June 28, 2011
Bayern's approach; England's birthdate issue; U-17s super Koroma

Bayern Munich's youth program has produced current German national team stars Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 40 top players that came out of its academy in the last 12 years have a total market value of $320 million.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

In an interview with Kicker Magazine, Bayern’s youth director Werner Kern shared some insights into the program:

“The joke is that there used to be more talent than today. They used to grow on trees, because it was common to play pickup soccer after school. But the clubs didn’t have the infrastructure or the scouts. The boys from the small towns had no chance to land at the big clubs.”

Bayern’s youth players attend school from 8 am to 4 pm and Bayern employs six school teachers to oversee the residency hall. “The players who master school and soccer become mentally strong,” says Kern.

Bayern invites players into residency at 15. Taking players younger than that out of their parents’ homes is detrimental, says Kern. Before age 15, only players who can reach the club with the Munich subway play in Bayern's youth teams.

“Traveling 100 kilometers (60 miles) to practice is crazy,” says Kern.

* * * *

OVERCOMING THE ‘AGE RELATIVE’ EFFECT. The English FA aims to change its youth calendar from September to August to the internationally common January to December following studies that revealed players born in the summer are far less likely to be selected for clubs' youth academies. Nick Levett, the FA's national development manager, told the Guardian:

"For the 2009 season 57% of kids at Premier League academies were born September to December; and 14% were born in May-August. Where are the May to August kids? The simple fact is that adults have voted them out of the game because of our desire to pick bigger, stronger, faster players. We're looking at changing grassroots [local clubs] football to run January to December. We know from research that we'll [still] get a bias in January to April kids [being chosen by scouts] but it does mean then that the 'summer borns' are the middle group for club football and the end group for school football. So they're not age disadvantaged for everything.”

Levett added that "We also need to look at the pitch sizes. We need smaller age appropriate pitches [that] will less benefit the physical player and more benefit for the technical player."

(While American youth soccer leagues use a mid-year cutoff, when U.S. Soccer launched its Development Academy in 2007 it adopted a Jan. 1 birthdate cutoff that coincides with international competitions, such as the U-17 World Cup.)

* * * *

U-17 SUPERSUB. In two straight games at the U-17 World Cup, Alfred Koroma scored two minutes after coming off the bench. He scored the USA’s final goal of a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in 89th minute of the Group D opener. On Wednesday, he came on at halftime with the Americans trailing 1-0 against Uzbekistan and scored another superb goal in the 47th minute.

Koroma moved with his mother to Fort Worth, Texas from war-torn Sierra Leone at age 9. He joined Bradenton residency at the age of 13. He returned to home to Texas in 2010 and played for Solar Chelsea SC before rejoining the U-17s for qualifying.

Uzbekistan came back after Koroma’s strike to score on a penalty kick and beat the Americans, 2-1.

“The players went onto the field too relaxed, in slow motion," said U.S. U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera. "When we finally reacted we were down 1-0. This is a mental game. Uzbekistan was motivated and more aggressive, more into the game than our players.”

All four teams in the Group D are tied on three points going into the final day of group play. The USA faces New Zealand on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPNU, ESPN3.com, Galavision) with second-round passage on the line.

VIDEO. Check out Koroma's goals and highlights of the USA's first two U-17 World Cup games HERE.

* * * *

A HECKUVA COMEBACK. The U-18 Pateadores of Southern California, coached by former UCLA coach Todd Saldana and former U.S. World Cup player Tom Dooley, reached the Development Academy playoffs despite forfeiting 16 points during an 11-game spell in which it used to two players ruled ineligible because they played junior college ball in the fall. “Credit the boys because they could have easily used [the forfeits] as an excuse, but they accepted the challenge,” Saldana told Goal.com’s J.R. Eskilson.

* * * *

PARENTS BEHAVING BETTER? Twenty-six percent of youth soccer leaders around the country responding to a survey conducted by Korrio, a web platform company, say parents’ behavior has improved in the last two years, 54 percent indicate it’s stayed the same, while 20 percent noticed a downturn.

Eleven percent claim their club had no sideline problems with parents last season; 58 percent described their parents’ sideline behavior as “good” (experienced a single minor incident with at least one parent/family); and 31 percent described it as fair (minor incidents with more than two different parents/families).

The survey also reported that 42 percent of respondents say that sportsmanship among players has improved over the last five seasons; 18 percent noted a slight decline.

Go HERE for more survey results, including data on how much volunteers contribute to club administration and other trends.

June 23, 2011
Former U-17 coach Roy Rees: USA should be further along

How many players on the U.S. team currently competing at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico will make a significant impact on the full national team?

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Judging from the average of the previous 13 U.S. teams that have competed at each of the biennial world championships since 1985, the answer would be one.

Roy Rees coached the USA at four U-17 World Cups, from 1987 through 1993. He guided the young Americans to historic victories over Brazil in 1989 and Italy in 1991. After the USA, led by Claudio Reyna, beat Brazil, 1-0, in 1989, Brazil’s coach Homero Cavalheiro said, “The United States deserved to win today. They were better as a team; they were better individually.”

Asked how he imagined the future of American soccer two decades ago, Rees says, “I would have expected it to be further along than it is now. They've done well but could have done much better.

"They have developed a whole bunch of very average players but not the great players you need to get that little bit extra. There's a lack of creative players."

Mike Burns and John O'Brien, who played for Rees in the 1987 and 1993 tournaments, were also among the U-17 alums who had the most success with the full national team.

Rees was succeeded by Glenn Myernick (1995), Jay Miller (1997), John Ellinger (1999, 2001, 2003), John Hackworth (2005, 2007) and Wilmer Cabrera (2009, 2011).

Ellinger's 1999 team, which was the first that went into full-time residency in Bradenton, Fla., finished fourth and remains the only squad to win a knockout stage game. It included Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Bobby Convey. That class proved to be an aberration.

Miller’s 1997 squad included Taylor Twellman and Danny Califf, who went on to long pro careers but had limited success with the full national team. Ellinger’s 2001 and 2003 squads included Eddie Johnson and Jonathan Spector, respectively.

Hackworth’s 2005 team included Jozy Altidore and Neven Subotic, now one of the top defenders in the German Bundesliga, but he plays his national team ball for Serbia.

Rees, a Welshman who served as an English FA staff coach and worked for FIFA as an international coaching instructor before taking over the U.S. U-17s, cites many reasons why the USA hasn't made more profound progress in producing exceptional players. Topping the list is an emphasis on athleticism rather than on skill and understanding the game.

"America had the reputation of being better athletically than everyone else, because at the Olympics they ran faster, were stronger, and threw things farther,” he says. “Those are things that have nothing to do with soccer. At the youth level, big, strong and physical may win games. But the smaller players develop skills to combat the big and the physical, and when they get the growth they’re the ones who get the results."

He also warns of the perils of advocating an orthodox approach to player development:

"It was, 'Coach this way, or get out.' There are different ways of developing players, which is obvious when you see how great players have emerged from different countries."

He says that the insight into the game that great players acquire is something that they develop naturally when they're young, not from being told how to play, but by being given the freedom figure the game out.

“What matters is being able to perceive the game, to predict what happens next," says Rees. "They need to be placed in a situation where they can see it for themselves rather than having it laid out for them. That needs to happen at the youngest levels. They need to be allowed to express themselves and not be tied to the coach’s instructions, or they’ll play like robots.”

Now retired and living in Southern California, Rees is watching this U.S. U-17 team on TV. Not judging it by the scorelines, but whether there are within the group some players with that little bit extra that hints of greatness.

* * * *

The USA opened its U-17 World Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday with goals by Alejandro Guido and Esteban Rodriguez and late sub Alfred Koroma.  In their second Group D game, the Americans face Uzbekistan on Wednesday (4 pm ET, Galavision, ESPN3.com).

Uzbekistan lost its opener, 4-1, to New Zealand, which got a hat trick by Stephen Carmichael. Carmichael, making his first start for the Kiwis, hadn’t been part of the squad during qualifying nor for a pre-tournament tour to Qatar.

June 15, 2011
Game-fixing; Turf wars; Silly ref gesture; case for school ball

The coach of an Omaha FC U-13 girls team resigned after it was revealed he instructed his team to allow the opponents, a team from the same club, to score the game-winning goal that would send them to the state final.

By Mike Woitalla
(from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Marjie Ducey of the Omaha World-Herald reported that Coach Doug Trenerry's team was out of contention to reach the final so w

ith three minutes left in a scoreless tie he had his team intentionally concede a goal.

The Nebraska State Soccer Association ordered a replay of the games among the three teams in contention for a spot in the final to decide who advances to the regionals.

"No matter what the sanction or forfeits, somebody would have been penalized," said Jeff Hulbert, executive director of the state association. "Let the three teams left, for the good of competition, play the game and win or lose on the field, not in a hearing. The coaches have agreed and are moving forward with the competition."

The incident was reported by Jacque Tevis-Butler, the coach of the team that would have benefitted from the gift goal, after Trenerry told her what he had done.

* * * *

TURF WAR. A teacher in Rocky Point, N.Y., who also heads the Rocky Point Youth Soccer Club, is in hot water after sending an e-mail to fellow teachers asking them to not send students home with a flier advertising another league, reports the North Shore Sun.

The e-mail read: "I am asking everyone for a big big big favor. Please please please please... Support Rocky Point Youth Soccer and DO NOT SEND HOME THE SOCCER FLYERS THAT ARE FROM FJS SOCCER or other towns. They are NOT a Rocky Point-based program. Just send home flyers that are only from Rocky Point Youth Soccer Club."

* * * *

I've seen refs do this in pro games and don't get it. It made even less sense when I saw it on several occasions during a youth tournament last weekend:

A player goes down and the ref deems it wasn't because of a foul, so he gestures and tells the player to "get up!"

What's the point of that?

There's no rule that players have to hurry off the ground after they fall. And what if the player is hurt? Certainly rushing them to get up isn't wise.

My guess is the youth refs are mimicking the high-level refs without considering how nonsensical this is.

* * * *

HIGH SCHOOL vs. CLUB. Last month's item on elite clubs encouraging their players to skip high school soccer prompted this response from former U.S. national team star and MLS coach Brian Quinn.

Quinn, now a San Diego-area youth coach and girls high school coach, has had five of his children play both club and high school ball.

"I feel that the 'developmental' aspect of the game is a veil for the inadequacy of some of our coaches at the club level," Quinn says. "High School soccer is great for kids. The approach for the three months that the kids play should be to enjoy every minute with their friends -- and if they do, they get so much out of it.

"There are so many more opportunities for kids to become 'leaders' at high school than there are at club level because of the built in hierarchy that does not exist at club level. No one wants to tell their peers at club level what to do or how to do it. At high school the expectation is for the seniors and juniors to lead and mentor and guide the younger players. This does happen!

"There is no magic formula in producing the 'fantastic players' other than the drive, ability and determination of the player. This is why I believe we tend to overrate coaching when in effect we only need to provide the environment for kids to thrive -- it does not matter where it is."

* * * *

... Thirteen people, including children, were injured during a youth soccer tournament in Oceanside, N.Y., last weekend when three inflatable "bounce houses" blew away in strong winds. Most suffered minor injuries but one woman was critical condition, according to the Long Island Press. ...

... AYSO welcomes George Kuntz as its Player Development Technical Advisor. He will remain head coach of UC Irvine's men's team, which he has coached for 17 years. John Ouellette recently retired as AYSO National Coach but steps into another newly created position as AYSO National Coach Instructor. Amid the professionalization of American youth sports, Ouellette's leadership for nearly two decades in AYSO's coaching education program has helped keep the volunteer model alive and ensured that hundreds of thousands of American children still have access to low-cost youth soccer. ...

... Our video of the week features an 11-year-old from Herndon, Va., coolly scoring with a scorpion kick. Watch it HERE ...

June 11, 2011
USA's top teens in world spotlight

Only the USA has qualified for each of the 14 U-17 World Cups ...

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

The present and future of American soccer will be on display this Sunday.

First, the USA faces Jamaica (Fox Soccer, 3 pm ET) in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup, in which the Americans so far have been woefully uninspiring. Later in the day, the American teenagers who are being groomed for the full national team open their U-17 World Cup campaign against the Czech Republic (ESPNU, 7 pm ET).

Only the USA has qualified for each of the 14 U-17 World Cups, a fact not so surprising considering its unequaled investment in its U-17 national team program. (U.S. Soccer has run a full-time residency camp for the U-17s in Bradenton, Fla., since 1999.)

But only once has the USA won a game in the knockout stage of the U-17 World Cup – a 2-0 win over Mexico when the Americans finished fourth in New Zealand under Coach John Ellinger with a team that featured Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu.

This modest record and the creation of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2007 has cast doubt on the necessity of the expensive Bradenton program. Its advocates will point to players such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Juan Agudelo and argue that their Bradenton experience groomed them for early debuts with the full national team.

But if Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s team fails to shine, if it doesn’t feature some individuals who demonstrate potential for greatness, then it’s time to close the camp at Bradenton and consider how those resources could be put to better use.

* * * *

CABRERA’S SECOND GO. This summer’s tournament marks the second with Cabrera at the U.S. helm. In 2009 his team lost its opener to Spain and reached the second round with 1-0 wins over Malawi and UAE before falling to Italy, 2-1.

The Netherlands’ Albert Stuivenberg is the only coach at Mexico ’11 who coached at the last U-17 World Cup, in 2009 in Nigeria.

* * * *

U.S. U-17s ON TV. Sunday, June 19 vs. Czech Republic 7 pm ET (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision). Wednesday, June 22 vs. Uzbekistan 4 pm (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision). Saturday, June 25 vs. New Zealand 7 pm (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision).

Go HERE for complete tournament schedule.

* * * *

OPENERS: The tournament in Mexico kicks off on Saturday. In Group A play in Morelia, Mexico faces North Korea (4 pm ET) and European champion Netherlands meets Congo (7 pm ET). Both games will be televised live on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. Mexico's game will also air on Galavision.

In Group B on Saturday in Monterrey, it’s France-Argentina (4 pm ET) and Japan-Jamaica (7 pm ET), both on ESPN3.com.

* * * *

FROM U-17s TO WORLD CUP. Three starters in the USA’s second round loss to Ghana at the 2010 World Cup played at a U-17 World Cup: Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Landon Donovan. Reserve defender Jonathan Spector was also a U-17 World Cup alum. Michael Bradley attended Bradenton but as part of a younger class didn’t play in a U-17 World Cup. (Howard was a U-17 before the Bradenton era.)

2010 World Cup winner Spain had seven U-17 World Cup alums on its roster: Xavi, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas (MVP in 2003), Iker Casillas and David Silva.

None of 2010 runner-up Netherlands’ players were part of a U-17 World Cup.

* * * *

2009 – Switzerland.
2007 – Nigeria.
2005 – Mexico.
2003 – Brazil.
2001 – France.
1999 – Brazil.
1997 – Brazil.
1995 – Ghana.
1993 – Nigeria.
1991 – Ghana.
1989 – Saudi Arabia.
1987 – Soviet Union.
1985 – Nigeria.

* * * *

U.S. U-17 PROFILES. Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy profiles the USA's 21 players HERE. The multi-ethnic team includes immigrants from war-torn Croatia and Sierra Leone, a player who commuted back and forth across the border between Tijuana and South San Diego and a player born in New York to a Swiss father and Japanese mother and raised in Tokyo.

June 10, 2011
'When you whisper' ... Reflections on a Hall of Fame coach

U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame welcomed Bob Gansler, who has deep roots in the youth game.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

He coached the USA when it qualified for the Italia '90, reaching the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. He won an A-League title in 1997 and an MLS title in 2000. But the 69-year-old Gansler, who now serves as a scout for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, has deep roots in the youth game.

His start in coaching came when as a ninth-grader he made compensation for a gym window he broke by coaching a fifth-grade basketball team. While a college sophomore he coached a high school soccer team.

“The way I coached is I played along with them,” he explained in an interview with Charles F. Gardner in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. “I was the best player, so they listened.”

In 1981, Gansler coached the first U.S. national team that qualified for the U-20 World Cup. In 1989, at the U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia, Gansler guided the USA to a fourth-place finish, which remains its best finish at that competition.

I was able to watch Gansler closely during the 20 days in Saudi Arabia and he made an important impression on me. This was in the Bobby Knight era when a popular school of coaching believed in the hard-ass, screaming, marine-sergeant approach.

In Gansler I saw a gentleman coach. A coach who believed respect from the players should be earned and not taken for granted.

Never in his long career did I see him scream at his players, abuse or even criticize referees – or hold a grudge against his critics.

He was proof that nice guys do not finish last and that high-volume isn’t the best way to convey a message.

“The louder you speak, the less you're heard,” Gansler once said. “When you're whispering, you've got their attention.”

June 04, 2011
AYSO answered the call 40 years ago

The 40th anniversary of AYSO launching girls soccer coincides nicely with this summer's Women's World Cup, at which, as usual, the USA will field players who got their introduction to soccer in AYSO.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Sometimes we older folks feel compelled to tell our children about how different things were when we were kids.

No Internet. No cell phone. If you wanted to watch your favorite TV show, you had to be in front of the television right when it aired – and no fast-forwarding through the commercials.

Some of these stories amuse the children. (Show them a boom-box compared to an iPod.)

But when one explains that not too long ago playing soccer – or team sports in general – wasn’t an option for young girls, it prompts one to revisit and appreciate how the change occurred.

40th anniversary of AYSO launching girls soccer coincides nicely with this summer’s Women’s World Cup, at which, as usual, the USA will field players who got their introduction to soccer in AYSO.

“Why can’t we play?” was the question posed four decades ago to Joe Karbus, now known as the father of AYSO girls soccer.

The question came from girls who watched their brothers enjoying soccer in Granada Hills, Calif. Karbus, whose daughter Kimberly was among those asking, knew there was only one way to respond:

“Why not? Let’s start a league.”

Karbus grew up with the traditional American sports of baseball, basketball and football. He played junior varsity football at the United States Naval Academy and soccer still seemed like a foreign game when his sons, Joe Jr. and Tom, were lured to the sport by AYSO, which was founded in 1964.

“I was fascinated by all the movement,” says Karbus. “But it was obvious something missing, at least to me. The girls would be on the sidelines while the boys were playing and the girls would kick the ball around whenever one became available. They were dying to get into the action.”

Karbus got soccer balls from AYSO, pooled $5 contributions together to buy material for bibs to serve as uniforms, and launched a four-team, 7-a-side league with about 30 girls.

Seeing girls chasing soccer balls in today’s America is as common as spotting boys on the field, but back then it was such a novelty that the Los Angeles Times sent reporters to see what Karbus had started.

The Times' headline announced “Girls Get Own Soccer …” and reported that Karbus was coaching four teams, the Pink Panthers, Magnificent 8, Rockettes and Fillies. San Fernando Valley AYSO Commissioner Ron Ricklefs explained that “a core of girls who were less than content to repeat as cheerleaders for the boys’ games” inspired the organization to create girls leagues.

Karbus recalls, “It was so novel, but it was so natural, that it really caught fire.”

AYSO's launch of girls soccer predated Title IX and came long before the gender-equity law was enforced. When, in 1991, the USA won the inaugural Women’s World Cup, the team included Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, Carin Jennings-Gabarra and Mary Harvey, who all started out in AYSO.

American youth soccer has now become ridiculously expensive, but AYSO continues to provide low-cost soccer to American children because it clings to its belief in volunteer coaches while doing an excellent job providing age appropriate coaching education.

The U.S. team aiming to lift its third World Cup trophy this summer in Germany will as always include AYSO alums, such as midfielder Shannon Boxx, who helped the USA win Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

Alex Morgan scored six goals in her first 14 games for the USA, including a crucial strike in a World Cup qualifying clash with Italy.

"I played AYSO for about eight years until I began playing club at the age of 13 or 14," said Morgan, who starred at Cal Berkeley. "I continued to play AYSO because all of my friends in school played AYSO and still to this day are my best friends. I really enjoyed AYSO because it allowed me to play other sports. When kids get into club sports too early, they tend to get burned out with one sport too early and do not pursue soccer.”

June 03, 2011
The high-school dilemma; Fair play or not?

One of the most unfortunate aspects of American youth soccer is forcing kids to choose between club soccer and high school ball.

By Mike Woitalla
(from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

HIGH SCHOOL VS. CLUB. One of the most unfortunate aspects of American youth soccer is forcing kids to choose between club soccer and high school ball. For sure, in many cases it’s not an either-or, but the pressure on the very elite players, especially those in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, to skip school ball continues to increase.

The Washington Post’s Paul Tenorio did an excellent job reporting on the dilemma in a recent article headlined, “Is it best to play in high school, or on an academy team?”

Tony Lepore, director of scouting for U.S. youth national teams and a technical adviser for the Development Academy, says, “In top footballing nations, school soccer is not where the top players play and develop. That’s how this has evolved and how this shift has continued. ... We’ve given the choice to the clubs. It’s not a mandate yet, but we totally get why they’re choosing that and that’s why we’re supporting it.”

Taylor Twellman, one of the most prolific goalscorers in MLS history, played multiple high school sports and says: “There’s no denying if you play U.S. Development Academy, the coaching, fields, players surrounding you is going to be better, but is that ultimately the goal of life? I don’t know if that trade-off is worth it, but I understand U.S. Soccer’s best opportunity is to get the area’s best players together to train together. I understand that argument, but what is the sacrifice?”


* * * *

FAIR PLAY OR NOT? VIDEO of a goal in an Arkansas high school game has gotten more than 2 million views since posted on YouTube earlier this month. No doubt many found it amusing – two Bryant High School players faking a collision during a free kick to catch Conway High's defenders off guard – but I found it unsportsmanlike at best.

Considering that the defenders may have stopped out of concern for what could have been injured players, should the referee have disallowed the goal? I asked a pair of officiating experts.

“It's a valid goal,” says New York ref Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating." “While you could consider a bit of deception is involved, nothing circumventing the rules to warrant a caution.”

Stanley Lover, a longtime international referee instructor and author of "Official Soccer Rules Illustrated," says, “In my view, the referee was right [in allowing the goal], but I hope he reported the incident to the appropriate authority to examine the video and question the coach.

“If proved as deliberate, I would expect a severe disciplinary sanction against the coach for the relatively unknown charge of ‘bringing the game into disrepute.’”


* * * *

WHAT A BICYCLE KICK! The video I enjoyed more is that of 13-year-old Kenner Galeas of Virginia's U-14 Civitans Bengals. Shot by team manager Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio, it got nearly 2 million views within week. Also remarkable is Galeas' low-key celebration while accepting congrats from his thrilled teammates. Watch it HERE.


* * * *

FROM THE FIELD. I'm used to seeing own goals celebrated by the benefitting team. So this was a first for me: In a U-12 girls game in Concord, Calif., the goalkeeper deflects two shots and then a defender accidentally kicks the ball into her own goal. There’s absolutely no reaction from the attacking team. Not one cheer. They’re frozen, until the referee urges them to move back to their own half for the kickoff. It’s as if they didn’t think it should count.


* * * *

... Kyle Joseph Hoffman, former president of the Healdsburg (Calif.) Youth Soccer League, pleaded no contest to stealing league funds. He’ll be sentenced to nine months in jail, but may receive less time if he makes “substantial” restitution payments. Hoffman was accused of taking more than $53,000 by writing checks to himself from the league's bank account, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. ...

... Georgia United -- a combination of Atlanta area clubs North Atlanta SA, Norcross SA, United Futbol Academy and AFC Lightning – will enter the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in the 2011-12 season. They join the Vancouver Whitecaps as next season's newcomers. ...

... The New York Times’ Jere Longman visited Barcelona’s famed La Masia, the youth program that spawned many of its current stars, such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. “During the week, they rise at 6:45 a.m., eat breakfast and leave for regular school in the city at 7:30. They attend classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., return to La Masia to eat, rest and attend mandatory study groups. Training is held from 7 to 8:45 p.m., followed by dinner and some free time. Lights out for the younger players is 10:30 p.m., 11 for older players." Read more HERE.

... Fifteen years ago then Houston Mayor Bob Lanier started an inner-city sports program out of which grew the very successful Houstonians FC. Now budget woes in the country’s fourth largest city threaten cuts to the parks and recreation department's soccer program at Milby Park in southeast Houston -- a heavily Latino community -- that caters to 5,000 youngsters in the fall. "Very sad,” said Jaime Villegas, the program’s organizer, told KHOU 11 News. “Because the kids are the ones losing."

... Alex Kos has created an online soccer rules test for children, parents, coaches and would-be refs HERE.