Single-Digit Soccer: Capitalism and Klinsmann

“YES! WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!”

We’re a multicultural nation. English, Irish, German, Scottish, Mexican, Chinese, Korean … we can hardly list all of our influences.

We’re also a rabidly capitalist nation. Sure, most of Europe is capitalist as well. But we take it to another level. Everything competes in the marketplace — sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

And we don’t kindly to taking orders from one entity. If we did, the Boston Tea Party would just be a polite weekly gathering, perhaps to watch Foxboro United take on Arsenal in an English Premier League game.

So in youth soccer, we have myriad entities calling the shots. Want something that U.S. Youth Soccer isn’t providing? Try U.S. Club Soccer. Or just form your own league. These organizations and others can also offer their own approaches to coaching education, curricula, club standards, etc. They all co-exist under the big tent of the terrific convention held by the NSCAA, which has its own thoughts on some of these matters.

In one popular NSCAA Convention session, “Building Champions: German Player Development,” German coaching guru Bernd Stoeber compared this chaos to the German way. Number of entities in charge of such things in Germany: One.

And the German system has a lot of advantages, as the classic Guardian examination shows. It’s certainly an improvement over the English system, which seems to boil down to “‘ello, your lad ‘asn’t played well for a fortnight, so he seems daft to me, and we’re releasing ‘im. Don’t worry — he’s only 17, and he ‘as a fourth-grade education, he does.” (Seriously — one of the factoids from the great Guardian examination of Germany’s system shows that their kids are going to school as much as any American child would, while English teens are going a mere nine hours a week.)

Could U.S. Soccer borrow a page from Germany’s book and take charge of everything here? Should they? Probably not, on both counts.

Not that the USSF has to be passive. Surely some of the extremes can be reined in. Maybe youth clubs should be required to have a director of coaching who has been through some basic licensing work, so I’ll be less likely to see a U8 team doing heading drills. Maybe they can ban State Cups and other hypercompetitive tournaments for U10 and below, when we really need to focus on development. A handful of mandates wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But the chaos of American youth soccer is simply a fact of life. We’re diverse — ethnically, economically, geographically, etc. The realities and opportunities of Southern California will always differ from those of Vermont.

In my Single-Digit Soccer session, I had coaches from Nebraska, Michigan, Alaska, Georgia and surely several other states. Some were in urban areas. Some had to travel substantial distances to get decent games. I feel a little more sympathy for the Omaha club needing to drive a few hours than I do the suburban Maryland club that bypasses the entire D.C. metropolitan area to play a league game elsewhere. Every club’s field situation is different — some are on school fields, some on county fields, some privately held.

So when it comes to reforming youth soccer in this country, you have to adapt the old prayer’s line about having the serenity to accept what you cannot change.

I’m not sure Jurgen Klinsmann has ever gained that serenity. He says the right things about accepting players for how they are, not forcing them to be something they’re not, and he has accepted the notion that players are going to take different paths at age 18 — college, MLS, Europe, NASL, etc.

But he’s also one of the people pushing kids to play a 10-month Development Academy season with one club. One environment. The Academy is running down toward U12 now, a notion that perplexed several speakers I saw. Non-Academy clubs are running similar schedules. Why is that the best path forward in such a diverse country?

Klinsmann’s native land, Germany, actually mixes things up, at least for younger kids. Back to the Guardian piece: A lot of kids stay with local junior clubs and get supplemental training from the federation’s traveling coaches.

That seems like a program even more appropriate to a vast country like this one. So does the idea of being exposed to different styles of play, different coaches, etc. Some serious games, some recreational, some just flat-out fun.

U.S. youth soccer today might be too chaotic. A light touch of regulation — perhaps mandating basic education for coaches — would help. But does anyone think an overbearing set of commandments from Chicago will work in this country?

Adjusting the U.S. men’s soccer depth chart

Strongly recommended from a couple of weeks ago: Soccer America’s exhaustive look at the U.S. depth chart. That sort of analysis always tricky once you get beyond “goalkeeper” because positions are so fluid. Their rankings separated “striker” from “forward,” and still. some players were listed where you wouldn’t expect (Eddie Johnson at left mid, Brad Davis at attacking mid, etc.).

But the analysis at each position is worth reading, even if some guy decided to comment several times that the USA needs to play more like Barcelona. Really, that has never occurred to anyone else in the United States. Thank you so much for sharing!

After reading that, today’s U.S. roster announcement has only a few surprises. The 24-man roster includes all the no-brainers (listed with SA’s rank):

  1. Tim Howard, #1 goalkeeper
  2. Brad Guzan, #2 goalkeeper
  3. Geoff Cameron, #1 center back
  4. Carlos Bocanegra, #2 center back (the only position on the SA chart from which two players will be in the lineup)
  5. Fabian Johnson, #1 left back
  6. Danny Williams, #1 holding mid
  7. Michael Bradley, #1 attacking mid
  8. Clint Dempsey, #1 forward

One core player has, in the words of Crocodile Dundee, gone walkabout and is not on the roster:

  1. Landon Donovan, #1 right mid

Another core player is out injured, and he’s singled out in the roster announcement:

  1. Steve Cherundolo, #1 right back

His backup’s commitment to the USA has been questioned, but odds are good that he takes the field in Honduras and ends the questions once and for all.

  1. Timmy Chandler, #2 right back

The attacking options are less settled. Jurgen Klinsmann has been challenging a lot of players, even Dempsey, to be more consistent internationally even if they’re tearing up their domestic leagues. For now, these guys are ahead of the rest:

  1. Jozy Altidore, #1 striker
  2. Eddie Johnson, #1 left mid, though we know him mostly as a forward

The next players down the depth chart who were selected and seem likely to be in the mix unless they lose form or health:

  1. Omar Gonzalez, #3 center back
  2. Edgar Castillo, #2 left back
  3. Jermaine Jones, #3 attacking mid (“attacking” may be an ironic word here)
  4. Graham Zusi, #2 right mid

The rest of the roster for Honduras would be the players you’d call “bubble” players:

  1. Sean Johnson, #6 goalkeeper
  2. Matt Besler, #5 center back
  3. Michael Parkhurst, #3 left back (also mentioned at right)
  4. Brad Evans, #5 left mid but listed on USSF release as a defender
  5. Maurice Edu, #4 holding mid
  6. Brad Davis, #4 attacking mid (more likely on wing?)
  7. Sacha Kljestan, #3 right mid
  8. Jose Torres, #2-tie left mid
  9. Herculez Gomez, #3 striker

Evans puzzles me. Is he on the roster because he can cover left back? That’s traditionally a weak spot for the USA (and most teams, really), but couldn’t F. Johnson, Castillo, Parkhurst and even Bocanegra keep that position covered?

That covers the 24-man roster. Add the injured Cherundolo and the itinerant Donovan for a total of 26.

Who else could we see in the Hexagonal? The Twitter reaction I’m seeing is mostly about younger guys who might need more international seasoning before they’re thrown in the fire in Central America.

  1. Sean Franklin, #3 right back
  2. Eric Lichaj, #5 left back
  3. Mikkel Diskerud, #2 attacking mid
  4. Josh Gatt, #4 right mid
  5. Joe Corona, #2 left mid
  6. Terrence Boyd, #2 striker

They’ll have great chances to play their way onto the roster, and that takes us to 32 players in the pool.

Then we have players at unsettled positions:

  1. Nick Rimando, #3 goalkeeper. Johnson leap-frogged Rimando, Tally Hall and Bill Hamid to get the call this time. In the long run, Rimando offers more experience. 
  2. Juan Agudelo, #3 forward
  3. Chris Wondolowski, #2 forward

And a few more players who must have been close calls this time:

  1. Clarence Goodson, #4 center back
  2. Kyle Beckerman, #2 holding mid
  3. Ricardo Clark, #3 holding mid. Really, Edu is ahead of both Beckerman and Clark when he’s in form.

That’s 38 players who could be named to a qualifying roster without surprising anyone.

And still we have the younger wild cards:

  1. Bill Hamid, #5 goalkeeper. A good run at D.C. United could make things interesting. Still a young keeper.
  2. Alfredo Morales, not listed on defense. Youngster is new to the team.
  3. Chris Pontius, #4 left mid. Hard to imagine where he’ll be if he stays healthy.
  4. Brek Shea, #5 (tie) left mid. All over Sky Sports News for his EPL transfer. If he breaks into the lineup and plays well in England, Klinsmann will have a hard time overlooking him.

And the more experienced guys who’ll also be hard to overlook if they’re in form:

  1. Jonathan Spector, #5 right back. Experienced. Just needs to get in the swing of things in England.
  2. Oguchi Onyewu, #7 center back. Not too long ago, he and Jay DeMerit (and Spector and an out-of-position Bocanegra) shut down Spain.
  3. Benny Feilhaber, #5 attacking mid. Might have had his last audition for now. (Update: Or not — Klinsmann says he’s very much in the discussion.)
  4. DaMarcus Beasley, “also considered” left mid. If Eddie Johnson can have a renaissance this late in his career, surely Beasley can manage it as well.

That’s 46 players. That still omits a few players from the recent friendly against Canada (with good reason). It doesn’t include all of the 49 players who took the field for the USA in 2012. It doesn’t include Heath Pearce, who started 11 games in the 2010 qualifying cycle. It doesn’t include Freddy Adu, who played nine games in the 2010 qualifying cycle and is still quite young but last played for the USA in 2011.

Does that seem like too many? Consider the numbers from the last qualifying cycle, including the games before the Hexagonal: 48 players.

This is a long, long process.