Table of Contents
- Introduction (by Mousa Alshanteer)
- Pathways to the Men’s National Team (by Mousa Alshanteer)
- The Different Pathways in Detail (by Mousa Alshanteer)
- Men’s Pathways In Sum (by Mousa Alshanteer)
- A Comparative Perspective on Development (by R. Lewandowski)
- Women’s Soccer: Reworking Player Development to Stay Ahead (by R. Lewandowski)
- Women’s Soccer: Pathways Taken by Current Members of the National Team (by R. Lewandowski)
by Mousa Alshanteer
Recently, on March 25th, the United States men’s national team astonished the world, suffering a 2-0 loss to the Guatemala men’s national team for the first time since 1988 and continuing a trend of disconcerting losses to teams against which it was heavily favored. Last year alone, the men’s national team suffered losses to the Jamaica men’s national team for the first time 2012 and the Mexico and Panama men’s national teams for the first time since 2011. “No matter if you win or lose, you question everything that happens during a game and you question yourself,” said head coach Jürgen Klinsmann after the men’s national team suffered its loss to Guatemala.1
The recent failures of the men’s national team to meet expectations have been emulated by the United States men’s national youth teams. Indeed, after its 2-1 loss to the Columbia Under-23 men’s national team on March 29th, the United States Under-23 men’s national team failed to qualify for the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio for the second consecutive time.2 Similarly, after its 4-1 loss to the Chile Under-17 men’s national team on October 23rd last year, the Under-17 men’s national team failed to advance beyond the group stage of the 2015 World Cup, concluding yet another disconcerting tournament within which it suffered consecutive losses to the Croatia and Nigeria men’s national teams. The Under-18 men’s national team also failed to advance beyond the group stage of the 2015 Nordic Open Cup, having suffered losses to the Iceland and Sweden Under-18 men’s national teams.3
Even some of the more successful men’s national youth teams owed their success more to luck than to skill and talent. For instance, although it reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup, within which it suffered a loss to the Serbia Under-20 men’s national team, the Under-20 men’s national team commenced the tournament with narrow victories, despite the fact that it had been heavily favored within its early matches.4
Such recent failures to meet expectations, by both the men’s national team and the men’s national youth teams, render much more important the conversation on the development of American youth soccer players. Indeed, after the Under-23 men’s national team suffered its loss to Columbia, head coach Andi Herzog openly questioned whether the United States has developed yet another “lost generation” of youth soccer players. “We have to sit together and analyze everything,” said Herzog. “It doesn’t make sense now, with all the emotions to say something. What’s clear is that we didn’t qualify for the last two Olympics now and, for me then, the next sign is, ‘Who’s making an impact in the men’s national team?’ With this group,” Herzog continued, “we will see in the future.5”
The conversation on the development of American youth soccer players has become increasingly controversial, as represented by the recent conflict between Klinsmann and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber. Prior to the conclusion of the 1-1 draw between the men’s national team and the Honduras men’s national team on October 14th, 2014, Klinsmann remarked that the standard of play amongst Major League Soccer teams is inferior to the standard of play amongst European teams. “It’s just reality,” said Klinsmann. “It’s just being honest.” Garber responded immediately the next day via a media conference call. “I feel very strongly,” he said, “that Jürgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league. They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America.6” However, Garber was not the only one dissatisfied with Klinsmann’s comments. “I don’t think you’re going to find a single MLS owner who’s going to be an advocate for Jürgen Klinsmann,” said Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Timbers. “This is a guy who’s got a clear agenda that’s an anti-MLS agenda.” Klinsmann responded, indicating that he had never before discussed his vision for United States soccer with Major League Soccer managers and owners.7
Nonetheless, Major League Soccer is not the only means by which American soccer players become members of the men’s national team.
- Wahl, Grant, “After USA’s Loss to Guatemala, Margin for Error is Slim,” U.S. Youth Soccer, 26 March 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/03/26/usa-guatemala-world-cup-qualifier-jurgen-klinsmann. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- “USA Olympic Bid Falls Short in 2-1 Playoff Loss to Colombia,” U.S. Soccer, 29 March 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2016/03/30/04/03/160329-u23mnt-loses-olympic-qualifying-playoff-to-colombia. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “U.S. U-17 Team Loses to Chile to Cap Disappointing World Cup Showing,” Sports Illustrated, 23 October 2015, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/10/23/usa-u17-loss-world-cup-chile-group-stage. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “U.S. U-20s Dumped from World Cup in Quarterfinals with PK Loss to Serbia,” Sports Illustrated, 14 June 2015, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/06/14/usa-u-20-national-team-world-cup-quarterfinal-serbia. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “Another ‘Lost Generation?’ U.S. Endures Olympic Failure, Setback,” Sports Illustrated, 29 March 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/03/30/usa-olympic-player-development-jurgen-klinsmann-technical-director. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “Don Garber: Jurgen Klinsmann’s Comments Detrimental to MLS,” Sports Illustrated, 15 October 2014, http://www.si.com/soccer/planet-futbol/2014/10/15/don-garber-jurgen-klinsmann-mls-usa-michael-bradley. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- “Portland Timbers Owner Bashes ‘Anti-MLS’ Jurgen Klinsmann,” Sports Illustrated, 14 January 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/01/14/jurgen-klinsmann-usmnt-portland-timbers-owner-merritt-paulson-mls. Accessed 5 April 2016.
Pathways to the Men’s National Team
by Mousa Alshanteer
The most recent roster of the men’s national team, which competed in the World Cup qualifying match against the Guatemala men’s national team on March 25th, includes within it players who became members of the men’s national team through four unique pathways.
Some players became members of the men’s national team through domestic youth clubs, development academies, such as the IMG Academy and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, and professional soccer leagues. Jozy Altidore, for instance, attended the IMG Academy prior to signing with the New York Red Bulls. Kyle Beckerman similarly attended the IMG Academy prior to signing with the Miami Fusion. Michael Bradley signed with the Chicago Sockers, the United Soccer League, or Division III, affiliate of the Chicago Fire, prior to signing with the MetroStars. Tim Howard and Darlington Nagbe became members of the men’s national team through the same pathway.
Similarly, some players became members of the men’s national team through international youth clubs, development academies and professional soccer leagues. Ventura Alvarado, for instance, signed with Club América, a Liga MX club based in Mexico, after having started with the Tercera Division team, the Segunda Division team and the Mexico Under-20 men’s national team. John Brooks similarly signed with the Hertha Berliner Sport-Club, a Bundesliga club based in Germany, after having started with its youth club. Edgar Castillo, Mix Diskerud, Fabian Johnson, Michael Orozco, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and William Yarbrough became members of the men’s national team through the same pathway.
On the other hand, some players became members of the men’s national team through domestic collegiate and university soccer programs and domestic professional soccer leagues. Matt Besler, for instance, attended the University of Notre Dame prior to signing with the Kansas City Wizards. Similarly, David Bingham and Steve Birnbaum attended the University of California at Berkley prior to signing with the San Jose Earthquake and D.C. United, respectively. However, Birnbaum was eventually loaned to the United Soccer League affiliate of D.C. United, the Richmond Kickers. Geoff Cameron similarly attended West Virginia University and the University of Rhode Island prior to signing with the Rhode Island Stingrays, a United Soccer League club, and, eventually, the Houston Dynamo. Clint Dempsey, Ethan Finley, Brad Guzan, Chris Wondolowski, DeAndre Yedlin, Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi became members of the men’s national team through the same pathway.
Similarly, some players became members of the men’s national team through domestic collegiate and university soccer programs and international professional soccer leagues. Alejandro Bedoya, for instance, attended Fairleigh Dickinson University and Boston College prior to signing with Örebro SK, an Allsvenskan club based in Sweden. Similarly, Lee Nguyen attended Indiana University prior to signing with Philips Sport Vereniging, an Eredivisie club based in the Netherlands.
The aforementioned four pathways through which American soccer players become members of the men’s national team are not always distinct, however. Omar Gonzales, for instance, became a member of the men’s national team through a domestic collegiate and university soccer program, youth clubs, development academies and a professional soccer league. Specifically, Gonzales started with the Dallas Texans Soccer Club, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy club, and attended the IMG Academy prior to attending the University of Maryland at College Park and signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Furthermore, most of the members of the men’s national team participated in some combination of elementary, middle and high school soccer and recreational soccer leagues.1
Some of the aforementioned pathways through which American soccer players become members of the men’s national team are described in detail within the following section.
- “U.S. MNT Vs. Guatemala – World Cup Qualifying Roster – March 25-29, 2016,” U.S. Soccer, 25 March 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/mens-national-team/latest-roster#tab-1. Accessed 5 April 2016.
The Different Pathways in Detail
by Mousa Alshanteer
Domestic Youth Clubs
In 2006, FIFA estimated that approximately 4 million youth, most of which are between the ages of 7 and 11, play club soccer within the United States, 3.2 million of which are registered with U.S. Youth Soccer. Alternatively, approximately 650,000 youth are registered with the American Youth Soccer Organization, 100,000 are registered with the Soccer Association for Youth and the remaining youth are registered with U.S. Club Soccer.
U.S. Youth Soccer is the largest member of the U.S. Soccer Federation, the FIFA and IOC recognized national governing body for soccer. Within U.S. Youth Soccer, there are 55 U.S. Youth Soccer National State Associations which preside over the youth soccer clubs within their jurisdictions and facilitate coaching development through their offering of five different coaching courses. Within each U.S. Youth Soccer youth soccer club, the Under-6, Under-8 and Under-10 youth teams predominately participate within intra-club competition. The Under-12 and Under-15 youth teams, however, participate within both intra-club and interclub competition. Generally, the Under-6, Under-8 and Under-10 youth teams are exclusively recreational. Beginning with the Under-12 youth team, however, players decide whether to continue participating within recreational soccer or select soccer. Select soccer clubs may be members of regional leagues, state leagues or the national league. The two best Under-15, Under-16 and Under-17 youth teams within all select soccer clubs across all regional leagues and state leagues are eligible for membership within the national league. The American Youth Soccer Organization is the second largest member of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Similar to U.S. Youth Soccer, the American Youth Soccer Organization contains within it 50 regional programs which preside over the youth soccer clubs within their jurisdictions and facilitate both coaching and officiating development. Unlike within U.S. Youth Soccer, however, each American Youth Soccer Organization youth soccer club solely participates within intra-club competition. Within some regional programs, the best youth are eligible to participate within national, interclub postseason tournaments as members of regional All-Star teams. The Soccer Association for Youth is the third largest member of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Unlike U.S. Youth Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization, the Soccer Association for Youth does not contain within it state associations or regional programs which preside over the youth soccer clubs within their jurisdictions and facilitate coaching or officiating development. Instead, it contains within it over 600 leagues, all of which preside over youth soccer clubs with overlapping jurisdictions and some of which facilitate various development programs, none of which it officially regulates. Furthermore, unlike U.S. Youth Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization, the Soccer Association for Youth exclusively offers recreational soccer programs.
Domestic development academies often serve to identify promising youth from domestic youth soccer clubs for targeted development and eventual selection to the U.S. youth men’s national teams. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy is the most prominent, and successful, development academy sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy essentially serves as a league, within which youth soccer academies and clubs sponsored by individual Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League and United Soccer Leagues clubs. Within the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, there are three conferences which preside over the 79 youth soccer clubs within their respective jurisdictions and facilitate coaching development through their offering of two different coaching licenses. Within each U.S. Soccer Development Academy youth soccer club, the Under-13/Under-14, Under-15/Under-16 and Under-17/Under-18 youth teams participate within both intra-club and interclub competition during a 10-month-long winter season, culminating in Under-15/Under-16 and Under-17/Under-18 playoffs for one of eight spots in the championship tournament. The IMG Academy, on the other hand, is unique in that it is not sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. Rather, it is private boarding school for youth of all ages which offers development programs in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, lacrosse, tennis and track and field. Nonetheless, the U.S. Soccer Federation hosts a full-time residency program for the Under-16 and Under-17 men’s national teams at the IMG Academy. Finally, the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program identifies youth from U.S. Soccer Development Academy youth soccer clubs and select state and national league U.S. Youth Soccer youth soccer clubs, funds their targeted development within state-level Olympic Development Program teams and, subsequently, within the U.S. Soccer Federation full-time residency program for the Under-16 and Under-17 men’s national teams at the IMG Academy. Members of the youth men’s national teams may represent the United States in the Gold Cup, Olympic Games, Pan American Games or World Cup.1
Collegiate and University Soccer Programs
Since they are of an age at which they may qualify as members of the men’s national team, collegiate and university soccer players participate within programs sanctioned by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or the National Collegiate Athletic Association, in hopes that they may be invited to try out for the Under-18, Under-19, Under-20, Under-21 or Under-23 men’s national teams. Promising soccer players who aspire to play professionally often participate within the Premier Development League during their summers.2 Within the Premier Development League, there are four conferences which preside over the 65 total soccer clubs within their respective jurisdictions. Some programs, such as that of Brigham Young University, have forgone participating within competitions sanctioned by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or the National Collegiate Athletic Association in order to participate within Premier Development League competitions. Sometimes, promising collegiate and university soccer players who participate within Premier Development League competitions elect to sign contracts with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League or the United Soccer League. Rarely does a collegiate and university soccer player who foregoes participating within Premier Development League competitions receive an invite to try out for the Under-18, Under-19, Under-20, Under-21 or Under-23 men’s national teams. Collegiate and university soccer players who forego participating within Premier Development League competitions or who are not offered contracts with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League or the United Soccer League often elect to participate within postseason drafts sanctioned by the three professional soccer leagues, in hopes that they may receive an invite to try out for the Under-18, Under-19, Under-20, Under-21 or Under-23 men’s national teams after becoming professional soccer players.3
Professional Soccer Leagues
In most cases, professional soccer players sign contracts with one of the three domestic professional soccer leagues, Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League or the United Soccer League, in hopes that they may receive an invite to try out for the men’s national team.
Major League Soccer is highest level professional soccer league sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. Within Major League Soccer, there are two conferences which preside over the 20 total clubs within their respective jurisdictions. The North American Soccer League is the second highest level of professional soccer sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation and contains within it 12 clubs. The United Soccer League is the third highest level of professional soccer sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation and, similar to Major League Soccer, contains within it two conferences which preside over the 29 total clubs within their respective jurisdictions. Major League Soccer and North American Soccer League clubs often loan their soccer players to the United Soccer League, so that they may actually see playing time rather than merely occupy a reserve position within the club. Promising soccer players often advance from the United Soccer League and the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer, within which they are much more likely to receive an invite to try out for the men’s national team.
- Carlson, Craig, “Player Development Pathways: U6 to U15 Play Development in the United States of America,” U.S. Youth Soccer, http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/assets/1/1/Player%20Development%20Pathways.pdf. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “In the P.D.L., Looking Up from the Bottom of the Food Chain,” The New York Times, 24 July 2012, http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/in-the-p-d-l-looking-up-from-the-bottom-of-the-food-chain/?_r=1. Accessed 5 April 2016.
- Burns, Maria, “BYU Far from a Traditional College Soccer Program,” ESPNFC, 2 August 2012, http://www.espnfc.com/story/449647. Accessed 5 April 2016.
Men’s Pathways In Sum
By Mousa Alshanteer
The pathways through which American soccer players become members of the men’s national team are very diverse, such that the instruction, competition and, therefore, development offered to the players vary across the different youth clubs, development academies, collegiate and university soccer programs and professional leagues. Will Parchman similarly describes the development of American soccer players1:
“Imagine for a moment that you are an octopus. Your sinewy tentacles are extended before you into the jet-black deep, your movement clearly directed in a general heading, but there is something awkward about your progress. Each tentacle operates entirely on its own, dragging you in directions sometimes congruent with the goal you’ve set and sometimes on an errant course. Now imagine the holistic apparatus of soccer in the United States. There is a head—that is, the United States Soccer Federation—and there are tentacles branching off from the nerve center, each carrying the ganglion to vaguely defined destinations that may or may not be what the brain had in mind. This is the organism responsible for youth soccer development in America today, and it is every bit as slippery, complicated, and prone to working at cross-purposes as that octopus groping its way through the darkness.”
- Parchman, Will, “What’s Wrong with American Youth Soccer Development,” Howler Magazine, 30 March 2016, http://www.howlermagazine.com/whats-wrong-america-spring-2016/. Accessed 5 April 2016.
A Comparative Perspective on Development
by R. Lewandowski
In his New York Times piece “How a Soccer Star is Made,” Michael Sokolove makes a stark claim about player development in the U.S.1 He writes: “How the U.S. develops its most promising young players is not just different from what the Netherlands and most elite soccer nations do — on fundamental levels, it is diametrically opposed.”1 This article teases apart Sokolove’s claim and takes a look at what steps the U.S. has taken to integrate foreign influence into its player development regimes.
Is U.S. youth soccer at odds with the rest of the world’s programs?
Soccer, like any sport, is embedded in a larger cultural context. The United States undeniably boasts a very idiosyncratic culture—one marked by astounding diversity yet singularly adherent to certain shared values. The U.S. is rooted in rugged individualism, a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps vision that pushes us through tough times. We are an immigration nation with a deep-seated belief in the American dream. We believe in the self-made businessperson, the self-made scientist, the self-made athlete. We believe in democratization of opportunity.
These various cultural constructs, however, come to a head when we think about what our youth soccer programs prioritize. And it seems like democratization wins out. Sokolove points out an interesting dynamic: whereas Americans often think of Europeans as collectivists and see themselves as individualists, soccer turns the tables on us.1 He notes,
“In America, with its wide-open spaces and wide-open possibilities, we celebrate the ‘self-made athlete,’ honor effort and luck and let children seek their own course for as long as they can—even when that means living with dreams that are unattainable and always were.”1
Let’s explore what that means for a U-7 soccer team. We care about every one of those ungainly, grinning six-year-olds. In a typical local league, every one of them will have a chance to play while an army of parents cheer from their lawn chairs on the sidelines. Singling out players for individualized attention or instruction is looked down upon.1 And at least for a time, many of those six-year-olds will dream of going pro, and their parents and coaches are content to leave those dreams intact.
But this isn’t true in much of the rest of the world. Whereas U.S. soccer only just added a U-12 division in the Development Academy for the 2016-17 season2, many European nations are happy discriminating among players at much earlier ages. Let’s take the youth academy of the Dutch soccer club Ajax as a case in point.1 Each year, dozens of scouted seven- and eight-year-olds, mostly from Amsterdam, are brought to Ajax to test their capacity for developing into elite players.1 If they pass a series of tests, they are welcomed into the academy at no cost.1 Everything from the most elite soccer coaches and school tutors to Ajax pajamas is paid for.1 How does Ajax recoup the costs? Once these players fully develop at the age of eighteen or so, Ajax sells them for handsome sums. For instance, five Ajax-educated players can together bring in 80 million euros for the academy when rights to those players are sold to other professional clubs.1
Even so, entrance to the academy does not guarantee success by any means. Unlike U.S. soccer programs, academies like Ajax do not treat six-year-old dreams as sacred. Every year, each player in the academy is re-evaluated for his eligibility (Ajax only trains male athletes).1 If the potential is not there, Ajax has no problem of plucking a child from its program and telling him that he is no longer welcome. Ajax, like many elite development academies in Europe, operates as a business.1 And an efficient business does not waste precious resources on less-than-stellar capital.
In the United States, pro-business sentiment would rarely be considered un-American. But we seem to draw the line when it comes to youth sports. As Sokolove suggests, we think of money as corrupting sports.1 For most in the United States, Ajax’s high-stakes youth development model is too hard to swallow. So what do we do instead? Most academy programs in the U.S. operate under the pay-for-play model,1 in which parents choose to invest in their children’s soccer education. But this model has been widely criticized for its inefficiency and inequity, seeing that it disadvantages young soccer prodigies whose parents can’t foot the bill.1
Though U.S. soccer is hesitant to pick favorites from an early age, it does not shy away from encouraging competitiveness in its youngsters. Sokolove notes that America likes to put together teams that win—even at the Pee Wee level.1 This is in stark contrast to foreign models like Ajax, where executives such as David Endt claim, “Here, we would rather polish one or two jewels than win games at the youth levels.”1 As a result of America’s premium on competition, the relationship between games and practice sessions is lopsided compared to the rest of the world. Individual players are consequently underdeveloped compared to their foreign counterparts,1 who spend their time engaging in small-sided games and drills that maximize their comfort with the ball at their feet.
Finally, Sokolove claims that U.S. soccer diverges from the rest of the world just as drastically in the later stages of a player’s development. While an elite eighteen- or nineteen-year-old player in the U.S. is playing a short competitive season of three or four months in college, his foreign counterpart is sharpening his technical sophistication of the game and competing fiercely with his peers for a spot on the first team (akin to a minor league baseball team).1 As a result of this dynamic, Sokolove suggests that the game is just too easy for American players, since they rarely interact with the highest-caliber play. And they are more prone to get hurt during the intensive, three-to-four month season.1 Conversely, European academies and first teams know that first and foremost, their players are investments, so they do not overplay their players and pay more attention to their physical well being.1
But U.S. men’s soccer is tired of being late to the feast of the rest of the world’s soccer frenzy. Or so it seems from the handful of recent initiatives that U.S. soccer has taken to shift its player development in the direction of the rest of the world’s.
Bridging the gap: the U.S. inches toward foreign development models
At the bottom, U.S. soccer is beginning to invest in elite player development at earlier ages, showcased by moves such as the recent formation of a U-12 division in the Development Academy for the 2016-17 season.2 At the top, we may see the American college soccer program start to look like the late-teenage development programs in the rest of the world. U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati has stated that U.S. Soccer has “more traction than ever before” in lobbying the NCAA to revamp the college program.2 Specifically, the Federation is pushing for a split season that will give players a better practice/game balance that matches the tempo of how their foreign peers train.2
We can also expect to see some changes all across the board. For instance, the USSF has announced that it will standardize small-sided games and field sizes at all competitive levels to facilitate more contact with the ball and better decision-making.2 U.S. Soccer is also slowly overhauling the pay-to-play paradigm.2 Development Academy scholarships are being expanded, especially for those families who could not pay otherwise.2 And some clubs are getting rid of the system altogether, sometimes at the expense of broader taxation of non-elite players.2
In addition, U.S. Soccer has not been shy to reach out for help in more direct ways. In 2013, MLS entered into a partnership with the French Football Federation.3 The partnership primarily enables MLS academy directors and coaches to complete the Elite Formation Coaching License administered by the French federation.3 The license, which is currently required of every French head of a professional academy, subjects American coaches to an intensive, one-year instruction period with alternating teaching weeks in France and in the U.S.3 But globalization goes both ways; the French federation has benefited from swapping ideas with MLS and learning about its league structure, while also beginning a program to send French players to American colleges in the event that they cannot sign a professional contract.3
The U.S. has also opted to subject its entire system to scrutiny from abroad. The USSF has invited an external auditor, the Belgian firm Double PASS, to review its technical and development programs.4 Double PASS is known for helping the Germans become world champions and turning Belgium into a soccer powerhouse. Its evaluation process in the U.S. began in August 2015, and by mid-2017, it will include reviews of every Major League Soccer Franchise and each member of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.4 Double PASS’s evaluations include 700 to 800 specific metrics and eight general areas, comprising everything from talent identification and development to organizational structure and decision-making.4 Though it is yet unclear as to how program-specific evaluations will be used, there is some possibility that high evaluations will reward high performers with financial compensation.4
- Sokolove, Michael, “How a soccer star is made,” The New York Times, 2 June 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06Soccer-t.html?_r=3. Accessed 18 April 2016.
- Straus, Brian, “Klinsmann, U.S. Soccer officials reveal plans for youth development,” Sports Illustrated, 8 December 2014, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2014/12/08/us-soccer-changes-jurgen-klinsmann-sunil-gulati-development-academy. Accessed 18 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “How France is helping mold MLS academies, coaches,” Sports Illustrated, 9 February 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/02/09/mls-academies-french-football-federation-coaching-development. Accessed 18 April 2016.
- Bird, Liviu, “Double PASS and its plan to change U.S. Soccer,” Sports Illustrated, 9 February 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/02/08/us-soccer-double-pass-youth-academy-development. Accessed 18 April 2016.
Women’s Soccer: Reworking Player Development to Stay Ahead
by R. Lewandowski
Unlike the men’s team’s sub-par performance on the international level, U.S. Women’s Soccer has repeatedly found itself on top. This summer, the women’s soccer team will be competing for its fourth straight Olympic gold after finishing first at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.1 The team is slated to compete in Group G, squaring off against New Zealand, France, and Colombia.2 The Rio games have special significance for U.S. Women’s Soccer—Team USA hopes to be the first reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion to bring home the gold at the Olympics in the following year.3
But the gold-plated résumé of U.S. Women’s Soccer’s has not made the team too comfortable with its development model and internal pay structure. For one, five members of the women’s national team filed a federal complaint protesting pay discrimination in March 2016, alleging that their superior play in comparison to the men’s national team was at odds with their male counterparts’ much higher salaries.4 From the outside, some are questioning the efficacy of U.S. Women’s Soccer player development and how much of its success owes to the quality of the program versus the United States’ early interest in women’s soccer compared to other parts of the world.5 For instance, Canada’s program is at least ten years behind U.S. Women’s Soccer and many South American nations are still deeply engrossed in cultural prejudices against women’s soccer.5 After the United States’ win against Canada in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship final this past February, Canada coach John Herdman leveled some pointed criticism at Team USA:
“Well considering that they put about $20 million into the program and they’ve got four times the talent pool than any other country, they’re ahead, but are they really ahead when you look on the pitch? That’s a reality you’ve to deal with. Paper for paper, pound for pound, who’s the better team tonight. Paper to paper, yeah, they were better but pound for pound, I don’t know.”5
Critiques like Herdman’s have kept Team USA’s coaches on its toes, as big changes to women’s player development are already in the works. Jill Ellis—the coach of the U.S. women’s national team and the FIFA Women’s World Coach of the year5—knows that being dynamic is key to staying ahead. April Heinrichs, the technical director of player development for the U.S. women’s national team, has quoted Ellis saying, “Even if you’re on the right track, if you sit there too long, you’re going to get run over.”5 The duo has made good on this philosophy in recent years. Heinrichs and Ellis have been overhauling their player development model to focus more on individual development rather than on building winning youth teams—a shift that has already been taking place in U.S. boys’ soccer for the last ten years.5 Five years ago, Heinrichs and Ellis said they “flipped the model upside down” by prioritizing technical and tactical ability rather than just recruiting the biggest and most athletic players to the senior women’s team.5 The results of this move are changing the dynamic of play on the field. Indeed, U.S. Women’s Soccer has come a long way from their longball and direct style of play stretching back to 1991 to the more fluid play we see today, in which players have more touches on the ball.5
Even so, girls’ soccer development in the U.S. has long been in the shadows of male player development—in spite of women’s more pronounced success on the international level. In 2007, U.S. Soccer launched its Development Academy (DA) Program for boys.6 The program is lauded as the primary elite development model for boys’ soccer, and today boasts membership from 152 clubs across five age groups.6 Today, there is no parallel for girls’ soccer. Elite female youths instead compete on regional club teams and may also participate in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which provides training to both boys and girls on a state-by-state level.7 Notably, the ODP is supplementary, with most youths often belonging to a regional team.
But U.S. Soccer has decided to make some stark changes to ensure that U.S. Women’s Soccer keeps capturing international attention. It recently announced the launch of a Girls’ Development Academy Program that will debut in the fall of 2017.6 The program will split players into three combined age groups U-14/15, U-16/17, and U-18/19, (e.g., under 14 and 15 years of age, under 16 and 17 years of age, etc.) and require clubs to practice a minimum of four times a week.6 Notably, the program aims to counteract the United States’ traditionally skewed practice/game balance by instituting increased training requirements while implementing fewer but higher quality games.6 In this framework, U.S. Soccer plans to use games as scouting opportunities to select players for U.S. Soccer’s youth national teams.6 Presumably, DA players would predominantly feed into U-15 and U-16 Girls’ National Teams, as well as U-17, U-18, and U-19 Women’s National Teams.8
Structurally, the Girls’ Development Academy program will be much like its male precursor, with a focus on augmenting the skillsets of individual players.6 The program thus is expected to put a premium on high quality coaching and appropriate rest/recovery periods for players.6 Seasons will take place over a 10-month period from September to July, combining regional and national play.6 Most importantly, girls will play exclusively for the DA program, meaning that they will not be allowed to participate in outside programs such as ODP or high school programs.6 As such, the DA program presumably will be the primary conduit by which girls first gain entrance to youth national teams and subsequently work their way up to the U.S. Women’s National Team. This move seems to centralize and streamline U.S. player development, ultimately inching the U.S. model closer to foreign player development approaches.
- Gonzales, Roger, “Rio 2016 Olympics Soccer Draw: U.S. women get No. 3 France in group,” CBS Sports, 14 April 2016, http://www.cbssports.com/soccer/eye-on-soccer/25554244/rio-2016-olympics-soccer-draw-us-women-get-no-3-france-in-group. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Panduro, Jimena, “2016 Olympic Games: WNT Opponent Breakdown,” S. Soccer, 14 April 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2016/04/14/23/15/160414-wnt-2016-rio-olympics-games-opponent-profile-breakdown. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Kwesi O’Mard, Marcus, “U.S. Women’s Soccer To Face France, Colombia, New Zealand In 2016 Olympics,” NESN Sports News, 14 April 2016, http://nesn.com/2016/04/u-s-womens-soccer-to-face-france-colombia-new-zealand-in-2016-olympics/. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Robinson, Joshua and Matthew Futterman, “S. Women’s Soccer Team Stars Allege Pay Discrimination,” The Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-womens-national-team-accuses-u-s-soccer-of-pay-discrimination-1459429306. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Vecsey, Laura, “Why USA’s Girls’ Development Academy is long overdue,” FOX Soccer, 23 February 2016, http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/girls-development-academy-long-overdue-uswnt-us-soccer-jill-ellis-april-heinrichs-022316. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- “U.S. Soccer to Launch Girls’ Development Academy in Fall of 2017,” S. Soccer, 23 February 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2016/02/23/14/48/160223-gda-us-soccer-to-launch-girls-development-academy-in-fall-of-2017. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- “What is the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program?” S. Youth Soccer, 2012, http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/programs/olympicdevelopmentprogram/#ABOUT. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- S. Soccer Women’s National Team Homepage, U.S. Soccer, 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team. Accessed 30 April 2016.
Women’s Soccer: Pathways Taken by Current Members of the National Team
by R. Lewandowski
While we stay tuned to see the effects of changes to U.S. girls’ player development on the quality of the women’s national team, let’s take a look at the paths of current national team members. Traditionally, almost all women’s national team players have ties to U.S. Youth Soccer.1 Twenty-four of the twenty-five players who represented the U.S. in the Algarve Cup (an important precursor to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup) were alumni of the Olympic Development Program.1 If we take a look at the twenty players who were on the roster for the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship,2 all except two played on high school soccer teams. (Defender Julie Johnston and forward Lindsey Horan both forewent high school soccer to play on regional club teams). The other eighteen members of the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship team played a combination of both high school and club soccer.2
In addition, all but one of these women played soccer in college. Lindsey Horan bypassed a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to instead sign for the French club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), becoming the first U.S. female soccer player to bypass college and go straight to the pros.2,3 The remainder of the roster have played or will play for one of the following colleges/universities2: Santa Clara University (Julie Johnston), the University of North Carolina (Meghan Klingenberg, Crystal Dunn, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath), Penn State University (Ali Krieger, Alyssa Naeher), Rutgers University (Carli Lloyd), Boston College (Stephanie McCaffrey), University of California—Los Angeles (UCLA) (Samantha Mewis, Mallory Pugh), the University of Virginia (Morgan Brian, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett), Texas Tech University (Jaelene Hinkle), UC Berkeley (Alex Morgan), Stanford University (Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press), and the University of Washington (Hope Solo).
All are affiliated with one of the following professional women’s teams2: Chicago Red Stars (Julie Johnston, Alyssa Naeher, Christen Press), Portland Thorns Football Club (Meghan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett), Washington Spirit (Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn), Houston Dash (Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian), Boston Breakers (Stephanie McCaffrey), Western New York Flash (Samantha Mewis, Jaelene Hinkle), Orlando Pride (Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan), Football Club Kansas City (Becky Sauerbrunn), Sky Blue Football Club (Kelly O’Hara), Real Colorado (Mallory Pugh), and Seattle Reign Football Club (Hope Solo).
But Team U.S.A. Coach Jill Ellis can only take eighteen players with her to Rio in August.4 Eighteen-year-old Mallory Pugh5 is training with a boys’ team this summer in hopes of securing a spot on the Olympic roster and becoming the second-youngest U.S. Olympic soccer player since 1904.4 Pugh, the youngest player ever named to an Olympic qualifying roster (then 17 years old),4 has already turned heads. Pugh has played in all eleven of the women’s national team’s matches this year, starting seven of them.5 Her two goals and five assists are tied for the most on the team this year.5 As Pugh tries to make history, the rest of the women’s national team will be right behind her. After all, the stakes are high—Team U.S.A. is competing to become the first back-to-back champion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Olympic games.6
- “S. Women’s National Team Algarve Cup roster features 25 US Youth Soccer alums,” U.S. Youth Soccer, 26 February 2015, http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/us_women%E2%80%99s_national_team_algarve_cup_roster_features_25_us_youth_soccer_alums/. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- “Women’s National Team Roster, 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship,” S. Soccer, 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team/latest-roster#tab-1. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Borden, Sam, “Fit for Europe? Yes. U.S.? Maybe. Lindsey Horan Could Miss Women’s World Cup While She Chases Dream,” The New York Times, 16 October 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/sports/lindsey-horan-on-paris-club-seeks-spot-on-us-womens-soccer-team.html?_r=0. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- “Mallory Pugh could become second-youngest U.S. Olympic women’s soccer player ever,” NBC Sports, 20 February 2016, http://olympics.nbcsports.com/2016/02/20/mallory-pugh-olympics-soccer-usa-womens-national-team/. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Panduro, Jimena, “Mallory Pugh: Head of the Class,” S. Soccer, 29 April 2016, http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2016/04/29/21/03/160429-wnt-mallory-pugh-head-of-the-class. Accessed 30 April 2016.
- Kwesi O’Mard, Marcus, “U.S. Women’s Soccer To Face France, Colombia, New Zealand In 2016 Olympics,” NESN Sports News, 14 April 2016, http://nesn.com/2016/04/u-s-womens-soccer-to-face-france-colombia-new-zealand-in-2016-olympics/. Accessed 30 April 2016.
How to Cite This Page
“U.S. Soccer Player Development”, Written by Mousa Alshanteer and Caroline Schechinger (2016). U.S. Soccer Player Development, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/?page_id=23643&preview=true (accessed on (date)).