April 24, 2012
Playing in 'small spaces' and speaking of Barcelona

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

"I think we really need to get better in small spaces," said Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, in the wake of the U.S. men's failure to qualify for the Olympics.

In an interview with Jimmy Conrad on "The Mixer," Reyna spoke of American youth teams relying on “running and overpowering teams and being physical” when where “we have to really improve as a soccer-playing nation is playing in the small, tight spaces throughout the field.”

To Arch Bell of ESPN.com, Reyna said, "I think the winning aspect is what has caused some really ugly youth soccer. Now we're trying to play more out of the back and through the midfield.”

Reyna added, "I think kids should be doing pickup or futsal all the time. I think it's very important for technique. In Argentina, futsal is what kids play growing up. They get very comfortable in small spaces with the ball. It's usually less pressure, so they can try things."

Seems to me that too much American youth soccer is played on huge fields, which rewards athleticism more than skill.

Teale Matteson, a coaching colleague of mine in Northern California – where 12-year-olds routinely play on 120-yard long fields – recently visited Barcelona. Matteson noted that:

“The youth programs play all games 7v7 until age 12, age 14 for the girls. The field is 44 yards wide (the width of a penalty box), 54 yards long with 10-yard box, a 12-yard offside line in lieu of the halfway line and one referee.”

SPEAKING OF BARCA. Spanish journalist Marti Perarnau, author of “Senda de Campeones” (Path of Champions), also offers insight into Barca’s youth program, La Masia. Perarnau was interviewed at “Blueprint for Football.”

Asked what qualities Barcelona looks for in young recruits, Perarnau said: “Technique, tactical intelligence and mental speed. These three traits are the ones that matter. Players with very good technique, who are able to understand the game (not just play, but also understand it) and speed of mind.”

On whether physical strength and height are given much importance: “None. Barca does not care about the size of the player. The three parameters I mentioned are the only ones that matter. Not even if you stand out during a tournament. Indeed, Barcelona often signs kids that have gone unnoticed in a tournament, but have those three potential features.”

On youth programs aiming to emulate Barcelona, Perarnau said: “The basic aspects of Barca’s system was to have an idea of how to play the game, create a training model, find the type of player who adapts to it and spend many years and energies in this operation. But each club should put in the pot their own ingredients, no doubt.”

Barcelona’s youth coaches train players arriving with extraordinary skill spotted by the club’s scores of scouts who scour the region, nation and world (e.g., Argentine Lionel Messi arrived at age 13) for talent.

I imagine most American youth coaches could look quite brilliant if they had the luxury of training players of the quality that Barcelona recruits into its ranks. And I bet Barca coaches might not look so genius if they had to the cope with the challenges American youth coaches face. But what really matters about the Barcelona model is how it plays the game -- attack-minded, entertaining and high-scoring -- and that emphasizing skills and smarts is at the root of that style. That's what all youth coaches should strive for, whether they’re coaching at La Masia or in the USA.

MORE FROM AROUND THE NET. Marca reported Barcelona started 10 players who came out of its youth program in a 4-0 La Liga win over Getafe on April 10. One week earlier, in Barca’s 3-1 Champions League win over AC Milan, Coach Pep Guardiola started nine. (Argentine Javier Mascherano and Brazilian Dani Alves were the two “imports.”). Seven starters in Wednesday Champions League semifinal vs. Chelsea joined Barca as youths. ...

Gabriele Marcotti of the Wall Street Journal reports on what age Barca stars joined La Masia in "Soccer's Nature vs. Nurture Debate: What Distinguishes Barcelona's La Masia From Other Youth Academies?" HERE. ...

Diane Scavuzzo of SoccerNation.com interviewed Christian Lavers, the president of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). Founded in 2009 by U.S. Club Soccer, the ECNL serves as the girls version of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Read the Q&A HERE. ...

Edwin Torres
lists “Ten Ways You Know You Are a Bad Soccer Parent” HERE ...

A $440,000 youth soccer embezzlement case HERE.

WORTH A VIEW: Nkosi Burgess of the Dix Hill Heat scored a stunning goal in U-15 action on Long Island. Burgess set himself up for an overhead volley with a back heel in game against Hauppauge Brazil. Check out the video HERE.