In this ground-breaking docu-series, follow Manchester City behind the scenes throughout their Premier League winning, record-breaking ’17-18 season. Get an exclusive look into one of the best global sports clubs, including never-before-seen dressing room footage with legendary coach Pep Guardiola, and delve into the players’ lives off and on the pitch.
This comes as no surprise to many of you that already ‘get this’ intuitively from having played and watched this beautiful game your entire life. And you’ll also understand why I used the above image for this blog post.
Without an appreciation of and commitment to the artistry of soccer we won’t be able to credibly compete at the international level and the growth of soccer here will stall.
Some day the majority of coaches, players, and parents in our country will hold this truth to be self-evident. We still have some way to go, unfortunately, but we have to keep chipping away at this folks. Keep the faith!
The peer-reviewed study, conducted by researchers from Australia and the U.S. in collaboration with elite soccer academies in Brazil, was published last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
This new study used analytic techniques developed in evolutionary biology to determine the impact of a player’s skill, athletic ability, and balance on their success during a game.
The researchers found it was their skill — not speed, strength, or fitness — that was the most important factor.
“Higher skill allows players to have a greater impact on the game”, Professor Wilson said.
“Accurate passing and greater ball control are more important for success than high speed, strength and fitness.
“It may be obvious to soccer fans and coaches that players like Lionel Messi and Neymar are the best due to their skill.
“However, 90 per cent of research on soccer players is based on how to improve their speed, strength, and agility — not their skill.”
Professor Wilson is collaborating with elite soccer academies in Brazil, where he is testing new protocols for skill development in junior players.
“Our research shows that skill is fundamental to player success in soccer,” he said.
“Skill is complex and multidimensional — and we need to measure all aspects of it — with the next step to work out how to improve these aspects in developing players.
“Brazilian football academies understand the importance of developing skill in young players, which gives us a great opportunity to test our ideas and find new ways to improve youth training.
“Professor Wilson hopes to bring his knowledge back to Australia to improve the nation’s international standing and World Cup potential.
“Australia will only become a successful footballing nation if we innovate rather than replicate,” he said.
“There are kids with an incredible amount of skill who aren’t being selected for teams and training programs because they can’t run as fast at nine, 10, or 11 years old.
“These kids need to be given a chance and the science of skill is on their side.”
Last Saturday’s Atletico Madrid vs FC Barcelona game was a perfect example of modern top-level soccer.
It had everything – skills, technique, creativity, excellent off-the-ball movement, great defending and goalkeeping, playing out from the back, spacing, pressing, shooting, passion, pace, team work….the list goes on.
This is how huge the gap is in our country. This is where we need to be if we want to compete internationally.
And to reach this level of soccer sophistication requires a fundamental revamp of how we teach, play, and organize soccer. It starts with our coaching quality, and includes finding a way for our best/better players to avoid college soccer.
I’m including here a 12-minute highlights clip, but it doesn’t do the game justice. I strongly encourage you to find a recording of the full game and watch it with your soccer-playing kids. It’s very entertaining and a great learning opportunity.
The launch of U.S. Soccer’s Girls’ Development Academy (GDA) this August is probably the single most discussed topic in girls’ soccer currently.
The GDA is supposed to mirror the successful Boys’ Development Academy, which was launched in 2007, and is expected to become the new home for our elite female soccer players, effectively replacing the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), which will now become a league for the second tier teams.
Many clubs, coaches, and parents are wondering why there’s a need for a GDA when ECNL has been providing a regional and national league system for our best girls since 2009.
What makes this more contentious is the ‘no high school soccer’ rule for girls in the GDA. This rule states that GDA players cannot play high school soccer while also training and playing with the GDA primarily because of overuse health concerns and poor quality of coaching. They can, however, opt to take a three-month break from the GDA to play high school soccer and then return once the high school soccer season is over.
To help explain the reasons for the GDA, April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer’s Women’s Technical Director, gave an interview to SoccerAmerica last November. I strongly encourage you to read it. April’s comments resonate strongly with me.
First, we haven’t emphasized technical skills enough in our country. Raw athleticism, speed, size, and aggression have dominated player selection for too long. This works well especially at younger ages if ‘winning’ and ‘rankings’ are important.
For example, U12 or U14 girls that are physically more mature and have the basics down will typically beat girls that are technically more proficient but are physically less developed at the same age. The club’s and coach’s win-percentage and team ranking will be higher, which in turn attracts more paying families.
But those same ‘winning’ girls will struggle eventually as their technically superior smaller peers mature physically too over time. And many of those ‘winning’ physically mature U12 or U14 girls overshoot as they fully mature into young women. I have seen many ‘winning’ 12, 13, and 14 year old girls turn into slow and ineffective players at age 15 and 16.
At the international level a focus on physical attributes won’t be sufficient going forward given the big improvements in the development of female soccer players in countries like Japan, France, Spain, and England.
For societal reasons and because of the deeply embedded male soccer culture in leading soccer nations, female players only recently started playing soccer in larger numbers there. And those countries are now bringing their deep expertise in player development from the men’s side to their female players.
This is very apparent when watching the most recent U17 and U20 Women’s World Cups. Japan and France in particular played the most sophisticated and complete soccer, and the gap between them and us in those age groups was significant.
“When people say the gap is closing, I would say the gap has closed and we’re falling behind in these areas.” – April Heinrichs in NYT interview, June 2015
Going forward, the ideal female player combines soccer-specific athletic attributes with excellent technical skills and superior soccer IQ. And developing these kinds of players starts when they are very young and needs to continue throughout their youth soccer years.
This will also increase the quality of play domestically and the entertainment value, which in turn should lead to a larger viewership and, over time, more financial resources for women’s soccer.
So with this background in mind, here’s how April described the key differences for each of the girls’ soccer models:
GDA = Primarily Player Development – no financial incentives, just longer-term player development owned and organized by our national soccer federation. Strong centralized control over all aspects, including coaching standards, curriculum, training and game schedule.
ECNL = Primarily Business – a league for our pay-to-play clubs to compete against each other. Need to ‘win’ to keep and attract paying parents with talented girls. Clubs and coaches retain, for all practical intents and purposes, full independence.
High School Soccer = Primarily Social – girls enjoy playing with school friends for their school and get local peer group recognition. Focus is on ‘winning’ with the available pool of players at the school, not player development. Risk of injury is high.
I tried to capture the differences between three models at the national level in the following chart:
I support the introduction of the GDA because it promises to be the best *player development* environment for our elite girls, assuming the coaching quality and player development curriculum is truly world-class. And there will still be the ECNL for girls that either don’t make it into the GDA or prefer to play on ECNL teams.
There will be some regional differences initially – for example, here in NorCal of the big girls’ clubs only De Anza Force has committed to the GDA. Other clubs like Mustang and San Juan have decided to stay with ECNL for now, but that is likely to change if their best girls start to try out at GDA clubs once the dust has settled. In other regions, such as SoCal, ~80% of the top clubs have committed to the GDA as of February 2017.
So the chart for NorCal looks something like this:
In NorCal the best players and coaches will initially still be in the ECNL simply because all of the ECNL clubs and their players aren’t expected to switch to the GDA. However, as the GDA becomes established nationwide and much of the college recruiting and national team scouting aligns with that, more top female players in NorCal will switch to GDA clubs, which will force the ECNL clubs to apply for GDA membership too.
There are probably going to be more changes as we get closer to the summer and there are probably going to be some teething problems, but odds are high that the GDA will be successful. U.S. Soccer will put its full weight behind it. And the GDA will serve our most elite girls well because the focus promises to be primarily on ‘development’ not ‘winning’.
Read the below letter from Ronaldinho and then watch the clip at the end. Enjoy!
Dear eight-year-old Ronaldinho,
Tomorrow, when you come home from playing football, there will be a lot of people in your house. Your uncles, friends of your family and some other people you won’t recognize will be in the kitchen. At first, you’ll think you’re just late for the party. Everybody’s there to celebrate the 18th birthday of your brother, Roberto.
Usually when you come home from football, mom is always laughing or joking around.
But this time, she’ll be crying.
And then you will see Roberto. He will put his arm around you and bring you inside the bathroom so you can be alone. Then he will tell you something you won’t understand.
“There was an accident. Dad is gone. He died.”
It won’t make sense to you. What does that mean? When is he coming back? How could dad be gone?
Dad was the one who told you play creatively on the football pitch, the one who told you to play with a free style — to just play with the ball. He believed in you more than anyone. When Roberto started playing professional football for Grêmio last year, Dad told everyone, “Roberto is good, but watch his younger brother coming up.”
Dad was a superhero. He loved football so much that even after working at the shipyard during the week, he would work security at Grêmio’s stadium on the weekend. How could you never see him again? You won’t understand what Roberto is telling you.
You’re not going to feel sadness right away. That will come later. A few years from now, you will accept that Dad is never coming back on earth. But what I want you to understand is that every time you have a ball at your feet, Dad will be with you.
When you have a football at your feet, you are free. You are happy. It’s almost like you are hearing music. That feeling will make you want to spread joy to others.
You are lucky because you have Roberto. Even though he’s 10 years older and already playing for Grêmio, Roberto will be there for you always. He won’t just be a brother, he will become like a father to you. And more than anything, he’ll be your hero.
You’ll want to play like him, you’ll want to be like him. Every morning, when you head to Grêmio — you will play for the youth side, while Roberto plays for the senior team — you’ll get to walk into the locker room with your big brother, the football star. And every night, when you go to bed, you’ll think, I get to share a room with my idol.
There are no posters on the walls in the bedroom you share, there’s only a small TV. It won’t matter anyway, because you won’t have time to watch any matches together. When he’s not traveling for matches, Roberto is taking you outside to play more football.
Where you live in Porto Alegre, there are drugs and gangs and that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be tough, but as long as you are playing football — on the street, at the park, with your dog — you will feel safe.
Yes, I said your dog, by the way. He’s a tireless defender.
You’ll play with Roberto. You’ll play with other kids and older guys at the park. But eventually everyone will get tired — and you will want to keep playing. So make sure you always take your dog, Bombom, out with you. Bombom is a mutt. A real Brazilian dog. And even Brazilian dogs love football. He’ll be great practice for dribbling and skills … and maybe the first casualty of the “Elastico.”
Years from now, when you are playing in Europe, a few defenders will remind you of Bombom.
Childhood is going to be very different for you. By the time you’re 13, people will have started talking about you. They’ll talk about your skills and what you’re able to do with a ball. At this time, football is still just a game to you. But in 1994, when you are 14, the World Cup will show you that football is more than just a simple game.
July 17, 1994, is a day every Brazilian remembers. On that day, you’ll be traveling with the Grêmio youth team for a match in Belo Horizonte. The World Cup final is on TV, and it’ll be Brazil against Italy. Yes, that’s right, the Canarinho will be in a World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. The whole country will seem to stop.
Everywhere in Belo Horizonte, there will be Brazilian flags. There will be no colors except green and yellow that day. Every single spot in the city will have the match turned on and be filled with people.
You’ll be watching with your teammates. The final whistle will blow with the score tied 0–0. The game will go to a penalty shootout.
Italy misses their first PK, and so does Brazil. Then Italy scores. And then … Romario steps up. His shot curves to the left … hits the post … and flies in the goal. The guys on the team are screaming and yelling.
Italy scores and there’s silence again.
Branco scores for Brazil … Taffarel makes a save for Brazil … Dunga scores for Brazil.…
Then, the moment that will not just change your life, but the lives of millions of Brazilians.…
Baggio steps up to the spot for Italy and misses.
Brazil are World Cup champions.
During the crazy celebration, it’s going to become clear to you what you want to do for the rest of your life. You’re going to finally realize what football means to Brazilians. You’re going to feel the power of this sport. Most importantly, you will see the happiness that football can bring to regular people.
“I’m going to play for Brazil,” you’ll tell yourself that day.
Not everyone is going to believe in you, especially with the way you play.
There will be some coaches — alright, one in particular — who will tell you not to play the way you do. He will think you need to be more serious, that you need to stop dribbling so much. “You’ll never in your life make it as a footballer,” he’ll say.
Use those words as motivation. Use them to keep you focused. And then think about the players who did play the game beautifully — Dener, Maradona, Ronaldo.
Think about what Dad said, to play free and to just play with the ball. Play with joy. This is something that many coaches will not understand, but when you are on the pitch, you will never calculate. Everything will come naturally. Before you have time to think, your feet have already made a decision.
Creativity will take you further than calculation.
One day, just a few months after you watch Romario lift the ’94 World Cup, your coach at Grêmio is going to pull you into his office after training. He’ll tell you that you’ve been called up to the Brazilian under-17 national team.
When you get to the training camp in Teresópolis, you will see something that you will never forget: When you walk into the cafeteria, you’ll notice the framed photos hanging on the walls — Pelé, Zico, Bebeto.
You’ll be walking the same halls as those legends. You’ll sit at the same cafeteria tables that Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo sat in. You’ll eat the same food they ate. You’ll sleep in the same dorms they slept in. When you put your head down to sleep, your last thought will be, I wonder which of my heroes slept on this pillow, too.
For the next four years, you will do nothing but play football. You will spend your life on buses and training pitches. In fact, from 1995 to 2003, you will never take a vacation. It will be very intense.
But when you turn 18, you will achieve something your father would have been very proud of. You will make your debut for Grêmio’s senior team. The only sad part is that Roberto won’t be there. A knee injury will cut his time at Grêmio short and he’ll go to Switzerland to play. You won’t get to share the pitch with your hero, but you’ve spent so many years watching Roberto that you’ll know what to do and how to act.
On match days, you’ll walk through the car park where your father used to work security on the weekends. You’ll enter the dressing room where your brother used to take you as a kid. You’ll pull on the blue and black Grêmio shirt. You’ll think: Life can’t get any better than this. You’ll think you have finally made it, playing for your hometown club.
But this is not where your story ends.
The next year, you will play your first senior match with the Brazilian national team. A funny thing will happen. You will actually show up to your first training camp a day later than your teammates. Why? You’ll be delayed by a match with Grêmio in the final of the Campeonato Gaúcho tournament against Internacional.
Playing for Internacional will be the captain of the ’94 World Cup team, Dunga.
You will play very well in this match. So when you arrive to the pitch for your first day of training with Brazil, your new teammates — the guys you watched win the ’94 World Cup — will be talking about one player: the small kid wearing number 10.
They’ll be talking about you.
They’ll be talking about how you dribbled past Dunga. They’ll be talking about your title-winning goal. But don’t get too confident, because they’re not going to go easy on you. This will be the most important moment of your life. When you get to this level, people will expect many things of you.
Will you keep playing your way?
Or will you start to calculate? Will you play it safe?
The only advice I have to give you is this: Do it your way. Be free. Hear the music. This is the only way for you to live your life.
Playing for Brazil will change your life. All of a sudden, doors you never even knew were available to you will start to open.
You’ll start to think about playing in Europe, where a lot of your heroes went to prove themselves. Ronaldo will tell you about life in Barcelona. You’ll see his awards, his Ballon d’Or, his club trophies. Suddenly, you’ll want to make history too. You will start to dream beyond Grêmio. In 2001, you will sign with Paris Saint-Germain.
How can I tell a kid who was born in a wooden house in a favela what life will be like in Europe? It’s impossible. You will not understand, even if I tell you. From the time you leave for Paris, then Barcelona, then Milan, everything will go by very, very fast. Some of the media in Europe will not understand your style of play. They will not understand why you are always smiling.
Well, you are smiling because football is fun. Why would you be serious? Your goal is to spread joy. I’ll say it again — creativity over calculation.
Stay free, and you’ll win a World Cup for Brazil.
Stay free, and you’ll win the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A.
Stay free, and you’ll win a Ballon d’Or.
What you’ll be most proud of, though, is helping to change football in Barcelona through your style of play. When you arrive there, Real Madrid will be the power of Spanish football. By the time you leave the club, kids will be dreaming of playing “the Barcelona way.”
Listen to me, though. Your role in this will be about much more than what you do on the pitch.
At Barcelona, you’ll hear about this kid on the youth team. He wears number 10 like you. He’s small like you. He plays with the ball like you. You and your teammates will go watch him play for Barcelona’s youth squad, and at that moment you’ll know he’s going to be more than a great footballer. The kid is different. His name is Leo Messi.
You’ll tell the coaches to bring him up to play with you on the senior side. When he arrives, the Barcelona players will be talking about him like the Brazilian players were talking about you.
I want you to give him one piece of advice.
Tell him, “Play with happiness. Play free. Just play with the ball.”
Even when you are gone, the free style will live on in Barcelona through Messi.
A lot will happen in your life, good and bad. But everything that happens, you will owe to football. When people question your style, or why you smile after you lose a match, I want you to think of one memory.
When your father leaves this earth, you won’t have any movies of him. Your family doesn’t have much money, so your parents don’t own a video camera. You won’t be able to hear your father’s voice, or hear him laughing again.
But among his possessions, there is one thing you’ll always have to remember him by. It’s a photo of you and him playing football together. You are smiling, happy — with the ball at your feet. He is happy watching you.
When the money comes — and the pressure, and the critics — stay free.
Play as he told you to play.
Play with the ball.
[Click here for a clip showing Ronaldinho play with the ball and his opponents.]
Please leave a comment at the end of this post if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tourneys so I can update this post. It would be great to make this list as complete as possible. Thank you!
Tens of thousands of kids across NorCal are getting ready for the winter futsal season. Most of the clubs mentioned below offer year-round futsal programs, but there’s definitely a huge surge during the winter months when the outdoor soccer season slows down.
I can’t say this enough – you MUST try futsal. Your sons and daughters are almost certainly going to have a blast and will learn a lot too. It’s excellent for player development. And you will enjoy watching the games – there’s much more action than outdoor soccer and your son/daughter is in the middle of the action pretty much all the time – there are only four field players per team.
You don’t have to join a futsal club or be part of one of our soccer clubs to participate – many futsal teams are coached by volunteer parents with soccer background. Simply pull a group of seven to nine outdoor teammates or friends from different outdoor clubs together, register your team, and go play.
With the help of awesome soccer mom Gaby and encyclopedic soccer dad Mark, here goes:
FUTSAL CLUBS (click on the club name for website or FB page)
Futsal Kingz – skills and fun for all levels and age groups, both boys and girls, across various locations in the South Bay. Tim Newsome and his team are GREAT! I can’t recommend them enough. Sessions and camps year-round, both competitive and recreational. Also compete in tournaments, most recently winning U.S. Futsal Nationals in the U8 and U9 age bracket.
World United Futsal Academy (WUFA) – competitive futsal mostly for boys, but girls are welcome too. Led by Vava Marques, USA National Futsal Team Coach, who grew up playing the game competitively and pro in Brazil, and Daniel Berdejo-del-Fresno, who grew up in Spain and most recently was the Head of Coaching & Sports Science at the International Futsal Academy in England and since 2010 on the coaching staff of the England Futsal National Teams. Daniel also wrote a free book on futsal coaching.
World-class coaching for the strongly committed soccer/futsal players. Year-round sessions. Close relationship with FC Barcelona’s futsal program in Spain, including training at FC Barcelona’s facilities and hosting of FC Barcelona futsal coaches in Palo Alto.
Burlingamer in the North Bay and in Evergreen (South/East San Jose). This also includes the Gamer Futsal School. Nice facility and quality coaching year-round. GFS owners Jen Short and Roxy Kamal also serve as the U.S. Futsal Women’s National Team Coaches, and teams compete in various tournaments.
Legends Futsal in Central and South San Jose. One of the oldest futsal clubs in the Bay Area. Very competitive across all age groups for both boys and girls. Also now have a semi-pro mens team I believe.
Futsal Without Borders in San Jose. Organized by passionate soccer mom, Diana. Compete in Bay Area, regional, and national futsal leagues and tourneys, and also organize international futsal trips, but little ongoing coaching and player development. Primarily recruiting kids from the strongest outdoor soccer clubs to maximize performance at tourneys.
Futsal 415 in San Francisco. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.
Stanislaus United in Modesto. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.
Futsal Factory in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.
Anthem FC in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.
Futsal Gilroy Fuego in Gilroy. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.
Liga De Leon in Marin County. Regular practices and in-house league.
There are lots of futsal camps and weekly drop-in practices, plus futsal coaching workshops. Some outdoor soccer clubs such as De Anza Force, Red Star, LFC Bay Area, San Juan SC, and Lamorinda SC organize in-house futsal activities too, but I’m not listing those here. Some of these are small-sided games played on turf, so make sure you confirm if these clubs offer real futsal.
WINTER FUTSAL LEAGUES (click on the league name for website or FB page)
Futsal San Jose – this league is the most popular in the South Bay/San Jose area. Hundreds of teams across all age groups, both boys and girls, compete from the first weekend in December to end-February. This league uses a clever ranking and game scheduling system that matches teams based on previous weekends’ game results. Sign up now!
Stanford-Palo Alto Futsal League – teams compete in January & February. This league is organized by Vava Marques from WUFA (see above). Teams are grouped by age and ability. Sign up now!
San Francisco Futsal League – organized by SF Recreation & Parks and played at 13 centers across the city from January to March, U5-U18 boys and girls teams compete in recreational, intermediate, and advanced divisions. Note that the city website refers to ‘indoor soccer league’, but it’s futsal.
NorCal Futsal League – based in Martinez.
East Bay Futsal League – based in Oakland/Alameda.
Northern California Futsal League – based in Rocklin and Mather. Run by Futsal Factory for competitive teams/players. Also run the Northern California Developmental Futsal League for less competitive teams/players.
Also, this webpage lists leagues and clubs including some that aren’t listed above. Some of the information seems to be out of date though.
FUTSAL TOURNAMENTS (click on the tourney name for website or FB page)
Blackhawks Annual Holiday Futsal Tournament – December 29/30 in Sacramento, CA. Open to comp, rec, and high school teams.
U.S. Youth Futsal Northern California Regional Championships – December 3/4 in Rocklin, CA. Only four weeks to go if you’re interested – sign up now! Winners of this tourney can compete at Nationals in Kansas Feb 17-20.
U.S. Futsal Northwest Regional Championship – March 10-12 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive tourney. Winners and runners-up can compete at Nationals below.
U.S. Futsal National Championship – July 13-16 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive.
Keep in mind that the above two Nationals don’t actually attract the various Regional/State Champions from around the country because youth teams are not (yet) willing to travel far (and incur the cost) for futsal. So Regionals can often be more competitive than Nationals. This will change over time with futsal’s continuing growth.
By way of background, U.S. Youth Futsal and U.S. Futsal are the two competing national futsal organizations. My understanding is that both have the same status with the U.S. Soccer Federation, and that USYF is stronger on the East Coast while USF is stronger on the West Coast.
Please leave a comment below if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tournaments. Thank you!
Some of you might be familiar with the Kleiban brothers already. Brian is a coach at LA Galaxy’s youth academy and Gary writes about soccer in our country through their blog 3Four3.
They have a reputation for, shall we say, ‘rocking the boat’ and their most recent post definitely hits hard. You might not agree with everything they say below, but their views are worth reading if you’re interested in the broader debate about coaching quality and player development in our country.
I wanted to re-blog their post, but couldn’t figure out how to do that, probably because we’re using different blogging platforms. So I decided to simply paste their post here.
To be clear, full credit for all of the content below goes to Gary @3Four3.
I suggest you first watch this clip and then continue reading Gary’s comments.
First, I want to applaud both Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock for bringing an important truth about the state of American soccer to the masses. It speaks volumes that these sports generalists call it like it is, while entrenched American soccer media doesn’t.
American soccer media, hence its consumers, coddles our players.
You don’t hear much public criticism for a variety of reasons
1) Incumbent American soccer media has been practically curated by the establishment. An establishment that naturally doesn’t want to be critically examined, particularly not at the foundational level. Hence, it neuters its media. How does it accomplish this? Well, it holds a monopoly over the ecosystem. Anyone who doesn’t align with its foundational narrative, its founding culture, is in danger of losing access.
2) Incumbent culture has a recreational mentality – a property that is the antithesis of the hardcore culture the rest of the world has. The soccer structure we live in has been built of, by, and for a casual soccer demographic. It extends from youth all the way to the pro level being addressed here.
When something is casual, there are no stakes. When there are no stakes, nobody gets too heated over things.
After all, “it’s just a game“. That phrase, right there, is the (convenient) foundation upon which American soccer has been built. It’s no wonder we’re mediocre, anybody with that kind of mentality will not achieve excellence.
Contrast that with the rest of the world, where a portion of people’s very identity and self esteem is hinged on their clubs and national teams.
Now, before you robotically react and think that’s sad, reserve judgement until you understand that clubs and national teams across the world represent people at a social, political, economic, and cultural level. It is their flag.
3) Most soccer-first households (the largest and most critical of demos) in the United States aren’t paying attention to American soccer. Because well, it’s low level, inauthentic, and most importantly has historically discriminated against them – preferring instead to cater to the soft suburban soccer-mom demo.
As a consequence, it’s that soft culture that both dominates the narrative and creates policy when it comes to the American game – it has inculcated that softness into the very fabric of American soccer.
Yes, the soccer-first demographic, like 3four3, does call it like it is (e.g. as Colin put it in the above clip, “Michael Bradley is completely pedestrian”) but that has historically, and to this day, primarily occurred in relative isolation – as anyone from this demographic is not hired and graced with a large media platform. If one is hired, they are systematically neutered.
But there is someone with a heavyweight platform that has dipped his toe in the culture challenge.
Jurgen has criticized the players, and has been trying to send the message of “not good enough”, and lists reasons.
The result of his action and criticism?
The soft soccer-mom media turned on him and (at the behest of its master, MLS) launched a smear campaign against him that continues to date.
- Prior to the World Cup, he stated the US can not win it. In other words, he told the unvarnished truth. He was real.
- He deemed Landon Donovan not a good fit for the 2014 World Cup squad. (Note: Assessment of a player goes beyond his ability on the field, there are other critical factors a coach considers in making selections. This is a team game, after all. It’s not about 1 player.)
- Players should go overseas to challenge themselves. This was an indictment of MLS, and the domestic culture.
- He transmitted disappointment when he saw some of his key pieces coming back to MLS (e.g. Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore).
- He said many moons ago, and continues to say, that our players are naive and “need to be nastier”.
There have been a variety of other incidents where the soccer-mom culture looked at him as “throwing players under the bus”.
They were also pissed when he suggested the media needed to further educate themselves in the game.
See, the culture here is precisely as Cowherd observes. The culture is soft. Even the words and phrases we use are soft.
If you look at what incumbent soccer media’s reactions/responses to Cowherd & Whitlock’s comments were, you a hard-pressed to find support for their observations.
Quite the contrary, most that’s been published whether on established media outlets, or social media commentary, was crafted to undermine these observations and uphold the soccer-mom status quo.
“We need to tell US soccer players, coaches, and fans the truth” – @WhitlockJason
“We’re not catching up with the rest of the world as long as soccer’s a sport for the upper class.” – @WhitlockJason
Alexi Lalas represents the establishment’s (convenient) myths
Jason Whitlock hits the truth, again.
Absolutely. Absolutely that certain cultures are a better fit to becoming great at soccer than others. Those coming from an affluent suburban American culture, in general, just don’t “have it”.
Those coming from a socio-economic strata below affluence, in general, are better suited. There’s a particular mentality and set of values the latter has, and the former does not.
Some of the biggest inhibitors the suburban players face are:
- The “it’s just a game” mentality. The other demo treats it as an arena to “best” others, since from a societal perspective they are looked as ‘lower class’. It’s personal.
- The suburban players are brought up in an environment where ‘following the rules’ of the traditional American industrial complex is sacred, where self expression is only ok within narrow boundaries. In other words, being robot-like automatons vs flavorful full-range humans. Top level “creativity” isn’t being stifled by coaches on the field, their cultural upbringing is doing that job.
- The suburban player derives his self-esteem from things other than how good he is in sport. For instance, getting good grades on some standardized test. They measure themselves on how good they are at following societal norms. They don’t need to be great at soccer.
“The people in our stands, at the MLS games, they’re wondering where their next glass of wine is coming from.” – @WhitlockJason
Alexi has it totally wrong about pretty much everything. And he really goes off the rails at the end of the video when he tries to defend the absurdity of expecting the US to beat Argentina. It’s completely disingenuous, derived from the campaign to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, and frankly condescending to all US Soccer fans.
“And I saw the 3 American [analysts] pick us to win [vs Argentina], I was like … ‘nah man, don’t lie to us’” – @WhitlockJason
When an admitted soccer layman like Jason Whitlock can sniff out the bull shit, you know we have a serious problem.
Have you ever seen a professional sports team celebrate an opponent during a major competition? This speaks volumes about Falcao’s status in the world of soccer, and futsal in particular.
Falcao retired today at age 39. He brought immeasurable joy to futbol and inspired a generation of players, including Neymar, through his ginga. He lifted futsal to new heights and will be forever remembered alongside greats such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Messi. Thank you for the magic, Falcao!
And respect to the Iranian players for this kind of sportsmanship!
Here’s a 40-second clip showing the celebration immediately after the Quarterfinal and then take a look at the FIFA clip on Falcao.
As we head into the fall season, we would like to encourage players, coaches, family members, club officials, and referees to take a moment to consider how they will behave around their upcoming soccer games. All play an important role in our small piece of the “World’s Game”, all deserve to be treated respectfully.
While we absolutely encourage everyone to give their best effort, trying to win, we also believe a sense of soccer fellowship should be maintained at all times among opponents, opposing fans, and referees.
Treat each other with courtesy, remember your opponents are just like you, fans of the game, only in a different uniform, playing for a different club, supporting a different team, or in the case of referees, with a different role to play.
Whatever part you play, be a role model. Set an example. Your positive example is incredibly valuable to those who witness it!
The rules must be respected – they maintain a player’s health and safety, provide everyone a fair chance to win each match, and provide necessary checks and balances to govern a game full of emotions.
Referees must be respected and treated properly - without them the games cannot be played. Remember they are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are our fellow soccer fans and they deserve our patience. Our praise, respect and admiration should be shown to them for taking on what is often a thankless task.
Finally, respect the game! Soccer, futebol, fussball, football, whatever you may call it, is the greatest sport in the world – for it to continue to grow and remain healthy in our country it absolutely needs us to respect… its fields, its players, its fans, its referees and its coaches.
Thank you very much,
Norcal Board of Directors
If you’re familiar with my blog then you know how important I think creativity is for player development and that I’m concerned about an overemphasis on quick passing at too early an age. I hear “don’t dribble” too often.
So I was glad to read the following comments from our U16 National Team coach, Shaun Tsakiris, during an interview with GoalNation at Surf Cup a few weeks ago:
“It’s interesting, I think our youth soccer players aren’t as creative as they used to be.
We’re so structured in training that we’ve lost a little creativity in our players. I think we’ve created more good players and less special players.
I often remind myself not to take the love of the game and the creativity away from my players.
While the Federation has made great strides in coaching education in the past few years, even I have to remember not to over-structure.
It is our responsibility as coaches to help our players develop the creative aspects of the game.”
This is probably one of the most important blog posts I’ve written, triggered by an excellent article in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago: “It’s only working for the white kids: American soccer’s diversity problem.”
Here’s a quote from that article to summarize its key point:
“Well-to-do families spend thousands of dollars a year on soccer clubs that propel their children to the sport’s highest levels, while thousands of gifted athletes in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods get left behind. Soccer is the world’s great democratic game, whose best stars have come from the world’s slums, ghettos and favelas. And yet in the US the path to the top is often determined by how many zeroes a parent can write in their checkbook.”
We probably all agree that soccer in our country is expensive. I posted on this topic a couple of weeks ago – click here to read about the cost of competitive youth soccer.
And the higher the quality of coaching and the higher ranked a team is, the higher the cost, partly because of considerable in-state and then out-of-state travel. Talk to someone who’s son or daughter plays on one of the Development Academy or ECNL teams to learn more. But even the second and third teams at the bigger clubs are expensive and travel quite a bit.
To be very clear, I am not saying that soccer clubs are doing anything ‘wrong’ in terms of the fees they charge. And some try to make needs-based scholarships available to talented players and organize fundraisers.
It’s simple – the bills have to be paid by someone and in our private market called ‘youth soccer’ it’s the parents, of course. And there are also many indirect cost to consider beyond just the direct cost such as club fees. To quote from the article:
“Scholarships often cover the cost of the league but little else. They don’t provide transportation for the player whose parents might work during practice, or don’t have enough money for gas to drive to games. Some families don’t have email and can’t get the club announcements. Resentment builds.
“The parents will say to scholarship kids – and I have seen this countless times – ‘Why did you miss the game on Saturday? We are paying for you to be here,’” Lusson says. “What does a kid say to that? Or what happens if they are late to practice? Or who is going to pay for them to travel to that tournament in San Diego? That’s like the moon to some of these kids. We have kids here in the East Bay who have never seen the beach.”
They drop out and drift away and we lose them and that’s terrible because they were really, really talented.”
The other key point this article makes is that some of the best soccer is actually played in the ‘ligas Latinos’. Click here for an article I came across describing one of those ligas.
I have refereed countless games across all age groups and levels, and see the difference between teams from Latino neighborhoods across NorCal and teams from middle-class and well-to-do neighborhoods.
These relatively well-off teams tend to be more disciplined and ‘solid’ throughout, and often also consistently fitter, but seem to lack that extra level of soccer understanding, technical skill, and creativity that many of the Latino teams have.
As a rule of thumb I see better individual talent on Latino teams, often much better.
It’s a level of play you only reach if you grow up playing street soccer pretty much every day at school and in your neighborhood, and are surrounded by a futbol culture that encourages skills and creativity, and draws you into watching international soccer games on a daily/weekly basis.
You can’t get this from just going to structured team practices three times a week that the kids from middle-class and well-to-do neighborhoods typically pay their club fees for.
They tend not to have time for more soccer anyway – there are other extracurricular activities that help them grow into ‘well-balanced individuals’ and strengthen their college applications.
Throw in extra tutoring to do well in school and a busy social life too, of course. Most don’t even have time nor interest to watch top international games on a weekly basis.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with these priorities, of course. It’s a smart approach for these kids given that practically none of them are aiming to turn pro, but it should be clear to everyone that these youngsters can never reach the elite level.
Yet our player development system is supporting them as though they will and ignores those that actually have a realistic chance to join the elite.
And then we also have the college system that distorts the discovery and development of true top talent. The well-to-do teams travel to college showcases and have the grades to get into college, especially the top college programs (with the better facilities and coaches typically, because those pay best).
For many (and probably all top) clubs the college placement rate is a key selling point so their programming is at least partially influenced by what colleges are looking for.
And I don’t blame the clubs for that. They are simply operating within the system. Why should coaches that dedicate their professional lives to the game not maximize their financial return, like you and me?
Being a martyr for a cause is easy to say, but impossible to do when you have to make a living, support a family, and save for retirement. And that coach will be remembered by very few for ‘fighting the good fight’.
Truly talented underprivileged kids, that are never seen at these college ‘showcases’ because they simply can’t ‘pay to play’ nor have the grades because they had to help support their families, simply vanish.
And that’s a massive loss for our country, not just in terms of becoming World Cup contenders at some point, but also in terms of making our MLS games more entertaining.
Entertainment is the lifeblood of soccer (and any sport). The better the entertainment, which is a direct result of talented players, the more money will flow into soccer. It’s a virtuous cycle.
In my view, the USA game against Colombia (Fifa Rank #4) in the Copa America two weeks ago made all this painfully visible. It’s not so much the fact that we lost, but rather how we played.
Yes, we won the next three games against Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Ecuador, mostly because we simply played with more heart and energy and against much lower ranked teams than Columbia, but there simply is no player or coach in our country who can credibly compete in the top 10 internationally. Period. We rank 29th, by the way.
Watch the USA v Columbia game again and then the Argentina v Chile game. And finally watch the 0:4 semifinal loss against an Argentinian side that was playing at only about 50-75% of what they are capable of.
Quoting an analyst (with some edits for clarity and brevity), “we had just 32 percent of possession, our midfield lost the ball quickly, we had zero shots (not zero shots on goals – zero shots total), and we were out-played in every way possible. It’s not so much that the U.S. got beaten as it was that they weren’t even in the game.”
We battled and never gave up, but the difference in class along pretty much any soccer dimension, individual and team, was obvious.
That’s the chasm we need to cross and we won’t be successful until we’ve figured out how to discover and then nurture truly our best and most passionate futbol talent wherever it might be.
There is no easy solution to this pay-to-play problem, but I strongly suspect that the only feasible way to truly discover and develop our best soccer talent is to have at least some type of large central funding source with aligned incentives that can support a broad scouting net and then pay for a very large number of youngsters’ development.
U.S. Soccer will have to own this – government funding won’t be available for this. Many other countries, including soccer powerhouses such as Germany and Spain, provide taxpayer funded government support (sometimes a lot and even the entire cost), but we don’t operate like that here.
In addition, clubs that develop talent need to be compensated by the pro clubs for that development. Right now the bigger clubs, especially those with USDA and ECNL status simply suck up the talent that was developed by smaller clubs.
And then the MLS clubs in turn mop up the top talent without owing one of the lesser clubs anything for their player development work.
Here’s an article that describes that well. This article also describes how tough it is to make a decent living running most youth soccer clubs.
And once you have a system in place to identify the best talent how do you then best develop them? Insert them into the existing youth clubs (with external funding support) or maybe have a centrally organized system of development through US Soccer?
It’s relatively easy once you’ve identified those that are truly elite – they can join one of the fully paid USDA teams at one of our MLS clubs, but there’s the millions of 5 to 12 year old underprivileged kids that need to be nurtured. Or at least a good portion of them.
It’s the only way to identify the diamonds in the rough and an important part of the changes we need to eventually be able to help fulfill the enormous potential of this massive, sports-obsessed, and wealthy country of ours. We have no excuse!
By the way, click here if you’re interested in some wealth distribution data. This Forbes article is just one source – there are many and they all tell the same story.
P.S.: And then we have to make sure that creative talent isn’t suffocated by shallow, risk-averse coaching that suppresses this creativity, but that’s another topic for another day. If you’re interested, I’ve shared my views on this many times including here, here, and here.
The story continues: tiny Iceland, with roughly one-third the population of San Jose (!), qualified today in dramatic fashion for the knockout stage of the European Championship.
NOBODY expected this. Sit back and enjoy. This is futbol!
If you have any interest in soccer and want to understand the essence of the beautiful game then you ABSOLUTELY have to watch this movie. Trailer below.
Watch it with your sons and daughters. And then share it with your friends and teammates…and your coaches!
It’s about much more than Pele. It’s about the heart and soul of soccer – about ginga, about technical skills, about creativity, and about enjoying the game.
“I don’t know if we will win, but we will show them a beautiful game.”
Brazil Head Coach before taking the field in the Final of the 1958 World Cup
This headline quote is from Albert Einstein. You probably know by now that I believe in the importance of teaching, encouraging, and celebrating creativity of play in our youngsters. I firmly believe that our youngsters need as large a problem-solving toolkit as possible.
Well, here’s another reason to foster creativity: our kids need to be able to express themselves creatively on the field otherwise they will sooner or later lose interest in this beautiful game.
Soccer is played and enjoyed as much with the brain as it is with the body.
The more we enforce rigid systems of play and ‘simple’ risk-averse behavior the more likely it is that we will lose our youngsters to boredom.
When they are younger they are more heavily influenced by external factors such as parental expectations and the social aspect. They are more likely to go along with whatever the coaches (and parents) want them to do, irrespective of how challenged they might feel mentally.
But this changes rapidly as they become more independent as teenagers. The risk of losing interest increases as they get older because they increasingly have to be self-motivated to put the time and effort into practicing multiple times a week and competing on weekends.
If youngsters aren’t having fun they will sooner or later stop playing the game. It’s as simple as that.
So by not encouraging creativity from an early age we end up with players that can’t compete internationally, a much less entertaining experience for spectators, and a much smaller pool of youngsters that stick with the game.
Creativity is used a lot to describe the better soccer players. And many of us probably recognize it when we see it during a youth or pro game. I have posted many times about the importance of encouraging creativity in our youngsters, most recently an article on the lack of top midfielders in our country and a post about risk-averse defenders.
The impact of creativity cannot be underestimated. It massively impacts the quality and entertainment of every soccer game across all age groups and levels. It’s as relevant for lower-level U9 games as it is for elite pro games.
And a lack of creativity isn’t just an issue here in our country. For example, it’s arguably the single biggest reason for England’s relative underperformance on the international stage (and until recently, but to a lesser extent, also in the country where I grew up, Germany) and why the English Premier League is so dominated by elite foreign players. (English teams have the resources to buy talent from all over the world because more than in any other country England focused heavily on the business of sports these last two decades. So the English clubs and the League are doing well, but not the English national team.)
According to one English youth soccer coach: “So many England internationals from the past 30 years have grown to become more functional than creative, and the fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative, unpredictable, England players is a concern for English football. This rigid, predictable footballer is a product of the coaching they received when they were young.”
But what is ‘creativity’? More technical elements such as dribbling or super skills? Or more team-based elements such as pass-and-move patterns? Or something else?
Before I suggest a definition of ‘creativity’ let’s take a step back and read this excerpt from a recent article on how U.S. Soccer is attempting to improve coaching quality (slightly edited for clarity and brevity; blue font is my emphasis):
“Soccer is a player’s game. The 22 people knocking a ball around a big field are bound by few rules. Predictable patterns rarely occur. As a result, coaches can’t succeed by designing plays and ordering players to execute them, as they can in, say, football. Players have to make judgment calls in the moment, on their own.
This means that rote skills, while essential, are not in themselves adequate. The thing that makes better players is decision making. They need to integrate not just how to do something but whether, when, and why. There are parallels to the difficulty many students have solving problems independently. If you give kids a math problem and tell them how to solve it they can usually do it. But if you give them a problem and it’s not clear how to solve it, they struggle.
Jürgen Klinsmann, a former German world soccer star, World Cup winner, coach of the German National Team, and currently coach of our U.S. men’s team, has remarked that it’s hard to get Americans to see that a soccer coach cannot be “the decision maker on the field,” but should instead be a guide. “This is a very different approach. I tell them, ‘No, you’re not making the decision. The decision is made by the kid on the field.’ ”
Outside the U.S., most soccer players learn to play independently very early on. We don’t have a lot of unstructured play where kids can develop creativity. It’s a lot of tournaments and pressure and sideline parents and trophies.”
So with that background in mind let’s turn back to ‘creativity’. When you break down a soccer game into its smallest, most fundamental elements it comes down to this:
Players are faced with an endless series of problem-solving micro-moments during games.
These micro-moments could last anywhere from a split-second (for example, controlling the ball in very tight spaces or a goalkeeper reacting to a sudden shot on goal) to a handful of seconds (for example, a midfielder moving with the ball looking for passing options).
Some of these micro-moments repeat themselves over time and youngsters simply learn from experience what to do in those moments.
But many of these micro-moments are new or different and force a player to make immediate decisions about how to solve them. And as the standard of play increases the player has to use increasingly creative ways to deal with these micro-moments.
For example, simply physically shielding the ball against a physically inferior and ‘simpler’ player won’t work against clever/crafty players (physically inferior or not) because they know how to fake you out and poke the ball away. Or clever players know how to use teamwork to double up on you and take the ball away.
Another example is that athletic youngsters can have much success simply touching the ball into space past a defender and then sprinting past them toward goal, especially when they are younger and/or playing against inferior players.
That’s certainly one way to repeatedly solve those how-do-I-get-past-a-defender micro-problems. But this won’t work anymore when matched up against athletic defenders and a defensive team working well together to cover each other. So now what? Is this athletic youngster able to get past the defenders other than through speed and/or physicality?
Often ‘unpredictability’ goes hand in hand with creativity. In general, the more unpredictable the way the micro-problem is solved the more likely it is that he or she will outfox the opponent and succeed.
And, just as important for the longer-term growth of the game in our country, the more entertaining it is to watch the game across all levels and age groups.
And what does a youngster need to creatively solve those micro-problems?
- Soccer IQ – a fundamental understanding of the game, including the relationship between the ball, the players, space and movement;
- Large toolkit – broad and deep technical skills, ball control and touch, accurate passing, ability to shoot, ambidexterity, off-the-ball movement, etc.
- Mental agility – is the youngster constantly paying attention and reading the game, processing split-second decisions, coming up with clever solutions, imagining a couple of moves ahead;
- Confidence – especially with the ball in tight, pressured situations in your own defensive third; does he or she have the confidence to do the unexpected and experiment with new solutions or is he or she worried about making mistakes?
So ‘creativity’ is not just one thing. It’s not just dribbling skills or accurate passing movements or sprinting or great shots on goal. It’s all of the above (and more) applied at the right moments to solve the endless series of often unpredictable micro-problems players face during games.
And the earlier and more often our youngsters attempt to solve those problems creatively the sooner their conscious thought (which is measured in seconds) becomes instinct (which is measured in a second or less), further speeding up and improving the quality of their game.
And it’s the coach’s job to help his youngsters develop as large a toolkit as possible and the positive mental attitude to become smarter, more creative players over time even if that means losing many more games.
Encourage that eight, nine, or ten year old defender to dribble past an attacker even if your team is more likely to lose possession.
Celebrate the attempted Maradona move by the midfielder even if a simpler touch past the opponent would have had a higher chance of working.
Applaud your speedy attacker for working with his teammate on a series of two or three wall-passes instead of simply using his or her speed to leave that obviously slower defender in the dust.
Admire a beautiful sequence of one-touch passing movements even if two touches would have retained possession for longer.
The list is endless.
For the good of this beautiful game, coaches and parents, please teach, encourage, and celebrate creative problem solving across all age groups and levels. Coaches will develop better players, parents will be more entertained during games, and our youngsters will enjoy playing more and for longer.
And then one day in the not too distant future we will bring the World Cup trophy to our country.
Mark Cuban has jumped into futsal here in the United States. And, according to the Dallas Morning News, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Corinthians, and Boca Juniors will all own individual franchises.
In addition, some of Cuban’s NBA peers are also getting involved, including the Buss family, owners of the LA Lakers, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch owner of the Brooklyn Nets.
The aim is to put together the preeminent futsal league in the world, bringing the best talent the game has to offer to the United States.
The attraction is the money spent on sports and, increasingly soccer, here. Our facilities are also typically very good and existing venues can easily be converted to futsal arenas.
And click here for an article discussing some of the rules modifications.
It’s early days, but let’s hope this works out!
Here’s a photo taken at the UEFA European Futsal Championships that is currently underway – 11,000 in attendance!
And here’s a clip showing the dramatic 2:1 quarterfinal win by Serbia over Ukraine with 0.30 seconds left on the clock. Note the electrifying atmosphere!
You have to click on the link to YouTube unfortunately. And the deciding goal is at 2:25.