United States Takes on Mexico Tonight In Major World Cup Qualifier

September 11th, 2013 by Admin

This article originally appeared at Soccer Classroom

usamexico

USA-Mexico is one of soccer’s greatest rivalries!

The United States could technically qualify for the World Cup tonight if they win and Honduras wins or ties against Panama.  Although the possibility of this happening is rather high, the USA’s game against Mexico is vitally important, because if they lose, the CONCACAF qualifying group will be thrown wide open and America will actually be right back in the middle of a tricky qualifying group.

Further making this match a challenge for America is the players that will be missing through suspension and injury.  Midfield maestro Mike Bradley is out, and his absence during the 3-1 loss to Costa Rica was blatantly obvious.  Bradley helps America control the center of the field, and his vision and talent helps to set up goals.  Such inspiration was clearly missing last Friday.

Top striker Jozy Altidore, defender Matt Besler, and defensive midfielder Geoff Cameron have all been suspended for the Mexico game due to picking up yellow cards.  This all combines to leave the American squad dangerously short of players.  Altidore’s loss will be felt the most though.  His goal-scoring has been supreme over the summer and the team will need someone to step up in his absence.

Fortunately, two of the team’s most talented and experienced goal-scorers will play in this match: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.  Although they were largely ineffective in Costa Rica, the team will benefit from the home support, and this pair can work the magic necessary to score some goals.

Meanwhile, Mexico is a team on the brink of a major implosion.  After giving up a 1-goal lead and losing to Honduras at their famed home, the Azteca Stadium, their manager was fired and Mexico is actually on the brink of failing to qualify for the World Cup.  Such a result would be the first time Mexico didn’t make the World Cup since they were banned in 1990.

The strange thing about this team is that they are quite talented, with star striker Javier Hernandez a solid player at Manchester United, while several other players feature for Spanish clubs.  Nevertheless, Mexico simply hasn’t clicked as a team, and this has harmed them greatly.  This team has excelled at draws though, with 5 draws through 7 matches of qualifiers.  But at this point of qualification, a draw isn’t enough, and Mexico needs to find a killer instinct to ensure qualification.  Will they find it tonight on American soil with a new coach?

This match really is a toss up.  Mexico has all their issues, but there is no doubt that America isn’t the same team that we should be with our key absentees.  This is a major match for both countries and it will be quite strange under the circumstances.  Luckily for America, regardless of the outcome the two final matches are facing Panama and Jamaica, the two bottom teams in the group.  But, with an opportunity to qualify for the 2014 World Cup tonight, they will surely be eyeing a victory.  Based on the fact that both Donovan and Dempsey will play, and that experienced goalie Tim Howard will be a leader from the back, I predict America winning a tense match, 2-1, sending the team to Brazil next summer and pushing Mexico to the brink of national humiliation!  Regardless of the outcome, this is a must-watch game for fans of soccer!

Soccer Classroom

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Americans and “The Wave” – Why Soccer in the United States Will Struggle

May 29th, 2013 by Admin

This article originally appeared at Soccer Classroom

 

Chelsea vs Manchester City @ Yankees Stadium.

Chelsea vs Manchester City @ Yankees Stadium.

This past weekend in New York I had the pleasure of seeing Chelsea take on Manchester City in Yankees stadium as part of a USA Tour friendly.  The players were greeted with England-like weather, cold, rainy and windy.  Even though the weather felt like they were at home the atmosphere was a bit different.  Which for me  is a great example of why American “Soccer” will never be as big as our overseas friends.  Let me explain.

We started our trip in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where we have more farmland than we do taxis, which would be a big culture adjustment when we did find our way to New York City.  A subway and a path ride later we found ourselves at Legends Bar or what many of you might know better as “The Football Factory.”  We got there nice and early anticipating the Champions League crowd.  We were fortunate enough to get a table and soak in the “soccer” atmosphere.  A few pints and some apps later we were surrounded by all kinds of soccer fans.  Chelsea, Bayern, City, Arsenal, Liverpool and even a Michu Swansea jersey snuck into the bar.  The atmosphere was great, but for us country folk it was a little too crowded so we decided to head to the stadium early.   

We got the stadium and did a walkabout touring Yankees Stadium.  What a massive piece of architecture!  We were able to take our seats and enjoy the Champions League final on a massive 100 foot HD television.  It was a thrilling final where Bayern got a 2-1 victory, and rightfully so.  They were the best team in the Champions League this year, getting revenge after losing in last years final to Chelsea.

It was now time for the match everyone in the stadium was waiting for, Chelsea vs Manchester City.  Chelsea who finished just below City in third place in the EPL standings; we were bound for a thriller.  As expected there was not much defense played as the score-line would show, City beating Chelsea 5-3.  There were some quality goals scored by both teams which excited the fans, but for some reason not much excited me on this day.

The stadium was nowhere near its full capacity with only 39,462 fans handing in their ticket.  Which should be a major concern for both Manchester City and the Yankees, who recently announced the expansion of another New York MLS team “New York City Football Club”, scheduled to enter the MLS in the 2015 season.

The pride of the fans here in the United States compared to that of the European teams is not even in the same ballpark.  If you go to a European match in a European country, all the fans know all of the clubs songs and everyone is singing in unison.  If you go to a professional soccer game in the United States the fans get more excitement in trying to get “the wave” going, than when Mata scores a fantastic free kick from 25 yards out, somehow getting it up and down over the wall, off the crossbar and in the back of the net.  That was one of the few exciting moments for me in the match; otherwise my attention was too distracted by the uneducated fans trying to get a “Chelsea” chant going with Chelsea losing 5-3 and only three minutes of stoppage time left. 

Here in the United States we just don’t have the history that the other European countries have with the game of soccer.  Our country was brought up with pointy tackle football and “America’s Greatest Pastime,” baseball.  The European fans eat, sleep and breathe soccer; it’s their religion, it’s in their blood, it’s their life.  I just don’t see us getting there.  The interest isn’t there, the quality isn’t there, and the drive to make it in football isn’t there.  We can change the way we do things but we cannot change our history.  For me that’s the difference between American ”soccer” and European football.

Soccer Classroom

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Can Women’s Pro Soccer Survive in the United States?

March 22nd, 2012 by Admin

This article originally appeared at Soccer Classroom

WPS – No Games in 2012

Last night, I posted on SoccerClassroom’s Facebook group an article from ESPN breaking the story that WPS Commissioner Jennifer O’Sullivan (and my fellow Richmond alum) had suspended operations for the 2012 season and hopes to return in 2013. It certainly elicited quite a bit of a quick response.

The league is in a legal battle with a franchise owner who seems like he’s conducting business “his way.” As a result, the fragile league’s resources are being used to ensure compliance instead of ensuring continuity of operations. You can read the legal briefs that have been filed.

It’s a sad day. I wonder if my daughter will have everyday soccer heroes that look like her. Sure, she’ll have the national squad, but why not a domestic league?

Despite having one of the elite national teams in the world and certainly the largest market, this is the second time that women’s professional soccer has stumbled in the United States. It’s much like many soccer brands who have come and gone and re-entered again (and again): Umbro, Lotto, Kappa, Hummel and diadora have all made splashes only to pack it in and regroup. Maybe this is a “soccer thing” instead of a women’s game thing…I don’t know. Or, maybe it’s a sheer lack of business execution in this space.

Building a great brand is about continuity of message. You don’t take a “year off” at almost any cost. This leads me to believe that the league was on tenuous footing to begin with – and the battle with the new owner pushed things over the edge. Combine this ongoing problem with the Olympics this summer and you’ll lose some star appeal through players competing in London while trying to cut through the clutter to your fans’ attention. All of that is speculation and doesn’t really matter. All that matters is there will be no play in 2012.

So, now what…

If you ran the WPS…

There’s going to be a lot of people describing the problem, but not a lot of people prescribing a solution to creating a viable women’s league. This is like a coach telling a team what’s going wrong, but offering no new tactics to help the team. Let’s try and help.

If you ran the WPS, how would you create such a remarkable experience to engage fans that they would regularly choose the WPS over American Idol on TV and attend games in droves to support the teams (complete with tailgates) and create a standing room only atmosphere? How do you connect the league to the masses of players and fans who could potentially support the league?

Soccer Classroom

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Can Women’s Pro Soccer Survive in the United States?

February 4th, 2012 by Admin

WPS – No Games in 2012

Last night, I posted on SoccerClassroom’s Facebook group an article from ESPN breaking the story that WPS Commissioner Jennifer O’Sullivan (and my fellow Richmond alum) had suspended operations for the 2012 season and hopes to return in 2013. It certainly elicited quite a bit of a quick response.

The league is in a legal battle with a franchise owner who seems like he’s conducting business “his way.” As a result, the fragile league’s resources are being used to ensure compliance instead of ensuring continuity of operations. You can read the legal briefs that have been filed.

It’s a sad day. I wonder if my daughter will have everyday soccer heroes that look like her. Sure, she’ll have the national squad, but why not a domestic league?

Despite having one of the elite national teams in the world and certainly the largest market, this is the second time that women’s professional soccer has stumbled in the United States. It’s much like many soccer brands who have come and gone and re-entered again (and again): Umbro, Lotto, Kappa, Hummel and diadora have all made splashes only to pack it in and regroup. Maybe this is a “soccer thing” instead of a women’s game thing…I don’t know. Or, maybe it’s a sheer lack of business execution in this space.

Building a great brand is about continuity of message. You don’t take a “year off” at almost any cost. This leads me to believe that the league was on tenuous footing to begin with – and the battle with the new owner pushed things over the edge. Combine this ongoing problem with the Olympics this summer and you’ll lose some star appeal through players competing in London while trying to cut through the clutter to your fans’ attention. All of that is speculation and doesn’t really matter. All that matters is there will be no play in 2012.

So, now what…

If you ran the WPS…

There’s going to be a lot of people describing the problem, but not a lot of people prescribing a solution to creating a viable women’s league. This is like a coach telling a team what’s going wrong, but offering no new tactics to help the team. Let’s try and help.

If you ran the WPS, how would you create such a remarkable experience to engage fans that they would regularly choose the WPS over American Idol on TV and attend games in droves to support the teams (complete with tailgates) and create a standing room only atmosphere? How do you connect the league to the masses of players and fans who could potentially support the league?

Soccer Classroom

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Is the United States Ready for a Unified Soccer Curriculum?

July 25th, 2011 by Admin

At the end of April, Claudio Reyna, the US Youth Technical Director, unveiled the national soccer curriculum. It took nearly a year to unveil his plan as he discussed it last June. Claudio’s plan is to develop a unified approach to soccer in the United States, at all levels of the game, so we can compete on the world stage. While the theory behind this concept is brilliant, I wonder if the United States is ready for a unified soccer curriculum. And, what will it take for it to happen?

Let’s start with some background. Here’s Claudio presenting the US Soccer curriculum:

I’d also recommend that you download the complete US Soccer curriculum. I’ve read it and it’s obviously very sound.

Good in Theory, Bad in Practice?

I love the idea of a positive, player-first soccer curriculum with “fun” as a key tenet. But…

I am concerned about the  implementation challenges a national curriculum will face. Soccer in the United States is driven mainly through a decentralized, community-based, non-profit, volunteer organization structure. For the past twenty years, I’ve worked in the grassroots of the game. Through my company, Totally Soccer, I speak with thousands of soccer volunteers on a yearly basis.  There are always two challenges:

  1. Struggle for volunteers
  2. Struggle for money

While the overall concept of a national curriculum is sound, how do you drive this down to the grass roots of soccer? These community-based, volunteer organizations are already taxed to the max for their volunteer time to provide an opportunity even to play the game. Their challenges of simply finding the volunteers and money to form teams, buy uniforms, maintain fields, pay officials, etc. are more pressing than implementing a national curriculum. Heck, soccer coaching education is almost always lost in the time-crunch shuffle as parents race to ready the fields for game day – even at the most organized, “highest level” soccer clubs and organizations.

Additionally, soccer across the country is played at various levels. It’s played at a rec level in self-formed community leagues, under church direction as well as under SAY and AYSO. Layer in the competitive-side of club, premier and academy soccer and you add to the complexity of local leagues, regional gaming associations, state associations, regions, USYS and US Club Soccer…among others I’m sure I’m missing. And, each of these entities have their own ideas of the “right” way to play soccer and develop players. Many are driven by tournaments, showcases and self-serving (and completely fictitious) state, regional and national rankings.

With such a decentralized organization to soccer, or lack thereof, there is no accountability to implement. With some of the egos involved in the top levels of these organizations, where sadly self-interests sometimes supercede a “player-first” mentality, I find it stunningly hard to believe, perhaps bordering naive, that US Soccer believes they’ll relinquish control to ensure everyone is playing a 4-3-3. And, that is just the start of buying into the program…

Why is it critical to consider the implementation at the youngest ages where the game is least organized? It’s where the foundation of the game lies. And, this decentralized, volunteer nature is what makes the challenge of implementation so difficult.

Historically, A Lack of Information

Implementing change is difficult. This is especially true when historically there has been a lack of available information and direction. It’s hard to suddenly imagine that coaches, who have been forced to cobble together their own approach and philosophy, will suddenly drop their own coaching insight and approach for the national curriculum.

If we examine even the highest organizational levels of the game, there is still a lack of information available. Sure, there are local, on-the-ground coaching courses, but with volunteers lacking time and money, it makes it unreachable for most. After a solid decade of widespread use, it is hard to imagine that the governing bodies haven’t leveraged the resource of the internet. And, if our national level organizations haven’t provided the resources to fully educate their constituents, why do we think that local organizations – with far less resources – will be able to do so?

Here are links to the “Coaching” pages for each of the national organizations:

When you visit these websites, how much actionable, “nuts and bolts” coaching information is available for the volunteer soccer coach who sets the stage and ignites the passion of our youth soccer players? I wasn’t inspired and it pales in comparison to the USYS and NSCAA conventions I’ve attended. And, if you want to buy the convention, it’s more expensive than attending.

After speaking with thousands and thousands of coaches buying soccer uniforms and field equipment, I created Soccer Classroom due to the lack of information helping volunteer soccer coaches to find fun, inspiring and positive ways to develop youth soccer players. Adhering to a “player-first” mentality, I couldn’t send coaches to a resource that I thought was “complete” in nature. Even more disheartening, there are many websites out there that focus on how to help your team win by hiding players as opposed to developing them.  With the internet becoming the primary source for information around the world, these time-pressed volunteer coaches, desperate for information, use this as their baseline of thought: win, win, win… Unfortunately, to quote my father, “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King.”

My point is this: I wish I didn’t have to create Soccer Classroom.

There just seems to be a vacuum from a practical standpoint when you look for “nuts and bolts” soccer information. While everyone focuses on the four components of soccer, I would argue for a fifth: team management (see: CoachingSphere). In fact, to set the stage for success to implement the four stages of soccer, you have to give coaches three “nuts and bolts” Team Management elements. Those are:

  1. Developing a Soccer Coaching Philosophy
  2. How to set your season up for success with a Pre-Season Meeting
  3. Elements of running a successful training session

Until coaches have the right mindset and the right foundation and community support to succeed, it’s hard to think they’ll be able to implement the x’s and o’s of an amazing curriculum and deliver an awesome training session.

A Curriculum is Like a Car Manual

I trust the curriculum is based in solid developmental theory. But, it’s much like a car manual that doesn’t get read. Let me explain…

When I buy a car, I don’t have any interest in knowing the aerodynamics, the V6 or V8 engine, compression, torque, 0-60 or anything like that. I just don’t care about the underlying “Why” my car accelerates smoothly and quickly. I don’t have any interest in learning about calibrating brakes and torque and transmissions. I don’t have the time, energy or interest to read it. I need the “nuts and bolts” quick start guide. I want to get in my car and drive! You know, the down and dirty “How to”: here’s the key, it goes in here, here are the lights, here’s the gear shift, here are the brakes…and here’s the accelerator.

Now, in every car, there’s a 300 page manual. And, that’s for my mechanic when something goes wrong. I could read it and it would all be there for me, but I still wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of what to do if my car broke down…just ask my wife.

Now, even if we put the curriculum in the hands of every volunteer in the country, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to decipher through the grids of technical applications and actually apply the information. At the core of Claudio’s curriculum: “we are looking for teams to trying to keep possession and play better, to create offensive teams and player.” This doesn’t mean a whole lot to the uneducated, well-intended parent volunteer. This is great for Director of Coaching-type people, but does every club have a DOC? Does every club even have a Player Development Director? How then does this information get deciphered and disseminated into the “right” hands?

How do you distill it down without dumbing it down? How do you make it come alive, so coaches can drive?

To me, it’s the difference between knowing “Why” and knowing “How.” The Technical Directors need to know the “Why” just like my mechanic; the coaches need to know the “How.” And, I think bringing the “How” within the curriculum to life is a missing element to success.

Where’s the Carrot?

Unlike schools, US Soccer can’t mandate the curriculum. And, so you have to provide the proper incentive for clubs and coaches to adopt a national curriculum. What’s the carrot US Soccer can offer clubs?

In Claudio’s presentation, he speaks about ”playing for the greater good” of the country. From an incentive point of view, I don’t believe that is a very strong motivator. It is simply too far removed from the mindset of a newly minted volunteer soccer coach. He’s worried about fitting soccer practice into his already busy life. I can guarantee the coach of the U6 Killer Bees isn’t really connected that his work may ripple to the US becoming World Cup Champions in twenty years.

This is a major question that Claudio will have to determine a strong, compelling, motivational answer to give to coaches and clubs. Just like our players, the carrot won’t be same for everyone.

Implementation and Patience

Trust and credibility are borne over time through proven experience and insight. Positional authority is the least persuasive motivator. And, people by their nature are skeptics. If US Soccer believes that clubs and coaches will adopt the national curriculum simply because the national federation said so, I think it will be doomed for failure (and, I’m not suggesting this is their position). Trust and credibility are generated by proving oneself and becoming a useful resource again and again and again. US Soccer will have to become the Starbucks of soccer, “Yes, how may we help you?” In a volunteer sport rife with lack of resources, a bottom-up approach will be more effective than a top-down tact.

To implement the national curriculum, Claudio will have to figure out the following implementation and resource questions:

  1. How do you take the next steps of making the curriculum “come alive” with the “How to” aspects of a successful development plan? Complete session plans? Videos of technical skills, so coaches can understand and demonstate proficiently?
  2. With local, non-profit community organizations setting the stage for soccer development in this country, how do you deliver the single-vision platform so that it is easy and attractive to adopt? (There’s a lot of training companies out there with their own style there making lots of money that you’ll be battling, I’m sure.)
  3. How do you “connect” the local, grassroots coach to the overall mission of US Soccer, so they have the incentive to adopt the national curriculum and feel part of the greater good?

From there, it’s like grabbing a New York City bus: we’ll have to hurry up and wait.

Good Luck Claudio, I’m Cheering for You

As a fellow New Jersey guy just two years behind Claudio, I’ve always been a huge fan back to the St. Benedict’s days and onto UVA then abroad. His record of success speaks for itself. I will be cheering for him to lead the charge, but I do believe certain implementation challenges and resources need to be addressed. (Hey Claudio, if you have a plan I haven’t seen, I’d love to hear about it and help you spread the word.)

I love this game and anything that helps promote the game and create the best opportunities for soccer players. I’m all for it! It’s at the very core of why I created Soccer Classroom. I believe in the national curriculum because it provides a clear vision for US Soccer, creates the potential for a national identity and (hopefully) will put awesomely prepared coaches on the field with players to create the best opportunities and experiences possible. I want to see Claudio succeed because it is good for the game and great for the players – both on the field and teaching the “head fake” life lessons soccer can teach.

Good luck, Claudio. I’m happy to help and support you any way that I can: “How can I help you?”

Soccer Classroom

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