades, first as Region IV head coach in the early 1980s, then in Utah, Montana and Southern California. Players he advocated for Cal-South's ODP included Landon Donovan, Eric Wynalda, Joe-Max Moore and Jovan Kirosvki.

''I was around back when it was called 'state select,''' he says. ''I thought it was a marvelous, marvelous idea.

''Once they managed to get this title, Olympic Development Program, they found out very quickly that parents would pay $500 for a T-shirt, because that's really all it is. They went into the camp business instead of the player development business.

''Let's not talk about the handful who made it. Let's talk about the thousands who were overlooked.''

He finds the fees especially problematic.

''I had my days of standing before the regional committee saying please don't charge good players more money,'' he says.''''And the problem was you can still produce a pretty good team and make money. The teams they put out are not bad.''

But he remembers players he pushed for who others wished to leave behind.

''We had to battle to keep Eric Wynalda because they thought he was an arrogant SOB, and I said, isn't that what we want?'' McNicol says. ''We had to fight to keep Joe-Max Moore in the program. Joey was a very small, slight boy, a late bloomer, and we were getting hammered. He would have been dumped nowadays.''

To address the problems of cost, regions and states have created scholarship programs. Region I, whose ODP budget is about $2 million for boys and girls, sends $6,000 to each of its states to fund players unable to pay, and Region I director Bob Palmeiro says states contribute as well as, citing Eastern New York's $30,000.

''There's no inner-city kid or kid from a poor background that can't participate,'' he says.

''That's a misnomer.''

But youth soccer fees strain even a middle-class family's budget.

McNicol says, ''I'm sure every region has their token scholarships. The harsh reality is for every kid selected to represent the state, it should be a free passage. What were you selected to do? Spend more money? I don't follow that.''

Moreover, to obtain aid, a player and his parents must be aware of the opportunities. The question remains as to how far USYS has penetrated communities such as the Hispanic population.

Fortunately, there have in recent years emerged other avenues to reach the national team pool. The Federation has increased its staff of full-time coaches and created outreach programs, headed by coaches such as Juan Carlos Michia and Rene Miramontes, whose latest venture is to connect with Latin adult leagues in which promising Hispanic teens often play.

U-17 coach John Hackworth has a staff of four assistants who, aside from their duties at the residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., scan the nation for talent. Each coach spends a couple of hours a day communicating with club, regional and state coaches about players.

''We try to identify and scout the best players in the country,'' Hackworth says, ''whether they've played just pickup games or whether they're on the best club team or whether they're on the regional ODP team, if we feel they deserve to be in national team camp, we bring them in.''

Ten of the 40 players who are currently in U-17 residency did not arrive through USYS ODP.

''The Super Y-League has its own Olympic Development Program,'' Hackworth says. ''U.S. Club Soccer has their identification program. We look at everything we can.''

The Super-Y League launched its ODP in 2003 and differs from USYS in that players are evaluated during their club play, which helped Josmer Altidore reach MLS via Bradenton.

No doubt, USYS ODP can take credit for bringing the national team program to its current state. But elite clubs, showcase tournaments and private sector identification programs have created more options for younger players. They also present competition for USYS ODP, which encourages to improve.

The downside is the inclination for players to take part in too much. A recent survey of U-15 national team players who take part in ODP, club ball and other programs responded that they played up to 100 games a year and attended some 170 practice sessions.

Players (and parents) must be convinced that they needn't do it all.

U.S. Club Soccer holds id2 annual camps in which players only need to pay for transportation. A player could, for example, forgo the USYS step-by-step process and instead be seen during the U.S. Club Soccer combine.

U.S. Soccer also sends its coaches to major club events, of which there is no shortage. Yet another national championship was launched with the Red Bull League 17, which U.S. Soccer staff coaches will observe. Starting next year, MLS clubs will field youth teams.

The boy at the start of this article who gave up on ODP was David Arvizu. His Pateadores club coach, Bryan Wallace, convinced national team scouts to watch him in Coast Soccer League action.

Arvizu ended up at Bradenton and starred for the U-17s at the 2005 U-17 World Cup with David Nakazawa, the boy who went the ODP route after then-UCLA assistant coach Steve Rammel steered him there.

Another U-17 World Cup teammate, now with German club Mainz, was Neven Subotic, a naturalized immigrant from Bosnia, whom Hackworth spotted playing pickup ball in Bradenton, home of the residency program.

The net, imperfect though it may be, is larger than ever.

(This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

March 19, 2007
Manny Schellscheidt: A coach for all seasons

Manfred Schellscheidt, who has collected pro, amateur and youth national championships and now heads U.S. Soccer's U-14 boys development program, lets the game do the teaching.

By Mike Woitalla
(From the March 21, 2005 issue of Soccer America Magazine)

It was 34 years ago when Manfred ''Manny'' Schellscheidt became the first coach granted an ''A'' license by the U.S. Soccer Federation. He has since coached at every level of the U.S. men's national team program and is now thoroughly enjoying his role as technical director of U.S. Soccer's U-14 boys development program.

''These are the babies,'' he says. ''Most of them are only 13. They are so enthusiastic and excited. Our goal is to create a stress-free, comfortable soccer environment. It's all about playing, not about results or suffocating them with tactics and systems. It's just one step away from the playground.''

Schellscheidt welcomes more than 100 boys from around the country into camp each year, and from that group chooses about 36 to form two teams for a trip to Mexico to give them their first taste of international competition.

''There's plenty of room for the little guys, the late bloomers,'' he says. ''There's always a few who are physically ahead, but we look for the guys who have something going on upstairs, and that you can tell at any age or size.''

Schellscheidt looks for players with ''soccer brains'' and ''good feet.'' When it comes to coaching, he believes less is more.

''The coach is really a substitute voice,'' he says. ''We want the players to hear the silent voice, the game. The game is actually talking to you.''

Schellscheidt, who considers 5-v-5 games a key component to training sessions, has had a major influence on some of America's most accomplished coaches, such as Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Dave Sarachan.

''I think everybody who runs across Manfred learns something,'' says U.S. coach Arena. ''He provokes a lot of thought on how players think and the role coaches play. He is very good at trying to keep things simple and not making a meal of things. He doesn't make a big deal about the influence coaches have on players. He believes in making sure players are in a good soccer environment and that they learn from the game.''

Chicago Fire coach Sarachan says, ''He showed me constantly that it's an art, not a science.''

Schellscheidt, a native of Germany, came to visit his aunt in New Jersey at age 23 and hooked up with Elizabeth SC of the German-American League.

''I arrived in the country on a Monday, went to practice at Farcher's Grove on a Wednesday, and they gave me a player's pass in time for the Saturday game,'' says Schellscheidt, 64. ''Only in America!''

Schellscheidt returned to Germany, but was enticed back by the club, which provided him an immigration sponsor and a tool-making job, which he held for 18 years while playing and coaching before taking his first full-time soccer position, Seton Hall head coach, in 1988. He won two U.S. Open Cups with Elizabeth SC. As player/assistant coach, he won the 1973 NASL title with the Philadelphia Atoms. He was player/coach of the 1974 ASL-winning Rhode Island Oceaneers and coached the 1977 ASL-winning New Jersey Americans. He coached the Union Lancers to McGuire Cup (U-19) titles in 1987 and 1988.

''Our training sessions were basically just playing,'' says Richie Williams, a member of the McGuire Cup winners, who won two NCAA titles at Virginia and three MLS titles with D.C. United. ''I always looked forward to playing for Manny, because I always knew it would be fun. We enjoyed and we learned, and we played good, attacking soccer.''

Schellscheidt's resume includes a stint as U.S. head coach in the 1970s and as an assistant with the U-20s. He was the Olympic coach until the eve of the 1984 games when the Federation disbanded his team of amateurs and replaced them with pros. He coached the U.S. team at two Pan American Games and coached the U-17s in the early 1990s. He was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1990.

While Schellscheidt hails the progress American soccer has made -- the national team he headed in 1975 didn't even train before meeting in Mexico City -- he's not happy with all the changes.

''Paying $5,000 to $10,000 to play youth soccer, that's not good,'' says Schellscheidt. ''And because a player at some super club shows up for every practice, plays in every big tournament and has a boatload of trophies doesn't tell me anything. What matters is the skill level of the player, which doesn't come from organized soccer. It comes from a love affair with the ball and playing games with and against players of all ages.''

Words of Wisdom: Freddy Adu

"In America, coaches take the fun out of the game for kids. They do. They coach them to play one touch, two touch. It takes the fun out of it and the kids aren't creative. It's no fun when you're not creative and when you're not expressing yourself out on the field. I think coaches should do a better job. [Players] need to express themselves and enjoy the game. That's what happened to me. I enjoyed myself. As time goes on, as you get older, you start to learn to play with your team and working within a team, knowing when to dribble and when not to dribble. This stuff is eventually going to come, as long as you just let kids enjoy themselves."

-- Freddy Adu

March 18, 2007
Claudio Reyna: Home At Last

After nearly 13 years abroad, Claudio Reyna comes full circle back to New Jersey.

By Mike Woitalla, Soccer America Magazine

Claudio Reyna played his youth ball in a New Jersey environment that bridged eras of American soccer and an array of cultures.

The center of the activity was a German-American social club in the town of Union called Farcher's Grove, which had a bar, a catering hall, a picnic grove and a lighted soccer field.

In the 1980s, when Reyna played his youth soccer at Farcher's Grove, 27 teams shared the field for weekday practices. That often meant four squads at once.

Under the best conditions, Reyna figures the field had about a hundred blades of grass. When the sprinklers went on, he and his teammates would joke, ''They're watering the dirt again.''

The cramped conditions forced players to learn ball control in small spaces, and the bumpy field made trapping a challenge.

''Once you got on a nice grass field,'' Reyna said, ''trapping seemed easy. Farcher's Grove was by far the worst field I ever played on, and I played more games on it than any other field. But it really helped me my develop skills.''

On weekends, games at Farcher's Grove started at 8 a.m. with youth matches and the men were still playing at 10 p.m.

''There was constant soccer,'' says Reyna. ''I have a lot of memories hanging out at Farcher's Grove. We'd spend hours before and after our games there. When there was a break between games, we'd get out on the field and mess around, play some more, while our families were inside eating.

''It was kind of everyone's club. I think everyone from the middle of the state and upward played at Farcher's at some point in their careers.''

That included players like Tony Meola, Tab Ramos and John Harkes, who hailed from Kearny, about 20 minutes up the road from Union. The trio began long national team careers in the late 1980s, while Reyna was still on the U-17 national team. Meola's parents hailed from Italy, Ramos' from Uruguay, and Harkes' from Scotland.

''It was a great scene at Farcher's Grove -- like we had at the Kearny Scots-American club,'' says Harkes. ''Players who played in those places were pretty fortunate. It was a total soccer environment, with players of all ages and a lot of diversity. Kids would watch their father's games and play pickup games.

''We kind of bridged the gap between the immigrant-based soccer our parents played with the new era, when soccer became mainstream.''

Before Reyna's time, the home club, SC Elizabeth, won its second U.S. Open Cup at Farcher's Grove, a 1-0 win over the San Pedro (Calif.) Yugoslavs in 1972. A year earlier, after it won its first Open Cup, SC Elizabeth hosted a CONACAF Champions Cup game against Cruz Azul. An official from the Mexican club walked to the middle of the field, then asked his hosts, ''Where's the stadium?'' The return leg was scheduled at Azteca.

SC Elizabeth played in the German-American League, later renamed the Cosmopolitan League, which began requiring its clubs to field and fund youth teams.

From that came Reyna's Union County team, an offshoot of the Newark Sport Club. The team's main rivals were the Union Lancers, who were SC Elizabeth's youth teams. Manny Schellscheidt, who played on SC Elizabeth's Open Cup-winning teams, coached the Lancers, McGuire Cup winners in 1987 and 1988. Among Schellschieidt's deputies with the Lancers was Bob Bradley, who is now the U.S. national team coach.

Bradley played high school ball in the 1970s at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, N.J., and often ventured to Farcher's Grove long before he coached and scouted talent there.

''There were so many places in North Jersey and New York to find soccer and to run into people who would have a good influence,'' said Bradley, who with Schellscheidt coached Reyna on the Region I team. ''They were men who were part of the melting pot of the ethnic clubs. And Farcher's Grove was one of the places. I went there with Essex United. I went there to find games. Everybody got there at one point or another.''

ETHNIC SOCCER'S LEGACY. The youth soccer boom had started by the time Reyna was playing.

''In the 1980s, there was more and more youth soccer,'' says Bradley. ''It was very much the legacy of those ethnic clubs.''

Children whose parents weren't immigrants began embracing the sport, but the New Jersey scene during Reyna's time was an amalgam of ethnicities.

''There were kids playing who came from non-immigrant families,'' says Reyna, who was born in Livingston, N.J., in 1973 to parents who had emigrated from Argentina, ''but the percentage was much less than now. There were Italians, Greeks, Ecuadorians, Uruguayans ù you name it. Those were the mainly type of kids who played soccer. The coaches were from all over, Germany, Britain ù and my dad coached our team.''

In the winter, Reyna played indoors. The ethnic clubs had started indoor soccer leagues in armories throughout North Jersey.

''There were a lot of skillful players in the area,'' says Reyna, ''and there were a lot of games, a lot of competitions, outdoor and indoor. We had games with teams in New York City and even Long Island, against a lot of good clubs and good players.''

In 1968, Claudio's father, Miguel, came to the USA from Buenos Aires with two pals because they had a friend with Italian relatives in New Jersey who told them there would be opportunities.

''We arrived in February,'' says Miguel. ''That's summer in Argentina, so we were wearing summer clothes ù and there's snow on the ground. I thought, 'Oh my God!' That shows you how much I knew about America.''

Miguel Reyna found factory work, at a foundry, and hooked up with a Greek-American soccer club. In Argentina, Miguel had started out at Independiente, but when he didn't crack the first team by age 20, he moved to a smaller club, Los Andes. In New Jersey, he discovered he could make $30 a game.

''That wasn't bad money in those days,'' he says.

The Greek-American team hooked him up with a dishwashing job in the evenings, after he had spent the day working at the foundry.

''Sundays were when we didn't have to work ù when we played soccer,'' says Miguel.

When Miguel started playing for an Italian-American club, it hooked him up with a construction job and he worked in construction for 35 years, until retiring last October.

Claudio's parents still live in Springfield, where Claudio grew up, but in a different house ù one that Claudio bought them after he became a millionaire playing in Europe. They're delighted that they'll be able to see Claudio play in person more than a few times a year.

When MLS kicks off, they'll take the 30-minute drive to New York Red Bulls games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where Miguel used to take Claudio and his older brother, Marcelo, to New York Cosmos games.

The first one Reyna remembers attending was on June 6, 1979, when the Cosmos hosted defending World Cup champion Argentina in a friendly. Diego Maradona, a late cut before the 1978 World Cup, took the field that day.

''I can't say I remember the specifics of the game, but I'll never forget the atmosphere,'' Reyna says, ''The stadium was full and it rocked. From then on, I dreamed about playing in front of a crowd like that.''

After spending his freshman year at Dayton High School in Springfield, Claudio enrolled at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark in 1988. The school's soccer program had been transformed into a power by Tab Ramos eight years earlier. Also at St. Benedict's with Reyna was his Union County teammate, Gregg Berhalter, another New Jersey product who would represent the USA at the World Cup.

FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION. In 1991, Reyna graduated from St. Benedict's a two-time Parade National High School Player of the Year. He had represented the USA at the 1989 U-17 World Cup, where it beat Brazil, and in any other country he would have been headed straight into a pro career.

But the Cosmos and NASL were long gone. The opportunity to get a free college education mooted any notion of going abroad at age 18.

''My father quit school in his early teens because he had to help support his family,'' says Reyna. ''He wanted his sons to get the education he didn't have a chance at. They were so proud when Marcelo went to Notre Dame. Getting a free college education with a college scholarship was an opportunity I knew I shouldn't pass up.''

Reyna chose the University of Virginia, where the coach was Bruce Arena, because he liked the Cavaliers' style of play and he saw how Meola and Harkes went to Virginia and made a smooth transition to the U.S. national team.

Reyna helped the Cavaliers win three straight national titles ù the last in December of 1993, six months before the USA would host the World Cup.

He then decided to leave college to play full-time with the U.S. national team. He was poised for World Cup playing time, having started in their dress rehearsal on the eve of the tournament, a 1-0 win over Mexico. But a hamstring injury kept him on the bench.

''Don't worry, you're young,'' then U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic told him. ''You will play in future World Cups.''

Reyna would play in three World Cups, and in 2002 captained the USA to the quarterfinals and became the first American selected to a FIFA World Cup All-Star Team.

Now after 13 years of playing top-flight soccer in Germany, Scotland and England, Reyna has returned to New Jersey.

He won't be able to find Farcher's Grove. It's been replaced by a shopping plaza and industrial park. But its legacy lives on.

(This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

Words of Wisdom: John Hackworth

''The emphasis on winning is a detriment to young players because it prevents us from developing technically proficient players. And we're not giving them the ability to make decisions. You can't find a youth soccer game where the coaches aren't screaming the whole time, telling kids what they should do and how they should do it.''

-- U.S. U-17 national team coach John Hackworth.