Saturday, December 22, 2007

Academy Programs

The new US Soccer Academy program is the first youth league ever organized by US Soccer and not US Youth Soccer. That, in essence, is why it is so different. All other youth soccer leagues and events (including ODP) is under the umbrella of US Youth Soccer. Decisions on the rules and regulations for those are made by the Regional Director’s and State Presidents. Rules and regs for the Academy league are made by US Soccer (significant input coming from our national youth team coaches). The Academy program is actually just another league with specific rules that the organizers feel will be better for the development of the players.

The Academy program will have identification events to select players for opportunities with the National teams. Some national camps have already occurred with players from a Thanksgiving event. (We are very happy that 6 guys who played for MD ODP were selected out of those events to be on US teams in the NIKE Friendlies. At the same time that event was going on there was an “inter regional” with the ODP programs in Disney. Likewise players were selected from that event to join various national team events.

So what I believe we have are 2 programs that both have the ability to present players for the next level. The Academy program does it through club events while the ODP does it through state and regional events. Both have merit. I certainly hope that the Academy Program reaches it goal of providing a top developmental environment for the players involved. Important to keep in mind is that each club will be different based on coaching staff, facilities, finances, etc. That is not different than it has ever been. In many ways the Academy teams that really have the most on the line are the MLS youth teams. They probably have the most vested interest as they hope to directly benefit from the development of the players in their program.

Having said all that I do believe that the most important indicator of whether the Academy program is successful is if it does attract the college coaches. That is the main by-product for 99.9% of the players that are on top club teams. One thing I know for sure – college coaches will go to all tournaments and events that have good players regardless of whether they are “Academy”, US Youth Soccer/ODP or anything else. As there are not enough Academy teams to cover all the top players in the country (or even in any one area), all programs will continue to play an important role in the game’s development.

Friday, December 21, 2007


) How does participating in or not participating in the overseas trip hurt / help a player? What if we are financially constrained?
I have been on many, many international soccer tours with club, college, national teams, ODP teams. I have yet to have a poor soccer experience. It is the world's game and these trips expose the players to a passion for the sport that unfortunately cannot be replicated in this country - although we can only hope we are moving that way.

We play teams that are made up of same age players from the professional clubs of Argentina
(91 and 93 teams) and Scotland (95 trip). These are players who are trying to work their way up to the professional level. They were born with the soccer ball at their feet and the game in their hearts. Exposure to this environment never ceases to motivate me. The players will go against talent and sophistication that they are not use to. This will push them to be there best and find ways to be better. They simply do not get pushed this way at home - even when playing against older players. It is hard to describe the effect this has on the players.
In Argentina we take the U-15s and 17s. They play back to back games and that night they "critique" each other. We see the soccer brains developing at these team meetings. We see older payers helping younger players the same way a true club system would be... unfortunately not found here either.
For some players the opportunity to return to train with a professional club has happened. We had 2 players last year get invited to train with Celtic for 2 weeks in the summer. The year before we had a U-15 player invited to train with a Brazilian club.
Regarding finances for these trips - all I can say is that we price them at the absolute east we can. MSYSA makes no money off the trips - actually they lose money sue to costs of the staff. Is it worth it? I can't answer that. We can find ways to help with a payment plan and things like that, but unfortunately this is the one area where we do not have any financial assistance.
Does it hurt or help to go or not go?? Well naturally your son will have a unique opportunity for improvement and for a significant cultural education. It certainly won't be held against anyone for not going, but those who do go have an experience that they can bring back to help their game, their club team and teammates.
Hope that helps. It is an amazing culture we expose the boys to - on and off the field.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007



Trying out for ODP teams can be a very stressful time - before, during and after. When tryouts are over I often get e-mails and calls asking for evaluations of the players so they can work on what they need to do to improve. With hundreds of quality soccer players trying out it is impossible to give individual evaluations. However, there are some areas of the game that are the MOST COMMON in separating players from one level to another. These may be helpful in evaluating one’s own child, oneself or the player you coach.

1) First touch on the ball. Do you control the ball or does the ball control you? This is easy to see and those who have the ball controlling them can never make the step to a high level. First touch may well be the first thing to look at.
2) Speed of play. This is more in relation to what I cal “soccer speed”. How fast can one execute a technical requirement of the game. Can a payer (under pressure) take a pass and as quickly and efficiently as possible execute the next play.
3) Tactical decisions. Even if the player does things with effective speed, then the question becomes: is the player making the best decision possible and how fast does that player see the options.
4) Does the player make the game better? This can be due to overall ability, athleticism and a good “soccer brain”. It can also be because that player does something extremely well that a coach may feel overrides the deficiencies. For example – the player is a great 1v1 player, but lacks defensive instincts or great passing. Maybe the player is a fantastic defender but lacks elsewhere. The essential question is does the player have a chance to make the team better as opposed to just holding his own (not a good standard to use in making an ODP team).

Needless to say, there are other things that can factor in – especially at the younger age groups where sizes of players are so varied. Coaches are always asking the question: “While this player may not be able to compete athletically now, can he be one of the best when he does catch up with the athletically advanced players?” We certainly try and select those players even if they do not seem to be as effective as some who do not make it.

At the end of the day our staff can safely say that anyone who is selected has deserved to be, but we also know there are some not selected who are very good players. For those the greatest challenge is to now look at their game and really try and improve the above areas in particular. The higher the level the less time and space players have to be effective. Work on speed of play, speed of execution and speed of thought.

Feel free to give your thoughts…