July 30, 2008
Youth Soccer Reporter

Soccer America Magazine has launched a new e-letter, The Youth Soccer Reporter, covering competitive youth soccer each week. The YSR provides news and analysis and includes features on rising stars, profiles of top clubs and interviews with key figures on the American youth scene

Check it out HERE.

July 28, 2008
Tim Mulqueen: USA's keeper coach for all ages

From Soccer America's Youth Soccer Reporter:

The 2008 Olympics will mark U.S. Soccer goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen's fourth world championship, following last year's U-20 World Cup and two U-17 World Cups. Mulqueen, perhaps best known for training Tim Howard from age 12 through the pros, also coached keepers such as Tony Meola during MLS stints with the MetroStars and Kansas City. Soccer America's Mike Woitalla spoke with Mulqueen about coaching America's young keepers, how to spot great keepers at an early age, and when youngsters should specialize at the position.

SOCCER AMERICA: It seems to me that youth coaches might be inclined to make young players specialize as goalkeepers too early, because if you put your best athlete in goal, you'll win games. What's your opinion on when players should become full-time keepers?

TIM MULQUEEN: It's important to learn what it's like to be a soccer player, because a goalkeeper is just a soccer player who can use his hands. It's very important to understand what it's like to be a field player. So they shouldn't be restricted to just playing goalkeeper. They'll let you know when they're ready to be a full-time goalkeeper and they'll gravitate to it naturally.

Tony [Meola] and Tim [Howard] were both center forwards in high school. I think it helped both those guys, in their reading of the game, their ability to use their feet. Tony Meola's feet in goal were that of a field player. He was so proficient with his right or left foot. Tony was a part of our teams in how we played out of the back

SOCCER AMERICA: So it's important that young keepers spend time in field positions?

TIM MULQUEEN: I think anytime you force a kid to play only in goal you're stunting his development, you're doing him a disservice and he may not be as courageous and determined to be that good goalkeeper because it's not something he truly has a passion for. And I also think in his development as a goalkeeper it's very important for him to understand what it's like to be a field player.

You have some goalkeepers screaming at a guy to get back and play defense after he just made an 80-yard run. If you've ever made an 80-yard run, you know it's not that easy to get back right away. So it gives a good appreciation for what a field player has to do.

And I think field players who have played goal growing up, it gives them appreciation for what the goalkeeper goes through. I think it's a win-win to at the early ages have players play all positions.

By the ages of 14 or 15, kids kinda sort out where they wanna play.

SOCCER AMERICA: What effect do you think it has when youth coaches steer their best athletes to the goalkeeping position at an early age?

TIM MULQUEEN: People ask why Americans have had great success developing goalkeepers. Maybe it's because from a young age the best athlete has been put in goal, and that's why they've developed quicker than the field player. If we took these great athletes and worked on their technique as field players as well, then maybe we would have some more of the great field players that we're finally starting to get, but we'd have more abundance of them.

SOCCER AMERICA: How can you tell if a young player has the potential to be a great goalkeeper?

TIM MULQUEEN: The first thing you look at in a young goalkeeper is athleticism. It's an athletic position and they have to have that exceptional athletic ability, especially when I'm looking at goalkeepers for international play for the U-17s or the U-20s.

And they have to be courageous. You can't have goalkeepers in there who are a little bit gun-shy to lay themselves out, to put themselves in harm's way.

They need to be smart because the international game is fast. They need to organize things quickly, they need to get themselves into position much quicker than they would playing club soccer.

And psychologically, they need to be a very strong-minded individual person. What people forget is goalkeepers spend a lot of the game by themselves.

You need to have a goalkeeper who can handle the ups and downs, a flat-line personality almost. He's gotta to be consistently there when needed.

SOCCER AMERICA: How different are young goalkeepers compared to the older, more experienced keepers?

MULQUEEN: I had Tim Howard from age 12 and we still talk quite regularly about goalkeeping and the evolution of it.

One of the things Tim points out is that the difference psychologically between the age groups is unbelievable. At the young age, what they find important in goalkeeping is looking the part, to have a style, to emulate other goalkeepers.

As they get older, they find more what works for them, whether it looks good or not - as long as it doesn't go into the goal, they're pretty satisfied.

As a coach, I agree with that.

You see maturation. A goalkeeper as he gets older, he becomes much more practical, less adventurous, more of a student of the game. They're becoming a successful goalkeeper, as opposed to just an athlete in goal who's stopping shots.

At the younger age the kids rely strictly on athleticism to make the saves. As they get older it's more about positioning and organization to help them make the play.

SOCCER AMERICA: What are the differences between coaching veteran professional goalkeepers and young keepers, like the ones you trained at U.S. Soccer's U-17 Bradenton residency program?

TIM MULQUEEN: There's a big difference. When you're dealing with the U-17 kids, it's more development and you're really trying to cover all aspects of goalkeeping in great detail.

As you move on you focus more on what the goalkeeper's weaknesses are to try and improve them and accentuate the strengths. You actually funnel it down a little bit.

It's not as much of the overall development. It's actually kind of maintenance, tweaking the type of coaching as you move up the line with the younger levels and dealing with the psychological aspects of the goalkeeper, and keeping them sharp and confident as you move up from the ages, from u-20s to U-23s, to the full team.

At the world championships, the U-17s haven't been in those high-pressure situations before, whereas even the U-20s have at least been in professional-game situations.

So you get to the world championships and if there's any adversity, you really have to have a relationship with that goalkeeper that you can calm him down and talk to him. So there's a lot of massaging of the goalkeeper at that level so they know they're ready to come back for next game.

At the U-17s we had a saying: Goalkeepers need to have a short memory. Whether they make the best save or give up the worst goal they need to get it out of their system and move on to the next play.

July 26, 2008
What does Chelsea want from U.S. youth soccer?

From Crystal Palace to Liverpool, West Ham to Everton, British clubs have been entering the American youth soccer "market." As part of Chelsea's quest to "build a network of top youth clubs across America to develop Chelsea Soccer Schools," it has launched a relationship with the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) of North Carolina. Soccer America's Mike Woitalla interviewed Paul Clement, Chelsea's youth team manager in Soccer America, about the club's motives. ...

SOCCER AMERICA: An Associated Press article, datelined London, announced your club's U.S. venture with "Chelsea has launched an initiative to spur interest in soccer among young Americans." What do you think about that description?

PAUL CLEMENT: I think there's already a very big market for the U.S. player.

SA: How familiar are you with youth soccer in America?

CLEMENT: Youth soccer is absolutely massive in America, absolutely huge, for both boys and girls, as well. There's a massive market.

I've been across to the States a few times to various clubs. A big club in Atlanta United and more recently last weekend to CASL.

There's clubs that are absolutely massive. We have nothing like it in Europe that would touch a club that had 7,000, 8,000 players [such as CASL]. So I'm not quite sure where that [AP] comment came from.

SA: Have you seen enough of American youth soccer to point out what you think are the biggest problems, challenges facing American youth soccer?

CLEMENT: I've been over to the States a few times. I used to work at Fulham and we played at the Disney Soccer Showcase about four or five years ago when youth soccer was running through the ODP program and they played with their different regions. And over the last couple years I've been to some of the big clubs.

One of the biggest things I noticed - and this is a problem I wouldn't say is exclusive to America, because we get it here in England as well and I'm sure in a lot of European countries: The fact that winning very much seems to be the priority, and that comes across with the way the coaches are in the some cases, and a lot of the time, the parents are on the sideline.

I think if you want to produce - and this is my opinion - top talent for the future, winning at all costs at the younger ages shouldn't be the priority, because a lot of techniques, and a lot of tactical, and a lot of learning gets sacrificed in order to go for results.

You can set up, play a certain way that might get you results and might be successful at the younger ages, but when you get to the higher echelons of soccer then you need to have more than that. You need to have very high technical level, you need to have tactical ability.

That's a big thing that we work on at Chelsea. We want to win the games and create a winning mentality, but we'll play a way that will arm players to be the best they can be when they're older because our aim is to produce players who can play in the Premiership and to compete in the Champions League.

If you can't keep possession of the ball at the very highest level then you're not going to win games. So you've got to have short-term sacrifices for long-term results.

SA: Another major problem is the fact that American youth soccer costs a lot of money. If we're sitting here in the United States looking at our youth soccer, which is very expensive already, and we see a foreign club coming over, one of the first questions is: Why are they coming over here? Is it because they see this market in which millions of kids who play soccer have the money? So we question the motives.

CLEMENT: I understand that point. And I know a lot of clubs have tried to do that before. But we're going to be square. The aim of what we're trying to do, is we're going to assist a very big market in America. Not trying to make the market grow. It's a big market. What we're trying to do is assist in the development of young players at all levels in America, whether that be through grassroots programs or whether that be at the elite level.

Our relationship with CASL, the first club we signed a relationship with, is about working with their coaches, their coaches coming to us, which they've done already.

Us going to them. Us working with their young players and sharing ideas. It's going to be a collaboration that will work well for both sides.

I don't think it's just a one-way thing by any means.

The whole thing about financing, I don't think this is ever going to be a financial thing for Chelsea, for example, in terms of making money.

But by having an impact with the club CASL, it may give the opportunity for less-privileged athletes to get some more help.

I know with my conversations with Jay Howell, the technical director at CASL, he's very conscious of that and they're running their own sort of projects to make sure they can help and assist those young players.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: CASL Chief Executive Charlie Slagle says the club's shared programs with Chelsea -- such as a Chelsea-sponsored tournament (Chelsea Sevens), various coaching schools and camps and academies -- will create revenue to help defray costs for CASL players. CASL's teams in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy will wear Chelsea uniforms provided by the EPL club.]

SA: There is a constant influx of British coaches into American youth soccer. But if you are a developing soccer country and you're looking at soccer around the world, shouldn't you be looking to South America or the Mediterranean countries, one, because they win, two, because they play more attractive soccer, and three, because their demographics are more similar to ours than British demographics? If our country's demographics resemble Brazil's more than England's, why would we think it would be a good idea to have British coaches coaching our kids?

CLEMENT: You look at the managers we've had at our club over the last years at Chelsea. The manager who has just been appointed, who we're looking forward to working with is [Luiz Felipe] Scolari, a Brazilian coach [and former head coach of Portugal].

The previous coach, Jose Mourinho, Portuguese. The one before him, [Claudio] Ranieri, Italian. Beyond that we've had [Gianluca] Vialli [Italy], Ruud Gullit [Netherlands].

What we've done at Chelsea - what we don't say is that British coaching is the best coaching.

I think we've been in a fortunate position at the club in that we've seen in 10 years at Chelsea many different managers and coaches with influences from not only Europe but from around the world as well.

That gives us a very privileged position to be in, to be able to say, "Yeah, we've got some things to offer in Britain in the way we've been brought up and the way we've learned, but what we've learned from Jose, what we'll learn from Scolari, what we've learned from [Glenn] Hoddle, Gullit, Vialli, and Ranieri. It's a very wide base of knowledge."

And not only that, you add some of the players we're working with, the tournaments they're playing in and the level they're playing in week in and week out, I think British coaches, or whoever in the future -- we've had a Dutch coach working in the academy very recently -- the club has a lot to offer youth football in America.

SA: We're constantly reading criticism from Britain of the British academy system. That it should be given up on, they should revamp it, it's just not working. If we consider the fact that the British themselves don't think they're doing a good job developing soccer players, why would we think that the British should help us?

CLEMENT: That's a sweeping generalization. If you came to visit our academy at Chelsea I would think you're likely to be impressed. If you looked at what we're doing with our young players and our facilities, the investment that we're putting into our young players, and also the quality of our young players ... we've been through a big rebuilding period over the last few years.

When Roman Abramovich invested very, very heavily in the youth program, he appointed [Dane] Frank Arnesen [chief scout and director of youth development] and made a big change in the whole philosophy.

And it takes time. If things weren't getting done as well as they should have been in the past, you might change this. When you're running a youth development, it takes time.

Some of the other programs, although Manchester United haven't brought so many players through recently, 10 years or so ago they would say, "We brought through the best group of young players through at one time."

Ask Manchester City if they think their academy is working, they'll say yes. Middlesbrough would say the same. Some have had more success than others.

We're in a very successful league over here, which attracts the very, very top players, so the actual challenge we're facing is a big one. Particularly at a club like Chelsea it's not just recruiting the best players from Europe, but the best players from the world as well.

So it is a big challenge. Of course it is. But there are success stories here.

SA: How much is Chelsea's relationship with CASL about scouting talent and the possibility of an American kid ending up at Chelsea?

CLEMENT: I'm not going to say it's not possible. It's going to be spinoff of the relationship as there will be many other spinoffs.

What it will allow, and this is a great thing I think for the young players, is if you're going to be a real high-end talent, a top talent, you will be known by Chelsea and I'm sure to other clubs as well.

In the big 64 clubs in the United States, and CASL's certainly one of them, maybe even one of the 10 super clubs if you like, so if you get to compete very well and perform very well, and you move in the right direction, we're going to know about you.

Now further down the line there's complications with work permits and that kind of thing.

The way a boy would be able to come here is if he had dual nationality through the EU. An American boy who was eligible for a Spanish or Italian passport, for example.

The other way to do it is you have to wait till they attain full international status.

It could be that there's opportunities for boys not necessarily to come here [to Chelsea] on a full-time basis but to come over and experience playing at a big club with European players and testing themselves against the best.

And if they do that and go back to the States a better player, and talk to other players, hopefully it will help raise standards.

Now we're certainly not saying, "Look, we're going to sort out all the problems of U.S. youth soccer." But what we will hopefully do is assist and try and raise the standards.

July 11, 2008
Snack Food for Thought

Since when did the postgame (or, in some cases, pregame and halftime, too) snack become the focal point of youth recreational soccer games? And when did it become the latest installment of "Keeping up with the Joneses"?

By Emily Cohen (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider, June 19)

After talking with some mothers, a few fathers, and several youth sports coaches, I am convinced that the snack situation has gotten completely out of hand. Some of the stories I heard were enough to make me scream -- or at least drop my jaw. I submit to you the following examples:

* A U8 boys team had a multi-course, postgame snack catered by a nearby high-end delicatessen and packaged into individual goodie bags like party favors.

* A U6 girls team had a pregame snack of donuts as well as a halftime snack of granola bars, juice bags, and pomegranate seeds (?), in addition to a full postgame luncheon with sandwiches and chips.

* A player on a U10 boys team questioned the parent providing snacks not only about the organic nature of the processed snack, but then followed up with a question about the percentage of organic ingredients in the bar.

Oy vey! Whatever happened to the water and orange slices of my youth? I began to wonder, "Do kids really need all this food and drink before, during, and after exercise or do these over-the-top snacks actually contradict the benefits of the exercise itself? And are kids really "more motivated to play" -- as one parent assured me -- because of the prospect of a snack at halftime and after the game?

I decided to ask the experts.

"Today's youth sports culture says that kids are only going to participate if they are rewarded with a snack," Dr. Dana Weintraub, clinical instructor of general pediatrics at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and project director of the Sports to Prevent Obesity Randomized Trial (SPORT) at Stanford University, told me. "But the reality is that parents have created this culture of the importance of snack. Frankly, most kids are more excited about the physical activity and camaraderie than the snack."

So parents are not only creating but also reinforcing this connection between snacks and sports. And what effect does this have in the long term? Says Dr. Weintraub, "When you think about it, at the older, more competitive levels, it's usually the kids who are less fit -- more overweight -- that aren't getting the playing time. The snack culture ends up hurting those kids even more."

OK, so that answered my second question, but what about the first one? Do young athletes really need all these sports drinks and catered snacks during and after games? "Absolutely not," says Dr. Weintraub. "For kids who are playing recreational sports, all they really need during the game is water. And kids who drink Gatorade and eat a typical snack after the game can easily take in more calories than they expend."

So, rather than elaborate halftime and catered postgame snacks, what should parents be giving their young athletes before and after a match to encourage peak performance? According to Dr. Dev Mishra, a team physician with the U.S. Soccer Federation, it breaks down like this:

Before a match, a player should not eat or drink anything that's going to cause stomach upset. This means staying away from foods with refined sugars and packaged fruit juices and soft drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup, which are known to cause tummyaches.

Says Mishra, "Fresh fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, bagels, and anything relatively natural up to two hours before the match are all great pregame nutritional choices. Donuts are not the right fuel for young children's bodies whether they're playing on the soccer field or the jungle gym."

At halftime, Dr. Mishra concurs with Dr. Weintraub: "The old standby of freshly sliced oranges and water works perfectly well for the vast majority of kids. Most young kids just don't perspire that much and their needs to replace fluids at halftime are not as high as an elite-level athlete. And any food is going to cause problems with stomach cramping. If you're eating at halftime, your blood is going to go to your stomach not to fueling your body in the physical activity."

After the match, Dr. Mishra says, "Probably the best postmatch drink is low-fat chocolate milk. It's got so much in it that's beneficial: carbohydrates from chocolate and natural, healthy proteins that are very useful for a growing child's body. Plus, most kids like it and will readily drink it."

Maybe it's time to change the snack culture and take the focus off the snacks during and after recreational-level soccer games. Many elite-level teams do just that -- each parent is responsible for his or her own child's nutrition and hydration.

Let's let the game itself become the reward again. As my son said when I asked him what he enjoys about playing sports, "First, it's fun. Second, it's the love of the game. And finally, it's being with my friends."

Funny. He didn't mention the homemade triple-chocolate brownies I brought for snack last week.

(Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, California. She is the mother of a son, 12, and a daughter, 8, who both play multiple sports. She has been a team manager for her children's soccer, baseball and softball teams.)

July 01, 2008
Will MLS Youth Investment Pay Off?

MLS clubs are buying into the notion that they can produce homegrown stars.

By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America Magazine, July 2008)

In 2007, the same year that MLS bet on David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, it also mandated that its clubs field youth teams. Beckham and Blanco were safe bets: A pair of players with legions of fans in the USA and a history of giving 100 percent every time they stepped on the field. As expected, both boosted attendance, sparked replica jersey sales, and attracted sponsors for the league and their clubs.

But signing superstars is less complicated than venturing into youth development. There's no proven formula for turning young players into pros, no guarantee that investing in development programs will yield a return.

MLS's Youth Development Initiative required each of its clubs to field at least two youth teams, in the U-16 and U-18 age groups. MLS made few other stipulations, leaving lots of questions unanswered.

The biggest concern was that MLS clubs would simply replicate the pay-to-play model of the existing elite youth clubs. MLS player programs director Alfonso Mondelo calls the high cost American youth soccer's "first and foremost problem."

For MLS clubs to make a difference they would have to take off the price tag that shuts out talented players without the financial means. But even fielding just two teams without charging players requires $300,000 to $500,000, says Mondelo.

MLS clubs, which are run on tight budgets, get American players for free through the MLS draft. Could one really expect them to make a substantial investment in youth players?

"I think the reason teams are investing in it, for example making it free, is because of the carrot we used, not any stick," says MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis. "The carrot being that they can develop these players and take them straight on to their rosters, as opposed to having them go through the draft."

So far, nine of MLS's 14 clubs aren't charging the players on its academy teams, and others are expected to follow.

"It's been quite striking," says Gazidis, "that all of the teams believe they can do a good job of youth development and all the teams believe they'll benefit from this investment."

MLS clubs seem confident that they can produce better American players for a league that is increasingly relying on foreign imports to raise its level.

"I think the gap between the college player coming out of the draft and the MLS player has become greater every year," says Mondelo. "The college game is not preparing the players to play. You cannot go from a three-month season and expect to be ready to be a professional.

"The idea is the clubs begin to develop players who have the professionalism instilled in them from a younger age and that helps them develop the technical and tactical development of the game.

"They have a vested interest in their business to improve the quality of what's out there. The better the quality, the more fans will come."

But clubs are risking developing players only to see them forego MLS for a foreign offer. MLS clubs won't receive transfer fees for youth players who go abroad.

"For us," Mondelo says, "the big challenge is a big foreign club can come in and offer one of our players a lot more money than we offer him, and we can lose that player because we don't own the rights [internationally] because of our system."

Gazidis says, "I do believe that we'll be able to produce more better players and that ultimately, one way or another, although we may lose some of them, MLS will benefit."

MLS clubs would get a return on their youth investment by selling a player to a foreign club after he's signed a pro contract with them.

"We think MLS is a pretty good place to develop," says Gazidis, citing the example of Clint Dempsey, who signed for Fulham on a $4 million transfer fee at age 24 after three MLS seasons. "You're probably not going to get a European club paying big money for him when he's 18 years old. The MLS club might decide this is a player worth investing some money in and [who will] stay with us rather than go to college."

MLS has set up its youth programs so that players maintain NCAA eligibility. And if a player with MLS potential does choose college, the MLS club he spent his youth ball with could still acquire him instead of losing him to the draft.

"The clubs can still hold the rights to that player if they have contact with him during the summer months," says Mondelo. "He can come back and play for the U-20 or U-23 team and meet the minimum requirements."

Other factors have convinced MLS clubs to take youth development seriously. For one, there's the proliferation of foreign clubs scouting young American talent and setting up academies in the USA.

"They're here and they make their presence felt," says Mondelo. "They see this is a fertile ground for talent."

It would be embarrassing if MLS allowed foreign clubs to snatch young American talent without a fight. Moreover, Gazidis believes creating youth programs brings other benefits.

"They connect MLS teams with their local community more effectively by becoming the aspirational focus of young players in local markets," he says, "and by having local products playing for the first team.

"They connect the team with the grassroots of the game, because for every kid who's playing for FC Dallas U-15, we hope there are a hundred kids who want to play for FC Dallas."

A greater grassroots connection also serves as a selling point to sponsors.

"[But] it's not a purely economic analysis that we're engaged in," Gazidis says. "It's like a lot of the things we're doing right now, which is to build the game in the U.S."
MLS's arrival on the youth scene also adds credibility to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league, for U-16 and U-18 teams. Six MLS teams - D.C. United, New York, Columbus, Chicago, Chivas USA and Colorado - joined the league for the inaugural season of 2007-08.

FC Dallas, New England Revolution and Los Angeles Galaxy are joining in 2008-09, when membership increases to 74 clubs, plus the U-17 U.S. national team program. The Kansas City Wizards will field teams in 2009-10.

Mondelo and Gazidis agree that MLS teams will have to expand to younger age levels to increase the chances of producing top-level players.

"A lot of the influential years are before the age of U-15 or U-16," Gazidis says. "To have a really full youth development program, we need to see age group teams all way to U-12, and even U-11, and see these players go all the way through the system and come out the other end."

Besides providing opportunities for low-income players who can't afford the costs of traditional American youth soccer, Mondelo points to another advantage of the youth environment a pro club could provide.

"The coaches or directors of youth development with pro clubs aren't going to be measured on the trophies they win, but on how many players they put into the first team," he says. "The problem in the USA is they start travel soccer at too early an age. That's totally detrimental. It becomes more about winning and about collecting hardware than about having the kids play and learning from playing."

MLS youth guidelines also allow for teams to create satellite clubs outside their markets to extend their reach.

"We're some way away from seeing the full benefits of the youth development system," Gazidis says. "I expect that we will have made a difference already in a year or two. But I don't think you're going to see any dramatic results for probably five or six years."

(This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)