Contributed by Bob Day, U12 Boys/U12 Girls Coach
Much has been said about the US Men’s National Soccer team in failing to qualify for the World Cup next year in Russia. Some of the most interesting reactions have come from former members of the U.S. National team.
Former US player Taylor Twellman, now a soccer analyst for ESPN, believes we are attempting to apply the American professional sports culture to the world sport of soccer. He argues that while the rest of the world punishes failure through a system of relegation, we in America reward mediocrity or failure by offering first round draft picks and increased salary caps for losers in the MLS.
Alexi Lalas offered a suggestion to solve the ‘pay-to-play’ issue, which many believe is the biggest problem with US Soccer. "Maybe we should require that any MLS club or any pro club in the United States have a free academy, from the first division on down," Lalas said. "This idea, like all of the others I've heard, takes time."
Claudio Reyna, arguably the best midfielder to ever wear the US jersey, might agree with Lalas. Reyna recently took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Harlem as part of the New York City Soccer Initiative, a $3 million public-private partnership to build 50 mini-soccer fields in five years in the five boroughs. These fields will provide opportunity to underserved neighborhoods.
Reyna’s harshest critique was reserved for American soccer in general. “I think it’s everybody’s fault," he said. "It’s not U.S. Soccer. It’s soccer in the U.S.” Reyna said arrogance in American soccer was a fundamental problem. "There’s a lack of modesty with how we approach the sport here. You go to Germany, Spain and the one thing you see is that there’s much more humility in the work. You go to speak to a U-14, U-15 coach at FC Barcelona and they want to learn more from you than you from them."
Former player and national team coach Hugo Perez believes that “we will not play a different style of soccer, a more attractive, creative style of soccer if we don’t believe in it. We do have people in this country who have the credentials to make it happen. They need to be given the opportunity.”
I’ve coached youth and high school soccer in Greater Burlington for 20+ years, having worked for most of the pay-to-play organizations in Vermont. Especially in this area, youth soccer development has relied too much on enterprise, more so than the development that comes from soccer as an integral part of our culture.
For such a small and rural state, I’ve had the good fortune of coaching players from Europe, Africa, Asia and a few from Latin countries. I’m reminded of a player I coached from Madrid, Spain—a player that taught me the best soccer lessons of my coaching life. David Elizaga was an exchange student at Burlington High School. At 15 years of age, he was small and less athletic than most of the BHS varsity players. Yet David could bend a soccer ball over and around a wall with either foot. His vision, comfort with the ball on either side of his body, and ability to problem solve any situation made him stand out. The impression he left on me and his teammates is everlasting.
There is a common thread among David and the other players I’ve coached from abroad. It is their passion, soccer IQ and joy through self-expression they bring to playing—no doubt a result of coming from a place where soccer is rooted in the culture, played on the playground and shared in the family. We are getting there and hopefully we will see less of the result oriented soccer that enterprise youth development necessitates and more soccer that has the freedom to be attractive, more technical and in the long run successful. Perhaps this will foster a culture in this area that values the approach and creativity to play as well as the success inherent in it. I’m convinced we at Black Watch are committed to this. Hopefully US Soccer will be as well.