August 28, 2011
Mexican clubs cast net over U.S. talent

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

Jose Nino's hopes of attending a four-year college hit a roadblock. The $11,000 from Pell and Cal Grants the 18-year-old is eligible for doesn't cover all the college costs.

“My parents have basically no money,” says Nino, who’s worked in a restaurant since age 16.

So he’s here at the Fremont Soccer Complex near San Francisco among 350 teenagers for Alianza de Futbol’s open tryouts, hoping to impress scouts from Mexican pro clubs.

Kevin Partida, 16, lives in Reno. His father saw ads for the Alianza event on Fox Deportes and drove his son four hours to the Bay Area.

“I hope to reach my goal of being a pro to open the gates for my siblings and people from my city who don’t get looked at a lot,” Partido wrote on his Alianza registration form.

Alianza holds these tryouts in 14 U.S. cities. The top players advance to four regional all-star games with Alianza covering travel expenses. From there, 18 players are picked for the National All-Star game against Chivas Guadalajara’s U-18 squad. A game against an MLS squad is also planned.

The Alianza events are combined with youth and adult tournaments and clinics that help attract the sponsors who fund the tryout portion. At the Fremont event, 400 children attend the Sunday morning clinic that features Mexican hero Jorge Campos. (Kids signed up for the clinic at the stores of sponsor Verizon.)

The main attraction for the teens (born 1991-1995) trying out are scouts from Mexican clubs. The Alianza organizers lament the negligible response they’ve gotten from college coaches or U.S. Soccer scouts. There were no signs of college coaches in Fremont, but Hugo Perez, the great U.S. playmaker of the 1980s and early 90s, and now a U.S. Soccer scout, is here.

The selection process goes rapidly. After each 30-minute game, the scouts call out the names of those who progress while the rest return their pinnies.

Making the decisions, in addition to Perez, are scouts from Chivas Guadalajara (Arturo Espinosa), Club Tijuana (Arturo Ramirez), and Enrique Echeverria, the Mexican federation’s scout for its U-17 national team.

Since U.S.-born Mexican-Americans became eligible for Mexican citizenship, Chivas Guadalajara has brought several U.S.-born players into its program, including current first-team starter Miguel Ponce, and Julio Morales, whom it discovered through Alianza and who now plays for Guadalajara’s U-20 team

Club Tijuana earned promotion to the top flight last season thanks much to the feats of Joe Benny Corona, an L.A. native. And when Mexico won the 2011 World Cup, its goalkeeper was Richard Sanchez, born in California and raised in Texas.

“Considering how much Mexican-American talent there is in the USA, it makes perfect sense for us to look here,” says Echeverria. “Whenever we hear a rumor about a Mexican-American talent, whether in Dallas or anywhere in the USA, we come and check him out. We usually hear about them from Mexican clubs who are scouting in the USA.”

If Echeverria sees potential stars in the USA, he recommends them to Mexican clubs.

* * * *

After the last game at the Alianza event in Northern California on Saturday, the names of the final 18 players who will on Sunday play a San Jose Earthquakes youth academy team are being called out as the players sit on the grass.

Jose Nino’s name is not called. He says he will attend a junior college this semester and keep trying to get into a four-year school. He doesn’t play adult league soccer because he has to work on Sundays. He shakes the scouts’ hands, says good-bye, and leaves the field.

Partida plays club ball in Reno for Sagebrush SC. Two years ago, he attended ODP and was selected for the state team but dropped out after it became too expensive.

He stands about 5-foot-6 and impresses all the scouts at the Alianza tryouts. He patrols the midfield in Sunday’s game against the Quakes’ team, darting away from foes and striking crisp, accurate passes.

After the game, the Quakes' coaches invite Partida and four other Alianza players to attend their next three practices sessions to vie for a spot on their U.S. Soccer Development Academy team. But Partida reveals to Quakes coach Marquis White that he can’t make it, because he lives in Reno.

White, sensing the boy’s disappointment in getting an invite he can’t accept, jokes to Partida about moving to San Jose, but the boy shakes his head without managing a smile.

Now Espinosa and Ramirez are gathering groups of players to invite them for extended trials at their clubs. The players will live in the clubs’ academy dorms and be evaluated during two weeks of training.

Partida gets an invite from Chivas Guadalajara, says he looks forward to the trip and tryout, and finally cracks a smile.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

August 15, 2011
Precocious pros; Lack-of-height advantage(?); Reyna on 'players first'

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

A player who still needs a ride to practice from his parents scored his first Major League Soccer goal earlier this month. ...

Diego Fagundez, who turned at 16 last Valentine’s Day, made his MLS debut as a 66th minute sub and scored 20 minutes later against Chivas USA.

Born in Uruguay, Fagundez moved to the USA at age 5. His youth clubs included FC United and FC Greater Boston Bolts before joining the New England Revolution's Academy team. Last year, at age 15, the Revs' made him the youngest player signed by MLS since Freddy Adu in 2004 at age 14.

Fagundez, who is entering his sophomore year at Leominster High School, does have his learner’s permit but has been too busy focusing on his new career to take driver’s ed classes. In Scott Barboza’s ESPN.com article, "Revs' teen phenom soaking it in," Fagundez says, "I let my parents drive in the morning so I can sleep an extra hour on the way in. On the way back, I'll drive."

* * * *

... Real Salt Lake’s 17-year-old midfielder Luis Gil, who played youth ball for Southern California’s Pateadores before joining the U.S.  U-17 Residency in Bradenton, also scored his first goal in August. (Check out video of Gil and Fagundez's goals HERE.) Texan Omar Salgado, picked No. 1 in the 2011 draft by Vancouver, made the list with a strike in April. Here’s MLS youngest goalscorers:

1. Freddy Adu
D.C. United
2. Diego Fagundez 16
New England
3. Santino Quaranta
D.C. United 2003
4. Eddie Gaven
New York
5. Jozy Altidore
New York
6. Abdus Ibrahim
Toronto FC
7. Andy Najar
D.C. United
8. Eddie Johnson
Dallas 2001
9. Omar Salgado
10. Luis Gil
Real Salt Lake

... Revolution vice president Mike Burns told ESPN.com: "You look at teenage phenoms and some of them have hit their peaks at 15, 17 years old, then at 25, you never hear of them again. Some guys develop earlier and others develop later. Some guys that might not be as advanced at 17 might become a fantastic player by the time they're 25. You never know.

"We hope we have [Fagundez] on the right track so that he's not one of those kids you don't hear about 10 years from now."

* * * *

… Both Gil and Fagundez are listed as 5-foot-8. Jonathan Wilson of the The Guardian (UK) brought up the size issue in his piece on Spain’s “Dynasty,” which be believes will rule for at least the next decade thanks to the success and technical expertise of Spain's youth teams. They won this year’s U-19 and U-21 European Championship, and Spain played brilliantly at the U-20 World Cup before falling to Brazil on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie in the quarterfinals.

Writes Wilson: “The Spanish game in general, is more prepared to give smaller players their chance. Seven of Spain's starting XI against Brazil were under 6-foot. It is a simplistic theory, but perhaps, particularly at youth level, smaller players have to think more than their larger opponents, and so they develop football intelligence earlier. (England, I note with a shudder, had the tallest squad at the Under-20 World Cup).”

England exited after going four games without scoring.

* * * *

... Goal.com’s J.R. Eskilson, in his piece headlined, “The environment hinders growth in U.S. youth soccer,” spoke with Claudio Reyna, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Youth Technical Director. Reyna’s comments included, “The kids should not be in stressful environments at this age. …

“As it is now, it is way too focused with parents and coaches dominating. The game is always about the players first. It should be about them, and not about the parents, coaches, and adults who nine times out of 10 screw it for the kids in our country. ...

“We have kids who are hungry and committed, so the focus is to remove [the stress and politics of youth club soccer] from the players."

* * * *

... QUITE A RUN.  CASL Chelsea's Eric Steber has been a part of all U.S. Soccer Development Academy Finals since the program’s first season in 2007-08, twice at the U-15/16 level and twice at U-17/18. “Eric has been a leader by example for many years. He is a very quiet person by nature, but all of his teammates feed off of his energy and desire to be successful,” said Rusty Scarborough, CASL’s Director of Coaching, and coach of this year's 5th-place U-17/18 squad. A right back who likes to attack, Steber is entering his freshman year at Furman.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

August 14, 2011
Can Klinsmann make a grass-roots impact?

Before Jurgen Klinsmann's debut as U.S. coach against Mexico, ESPN's Julie Foudy asked him, "How would you define success over the next three years?" It's noteworthy that Klinsmann steered his response to youth soccer:

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

“I define success in individual development of players. Soccer traditionally is a lower-class sport. We need to find ways to give those lower-class kids the opportunity to play in the club environments where there’s a lot of money involved. We need to find ways to get the kids who are in a club environment to also play and kick the ball around in unorganized ways.”

When Klinsmann moved to the USA 13 years ago, shortly after retiring from a superstar playing career, he explained his short-term plans: Taking classes at a technology college to learn how the Internet “will change our society.” Taking Spanish classes. And exploring youth soccer development.

Klinsmann got involved in the adidas ESP Camp, a player development showcase for America's top teens. Along with former Germany teammates, he founded FD21 (“Fussball in Deutschland in the 21st Century”), an initiative aimed at getting children to play more soccer. ("If we can get kids interested again in just going out for an informal game of soccer now and then, we will be headed for a better future for the sport.")

The 1990 World Cup winner has often commented on the importance of free play. In 2003 at an NSCAA Convention, Klinsmann told Marc Connolly of ESPNSoccerNet:

"Soccer, in my opinion, is self-teaching. The more you play, the better you get. You don't see kids play in the park these days. It's only in an organized environment. We are starting to have that similar problem in Europe, as well. Certain things are not teachable.”

A year ago, Klinsmann told SI.com’s Grant Wahl, “You have the fact that [in the USA] it's mostly organized soccer, when we know that the best players in the world come out of unorganized events.”

The topic came up again in Klinsmann’s first press conference as U.S. national team coach.

“What is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, the top 10-12 nations around the world, is the amount of time kids play the game,” he said. “If you have a kid who plays in Mexico 20 hours a week, and maybe four hours of organized soccer but 16 hours of unorganized soccer just banging the ball around in the neighborhood, but if he gets up to 20 hours it doesn’t matter how he plays it, with his dad or with his buddies in the street.

“This will show later on with his technical abilities, with his passing, with his instinct on the field and all those things, and I think that’s certainly an area where a lot of work is ahead of us.”

Klinsmann also remarked on the recent progress U.S. Soccer has made: The U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s launch in 2007 and the appointment last year of Claudio Reyna as Youth Technical Director and his unveiling of a youth coaching curriculum.

“I want Claudio very close to me,” said Klinsmann. “He will always be a part of the staff, and he will sit with us coaches at the table so I can tell him how I look at the game and how I can be of help to him.”

Commenting on the youth national teams, and whether they should all play the same system as the senior team, Klinsmann said:

“Obviously, you won’t have a copy in your under-20 or under-17 of the men’s national team because players are different. Players have all different characteristics, so every coach needs to find his own little path of how to put things together. But overall it should be a broader understanding of how also the youth teams should play, and this will be one of the main topics going forward.”

Klinsmann also spoke about the USA finally creating its own, American style of play. A topic which, like the inclusion of the USA’s Latino talent, his two most recent predecessors didn’t talk about much.

“It’s actually a fascinating point and I think, yes, the youth teams should reflect, again, the mixture of your cultures,” Klinsmann said. “It should reflect what’s going on in your country and there’s so much going on and that’s why I think Claudio Reyna’s role is very, very important to find a path, with us together, how those teams should play and how they should be put together.

“There’s so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 15-20 years. It also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team, and you have so many kids now with dual citizenship, Mexican or other Central American countries and American, so that will always be a topic to discuss.”

Klinsmann’s timing is good. He will benefit from the fact that since Sunil Gulati was elected president in 2006 U.S. Soccer has made youth player development a priority, and from MLS’s ambitious entry into the youth game.

Klinsmann’s predecessors made major contributions to improving the direction of youth soccer, but did so mainly behind the scenes. In his short time at the helm, Klinsmann has indicated a willingness to use his bully pulpit to make important points about the youth game in America.

The American youth game problems that Klinsmann cites may not be revelations and he won’t get a magic wand to make them go away. He can’t be expected to single-handedly encourage American children to play pickup soccer.

But his statements might very well have an influence on the coaches and parents at the grass-roots who are ultimately responsible for creating the soccer environment for America's children.

August 04, 2011
Klinsmann's Early Years - Running free with the ball

Juergen Klinsmann, the new USA coach, played in his first organized soccer game shortly before his 9th birthday, in Gingen, a German village with a population of 400.

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

He sat on the bench until, with 10 minutes left, the coach realized he’d better put the youngster on the field before he burst with energetic enthusiasm. That’s how Klinsmann’s biographer, Hans Blickensdoerfer, described it.

But just before Klinsmann charged onto the field, he stopped and said to the coach, “Please sir, I don’t actually know what offside means. Can you quickly run it through with me?”

Once on the field, Klinsmann, inhibited by stage fright and fear of offside, ran around like a headless chicken, writes Blickensdoerfer.

Juergen’s father, Siegfried Klinsmann, was a baker and gymnastics instructor. His son, however, preferred kicking a soccer ball around the gym where his father taught. And Siegfried was fine with that.

“We had four boys, and so I imagined we would end up with a family gymnastics team,” said Siegfried, who died in 2005. “Then suddenly a soccer ball flashed through the midst of this vision, and that was that. … Despite being a gymnast myself, I understood and was happy with the idea that Juergen had more fun with a moving ball than with fixed gymnastic apparatus.

“I took him off the compulsory gymnastics program, and let him run free with the ball.”

Juergen played school and pickup soccer before joining the TB Gingen team. He kicked the ball against the garage door – to let off steam after coming from school, he once said – but it also honed his skills.

And it was only six months after Juergen’s tentative appearance in his first game that the boy gave notice of future stardom: he scored 16 goals in a 40-minute game. And finished the season with 106 goals in 18 games.

(Siegfried had made a record-book for Juergen to note his goals and teams' results throughout his youth career, according to Michael Horeni’s biography of Klinsmann. Siegfried inscribed it with, “Be honest in competition, humble in victory, accept each defeat without envy, and have an attitude of decency.”)

At age 10, in 1974, Juergen joined a bigger, more demanding club in a neighboring town, and commuted to SC Geislingen’s practices by bike. Klinsmann scored bucket loads of goals for Geislingen in outdoor and indoor soccer.

Long before Klinsmann earned real “dough,” Siegfried would often be seen encouraging his son from behind the goal carrying a large basket of pretzels as incentive, writes Blickensdoerfer.

When Juergen was 14, the Klinsmanns moved to Stuttgart when his father bought a bakery, at which his mother, Martha, also worked, in the suburb of Botnang.

Juergen wanted to continue soccer with his friends, writes Horeni, and for a while kept playing for SC Geislingen. A few times a week, the club would pick him up from Stuttgart, 37 miles away, and Juergen would take the train back late in the evening or spend the night with friends.

But Klinsmann was being courted by Stuttgart’s pro clubs, which had noticed him on the Wuerttemberg regional team, and he joined Stuttgart Kickers' youth program in 1978.

In 1980, he received a call up to play for the German U-16 national team, which was coached by Berti Vogts (with whom Klinsmann would celebrate the 1996 European Championship title, six years after winning the 1990 Word Cup under Coach Franz Beckenbauer).

Klinsmann signed a professional contract with Stuttgart Kickers at age 16 in 1981, but also started an apprenticeship at his father’s bakery. Siegfried told him, “If it doesn’t work out in soccer, then at least you’ll have a proper job. It also allows you to train in the afternoons.” (Work at the bakery began at 5 am.)

In the third season of his pro career, Klinsmann scored 19 goals in 35 games for the second division Kickers. In 1984, at age 20, he moved to crosstown rival VfB Stuttgart and became a star in the Bundesliga’s first division, averaging one goal every two games, leading to a long career that included stints with Inter Milan, Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich. He scored 47 goals in 108 appearances for Germany.

Klinsmann received his baker’s diploma in 1982 at Berufschule Hoppenlau in Stuttgart, but would never need to fall back on that career option.