From College to the Pros - The US soccer ladder

Thursday, June 29, 2006

adidas ESP is starting....

If you haven't heard of adidas ESP, get to know it. It is the foremost invitational soccer camp in the country and some of the biggest American names in MLS and abroad have played in it. This isn't the kind of camp where soccer mom's and dad's pay big bucks for Johhny to "play with the pros." This event is invitation only and 120 college coaches, from the top American and European programs (for example: Clemson University, FC Bayern Munich (Germany), University of Maryland, University of New Mexico, University of Virginia, Rosenborg FC (Norway), Duke University, New England Revolution, Wake Forest University, Indiana University, UCLA, etc.) come to watch the best of the best of high school soccer. To get an invite you've got to be playing club soccer on a well known club, where you can be seen by the adidas scouts. Many of the kids are playing on their regional ODP teams and have been singled out as potential, future national team players. Some of the participants are already playing with the U-17 team at Bradenton in Florida.

This year's event kicks off July 5th and plays through July 10th and will be hosted by The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. The camp includes training sessions, matches, sports psychology sessions and a chance to watch the World Cup final. There is even a presentation from Chelsea FC on international soccer.

The most important part of the camp are the games. Players are broken up onto different teams and play together throughout camp. The biggest benefit to these kids are the college scouts in attendance. Many of the players are going into their senior year of high school and this could be the chance for them to make a major college program.

The event started in 1997 and has seen some of the stars of MLS and American soccer. We all recognize names like: DaMarcus Beasley, Alecko Eskandarian, Kyle Martino, Edson Buddle, Jonathan Spector, Brad Davis, Oguchi Onyewu, Danny O'Rourke, Michael Parkhurst and on and on. Over 40 current professional players have played at adidas ESP. ESP's first alumni are still young and as American soccer grows, I think we'll see more and more ESP grads in the pros. MLS coaches are no doubt seeing this in the player bio and seeing it as a major feather in the cap.

So who is next? It is obviously hard to say without having seen any of these kids play. Much of the 2004 crop of players are going into their sophomore college seasons or just starting college. A couple have already signed contracts with MLS; Quavas Kirk plays in LA and Josmer Altidore plays for New York. Neither have seen much playing time in MLS but they continue to grow and play in the youth national team program. The ESP website has the 2004 and 2005 all*stars so I will monitor those lists, and see how they are doing in college. Jonathan Villanueva, who I wrote about earlier, was one of the 2005 all*stars at ESP.

In my opinion American soccer needs more of these types of events, allowing more talent to be scouted. It'd be great if each region of the country could hold one of these, allowing the local pro teams and colleges a look at the best of the best in the U-17 category. This event gets 136 of the best youngsters into the spotlight. However, we all know in a country with almost 300 million people, 136 kids is just scratching the surface. This is not a knock against ESP. It is a leader in this category and will help the US continue becoming a soccer nation. I'm just pointing out that it'd be a lot better to have 1,000 + kids each summer playing at this level, getting professional coaching and getting scouted by the top colleges.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The World Cup is the best sporting event in the world...

I can say the above statement and know in full confidence that it is correct after traveling to Germany for the Cup. The passion I saw from fans of all nationalities was astonishing. Until you see it in person, it is hard to believe. On June 21st I was in Gelsenkirchen, Germany to watch Mexico take on Portugal. I assumed Portugal would have the dominant fan base because of the relative distance the two groups would have to travel. I was wrong. Starting with breakfast and continuing until the train station at 2:30 am, Mexican fans were everywhere and happy to be there. They took over the train stations, they crowded the beer stands, they dominated the stadium. I have a new appreciation for Mexican soccer fans, they're some of the best in the world.

Another awesome part of the trip was the fact that the games were on live, everywhere. This is not a stretch. Every bar, restaurant, TV store...everywhere showed the games. You didn't have to put any effort into finding a spot to watch and grab dinner and drinks. It was so exciting to be amongst so many other fans all watching the same thing.

The US game had a bad result but a great atmosphere. A lot of Americans made the trip and in that stadium it was amazing to hear thousands of countrymen singing the national anthem. Not just singing, belting out is more appropriate. At baseball, football, hockey, basketball, etc. games people stand, take off their hat and quietly whisper along. Towards the end people hoot and holler. At the World Cup the fans are representing their country and they sing! Every single American was on their feet SINGING at the top of their lungs and there wasn't any hootin' and hollerin' before the end. It was a moment that sent chills down my spine.

In summary, all you soccer fans out there need to be thinking about how you're going to get to the cup in 4 years. If not South Africa, I heard England has the inside track on 2014. Start saving your pennies.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Dream Becomes Reality...

I have been thinking about going to Germany 2006 since the kick off of Korea/Japan 2002. It was my birthday and I celebrated by waking up early to watch Senegal shock holders France. My roommates and I started talking that day about WC '06.

Tomorrow I start the slow journey to Germany. In the morning I fly to Minnesota for a friends' wedding. Then Saturday morning I fly to Newark to meet my traveling partners before boarding a plane to Amsterdam. Once on the ground the World Cup begins in my eyes. I'll be attending many bars' viewing parties and then traveling into Germany on the 20th. In Germany I'll attend more viewings, Mexico vs. Portugal and US vs. Ghana. Then it is homeward bound. I'm sure the trip will fly by while being one of the best experiences of my life. I'm sure I'll talk way too much about it upon my return.

As such, you won't see any updates until sometime around June 26th when I return to work.

Look out Copa, here I come!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Let's check in with some of our other National teams, maybe they can win...

With such a poor performance by the US it is natural for me to start focusing on WC 2010. While I probably won't make the journey to South Africa, there are a bunch of guys on the US U-18 team hoping to be the next Eddie Johnson.

Right now the US U-18 squad is over in Portugal playing in the Lisbon international Tournament. They also played a friendly against Real Madrid Juniors on June 5th. The team hasn't won any games, but they're scoring goals and getting points on the board with draws. First the tied Real Madrid Juniors 3-3. In the Lisbon tournament they tied Sweden 2-2 and then Norway 1-1. On Sunday they lost to host Portugal 1-0.

All of the American goals in the above results were scored by two players; Josmer Altidore & Jonathan Villanueva.

Let's start with Altidore since he's more of a known quantity at this point. Josmer is still in high school. He's 16 years old. He's a member of the New York Red Bulls after being drafted this year by the Red Bulls in the second round of the SuperDraft. In 7th and 8th grade he was playing high school varsity soccer. He joined the US U-17 residency program in the fall of 2004. He scores goals like it is his job and in the next few years he will no doubt be scoring them in MLS.

Villanueva is a slightly different story. He hasn't gone pro yet. He is going to college. He finished at his own high school in Texas as opposed to moving to Florida. Strike that, he went to Bradenton, Florida and left after one year. Back in Texas he led his South Grand Prairie team to the regional quarter finals. In the fall Jonathan will go to the University of Virginia. He is considered the top soccer prospect in the country and could bring some of the prestige back to UVA soccer. Villanueva was names the top high school player in Texas and joins names like Kenny Cooper & Drew Moor, two MLS pro's. A midfielder, Villanueva has a list of honors a mile long. He is a two-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American (2004-05), Adidas ESP Inivitee (2003-05) and Adidas All-Star (2005). He was voted Newcomer of the Year for private schools in his area as freshman in 2002. Villanueva played for one of the top club teams in the country, the Dallas Texans. He was a member of the ODP -- Region III (2000-2002) team as well as a five-time Coca Cola Classic League Champion (2001-2005). He helped lead teams to the Region III Championship titles twice (2003, 2005) and to a third place at the national championship in 2003. He helped his team to a national championship in 2005. Villanueva was a US National Team member in 2003. He is a two-time Premier League Champion as well as a four-time state champion (2002-05). He will certainly be one to watch in the college ranks come the fall.

The US comes out flat...and sucked....

There is not a lot to say about yesterday's US - Czech Republic match. The US sucked. Our boys were dominated on every part of the field. I can only hope that they can play a different game this Saturday while I am waiting in the Newark airport for my flight across the pond. If I enter the US - Ghana match with zero points on the board for the US, I am not going to be happy. The World Cup experience will not be the same. Here's to getting at least 1 point against the Italians.

Friday, June 09, 2006

It Is Here...The Copa Mundial!!!

The World Cup kicks off today. The media frenzy has started and right now the big questions revolve around Michael Ballack and Wayne Rooney's fitness. Will they or won't they be able to play? The US is able to live in relative anonymity, however they are getting some of the press focus. I'll try to highlight some media so you guys aren't missing anything.

Studio 90 has been in full swing for the past week. US Soccer sent their own media over with the team and they get access to most everything. They have interviews, interesting side stories about the visit to the Mayor of Hamburg, stuff like that. I think they're doing a good job. They are providing interesting content over the web, for free. I think you'll see more sports teams/leagues do this in the future. The daily updates are no doubt driving more traffic to the website.

Clint Dempsey is one of the best American examples of a soccer playing kid done right. He climbed the ladder I'm always writing about here. There is a good article today on about him. Clint learned the game in Texas from the Mexican immigrants moving north. He didn't get sent to the U-17 residency camp as a "special" player. He fought hard and got into a good college program at Furman. The US U-20 team took him to the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship but he only played as a sub in one match. Clint has worked hard and he is about to blow up on the world stage. I know it.

On the other end of the spectrum is Clint's best friend on the team, Eddie Johnson. Clint and Eddie are similar in that they didn't grow up in traditional soccer settings. They didn't live the posh suburban lifestyle, being driven to practice by their soccer mom in the luxury SUV. However, Eddie's talents were discovered at a younger age. Eddie has been the star of the youth National program since 2000 when he joined the U-17 residency program. In 2001 he joined the Dallas Burn and started a pro-career while still playing for the U-17's. He was the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team’s top scorer in 2000 and 2001. When he moved up to the U-20 team he led the team over the two-year cycle with 12 international goals in 21 appearances. In 2004 he burst on to the international stage with goals in his first few matches, helping the US to the top of the World Cup qualifying group table. Eddie has the potential to be the most lethal US striker, ever. In 15 caps he has 9 goals and he is just 22 years old. Look for him to move up the US goal list during this tournament, and then move to a European club after the July transfer window opens.

In non-World Cup news; the LA Galaxy finally fired Steve Sampson. You all remember Steve, he created the 3-6-1 formation the US used at France '98 and we didn't win a single game. I think Brian McBride scored the lone goal for the team. Sampson is being replaced by a great MLS coach, Frank Yallop. Yallop guided the San Jose Earthquakes to the MLS Cup and really helped Landon Donovan become the player he is today. I'm sure Landon will be happy to return from the Cup to see Frank in the locker room. Yallop joining the Gals will be a real benefit to the youngsters in LA. The Galaxy typically draft great talents, but I become surprised when they fade after a couple years in the league. Hopefully Yallop will be able to get the best out of youngsters like: Marc Burch, Steve Cronin, Michael Enfield, Herculez Gomez, Guillermo Gonzalez, Ugo Ihemelu, Quavas Kirk, Nathan Sturgis & Kyle Veris.

That is all for now folks. Make sure you set your DVRs to catch all the action. Don't be surprised if Costa Rica knocks off the home team today. No one thought defending champs France would lose to Senegal in the opening game, but they did. Remember, the favorites always falter. France leaving Japan/South Korea '02 during group play? No way! Well, they did. The US beating Portugal? Never! :) That is the fun of the Copa Mundial, so don't miss a minute.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is 6' - 3" the New Standard for American Defenders?

In the run up to the World Cup the average American soccer fan now knows about Gooch. Oguchi Onyewu, otherwise known as Gooch, is a 6' - 4" monster who played for Clemson University and then left for the professional ranks in Belgium instead of taking a small money offer from MLS. That tough choice has paid off for Gooch as he is now part of the US National Team at the 2006 World Cup. It now looks like Gooch may land in one of the big European leagues as rumor on the street is that English Premier League side Middlesbrough is on the verge of signing the young American. Gooch will anchor the central defense and his size will help the Americans in all aspects of the Cup. Gooch has become loved by fans for his famous stare down of Mexican forward, Jared Borgetti, in a World Cup qualifier.

Gooch grew up in the spotlight playing alongside Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley with the US U-17 team and his size has seemed like an anomaly in the US Soccer ranks. Just when you think it is safe to be a small striker in college soccer, Gooch appears to have led the charge of linebacker size kids playing college ball. The 2006 Premier Development League (PDL) season has brought a couple more big defenders to the spotlight. Michael Holody (University of Michigan) and David Horst (Old Dominion), 6' - 3" 200 lbs and 6' - 4" 195 lbs respectively, have been making some noise in PDL. Michael is playing in his native Michigan while David is playing for Virginia Beach. They both made the week 6 team of the week and it is David's second TOTW in a row. David even scored the game winner for his team this week while Michael also got on the scoreboard in a 4-0 rout.

Playing well in PDL will get these guys on the MLS scouts' radar screens. They both have some college years left in them but I expect to see David at the 2008 combine and Michael at the 2009 event. Coaches are going to begin to look for players who can use their size both on the defensive end and on set pieces on offense. Bruce Arena has been able to get the most out of his giant, MLS will too. I'm sure as soccer becomes more popular with young athletes, we'll start seeing more Americans topping the size charts on the international scene.

Friday, June 02, 2006

In the US, the U-17 Program is King...

I've tried to draw your attention in the past to the fact that the US U-17 program in Florida is currently growing the future US National Team. Sports Illustrated has an example of what the 1999 group is doing for the current team.

• I [Grant Whal] spent an inordinate amount of time recently tracking down this factoid regarding SI's four cover boys, who all played on the U.S.'s 1999 Under-17 World Cup side: No team in the '06 World Cup has as many players who've graduated to its roster from a single U-17 World Cup team as the U.S. and its class of '99 quartet. Here are the top five U-17 World Cup teams when it comes to providing players for '06 World Cup rosters:

United States, '99 (four): Beasley, Convey, Donovan, Onyewu
Costa Rica, '01 (three): Randall Azofeifa, Gabriel Badilla, Christian Bolanos
Poland, '99 (three): Pawel Brozek, Tomasz Kuszczak, Sebastian Mila
Japan, '95 (three): Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono, Naohiro Takahara
Australia, '89 U-16 (three): Keljko Kalac, Tony Popovic, Mark Schwarzer

So keep your eyes on the current U-17 crop when the 2010 & 2014 Cups roll around.

Check out Whal's article on Beasley and other World Cup tidbits where I found this info.

The Eagles Have Landed...

The US has arrived in Hamburg, Germany a week ahead of the opening match of the World Cup. They will continue to fine tune their game ahead of their June 12th tilt against the Czech Republic. After three tune up matches last week the team failed to impress against three teams not playing in the Cup. We shouldn't read too much into the results, but a 5-0 whipping of Latvia would have made me feel better.

Remember to check out to keep on top of all the happenings in Germany. Today they will debut a new feature, Studio 90. Even the US Soccer Men's National Team has a blog. You can also check out UCLA man, Jimmy Conrad's articles on espn soccernet.

World Cup fever is here, make sure you catch it.