From College to the Pros - The US soccer ladder

Thursday, March 22, 2007

LA Galaxy Prepare to Launch Galaxy Rios With First Signing...

I came across this article this afternoon thanks to BigSoccer. This is what I like to read about, a young American soccer player, not afraid to take on the older guys, signing on with a professional clubs academy. This is what all MLS clubs should be doing. I hope as we learn more about the MLS youth development initiative we will see more of this.

As many of you know, this is what the rest of the world does. Young soccer players yearn to play for their local club. They dream of the day they get to put on the strip of their favorite player. They dream of lacing up the boots in the same locker room as their idol. Tristan Bowen, featured in the article, is a long time Galaxy fan. He now has the chance to train on the same field as Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Joe Cannon. I'm sure Bowen has looked up to these players most of his life and training alongside them will be a thrill and an amazing learning experience. Can anyone out there make the argument that Tristan Bowen's soccer game would be better off if he continues to play against his peers, coached by amateur coaches? I doubt it. Tristan Bowen and the flood of other young soccer studs joining MLS youth ranks will thrive and prosper in this new set up.

A few years ago, maybe last season, I can't remember, MLS trumpeted "A New Soccer Nation." I think the league was a couple years pre-mature, but when this first class of academy players matriculates into the senior team, we will have a new soccer nation. This 16 year old will be learning from the pros the same way soccer stars around the world do. The USA is now free to produce their first Ronaldinho, Ronaldo or Rooney. Imagine if Donovan had been able to live at home while playing with professionals. He may be at an even higher level since he wouldn't have gone through his petulant "I want to live at home" mood. I'll even go so far as to say that Freddy Adu would have been better off being introduced to the league this way as opposed to being thrown in front the national media as a MLS savior.

It will certainly be interesting to see who else LA signs and the other MLS clubs sign. I'm ready for the New Soccer Nation to appear and I think the youth academy will bring it to us my friends. Enjoy!!!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

MLS and Youth Development...

Since the official announcement by Don Garber that MLS teams would be required to enter youth teams in competition in 2007 details have been few and far between on how the actual set up will work. In limited meetings with Rapids Assistant Coach John Murphy I’ve tried to figure out what my club is doing and Mike Woitalla at Soccer America put together a nice piece outlining what much of the rest of the league is doing.

You can go ahead and read Mike’s article, I don’t see a need to regurgitate it here or give my opinions on much of it. There is one point that I am going to puke all over. Please read the following a second time:

“Chivas USA's Southern California rival, the Los Angeles Galaxy, has not formalized its plans. The Galaxy has been offered a partnership by the Coast Soccer League whereby select players make guest appearances for the Galaxy while remaining with their CSL clubs. But if the Galaxy goes its own path, CSL Premier Competition chairman Gary Sparks says their teams will not be welcome in the CSL, the area's most competitive league.

Moreover, Sparks says the Galaxy would risk losing 40,000 competitive youth players and their families as Galaxy customers if it recruits players from CSL teams.

''The coaches in California make a living by how well they do in state competitions, national competitions, tournament competitions,'' says Sparks, ''and if their best players are continuously recruited away by MLS, their chances of winning reduce, their income reduces. They won't be happy.''

I’d like to meet this Gary Sparks and slap him a couple times. What is he thinking? Is he really trying to blackmail the Galaxy into a partnership by saying 40,000 ticket purchasers will not attend Galaxy games if they don’t partner with his CSL league? Gary, you’re kidding right? The Galaxy just signed David Beckham…they’re going to sell out their 22,000+ seat stadium all season long. Your 40,000 southern California kids are not going to make a difference in 2007 and they probably won’t listen to you anyway. By the time Beckham mania wears off the Galaxy will have moved passed you and CSL.

This kind of competition for youth soccer players has astounded me since I first learned of it from Coach Murphy. In a group presentation recently he said that Colorado and specifically Denver has one of the most competitive atmospheres for young soccer players he has ever seen. There are actually clubs that don’t support their kids going to Rapids events because they fear losing the players to an eventual Rapids youth team. I see where these clubs are coming from. They have multi-million dollar operating budgets from corporate sponsorships and club fees. They don’t want to lose their meal ticket and nor would I. However, they need to stop protecting themselves and focus on what is important; youth soccer player development.

We all have the best interests of the sport and our kids in mind, right Gary? Ohh, I guess we don’t. If coaches truly want to see America become a soccer nation, the kids need to see professionals up close and they need to emulate them. When the kids want to be the next Pablo Mastroeni, Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Eddie Johnson, or Justin Mapp or whomever, then we have a soccer nation. That won’t happen so long as guys like Gary Sparks are throwing up road blocks. Gary, let your kids love the Galaxy or Chivas USA no matter what happens with your youth league. I bet if you changed your outlook a little, you’ll figure out how to get more kids into your program to fill the holes left by the ten or so players “stolen” by the Galaxy. Remember, MLS teams are going to be looking for the best and brightest and as the kids get older, they’ll be fewer and fewer staying with the professional team. Those cut players will no doubt want to keep playing and they’re going to have professional training helping the club they end up with.

The Rapids are kicking off their third season of Colorado Rapids Soccer Academy. At Academy events players are coached by Rapids coaching staff and players. They get to meet guys like Pablo, Hunter Freeman, Jacob Peterson, Terry Cooke and Aitor Karanka. Yes, your child last year could have been coached by European Champion Aitor Karanka. This year the Academy will be held 100% at the Rapids' new home, Dick's Sporting Goods Park. However, the first two years were a little slow going in terms of attendance. For one thing, the Academy had to find available fields all over the metro area to hold their camps, making scheduling tough and conditions not ideal. Another thing getting in the way was coaches at area youth organizations thinking the Rapids were trying to steal players. The coaches would actually discourage participation in events that would have improved the soccer skills of their players. What? Does that make sense?

Let’s get something straight...the Rapids were not trying to steal any players and they didn’t even field a youth team at the time. These were clinics and events to help get kids interested in soccer so more kids would want to attend Rapids games. I suppose this can be seen as selfish on the part of the Rapids but in the long run they are just trying to help the growth of the sport in the final frontier. Isn’t that what American soccer fans want; soccer to be a major sport here in the USA?

That is what I want and I can see that MLS is trying to take us there. Youth development is a huge component of that but so long as clubs are fighting over players and trying to keep them away from the professional environment, we’re not going to reach our full potential for producing quality players. Our kids need to get the best coaching, the best access and the best exposure to quality soccer to learn and grown inside the sport. It is time for selfishness amongst youth soccer organizations, which are making far too much money off these kids by the way, to end.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Top 25 High School Seniors....

Rise Magazine seems to be a rag for ranking high school kids going into NCAA sports. An interesting concept, but do we really need a magazine focused on young kids? Really perpetuates the whole sports/celebrity thing that many of us don't love about professional sports. Anyway, back to soccer. Back in February they posted a list of the top 25 high school senior soccer players with their college commitments. This list will be going into my database for sure.

You'll see that the ACC is once again reloading on young talent to replace that lost through graduation and early attrition to the pros. Stanford snagging three from the top 25 is exciting for the Pac-10.

After checking my database I am happy to report that I had all 25 of the prospects already. They earned their way onto the list by being an All-American, ESP Participant or US Youth National player. I'm glad to see I'm doing something right.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

FIFA U-20 World Cup Groups Are Set...

This afternoon FIFA conducted the draw for the final groups at the U-20 World Cup 2007, being hosted by Canada. Canada, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria were the top seeded teams and will each be in their own group. Play starts June 30th in Montreal and Ottawa. The tournament wraps up July 22nd in Toronto.

6 groups contain the 24 teams competing in the summer 2007 event. Group D will host the Americans in addition to Brazil, South Korea and Poland. Replace Brazil with Portugal and you've got the American's 2002 World Cup group. The Americans will no doubt with they didn't have to play the always dangerous Brazilians in the first round, however in the past they have shown they can play with anyone. Poland and South Korea will surely be the underdogs while Brazil and the young Americans are my favorites to advance beyond the group stages. Simply by having a group with Brazil and the Americans you could call D the Group of Death. However, I think the groups are for the most part evenly weighted.

As an American fan I'd rather see the young Nats play in Group F with Japan, Scotland, Nigeria and Costa Rica. Group E should be exciting with Argentina, Czech Republic, North Korea and Panama. Group C could be the most contested group with Portugal, New Zealand, Gambia and Mexico. I know Portugal and Mexico are strong but the Kiwis and Gambia are big unknowns. Group B should see Spain and Uruguay advance past Jordan and Zambia, but African countries showed they shouldn't be overlooked at World Cup 2006. The hosts will play against Chile, Congo and Austria in Group A, the easy as pie group in my opinion.

American fans should start looking at flights to Montreal. Watching Brazil and the US fight it out will be a great match! I might have to see how I can swing that one...unfortunately it is doubtful.

This tournament should showcase some of the future great players. Stars like Lionel Messi, Javier Saviola and Landon Donovan have made their presence known in the past.

Adding to the excitement of the event is the fact that tickets are selling fast, even before people knew where teams were playing. Canada announced recently that over 500,000 tickets had already been sold for the event, ensuring some great crowds following the action.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

2007 College Soccer Classes Coming Into Focus...

A quick update. I have updated the right margin information to show the up to date college classes going into the 2007 spring season. I've also added the incoming freshman who I've been following.

Also please note my new email address to the right. If you have any comments please don't hesitate to email.