May 26, 2012
Mooch Soccer: An inner-city success story

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

Last year when I went to watch the U.S. national team train at the Home Depot Center, I asked for directions and was told by a security guy in a golf cart that it was taking place at the "Mooch Myernick Field."

The Glenn “Mooch” Myernick Field to be exact. And it made me wish that instead of the field being named in his memory he was a coach on that field. Because Mooch had always been a coach I enjoyed interviewing. Not just because he provided me with useful information for my articles, but he seemed to enjoy talking soccer with me. Whether it was about the emerging talent he coached on youth national teams, when he was Bruce Arena’s World Cup and Olympic assistant coach, or when he was the Colorado Rapids' head coach. Or whether it was simply a chat about the sport in general.

So hearing the name Mooch always stirs the mixed emotions of fond memories and the day in October 2006 when the e-mail arrived in my in-box that he had died of a heart attack at age 51.

I was most recently reminded of Mooch when an eighth-grader from Myernick’s hometown of Trenton, N.J., was selected for the U-14 national team earlier this month.

Matthew Olosunde credits his early rise in the soccer world to Mooch Soccer, the Trenton inner-city soccer program founded by Myernick’s friend Charlie Inverso and New Jersey youth coach Mike Van Wagner.

“The Mooch program helped me because I received great coaching and I always played against older guys who were bigger and stronger,” Olosunde told the The Trentonian. “It wasn’t easy, but this really helped me because I was always big for my age and in the Mooch program I had to figure out how to do things without being able to use my size and speed.

“I wish more kids in Trenton took advantage of the Mooch program and I wish there were programs like Mooch all over the country.”

Inverso is head coach of Rider University after more than two decades at Mercer County Community College and has spent more than a decade coaching U.S. youth national teams.

“One of the reasons we started Mooch Soccer was not just to give urban kids a recreational-type program but to expose them to good coaching and prove that inner-city kids not only want to play soccer but can develop into high-level players,” says Inverso. “Matt is a perfect example that the inner-city model we came up with definitely can work.

“I have been with the national teams for 10-12 years and while we have had many minority players, Matt may be one of the few, if any, who is American-born and developed in an inner-city program. The others had developed their skills growing up in Africa or Latin America. Matt is an inner-city kid who developed his game in Trenton/Mercer area. He is proof that it can happen.”

At age 6, Olosunde's first coach was Mooch Soccer president Wagner. Since age 8, Olosunde always played up at least two years at Mooch Soccer. He played regularly with the Princeton Soccer Association -- under Coach Stoyan Pumpalov -- but always trained with Mooch Soccer and on its indoor and futsal teams.

“We haven't seen him in at least a year,” says Inverso, “and that is a good thing because once a kid outgrows our program -- we only have two travel teams -- we don't try to hold on to him. We want him to go somewhere where he will develop further and be challenged. Matt is now playing with the Red Bulls [youth program] and being coached by Manfred Schellscheidt.

“The great aspect of inner city soccer is that you don't have to do things the way they do it everywhere else. Our goal is to develop players, not win state cups or tournaments.”

But finding coaches for inner-city programs is a challenge.

“There is not as much money to be made,” Inverso says. “But I really believe that once we tap into inner-city talent we will close the gap on the rest of soccer nations who produce better players than us.

“I would tell anyone who loves the game that coaching in the inner city is the best soccer experience they will ever have. Not only does it give you a good feeling, but once you find that special young player that you see potential in -- you will be hooked.”

(For more on information on Mooch Soccer, go HERE or e-mail Charlie Inverso at cinverso@rider.edu.

May 20, 2012
Bobby Howe: 'Don't make it a mystery' (Q&A Part 2)

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Bobby Howe played top tier pro ball and coached youth soccer in England before arriving in the USA in 1977. As a U.S. youth national team coach in 1986-93, his players included Claudio Reyna, currently U.S. Soccer's Youth Technical Director. In Part 2 of our interview, we asked Howe, who has been deeply involved in the American youth game for nearly three decades, about the past, present and future of the U.S. game, including his views on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's ban on high school ball.

SOCCER AMERICA: What’s the main message you’ve tried to convey as a coach of coaches?

Whatever you do in a session, don’t contrive something that doesn’t look like soccer. If it looks like soccer, it probably is. But don’t look at a particular topic you want and take the soccer out of it. Don’t make it a mystery. It’s just a game. Think of the game and the ingredients of the game and inject those ingredients. ...

I always say to coaches, “Know who it is you’re coaching.” That’s the most important thing. What’s the age group? Know their characteristics. The personality of the age group. What excites them? Know the gender. Know the level they’re playing in.

If you understand who it is you’re coaching and understand the level they’re playing at, you can control the demand you have.

SA: The U.S. Soccer Federation is now much more involved in the youth game, with the launch of the Development Academy league, and last year unveiled the “Curriculum” it wants youth coaches to follow. How different is the Claudio’s curriculum from what the Federation was trying to implement when you were a youth national team coach and U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education?

I don’t think it’s a great deal different. The philosophy Claudio is espousing is a philosophy we had in the 1980s with respect to what you do with the youngest players. And recognizing that the youngest players are not mini-adults, they’re kids. It’s not that they shouldn’t be doing anything. But important is that the programming, the types of games they play, provide opportunities for them to learn from the game, and to explore and use their imagination as opposed to being too structured, as we have seen from time to time with inexperienced coaches.

SA: So if the philosophy is not that much different, why haven’t the results been more satisfactory?

When I was director of coaching with the U.S. Soccer Federation and Washington Youth Soccer, the position is director, not dictator, so you can highly recommend and sometimes the stuff you recommend actually bears fruit. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Things do change but they change very slowly. Hopefully, Jurgen Klinsmann and Claudio will be able move the country in a more single direction.

It seems a lot of different entities are trying to achieve the same goals and I think if there were a measure of consistency with good programming and good evaluation, I think we wouldn’t be wasting all these players that we do to create the top of the pyramid.

SA: What’s your opinion on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s ban on high school play?

I think for the very, very best players it wouldn’t be great for them to have a steady dose of training on a daily basis with high school, because there’s no doubt that too much playing at a level that’s significantly lower than the level you’re used to can affect performance.

I do remember when I was at school I played for … something similar to the Academy type of thing, but I was still able to go back and play school games. I trained at a higher level when it was necessary, but was allowed to go back and play at school.

I think what happens here is you have three months of training five days a week and a couple of games a week of playing games at an inferior level. I think the fear of the Academies is that it’s too much time at a level of play that could cause the better players to pick up bad habits. From that point of view, I can understand where they’re coming from.

On the other hand, high school is very much of the social fabric in the United States. The letterman’s jacket, the standing within the school. So from that point of view, I think every now and again it doesn’t hurt for these players to go back and in play high school – but I don’t know what sort of system could be created that would enable them to do that.

Too much high school in one big dose, to the exclusion of playing anything else, or any other level, is not good. But on the other hand, if you could intersperse high school play with Academy play, work out the schedule with sensible communications, I think you could do both.

(Editor’s note: Howe’s club Emerald City FC is not part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.)

SA: What’s an example from your youth experience that you think was crucial to your success as a pro player?

When I was 15, I was playing in the third team at West Ham United and we -- the other 15-year-olds, a couple 16-year-olds, a couple 17-year-olds – were playing against semiprofessional players in a league. Imagine that experience as a 15-year-old playing against semiprofessional players who didn’t care that you were 15!

We have to try to, if we possibly can, replicate those experiences for the better players.

SA: What are some things you would like to see implemented more widely at the very young ages?

We need to continue the movement for younger age groups to play smaller-sided on smaller fields. So they get a great many more touches and face simpler decisions when they have the opportunity to play the ball distances they can see. …

I’d like to see at the younger age groups they take goal kicks from the edge of the penalty box instead of the goal area. Even on a smaller field, when the goal kick is taken from the goal area, the other team can just camp out on the edge of the box.

I also agree with Claudio 100 percent that there’s too much emphasis on winning games at younger ages. It’s crazy.

SA: What’s an example of the detriment?

What happens is the coaches are selecting the biggest players they possibly can at younger ages because they are effective and have more chance of winning games and more chance of keeping their job as an 8-year-old coach -- which I think is crazy.

SA: What’s pleased you about the growth of the American game?

The introduction and success of MLS has been very big. The professional clubs must lead the way. I think we’ll see an improvement gradually in the standard of MLS. I’d like to see that gap close between MLS and the top European clubs. That can be a slow process and it needs to be done sensibly, but I’d like to see a loosening of the purse strings so we can watch these stars a little more live rather than just at exhibition games. …

The game has grown incredibly. So many kids play soccer -- even more reason do the right thing. We’re getting all these kids to turn out and play. Let’s not turn them off.

* Read Part 1 of our interview with Bobby Howe HERE.

(Bobby Howe, during his playing career, lined up with England greats Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves at West Ham United. Howe came to the USA in 1977 to play for and coach the NASL’s Seattle Sounders, and since the 1980s has been deeply involved in American youth soccer. He was U.S. U-17 boys national team assistant coach in 1986-89, U-20 boys national team coach in 1989-1993, and U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education in 1996-2000. He served 12 years as Washington State director of coaching and since 2005 has been a director and boys coach at Seattle’s Emerald City FC.)

May 17, 2012
Bayern beats Chelsea in youth matters

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

On Saturday, two clubs that have often boasted about their youth programs, meet in the decider of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League. A look at the players who helped Chelsea and Bayern Munich reach the final reveals just how successful they are in developing players.

Chelsea can point to just one player who rose from its youth ranks and contributed to its 2011-12 Champions League run: The 31-year-old John Terry, who is suspended for the final, joined Chelsea in 1995 at age 14.

Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, he has reportedly invested up to $150 million in its academy program and in 2005 he put Dane Frank Arnesen in charge of producing homegrown talent. Since 2008, Chelsea started partnering with U.S. youth clubs “to assist the growth and development of U.S. soccer at the grass roots.” Yet under Abramovich, Chelsea's youth movement has yet to bear fruit and the club remains dependent on the Russian billionaire’s purchase of established stars. (Arnesen resigned last season.)

Bayern, Germany’s richest club, also buys stars, such as Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, but Bayern’s youth program has been streaming talent to its first team and the German national team.

Six key contributors to Bayern’s campaign came out of its youth program. They include five who after Saturday’s game will join Germany’s Euro 2012 squad:

Outside back Philipp Lahm, the 28-year-old Bayern and Germany captain, joined Bayern at age 11. Forward Thomas Mueller, 22, the Golden Shoe winner at the 2010 World Cup, also arrived at Bayern at age 11.

Midfield linchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger, 27, joined the Bayern ranks at age 14 and Toni Kroos, 22, moved into the Saebener Street dorms at age 16. Central defender Holger Badstuber, 23, arrived from VfB Stuttgart at age 13.

Bayern brings few foreign players into its youth program, but 19-year-old Austrian David Alaba moved 220 miles east from Vienna to Munich at age 16.

With Alaba and Badstuber out of the final with yellow-card suspensions, 22-year-old Munich-born Diego Contento, who’s been at Bayern since age 5, is expected to get his first Champions League action of the season.

Bayern spends about 5 million euros ($6.5 million) a year on its youth program, including its U-23 team that plays in the fourth division.

“It is not a question of budget,” says club president Uli Hoeness. “If we need 5 million, that’s OK. If we need 7 million, we will do it. Because you cannot give a limit. You spend what is necessary. One year 4 million, next year 6 or 7 million.”

Hoeness insists the youth program’s focus is on boosting the first team, not earning money on transfers. But last year it sold 21-year-old Munich-born Mehmet Ekici, who joined the club at age 8, to Werder Bremen for 5 million euros -- enough to fund its academy, which includes dorms for 13 players, for a year.

Bayern’s 185 youth players are aided by 29 full- and part-time coaches, three goalkeeper coaches, two fitness coaches, seven physiotherapists, one doctor and six academic tutors. The club employs one scout for each age group.

“Every time Bayern has been very successful it’s had a lot of players from its youth program,” says Director of Sport Christian Nerlinger, who himself joined FC Bayern as a 14-year-old and won league titles and the UEFA Cup with Bayern in the 1990s. “They have a special identification with the club.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

May 11, 2012
Bobby Howe: 'Drills are for the army' (Q&A Part 1)

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Bobby Howe, during his playing career, lined up with England greats Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves at West Ham United. Howe came to the USA in 1977 to play for and coach the NASL’s Seattle Sounders, and since the 1980s has been deeply involved in American youth soccer. He was U.S. U-17 boys national team assistant coach in 1986-89, U-20 boys national team coach in 1989-1993, and U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education in 1996-2000. He served 12 years as Washington State director of coaching and since 2005 has been a director and boys coach at Seattle’s Emerald City FC.

SOCCER AMERICA: In 1993, when you coached the U.S. U-20 national team, it reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup. What was your reaction when the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup?

I really can’t understand it. I was very disappointed. Now three teams from Concacaf qualify for the U-20 World Cup. Back then there were only two spots from our region. So, very disappointing. I can’t put my finger on that.

It seems to me more kids are playing the game. Are the levels of competition equal to the levels in the country then? They shouldn’t be equal, they should be better, right?

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy program that we have now really hasn’t had time to bear fruit, I don’t think.

SA: Since two decades ago, we have more players, more youth clubs, more experienced coaches …

We have more coaches than ever. But I’m not really sure some of these folks coaching are really great coaches, I don’t know. But in my travels I see people coaching and I’m thinking, they’ve got coach after their name, but I’m not sure if they’re coaching the right things.

SA: What are examples of what you see that makes you say that?

Several things. Behavior on the touchline is one. The types of activities in training is another.

I said to one of my assistants the other day, “Have a look around this field and give me a general observation of what you see on this field and tell me if there’s anything going on.”

And there were about half a dozen separate team groups on this field. What sort of movement? What sort of activity?

There are too many instances where the coach is the focal point of the session. The coach is in the middle and the players are standing around listening to the coach talk.

You see situations with the kids, with a ball each, waiting for their turn to kick it. That’s the type of thing I’m talking about.

SA: What should practice be like?

There should be activity. Practice should be a challenge. It should be a challenge to their skill. It should be a challenge to their decision-making and it should be a challenge to their imagination. Too many times I look around and see sessions where there’s not really a lot going on. You know, drills.

People call it drills in the United States. I remember Roy Rees* saying to me, “Why do they call this drills? Drills are what they do in the army.”

They’re games. They should be stimulating little games. Every technique activity should have a game involved, or an objective, or a competition to excite the imagination of the players.

But there’s too much wasting time in training, too much standing around.

(*Welshman Roy Rees was the head coach of the U.S. U-17 boys national team in 1986-1993, assisted by Howe at the U-17 World Cups 1987 and 1989, when the USA made history with a win over Brazil.)