September 28, 2011
U.S. Academy 'closing the gap'; MLS teen debut; Why no keepers at U-8 level
As the U.S. Soccer Development Academy entered its fifth season this month, nearly a third of its 78 clubs moved to a 10-month season, no longer taking a three-month break during which players would commonly play high-school ball, or in the case of Southern California, in the Coast Soccer League.
By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
Clubs in three of the 10 Academy divisions -- Southern California, Northwest and Texas -- will play a 10-month season. That might not make high school coaches happy, but Federation leaders hail the move.
“Around the world, kids at the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age level play for 10 months and they train more than our kids, so this helps us close that gap,” said Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director.
Said Texans SC Houston Director of Coaching Scott James, “Here in Texas we have been playing from September through December, taking three and a half months away from each other and then we have to cram nine to 12 games into a two-month span. We didn’t have to be sold on moving to single-game weekends or having more training sessions. It was a no brainer for us to move in that direction.”
Tony Lepore, the Academy's Director of Scouting, said by fall 2012, all the clubs will be on a 10-month schedule.
“We’ve added at least two months of high-level training and meaningful games into their schedule where otherwise they were doing something else, in most cases high school,” said Lepore. “It’s just more continuity and, again, more time spent training.
“These clubs will have fewer double fixture weekends, more single fixture weekends, so in turn they’ll be able to have a more consistent schedule with a more productive rhythm between training and matches which will help narrow their focus.”
… The U.S. Soccer Academy kicked off in October of 2007 with 64 clubs. There are now 78 -- including 15 MLS clubs -- each with a U-15/16 and U-17/18 team for a total of 156 teams. Check out the Academy map HERE. …
… Georgia United and Vancouver Whitecaps are this year’s Academy newcomers. Cosmos Academy West has merged with Chivas USA. …
ACADEMY CHAMPS SO FAR …
2007-08 Carmel United (Ind.)*
2008-09 Derby County Wolves (Mich.)
2009-10 Chicago Fire
2010-11 Los Angeles Galaxy
* Changed to name to Indiana United Academy following year.
2007-08 Baltimore Bays*
2008-09 Indiana United Academy
2009-10 Vardar (Mich.)
2010-11 Pateadores (Calif.)
* Now called Baltimore Bays Chelsea.
* * * *
TEEN DEBUT. Zach Pfeffer, who turned 16 in January, made his MLS debut last weekend, starting and playing 63 minutes for the Philadelphia Union in a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew. The midfielder was signed as the Union’s first “homegrown” player at age 15. He also played youth ball for FC Delco Academy's U.S. Academy U-15/U-16 team, as well as for the Upper Dublin, Cheltenham, YMS and Montgomery United youth clubs. He spent the spring semester of 2010 at the U.S. U-17 Residency in Bradenton, Fla.
Union and Fox Soccer commentator JP Dellacamera observed, “Young Zach did well in his 61 minutes of work. If he was nervous out there on the field, he sure didn’t let us know. He seemed composed on the ball and confident while playing on a field with some players more than double his age. No doubt that playing in Reserve League games, plus international friendlies, has helped Pfeffer make good progress."
* * * *
QUAKES EXTEND YOUTH REACH. The San Jose Earthquakes have linked up with the Evergreen United Education Foundation (EUEF) to develop soccer and education programs for local youth in East San Jose. The partnership will mix soccer with academic tutoring for pool of 13,500 children involved in after-school programs. The club, San Jose Earthquakes EU, will feature U-9 to U-12 teams in AYSO and NorCal Premier and will be run by former Quakes assistant coach Jorge Espinoza.
All participants in the soccer program and tutoring program will receive tickets to attend Earthquakes home games with their families. The program participants will be bused to the games and then bused back to school sites following the games.
* * * *
FURTHER READING. ... On his SidelineSportsDoc.com blog, Dr. Dev Mishra addresses the question of whether there are more injuries from playing on artificial turf than natural grass. “I don’t think there’s any better playing surface than a well-maintained grass field, but I’d prefer one of the newer varieties of turf fields over a poorly maintained grass field any day,” Mishra writes. Moreover, the type of shoes worn can have an impact on injury rates. Read the article HERE. ...
... Ryan McCormack, at TheShinGuardian.com, offers "A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer," which looks at the Top 6 issues Jurgen Klinsmann needs to address with U.S. youth soccer. Among his conclusions: "To create a soccer culture here, practices need to be less about drills, winning, and X’s and O’s, especially at the younger ages. The game itself is the greatest teacher, and kids should be encouraged in practice to take risks and try new things. They’re more likely to get more touches on the ball away from practice if they are having fun at competitive practices.". Read the article HERE.
... There are some good reasons why games should be played without goalkeepers until the U-10 level and they're addressed by AYSO's National Coach Instructor John Ouellette and Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer's Coaching Director. Both AYSO and USYS discourage the use of keepers at the U-8 level and below. Snow writes, "The U-8 age group is still in an egocentric phase of psychological development, which tells us that we should allow these children to run and chase the ball, to be in the game –- not waiting at the end of the field for the game to come to them. It is more important at this age that they chase the game. Children this age want to play with the toy (the ball) and they need to go to where the toy is to be fully engaged." Read Snow's article HERE. …
Ouellette reiterates that point and also notes that, "In their early experiences with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when there's no goalkeeper." Read Ouellette's article HERE.
September 23, 2011
Claudio Reyna: 'It all ties into style of play'
As U.S. Soccer's Youth Technical Director, Claudio Reyna believes a key to improving American player development is convincing more youth clubs to strive for a style of play conducive to nurturing talent.
Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
The 78-club U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which kicked off its fifth season this month, is a integral part of the national team program’s quest to improve American soccer. We spoke with Reyna about the process …
SOCCER AMERICA: I’d say that the USA produces many more good players than ever but doesn’t produce truly exceptional, creative players at a better rate than it did 20, even 30 years ago. Would you agree?
CLAUDIO REYNA: To a certain degree. There’s a bigger pool of players. I like some players who stand out at certain age groups – whose names I’d rather not mention to keep them level headed. But, absolutely, we could use some more exceptional players.
On the one side the average player has improved over the last 10 to 20 years, but if you look at the top-tier players -- we can definitely push ourselves to increase the number of those, and it’s the coaches who can make that happen.
SA: What can coaches do?
CLAUDIO REYNA: We have to make sure we nurture those players in the right way because sometimes they haven’t been given a chance -- maybe because of the style of play or because of a particular coach.
I believe a Wesley Sneijder would have never developed in an ugly style of play. He grew up in a country [Netherlands] where he was allowed to flourish and play, and that goes for all the Spanish players, all the great German players, all the great Argentine and Brazilian players.
It really all ties back to style of play -- if we don’t make sure it’s a good style of play, potentially great players are going to get lost in the helter-skelter, fast type of soccer.
If we encourage a much better style of play, then those players will enjoy playing in that environment and will be able to shine.
In my opinion, sometimes the soccer is quite ugly to watch -- you can’t even spot the talented player because he’s caught up in that type of game.
That’s one of the reasons a better style of play at the youth level will help the individuals coming up.
SA: Thanks to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the Federation has influence over 78 clubs who field teams at both the U-15/16 and U-17/18 level. Can you give me an example of what you and the Federation staff look for when evaluating an Academy club?
CLAUDIO REYNA: We look at how a team is trying to play. There are certain styles of play we’re trying to get away from.
For example, we’re trying to have the teams play quick but want to make sure there’s a thought process going on. Sometimes we have teams playing quick, but it’s very helter-skelter -- and we want to try and change that.
Sometimes we have teams that play really well with the right ideas in their head, but yet they do it too slow.
SA: Give us an example of a key thing you’re looking for when you go to a youth game that reveals the coaches are on the wrong track when it comes to style-of-play …
CLAUDIO REYNA: There are specific topics we talk about from the technical and tactical that we like to see. One, for example, is the emphasis of playing out of the back – from the goalie and the back four.
It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to notice a goalkeeper gets the ball and punts it every time he has the ball. The four defenders turn their back every time the goalkeeper gets the ball and run upfield because they know he’s punting.
That shows me right away there isn’t enough emphasis at the club to train playing out of the back.
The ones who lose out ultimately are the players, because a defender, at one point, especially at the national team level, is going to need the skills to play out of the back. It’s going to be difficult to develop central backs if all they’re doing their entire career is kicking the ball up as far as they can, heading it as far as they can.
Emphasizing that we’re looking for them to play out of the back, through the midfield, in turn will develop more midfield players who are used to receiving the ball from the defenders.
SA: Encouraging young players to play possession ball in their own half is risky because they’ll give up goals – and lose games. Is it the Federation’s belief that by evaluating clubs on style of play it will alleviate the pressure on coaches to resort to a results-driven approach?
CLAUDIO REYNA: Yes, and the idea is that the club should be focusing on training this at the young ages so by the time they get to U-14, U-15, U-16, they’re very comfortable playing out of the back.
There are many clubs that are doing a very good job, trying to promote playing the right way. We’re lucky to have good examples to follow and we reward and highlight them.
The easy way, absolutely, to play for wins at the younger ages is to tell the goalie to kick it up the field, and everytime there’s a throw-in or a free kick, to send it to the corner and everyone chases it, but I don’t think I’m unveiling any secrets when I say that’s not going to develop players.
You’re not going to get results all the time encouraging your young players to play out of the back, but you’re going to get better players. And I believe, in the long-term, you’re going to have better teams.
(Claudio Reyna was named the U.S. Soccer Federation's Youth Technical Director in April 2010. Reyna played nearly 13 years in the top-tier leagues of Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and England (Sunderland, Manchester City). He represented the USA in four World Cups, and captained the Americans to a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, where he became the first American selected to the FIFA World Cup all-star team.)
September 13, 2011
Growing pains: Girls face challenge of the 'commotional' years
Age-appropriate coaching has been cited as extremely important in player development. The Youth Soccer Insider begins a series on this topic with a look at the challenges faced by female players as they transition into their teen years by checking in with Tad Bobak, one of the most experienced and successful girls coaches in American youth soccer.
By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
Bobak, who served almost three years as U.S. U-15 girls national team coach, is currently in his fifth cycle of coaching a team from U-11 to U-18 at the So Cal Blues, an all-girls club in the soccer hotbed of Southern California. Bobak is also co-director of the Blues, which have won four U.S. Youth Soccer national titles and sent scores of players to the higher levels.
“These are very sensitive topics, because, to me, boys’ growth is different than girls',” says Bobak. “We’re talking about the mental and physical.”
Bobak defines the physical part as speed and strength.
“If they’re fortunate to keep the speed they had when they were young, that’s already a big success,” he says of girls moving into their teens. “In many cases, that speed does not move up through the years the way it does with guys. Many times the speed of females drops through the years, unlike guys.
“The physical strength of a player can increase through the years as the body evolves and gets more mature, but it can also decrease.”
The physical changes happen at different times for different girls, but in general, says Bobak, “Everything kind of comes together at about 14. It’s a very emotional process from 11, 12 and 13. Those are very commotional years on the soccer field, especially here in the States where there’s so much screaming, so much competition, so much [focus on] winning and so much hype wound up.
“It’s a storm and I feel for these kids to go through such pressures. Year in and year out, I see that continuously on the soccer field and it’s not a healthy arena for the girls because there’s so much pressure on them in competitive club soccer.
“If they are able to survive that and things are kind of kept in healthy way, then at 14 I kind of want to see them perform their best.”
But girls often struggle as their bodies change and Bobak has seen players who were dominant in their pre-teen years no longer make the impact on the game that they used to. The ones who manage to come through the difficult transition period are those who have a solid skill base and a high level of mental aggressiveness and competitiveness in them.
“If a player body-wise is light in her frame and gets knocked around a lot, but she still puts herself into 50-50 situations, even though she ends up on the ground, because she has aggressiveness – that player, when her body fills out, regains her productivity,” he says.
“But if from the beginning she’s a more passive player mentally, and she gets knocked around, the confidence level drops a lot where many times it cannot be regained.”
Bobak says that he’s come to the conclusion that mental aggressiveness can’t be taught.
“Thirty years ago, I found the girls needed to be more mentally aggressive in this competitive arena, so I used to work out drills where there’s a lot of 50-50 battles, a lot of physical confrontations, to bring out mental aggressiveness in the players,” he says. “I believed that I could extract that mental aggressiveness. But I found out in this 30-year process that I can’t draw mental aggressiveness if they don’t have that makeup.
“Now the ones who have it, I notice what I’m doing is I’m polishing what they have. But if they’re not able to have that aggressiveness, I’m not able to bring it out. I can’t polish something that doesn’t exist. I haven’t seen anything out there to bring it out.
“I can only keep aggressiveness going in a positive direction in the ones who have it.”
SKILL BASE IS KEY. Players who are technically sound can persevere when their athleticism lags.
“The key thing is the skill base,” Bobak says. “If they have good body form when they pass the ball, when they collect the ball, when they dribble the ball, when they shoot the ball – it might get shaky a bit during those tumultuous years but when everything catches up, when their bodies fill out – they regain in their impactfulness. The base is still there and that base can even be shined.
“But if the base is not there, it’s never going to be there later on.
“These are very sensitive things, because they’ll say, ‘You’re giving up on a kid already.’ But what I’ve seen is that players who are 11, 12, 13 and are very helter-skelter in their base of skills, I haven’t come across a player who’s found those skills later on in my 40 years of coaching. So I have to go with what I’ve experienced. Now people who haven’t gone through that experience are hanging me from a tree.”
A problem in youth soccer is that the very young players who are endowed with physical strengths and mental aggressiveness are not allowed to refine technically and tactically, says Bobak, because they’re winning games with those attributes.
“We have players who have an incredible mental, physical strength, but their ability to handle the ball is choppy and inconsistent,” he says. “Our arena doesn’t allow the ball-handing to be refined because they relied so much on the mental and the physical, and our arena kept rewarding them. ‘Oh don’t worry about your skills out there because you’re getting the results we want you to get.’”
STRENGTH AND SPEED. Bobak is skeptical about the strength and conditioning coaches, and all fitness centers that promise to help kids become more agile, quicker, speedier, stronger.
"These centers profess they can make a major impact on these players, because obviously they want your money,” says Bobak, who cites a scale of measuring strength and speed from 0-50, and considers the 40-to-50 zone that of an elite athlete. “What they do, is they can add 5 steps. That’s the most that they can add in physical speed and strength. If you’re 30 on that scale and you’re adding 5, you’re at 35.
“Have you added to your speed? Yes. Are you in the competitive zone? No. Your speed has improved, so there’s merit to their work. But it’s a very small merit. If they were 33 in their strength, now they’re 38, but they’re not in the competitive zone.
“Let’s say they’re 40 in speed and 40 in strength. They’re in the competitive zone. They go to these people and they’re at 45. So they’re going against an athlete who’s 40, and that athlete doesn’t do that, obviously the one who did it is going to be 45 and the other one is at 40.
“But the information comes back to the layperson that there’s these miraculous changes out there, and the changes are only five steps.
“Well, I don’t recommend this at all for the girls out there ages 12, 13, 14, 15.
“What I’ve seen when they do that, these girls having private soccer coaching lessons, they have their own club coaches, they go to these centers, they go to these soccer camps, and what I see is girls at 16 burnt out of soccer. They’re burnt out. They don’t want to come to practice or games. They’re burnt out here in America. I see that over and over.
“Going to these centers when they’re young is nonsense. But these parents are driving them in car pools to these things. When they’re older, OK, start doing a little beginning sort of program.”
PRIORITIES CHANGE. On the mental side, as girls grow up, their focus on soccer can change and affect their play.
“The mental part when it comes to female soccer can change through the years because their interest in the sport of soccer changes a lot,” Bobak says. “When they’re engaged and very much interested and focused, there is that mental enthusiasm that they display because it’s sort of the primary thing they’re involved in. But when it becomes secondary and third-place, obviously the mental enthusiasm is not as big now.
“Sometimes you see that mental aspect in the female player change because there are other priorities in their lives and their activities start getting bigger.”
Their passion for the sport may also diminish if they’re being asked to do too much.
“In my case here, State Cup ends for these young ones end of February, beginning of March,” he says. “Our season starts the middle of July and it goes all the way to the middle of February. Non-stop besides two weeks for Christmas. When it comes to February, we have tryouts. All of March and all of April, I give them off. Parents are upset. Parents go beserk.
“The ego of the parents drives this whole female soccer phenomenon. ‘I want my daughter to be better. I want more. Give me more, give me more because I want to stick out my chest.’ That’s the mentality of the American culture.
“In May, we get together once a week, non-mandatory. And we play in two tournaments, non-mandatory in May, just to get a little bit of team chemistry with the new players. End of May, I give them another six weeks off and parents are going crazy. The kids, when they’re 17, 18, they come back to me and they thank me for those six weeks I gave them off when they were young. Because they’re so burned out.”
(Tad Bobak, the co-director of the So Cal Blues, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1950. He spent the first 12 years of his life in Brazil and then lived in Europe for nine years before moving in 1971 to California, where he started his coaching career in AYSO in 1972. He started coaching club soccer in 1974 and helped start, along with Marine Cano, the Cal-South Girls Olympic Development Program in 1982. Bobak coached girls ODP for 18 years. He also coached women’s amateur adult club soccer for 15 years, winning a USASA national title in 2002. In 1979, he volunteered to be the L.A. Aztecs' equipment manager so he could observe legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels train the likes of Johan Cruyff. In 1986, Bobak coached Fram-Culver, which included future Hall of Famer Marcelo Balboa, to the McGuire Cup boys U-19 national title. Bobak also had stints as a men’s assistant coach at UCLA and men’s assistant coach at Cal State L.A., as well as the head women’s coach at UC Santa Barbara. Bobak co-founded the So Cal Blues with Larry Draluck in 1990. Bobak won US Youth Soccer girls national titles in 2000 (U-16) and 2007 (U-15).)
September 05, 2011
For Kids Only
This column is for the kids. Adults can stop reading now.
By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
Dear Soccer-Playing Children of America,
The fall season is underway and I'm hoping you're having a great time. I'm hoping that you're playing soccer more than you have to stand in line and do drills.
I hope you're falling in love with the soccer ball and keep it with you as much as you can. Juggling it. Kicking it against a wall. Dribbling it around in your backyard.
And I especially hope that your parents aren't screaming at you during your soccer games.
I worry that you probably do get yelled at, because that's what I see at almost all the youth soccer games I go to. Hopefully you just ignore it. But I don't blame you if it bothers you.
No one enjoys getting screamed at. Sure, if you start crossing the street on a red light or throw a toy at your little sister or brother, your parents are justified in raising their voices. But they shouldn't scream at you while you're playing a game.
If they do, it doesn't mean they're bad people. But, unfortunately, sports does something to adults that makes them behave in ways they usually wouldn't.
You may have noticed this if you watched sports on TV. A coach, for example, dresses up in a fancy suit and throws tantrums like a 3-year-old.
Get adults around sports and all of a sudden they forget the same manners they try to teach you. In a way, sports are like driving. A grown-up gets behind the wheel and all of a sudden forgets you're not supposed to pick your nose in public.
And when grown-ups go watch their children play soccer, they, for some reason, think it's OK to scream like maniacs. Perhaps they don't realize what they're doing. Like the nose-pickers on the freeway who think they've suddenly gone invisible.
I hope you're able to block out all the sideline noise. But maybe you do hear their shouts. Telling you when to shoot the ball, when to pass it. Ignore all that!
You need to dribble the ball. Try to dribble past players. If you're dribbling too much, your teammates will let you know. And they'll help you make the decision of when to pass and when to dribble.
You decide when to shoot. When you're dribbling toward the goal and the goalkeeper is 20 yards away, and the adults are screaming at you to shoot, don't pay attention. Because if you get closer to the goal, it will be harder for the goalkeeper to stop your shot.
One of the really cool things about my job is that I get to interview the best coaches in America. And you know what the national team coaches tell me? They say young players are far more likely to become great players if they're allowed to make their own decisions when they play soccer.
They say that coaches should coach at practice, and when it's game time, it's time for the children to figure things out on their own. It's like at school. The teachers help you learn. Your parents may help you with homework. But when you get a test, you're on your own.
That's just an analogy. I'm not saying soccer is school! Soccer is your playtime.
I hope you have lots of playtime, on the soccer field and elsewhere. But I bet that you don't have as much time playing without adults around as we did when we were children.
When we were kids we had summer days when we would leave the house in the morning, be only with other children all day, then see our parents when we got back in the late afternoon.
Things have changed. The reasons adults are much more involved in your activities than they were when they were children are complicated, and a result of your parents' good intentions.
But sometimes we adults forget how important it is for you to play without us interfering. We love watching you play, especially on the soccer field, because it is such a wonderful sport. But we need to be reminded that it's your playtime.
You should decide. Ignore the shouts if you can. But don't be afraid to say, "I'm trying my best. Please, don't scream at me."
September 01, 2011
Brad Rothenberg: 'Latino talent critically important to U.S. future'
Since Brad Rothenberg co-founded Alianza de Futbol in 2004, the program's tournaments and tryouts in U.S. Hispanic communities have become a magnet for Mexicans clubs scouting U.S.-bred talent. We spoke to Rothenberg about the integration of Hispanics into mainstream American soccer and the challenges faced by young Latino players in the USA.
Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
SOCCER AMERICA: How important do you believe Latino talent is in the USA’s quest to become a soccer world power?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Latino talent is critically important to U.S. Soccer’s future. We need to change our mix at the National Team level. I am very encouraged by the quotes from Jurgen Klinsmann that we have to penetrate the cultural and ethnic divide that exists in U.S. Soccer to develop the players we need to compete at the top international level.
Latinos offer three unique ingredients: 1. Latino kids have superior ball skills and are more comfortable in tight spaces. That seems to be taken as gospel now by the soccer cognoscenti. 2. Latino kids “need” the game to bring them opportunity. 3. Those same kids often play -- are even given no option but to play -- “unstructured” soccer where they develop a confidence and style that elevates their game -- much like African-American kids playing on inner-city blacktops changed basketball and the NBA.
The Latino skill and hunger combined with the athleticism and power of the traditional Anglo affiliated and college player blended by a special national team coach is the recipe we should be after.
SA: How far has the U.S. national team program come in tapping into its immigrant Hispanic population – the majority of which hails from soccer-mad countries?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Clearly it has improved in the past 15-20 years; look at the surnames of kids on the best youth club teams and you’ll find more Hispanics.
But the real question is how far has the program come in spite of itself. The system is still “pay to play” and that puts money over talent. I think June 21, 2002 was a landmark moment for U.S. Soccer -- it set the development program way back. Our team was on the threshold of World Cup elite status. Even though we lost to Germany, the future was limitless. But instead of using that game as a catalyst to find the missing pieces that may have lead to the creation of a youth identification and development program, U.S. Soccer sat back and lost a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Recently, U.S. Soccer has stepped up development. Things are improving but here we are in 2011 and there is still no program dedicated to identifying Latino talent among the millions of youth players playing on unaffiliated teams across the country.
SA: To what extent are young Latino players being missed by the traditional U.S. national team program identification programs?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: The majority of the kids that come to tryout in our Alianza program in 14 U.S. cities are unaffiliated; few if any know about the [U.S. Soccer Development] Academy program; most know about but haven’t been connected to MLS Academy clubs.
There is only so much MLS can do (and MLS Academy clubs have found good Latino talent and some have worked with us to do so), but too many unaffiliated Latino kids live too far from MLS cities or Academies. Alianza only gets to see about 350 kids per city in an open tryout format yet 20 have pro contracts in Mexico after two-plus years of tryouts. That math is scary when you consider how many hundreds of thousands of elite Latino players aren’t even getting opportunities.
SA: Children from lower-income households, Hispanic or otherwise, are priced out of elite youth soccer in the USA. But youth clubs no doubt make efforts to “scholarship” lower-income players. How big an impact do you believe those efforts have?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Scholarships make a big difference. Clubs offering scholarships, especially the MLS Academy clubs, let merit win out. Unfortunately, MLS cannot be everywhere and there are way too few scholarships for the number of great Latino players in need of financial help.
SA: What is the solution to making sure that Latino talent gets the opportunities to reach the highest levels in the USA?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: One answer for Alianza is a closer working relationship with U.S. Soccer. Alianza wants to grow. We currently have players from over 43 states come to try out but we can’t be in more places without more financial resources or partners.
The majority of our kids have no idea what opportunities exist to them or how U.S. Soccer is structured. And they and their families still aspire to play overseas, not with MLS or with U.S. Soccer. We want to find more of these kids, introduce them to the system that exists and hopefully will support them here; connect them with U.S. Soccer and MLS.
In fact, as we target younger players, they are not going to be inclined to leave their families in the U.S. and we will need a local program -- and scholarship money -- for them to develop at home.
SA: Can you give us a couple of examples of players who found opportunities at the higher levels of soccer thanks to Alianza?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Each of our 20 kids playing in Mexico has a great story but some that stand out include Julio Morales from San Jose, Calif., who played affiliated club soccer but was sheltered from greater opportunities by his club coach.
We broke down that barrier, opened doors for him with U.S. Soccer through Hugo Perez as well as with the Earthquakes. Chivas de Guadalajara offered him a contract and he moved to Mexico to join the team.
Eduardo Moreno from Liberal, Kan., drove over three hours several times to come to our tryout and local All-Star game in Denver last year. He sacrificed his high school season with the support of his coach who saw this as a special opportunity.
We placed him on our National All-Star team and he received multiple contract offers to move to Mexico but he wanted to stay close to his family.
Unfortunately, Liberal, Kan., is far from any Academy club so we introduced him to Sporting KC, where he is under consideration for a homegrown contract and has found opportunity to tryout for the US U17 team.
Ismael Ruiz tried out for us when his father, who was working for Alianza, suggested he step in goal. He played. He was scouted. He was selected. Tigres offered a contract and this year he started in goal for each game when Tigres won the Dallas Cup.
SA: Besides the high-cost, what other challenges do young Latino players face?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Latino kids get too many messages of disapproval that must be interpreted to mean that hard work and determination are not rewarded. I know dozens of families of talented players who are discouraged. Those messages are both in the public at large as the politics of immigration lead to social marginalization as well as deep inside soccer.
I’ve heard too many very respected soccer people confidently say that no Latinos are being missed by our existing system. College football coaches in Texas go to upwards of 100 high schools to recruit players and most college soccer coaches won’t come see 20 Latino kids pre-screened by Mexico’s top scouts playing in an Alianza All-Star game in their town.
SA: Do you think the ambitious recruitment of Mexican-Americans by Mexican clubs has been a wake-up call to the U.S. Soccer Federation?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Not yet! Alianza is still sending kids from our program to Mexico because Mexico keeps sending scouts to our tryouts. I’m a diehard fan of the U.S. national team and MLS but I care more about Latino families and the opportunities I can bridge for them. Besides the Mexican scouts we pay to administer the tryout program for us, the others who come don’t receive a fee from us. These scouts tell me that the Mexican-American kids grow up stronger and healthier because they live in the U.S.; they are fitter and have more endurance.
That’s scary. Since the Mexican team that tore past us at Gold Cup were all native Mexicans I’m concerned what we’ll see when Mexico finds the stronger, healthier, fitter version of Barrera, Gio and Chicharito growing up in the U.S. I think the alarm just sounded.
SA: Did your father’s work in soccer have an influence on your interest in soccer in the Hispanic community? [Alan Rothenberg was U.S. Soccer President in 1990-98 and CEO of World Cup USA 1994.]
BRAD ROTHENBERG: It sure did. While he was dedicated to the ‘94 World Cup, building up the coffers for what became the U.S. Soccer Foundation and initiating the launch of MLS he talked to me at home about his long-term desire to reach out to the Latino and African-American community. He knew he wasn’t going to have time to get that done in his two terms.
In many ways I’m living the legacy of my dad’s U.S. Soccer presidency. But really my mother is the one in our family who taught me, firsthand, how to do something grassroots in the community. She founded Pacoima Day Camp in the San Fernando Valley in L.A., which was committed to offering minorities summer day camp for no more than $1 dollar for the session if means were limited.
My mom didn’t just donate money. She rolled up her sleeves and got involved. And she never heard of “pay to play.”
Copyright © 2007 - 2009 -- Mike Woitalla
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