Klinsmann vs. MLS vs. USSF vs. reality

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Pink Floyd unwittingly summed up the current state of  U.S. (United States) international football back in 1979 when they wrote “The Wall.”

If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?

When it comes to America’s dream of developing elite footballers: if you don’t play against elite international talent you can’t become an elite football player.  But how can you become an elite football player if you don’t have the opportunity to play against elite international talent?

The recent verbal scuffle between USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) coach Jurgen Klinsmann and MLS (Major League Soccer) president Don Garber and most, if not many, of the owners of MLS clubs is beginning to highlight the real underlying problem with why U.S. players, and the USMNT, are, at best, “average” when compared to their international counterparts.

It is no secret amongst the sporting world; to be a great player, and thereby create a great international team, you and your teammates need to consistently play against the best competition all the time.

Last week it was discovered that Klinsmann was actively telling up-and-coming U.S. players to play overseas in order to improve their game.  From Klinsmann’s coaching perspective, this advice makes perfectly good sense.  Garber, however, was understandably pissed off upon hearing this news.

MLS team owners were also visibly frustrated that the man who, in addition to being the USMNT coach, is also USSF (United States Soccer Federation) “Technical Director” and is seemingly undermining the fabric of the very youth development system he is charged with improving without any regard to MLS teams that are actively addressing the lack of elite U.S. talent through their development academy programs.

The debate between Klinsmann and Garber is covered in other media outlets in more detail.  This article offers, perhaps, a more realistic view of why U.S. soccer and its’ players have not climbed, and may never climb, the mountain of football greatness, as a team, or as individuals, from an international perspective.

It is a great idea, in principle, to tell young American players that in order to improve their game they must go play overseas.  But there are three roadblocks with this “idea.”

First; few young Americans possess the technical ability on the ball required for elite-level international football.  American youth football is 100% focused on team results: not individual development.  The rest of the football playing world takes the opposite approach.  The players’ individual development, not the team’s success, comes first.

Second; for those few Americans that have the technical skill to play abroad; there is a very unfortunate bias against American players. It is no secret that most clubs will take a “good” Argentine, Chilean or African player over a “very good” American player (save our goalies!); I do not blame most clubs for this built-in bias. We do not have a proven track record of player development success like other countries do. It is not fair, but the bias exists and persists to this day.

Lastly, and most importantly; very, very few American’s possess the EU (European Union) passport that is the number one prerequisite for playing on most European clubs.  Of course, it is not absolutely essential to have an EU passport but is extremely helpful.

The alternative is finding a club that loves an American player so much that they are willing to sacrifice time and money getting the necessary paperwork filled out so this player can join the club. England makes it almost impossible for an American to play there.

DeAndre Yedlin Sounders

For example; DeAndre Yedlin, who is scheduled to join Tottenham Hotspurs in early 2015, is trying to find some distant relative that is somehow a former UK (United Kingdom) citizen in order to get the required work permit to play in England.  If that does not work he is going to try to apply for the UK work permit under the “Exceptional Talent” visa clause.

DeAndre is a talent for sure. He has a ton of potential. But is he “exceptional?” When it comes to his speed, he is “exceptional.” Everything else about his game is a work in progress. But Yedlin is exactly the type of player who would benefit tremendously from playing with the elite talent in the UK professional system. It is too bad he may never get the chance due to his U.S. citizenship.

The bottom line is that while America is making significant headway in the world of international football, it is still a very long way from producing consistent elite-level talent.

The big joke in soccer circles across America is that Lionel Messi would have never been discovered if he was born in America.  But this is really no joke.  Because of the persistent American penchant for winning games, especially at the youth level, size and athleticism wins out.  Individual development is an afterthought at best.  Messi would have never stood a chance.

How else can it logically be explained that a country of 300 million people have never produced a great football talent in its history (save the Goalies!)?  Say all you want about the “best” athletes being pulled away to play the more popular American sports; but the math, statistically, does not add up.

Add to this conundrum the fact that more boys and girls play youth soccer than any other sport in the United States. So how is it that our USWNT (United States Woman’s National Team), and its individual players, ends up superior to our men on the international stage? (This is a story for another article)

The truth is, American players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, etc. are just “good” players when compared to their international peers.  Make no mistake; there is absolutely no shame in being a “good” professional player in any sport.  All of these players have “million$” of reasons to play in the U.S.

However, they are nowhere near the pantheon of greatness in the realm of professional football.  Being “average” professionals is really not their fault…the American soccer system made them that way.

Having avidly, and actively, followed U.S. youth soccer and the USMNT for the past 30 years, it has become readily apparent the USSF could not find their own backsides with both hands never mind the next great crop of talent when it comes to the USMNT.  Why?

Only in American is soccer is a pay to play sport.  In a country of incredible wealth and resources we have somehow found a way to make the least expensive sport…expensive. Consequently, talented children with limited financial means are automatically unable to play for any club team that has licensed coaches because these kids and their families cannot afford the cost of club dues, kits and transportation to and from practice, games and tournaments.

But is does not stop there; those very few, potentially, great players that are somehow able to cobble up the cost to play arrive at their club only to find out that they are relegated to practicing and playing against a collaboration of average to below average talent thereby hindering their ability to improve as players.

Jurgen Klinsmann USA

To make matters worse, the USSF, with all good intentions, created the relatively new USSF Development Academy system for finding and developing the next crop of national team players. The USSF Development Academy system is a collection of approximately 80 clubs scattered across the entire United States.

Playing on a USSF Development Academy club team costs parents anywhere from $5000 – $15000 (£3200 – £9500) a year. While some USSF Development Academy clubs try to subsidize underprivileged kids, most do not. So, again, talented poor kids never get the basic opportunity to develop and, therefore, are never found because they cannot afford to play one of the most inexpensive sports on planet earth.

But even if USSF Development Academy teams were free, they still fail their overall mission of finding talent because so few of these teams actually exist relative to the size of our country.

For example; in London, England there are 14 professional clubs (with youth academy teams) located within 600 square miles. Every one of these clubs has numerous scouts going to every youth football game looking under every stone and in between every crack to find and develop any and all potential football talent.

Compare this to the exact same 600 square miles of a traditionally soccer-rich region of the United States consisting of northern Delaware, southern New Jersey, northeastern Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania.  In this region you will find not one USSF Development Academy team.

In fact, for any boys in this region, they would need to get in a car and drive at least 1.5 hours each way to find the nearest USSF Development Academy Club. There are no scouts, however, finding any of these geographically challenged boys.

In order for these boys to actually get on a USSF Development Academy club team, their parents would need to beg and cajole the coaching staff at these clubs to give their son the opportunity to try-out since many of these teams are already established based upon the age-old American tradition of legacy (or if your father is on the Club’s Board of Directors).

As a result, the USSF Development system fails, first and foremost, by not finding every potentially great player there is to be found due to money and geography. Consequently, hundreds, if not thousands, of elite boys go forever missing in the USSF development system.

One can only guess how many “Messis” this “London-sized” soccer region in America, alone, could have produced if only they were discovered in the first place.

Donovan Galaxy

Sadly, but truthfully, the entire past, present and future of U.S. soccer can be broken down into very simple math:

We are a country of about 300 million people.

The existing USSF Development Academy system fully excludes at least 60% of our entire population due to our “pay to play” system.

The USSF then excludes, at least, another 30% due to geography.

Of the 30 million remaining citizens in America, let us assume 50% are boys and of this group the U.S. Census Bureau says 10% are in the youth soccer age category.  From the remaining 1.5 million boys, the USSF has identified approximately 3000 players from which our future USMNT will be selected.

So in a country of 300 million people, we are, effectively, pinning our entire future soccer hopes on a system that only looks at .5% of our entire population from which we select less than .001% to develop for “greatness”. I do not think Oscar Wilde was a football enthusiast, but I swear he had the USSF in mind when he wrote:

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.

Compare this sobering statistic with the fact that countries with not more than 5% of our total population such as Belgium and the Netherlands produce superior talent and exceptional national teams on a regular basis.

Even better, extremely small countries such as Wales and Ireland, whose population is about 1.5% of the entire United States, produce many world-class players our country can only dream of developing.

It is mind-boggling how America can be so incredibly inept at what every other football country finds so incredibly easy. We find and develop the greatest basketball and baseball players on planet earth one hundred times over, but we cannot find and develop one great soccer player in our entire county (except…the goalies)!

The vast potential for U.S. soccer was validated recently when none other than Pep Guardiola surmised, while touring the U.S. this past summer:

The United States has the most important sports in the world. When they are focused on basketball, tennis or golf, they are the best. So when this happens, when they are focused on football [soccer] and develop it, they’ll make it better, better and better.

In order words, if we put all our effort into soccer, statistically, the US should dominate the sport simply due to the sheer number of people and resources it has at its disposal. But, of course, this is unrealistic.

Until we fundamentally change, or take a lesson from our incredible USWNT, the world’s club teams will still take the “good” Argentine over the “very good” American and, unfortunately, the U.S. is still a long way from producing a consistent crop of world class players no matter how much Klinsmann wants our existing youth talent to play overseas. Don Garber and the MLS can relax. There will be no mass exodus of American talent. American footballers are not going anywhere quickly.

For now, America can only look ahead to the talent we hope is yet to come while wistfully looking back at the talent we never found and the talent we let slip away, like Neven Subotić, and say “wish you were here”.

Author Details

Phil Pyle, Jr.

I have been following soccer in the United States for the past 30 years with special emphasis on the USMNT, USWNT and the growth and development of US youth soccer.

72 thoughts on “Klinsmann vs. MLS vs. USSF vs. reality

  1. I refuse to take any article seriously that states that Landon Donovan is not an elite player. To use your own words, “….but the math, statistically, does not add up.” (International goals – World Cup goals)

    Landon Donovan 57 – 5
    Cristiano Ronaldo 52 – 3
    Lionel Messi 45 – 5

    You need to look at international information because you can’t compare the leagues they play in. Besides, the World Cup is the biggest stage of all. They ALL have played in 3 World Cups. If Ronaldo and Messi have played in better leagues (which they have) and have been SURROUNDED by better talent (which they have) why is it that Landon Donovan’s stats beat (or at a minimum) match their output? Sorry Phil, face it. The world may be bias to American players, but so are you.

  2. I really enjoyed this article, it finally puts into perspective where the US is in the grand scheme of things. We are not ready to be elite because we don’t have the fundamentals together. We’re not teaching kids how to play competitive soccer/football like the rest of the world. Also, I’m sick of the Donovan worship. He did great things for the USMNT and for MLS but it’s time to let him go. He’s not the future so quit holding on to him.

  3. “there are no scouts”? i find that hard to believe with the MLS finding an increasing amount of talented players. are they ‘elite’ globally – no; but that’s a larger issue nationally. the reason other sports produce talent is the ‘focus’ in our society at all levels. “very good” highschool soccer teams are rarely lauded equal praise or recognition as ‘good’ football teams – and that’s in the ‘hot bed’ of NJ; every saturday we can see 100 college football games, if we’re lucky we can see just a few of the NCAA soccer tourney games. it’s also a reason why womens soccer produces more quality players – there’s more focus on developing talent since it is the ‘major’ female sport. i agree with klinsmann – to get be better you have to ‘play up’ competition wise and MLS just isn’t there yet. but it will be. i’m just not sure it will be in the next 3 years to prep for the WC.

  4. The article is correct. Even though Landon may be an exception here in the states. He has tried twice in European clubs and has not been able to manage a stable position. The US does not put enough into the soccer programs. There are many examples of how far behind we are, but with a lot more time we may be able to get to a better status. Just for example take the last several years when England’s clubs come here to play. They send there “B” and “C” squad players to play our all-stars from all MLS teams. We don’t blow them out of the water, we barely can beat them if at all. Soccer will only be successful in the US, when players can make the same amount of money as Football(American),Baseball, and Basketball players make. We only thrive on money, “The American Dream.” That is the unfortunate truth.

  5. Sandamy you’re right Landy Cakes is very close to being a world class player. The better question is what are our options? The MLS is growing in leaps and bounds and will continue to do so. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We already know that the size of the new soccer specific stadiums we built are too small as many clubs are at maximum capacity. Lastly, i don’t take any article seriously by an author who doesn’t attach their name at the very beginning of the column? Can’t stand up for what you believe in?

  6. Landon Donovan was good but not elite on a world class stand point. Yes he has more goals that Ronaldo or Messi, but her also played in a lot more games(157 vs 118 and 96), against weaker opponents in qualifying. The teams in CONCACAF are weaker than CONMEBOL and UEFA its simply a fact.

  7. The conclusions in this article are spot on – on all counts. I used to be a youth coach, starting around 2001, and saw first hand the challenges in building up a base of skilled players. Having started playing the game in 1973, my approach was to immerse myself in USSF and NSCAA coaching methods – which teach time-tested coaching methodologies used by the the EU academy systems. Most of the other coaches, more often than not sincere folks who have never even seen a professional match, let alone play the game, thought the coaching education programs on offer were a complete waste of time. And when parents saw me teaching their kids actual skills, rather than giving then stupid pet tricks to win games…even at U6 and U8 age groups – they were in an uproar. I stopped bothering with it after about 10 years. Couple that sort of challenge with the tiny number of elite academies scattered around the country, easy to see that it will be a very long time indeed before the US can develop a robust pipeline of truly elite players.

    And yes, consistently scoring lots of goals against the likes of Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, etc, is not quite the same as consistently scoring goals against Germany, Spain, Netherlands…

  8. Simply start with this: elite athletes in the US do not play soccer. Football, baseball, basketball, GOLF and hockey (if ur a yankee) are chosen as sports to focus on before soccer – it’s a money thing. Donovan and Dempsey are not elite athletes.

  9. This is the best article I have read on player development in the US. If you have enough money you can play on the “better” teams but they only take who can pay. The rest are forced to play in house or on sub-par teams because that is all they can afford. ODP in Illinois are charging $400 for 5 indoor sessions this winter. How does that get the best players involved???

  10. Landon is not an elite player at all. He is a good player. Article is correct. If Landon were a so called elite soccer player Europe would have been knocking…they weren’t.

  11. You’re correct that youth teams focus on winning games too much and not enough individual skill development. But there’s nothing wrong with looking at athletes with size and speed. Belgium proved those attributes can change a match in an instant against the USMNT.

    Also, the joke about Messi not being discovered if he were American is stupid. Of course he would be. People forget about Freddy Adu and all the press he got when he was a teenager. He got the press because of his ball skills and talent. He’s also about the size of Messi, maybe shorter.

  12. I am a devoted soccer fan and season ticket holder to SKC. I have had 2 children that play in the top club level and I myself was a very talented player (but a Goalie). In my opinion the issue boils down to one simple fact….the best male athletes in America are not playing soccer. If you take the best male athletes in high school they are going to have the best on the football team, the second best on the basketball team then soccer. However, if you look at the girls you will find the best athletes playing soccer in high school followed by basketball. This is why the same system has succeeded in Womens International and failed in the Mens International game. In Germany, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, England, the Netherlands the best male athletes are playing soccer.

  13. Sandamy, do you really believe that Landon Donovan is an elite player because he scored a ton of goals against crap teams in CONCACAF? Do you really equate his goals against that joke of an international zone to the goals of guys you listed? Ronaldo scored most of his in UEFA and Messi scored his in CONMEBOL. To even consider the teams in CONCACAF being near the level of either one of the previously mentioned zones is beyond asanine.

    Landon is a good player who scored alot of goals against bad teams. Whenever he went up against quality defenders he usually put on his invisibility suit and would be a complete non-factor. If you don’t remember his performances in big games against good teams then I wouldn’t hold it against you, because he never had one worth remembering. If you want to put him in the Gold Cup Hall of fame, then he belongs there, but to try and compare him to the highest level of soccer player on the world stage is an exercise in futility.

    This article is spot on with 90% of what is discussed and until changes are made our USMNT will reflect the problems inherent in our current system.

  14. @sandamy, So by your argument Miroslav Klose of Germany is THE GREATEST Soccer player of all time since he scored the most goals in WC’s. I think you’ll find very few that will agree with that logic.

  15. @mark – maybe that’s the proof. adu is now playing in serbia and not part of the USMNT. he was a recognized talent that wasn’t developed well either here or internationally.

  16. Please, don’t say Landon Donovan is elite. That’s ridiculous. Elite = Top Stars in the European Leagues. Donovan made is as high as Fulham. You got to relax on that one.

  17. Completely agree that we are wasting these years away. Development in the USA takes a back seat to winning. Get big and fast and while were at it lets play on full size fields at 10, ridiculous.
    However to say the rest of the world finds development easy is absurd. Nearly every European country has completely changed their approach to developing players in the last decade. SO they had it wrong for years. Best of all to choose England to compare with was hysterical. Last top quality player from England please? Whoever you choose is not that much better than Donovan or Bradley or Reyna, or Dempsey, better yes but only just.

  18. Mate, get it right, he was a regular for Everton.
    Ask the toffees what the thought of him?
    Loved him.
    World Class-no. But good enough for the prem.

  19. Sorry, last one.
    This has little to do with athletes. Ask any scout they will say the US is a very athletic side.
    Lacking technical ability and creativity.

  20. u cant do stats like that in soccer ,,, L D plays weaker opponents in Concacaf then players u mantion also LD was in germany (leverkuzen) didnt show anything did played few games good for everton (no presure) whatever he did was ok because he would leave in 2 months anyway but saying all that he is great football player and for US soccer he did more then anyone could ask of him he played his ass off all the time .. but the main point is STATS in football/soccer dont mean crap because its diffrent kind of game enjoy the game

  21. Its funny, nobody mentions that Brazil’s nest players play where? England/France/Germany/Spain. Argentina’s best players? Same. Most of Holland’s best players? Same. Belgium’s best players? Same.Columbia’s best players? Same. There is no shame in the MLS not being the destination for the best players in the world. Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Belgium, all countries who have a richer soccer heritage than the US and are generally more successful than the US send their best players abroad and don’t complain about it.

  22. The way things work in this country is that player development in any sport is mainly done through Junior High and High School teams, that’s how it works for Football, Baseball and Basketball, we are literally the only country in the world that puts so much emphasis on high school and college athletics. So it stands to reason that is where soccer players also need to be developed, especially those with limited financial means. But the level of coaching and facilities for soccer in schools is sadly lacking compared to the other sports. Most soccer coaches, never played the game at a high level, they basically read a “Coaching Soccer For Dummies” book. But the only way you’re going to get rid of “Pay to Play” is to forge alliances with the schools’ athletic departments.

  23. Until the system of training our youth is improved, we will not have great players. I am talking about the entire system. Those who teach soccer in the high schools and universities must improve their skills. So many players that I see in the MLS do not have excellent technique and tacts. We must go back to improving fundament teaching techniques so that our players improve their skills.

  24. @frank, md – did you see the world cup? concacaf made a very competitive showing. look at columbia, mexico, costa rica – they’re all improving and doing well internationally but the usmnt has become stagnant at best.

  25. @dfwgator3 – don’t discount the value of doing research, it definitely helps coaches who either didn’t play or had lackluster coaching themselves. i did it for youth baseball and it helped immensely with player development and my understanding of the game.

  26. @ Sandamy, You consider Landon Donovan an elite player?? Why then was he unable to stick in a European club despite several attempts? Don’t say bias against Americans, because Dempsey and Bradley were able to. For the US he is an elite player but not on the international scale. Much of his goals scoring was against CONCACAF competition which is not the same level as UEFA.

  27. Sandamy – with respect if you are going to compare LD with Ronaldo and Messi then no one can take you seriously. Anyone can find a statistic or two to support such an argument, but if you look at the sum of there respective careers there is no comparison to be made that is based on anything resembling reality. None.

  28. Think about the MLS Allstar Game…….it takes all of our MLS Allstars to compete against one English Club Team……That’s where we are at.

  29. We don’t have a problem in our youth programs, you said it yourself, we have more kids playing soccer than any other sport…The real problem lies in continuing to bring those kids to adult clubs. We have none, and college soccer kills it. There are very good youth clubs that get broken up by kids trying to play college, if they don’t make a college team, there career is done. If it were only clubs, we would have SO many people still playing. Kids playing in the youth club could look up to there adult squad and see a glimpse of hope.
    Imagine the US soccer clubs playing together all the way until they are 30 years old….the disconnect of soccer in the US and growth, I believe happens at the ages of 17-24. Those are the best years to learn from experienced players that are older, but instead they go to college and learn from other players that think they know the game. You ask almost any youth soccer player in the US what there goal is in soccer, they say to play “college soccer”… LOL…The goal should be to play professionally. The next problem, is we need a relegation system where 4th division teams still have supporters, because they still have a chance at getting to the top level!

  30. Every single player on the England team plays in the Premiership. As a team they are an average to crap side. So, I would not put playing against the best competition as be all and end all of developing talent.

  31. Landon Donovan, and I like him, IS NOT AN ELITE PLAYER.
    That’s why he spent his career, with the exception of very small stints, in the MLS.
    Elite players play for ELITE CLUBS.
    Landon Donovan never did.
    As for Klinsman’s comments, the MLS leadership NEED TO LISTEN to what he has to say:
    They are lucky to have his insight without a consulting fee.
    He speaks with authority, not like the scribes.

  32. Messi is AMERICAN.
    He was born in Argentina, which is part of the AMERICAN CONTINENT.
    The SUB-CONTINENT is South America, but the whole Continent is called AMERICA.
    Learn geography.

  33. Living in Prague right now, I can say that the system in the Czech Republic is probably even better than in the U.S.. My sons play on a U-12 team of a local club, and there are at least a dozen such clubs in the greater Prague area. The best players in the area will get seen by the coaches or scouts from the big Prague clubs (Sparta, Slavia) and move on through a system. It’s also easier for these kids to find a suitable level of competition; my sons are finding the level of play, and the physicality, much tougher even than in the travel soccer programs of northern Virginia.

    As for the idea that we don’t get the best athletes into soccer because there’s more money in other sports, I don’t buy it. We have the best swimmers in the world – no money in that. Some of the best rowers – no money. Most of the best sprinters (up to 400M); some money but not compared to the major professional sports. Kids get attracted to sports at a young age because it’s available and they like it; the money comes later.

  34. re:Benjamin

    Where did you go to school?

    America is not a continent. In the Americas there are two continents: North America and South America.

    Please only speak about what you know. Even if you are trying to be cute.

  35. Any of you who compare Donovon with a world talent like Messi are morons….really? Doni can’t even make a 2 league team in Europe! I agree totally, if you want to be the best you have to play the best. You have to strive outside your comfort zone, take the lumps, learn the lessons…..a chess player never gets better then his competition and neither do athletes.

    100% agree with the cost keeping great talent out of the game as well. I see less talented player who have the finances make rosters whereas the real talent is left looking from the outside. Extremely stupid way to run a youth program! For lack of money I couldn’t attend better leagues, travel or pay for training and tournaments. STUPID! The current system is set up to earn coaches and clubs money and they get paid no matter what the result is on the field. The Director of Coaching at a local youth club (4-18 yr olds) earns over $80K?

    MLS is fun to watch sometimes, but compared to other countries we are slow, very slow. But I love soccer and watch it anyway.

  36. All of the US sports are supported in high school and college – except soccer. High school throwball teams use NFL tactics, as well as nutrition and weight training. I have watched U-14 soccer players with phenomenal foot skills deteriorate in only 3 years due to poor high school coaching, and college is worse. I have had parents lament the lack of skilled coaches at the older levels. Academies are one answer, but they need to be free to the players.
    If MLS and USSF want to improve the quality of 16-20 year old players, grab the NCAA by the ears and tell them to learn the game. If they want to make money in the future, they need to invest in players now.

  37. I am a soccer parent that follows the world of soccer very closely. My son plays club soccer here in the U.S. and spends every summer playing in academy camps throughout Europe. The difference is huge as the Europeans are technically years ahead of our kids and physically playing harder and stronger than our boys in general. I love the European system and wish my son could train over there as he loves the sport and has true passion to move higher up the ladder as time goes by. I wish the U.S. would pay attention to what has been proved for decades i other countries and stop trying to re-invent the wheel when across the pond it seems to work just fine. Maybe we could stop trying to assemble a soccer team as if they were playing American football. Big and strong is not the only way to go, but if you look at college soccer that is the interpretation. Lets face it, American youth soccer is about the business and the money first and the development somewhere afterwards. It is a shame, but we are not smart enough as a public mass to fight this and demand better for our hard working kids. We should be able to do better than we are. By the way, anyone who considers Landon Donavan to be an elite, anywhere in the same vicinity as a Messi or Ronaldo… is just plain nuts!!!

  38. Can’t tell you how many players make the elite level at our youth club only because their parents write bigger checks. It’s all about the money, not the talent search. It’s a joke.

  39. Basketball basic skills are developed in driveways with simple goals and baseball is learned on vacant lots long before formal games in USA. Same is true for football in most countries. In Italy I saw youths playing soccer on small chain link fenced concrete courts half size of basket ball court so players had to learn ball control touch and passing skill. Many major soccer countries best players learn to play soccer barefoot forcing them to learn how to kick something resembling a ball correctly without any coaching. This is what is really needed to develop foundation football skills long before formal coaching.

  40. The bigger the pool of the people, the harder it is to find the ones to develop. If you just took the state of California (38 Million) and focused to find a player to develop then you’d have a pretty good chance at finding talent at all levels and economic status, but throw in 49 more states and it becomes a needle in a haystack. Portugal and Belgium each have a population of 10 million, 42 million in Argentina, 53 in England and 47 in Spain. 300 million makes it’s even harder to scout out players. Yes there are more options but getting to all the options and properly evaluating each player is time consuming and costly. And as far as sending our top players abroad, that’s what every country does. Cristiano doesn’t play in Portugal, Messi goes all the way to Spain to play, even British players go play in Spain.

  41. As said Hermann Gerland at Bayern when then head coach Klinsmann traded for Donovan in 2009, “Donovan would not even play regularly in my reserve team.” Donovan failed at the top level (when given the chance to play with players who reached the UCL final the next season), scored some goals against mediocre national team opponents, had his best World Cup at age 20 and then stagnated, if not regressed. He WAS given a shot, but failed to take it.

  42. Part of the reason why Donovan didn’t stick in England and Germany is because he wanted to be home in California. He did well on his loan spell to the EPL a few years back, but he always stated he wanted to stay in the USA, hence why he only played for two teams in CA.

  43. The other irony is did Bradley and Dempsey really stick? They both had one to three good years at Fulham and Roma respectively, but both ended up coming back to the US to play ( Canada for Mr. Bradley as he’s on Toronto) What happened to Dempsey when he moved away from Fulham to Tottenham?Bradley was a solid player, but not the dynamic that Italians look for, and there fore lost his place. The only ” Elite” players we have is goalies ( Howard, Guzan, even Friedel plays at a decent level in the UK at 43). Tim Howard said it best when asked why goalies translate better. That’s because the American mentality of player ( Size,speed,etc) fits a keeper better. Being 6’2″- 6’4″ and having the power and reflexes along with the ability to see the game just fits. It’s closer to a football or basketball player style skills.

  44. Option 3, which is coming with MLS 3.0 and increased market, revenue, and fiscal capacity: Bring elite players here.

    A favorite quote my brother has for describing the authors of most online futbol articles: “Ask the clarinet player”… meaning, why are these guys writing these articles??

    Let’s get some former players and coaches that actually understand the game, that have been there and done that. Right now, we’re stuck reading ridiculous articles on futbol written by clarinet players.

  45. Why do we need elite players? We want players, who play well as a team, because soccer is a team sport! USSF and MLS are heading in the right directions. Klinsmann, should encourage players to play in MLS, because it will help the league grow. MLS is the future!

  46. mls is the future? far future. the mls games I’ve seen are far from interesting and lack tactics or creativity.
    i agree that a team can be more than a collection of individuals but we have to have a focus on developing talent.

  47. Bringing elite players increases the marketability and hence financial revenue and viability of the overall league, AND increases the level of competition allowing / challenging our players to improve as well.
    Also, being an elite player is not mutually exclusive of being a team player. In general most elite players make their teammates and their competition better.
    The use of an exclamation point to explain that futbol is a team is a team sport was useful. I hadn’t realized that, but the exclamation point made it clear. :)

  48. Landon is probably the best player of all time for the USA and he is close to elite but even then on an international level who does the USA generally play? Concacaf…meaning Landon scored majority of those goals against weak opponentes and you put him up to compare with with Messi and Ronaldo who play against mostly South American and European nations..come on get serious. Apart from Costa Rica going far this world cup everyone knows concacaf is way easier for USA and Mexico to compete in and always go to the world cup and for players to shine in concacaf. This article is spot on and tells the truth how it is.

  49. Another point I’d like to add is yes we want mls to grow and become more competitive over time, but not wanting players to go oversees especially Europe is dumb Europe being the best place to play is not gonna change for a very long time, the money, the passion, the atmosphere, the talent, the competition, etc is just way better for players to reach higher levels of play. By having our best players from the mls eventually move oversees this helps us be able to allow younger players to come up to the mls who are ready to sign for mls and even at younger ages. That way it’s not the same old players in the mls and other players below them having to wait long time for spots to open up or eventually get cut cause the bigger name old dude like donovan or whoever is still playing in the mls. That’s how it work in countries like my own Colombia. Players go pro at 16-18. By 20-24 years of age the top players from that group are making the jump to Argentina/Brazil/Europe. So that opens spots for a new group of 16-18 year olds since players left to play higher level leagues in other countries and players retire etc. It’s a circle…. that’s how brazil, argentina, colombia, chile etc that’s how they create talent because they know financially they can never make their leagues better than Europe financially and players will always look to leave for more money and to play in better leagues and they don’t fight they they embrace it and accept it and earn money selling their players to Europe but the nation benefits on the international level when they play for their national team. Look at most south american national teams 90% of their players play in Europe not in their countries’ domestic leagues…. that is the answer…but instead we have ppl saying we need to make mls.grow blah blah mls is never gonna be like Spain league, premier league, italy, Germany etc. Instead develop talent, sell it for money so you can create more academies and more TALENT. be smart…but of course the USA is not smart and they are greedy and they want to do things their own way because they think since they rule in other sports which are only play in the USA mostly …then they should change the way soccer works everywhere else and do it their way hahah

  50. This is the most important and insightful perspective on US soccer I have ever read. It should be required reading for everyone involved at any level of soccer development or professional level. Well done!

  51. The only elite players that want to come here are those on their way out and their quality shines in the MLS even when they really cannot claim to be elite on the world stage any longer. Name one developing new foreign talent playing the MLS.

  52. also..watching soccer on tv is not easy because the cameras are so far away…i feel like I’m sitting in the upper sections of a stadium but I’m really sitting in front of the tv..for people watching it on tv that don’t love the sport, i can’t see them making a lot of effort to enjoy it..

  53. This was very interesting to read. I always thought about that too, we have so many people in this country but cant produce a team that can beat a team like ireland.. one day we will get there.

  54. I’ve been playing this sport since I can walk. American born and bred from European parents. Learned the game from my father, a Spaniard, who spent his entire youth in Spain and Uruguay before moving to the U.S. So you can say I learned the game from spending my entire life (30+ years) learning and listening to this day from my father who now as an old man has been watching soccer everyday for 60+ years.

    The sentiments I can share with you is coming from someone who has gone thru the American youth soccer system playing and training on the top youth clubs of NJ, ODP, a nationally ranked high school program and a full ride scholarship at the D1 level. Never had the opportunity to find a place to trial for a professional team and rightly so since our American youth soccer system sets you up merely to attain a full ride to obtain a higher education from your soccer playing ability and if you’re lucky, since the birth of MLS, and with the right backing from a college coach or someone on the inside you may have MLS as a place to play for maybe for an average of 8 years of pro soccer (which in my opinion…I can not watch MLS for anymore than a few minutes because I watch enough poor soccer when watching game film when scouting an opponent as an assistant at D1 program).

    I have taken just about every coaching course offered by USSF and NSCAA and the courses have helped me grow and see the game at a much more tactical level. From my experience as a player and coach in the U.S. There are a few things missing from what we give kids here in the youth game.

    1. Coaching courses have done a good job recently with teaching coaches not to over coach and overload player with info, but we still have plenty of coaches who coach and want to have too much influence and impact on the game for selfish reasons to gloat about how much they influence and developed a player. Players are hindered by fools coaching the game who think they know what they’re talking about but really don’t know the true essence of the game from a feeling perspective. Coaches here lack the ability to truly connect with the player as a mentor for the sport. Do we promote the idea of a coach ever jumping on the field and playing with the players to show them the way a dance instruct would in a dance class?

    2. Popular culture here in the US stifles the human development of our youth. Fame, fortune, the disaese of “me”, lack of brotherhood and caring for one another on the field as players is missing.

    3. Soccer is an art, not a science. You must feel the game from the inside. Share the ball, get all 11 players on field to get a touch, work on chemistry and developing relationships off the field with teammates. Professional opportunities will come to those who can connect and communicate effectively with teammates off the field. Find a flow and chemical bond with the teammate you’re playing with. Soccer is about learning how your teammate plays and finding s mutual ground to dance on the field of play with the ball.

    I’m not saying to stray from tactical and strategic understanding of the game but we need to teach these young players about seeing their teammates and understanding teammates weaknesses and strengths and figure out what works with particular teammates and what doesn’t.

    4. Summer training overseas for youth players. Perhaps even a semester overseas in a student exchange program with an academy in South America or Europe. When school is out, find a way to figure out a situation overseas and plan ahead. Blend the youth players experience of training here in the US during the school year with international experience of living and training overseas from an early age. If we want to develop elite players, kids need to experience living in a foreign country and it may help them develop as people to understand and experience other cultures, languages and customs.

    Just a few points from one of many who has gone thru this US system and wants to see his kids potentially one day have the opportunity to truly have a shot of becoming an elite, world class player.

  55. This is a pretty good read but tends to state the obvious and offers no practical solutions while also suggesting that the Women’s side has somehow figured it out – an absolutely preposterous comparison considering the rest of the world cares little about women’s soccer and didn’t even know it existed until 20 years ago. I’m not suggesting our women aren’t good. They are good but are they somehow more skillful or more evolved as soccer players? The answer is unequivocally no. They just happen to win more at their level of competition. But enough of that foolishness already.

    On the men’s side, it’s probably fair to say that many of our best athletes don’t play the sport, but that’s just as much about motivation as it is about the paying club structure or coaches who only want to win. The bottom line is that the sport just isn’t that popular in this country – especially among many of the socio-economic groups that produce great players in other American sports. In better soccer countries, the skillful kids you’re describing develop these skills by playing in the streets from the youngest of ages. It’s how they spend their free time and it’s all they want to do. The better ones (and don’t be fooled into thinking speed and quickness don’t play a factor) get selected for development and refinement in these wonderful clubs you mention. But without a fundamental sea change whereby our kids are creating masterful touch on the ball from the time they are five year olds in the street, no amount of later training or player development methodologies are going to solve the issue. There are no magical secret training and development protocols that are going on in other clubs around the world that our USSF and player academies haven’t already researched and brought into our curricula. Better coaches will certainly help at all levels and significant progress is being made on that front. But even if you train 3-5 times per week from the time these kids are 10, you’ll never make up for the lack of time they spend with the ball on their own.

    Further, I don’t care how many training centers you set up in inner cities or how many free opportunities you provide. As someone who has sought to provide these kids with opportunities myself, I can say that in my own experience, many of them will play only after their parents are convinced that it is a worthwhile endeavor, and that some parent or coach from the club/team is willing to taxi the player to and from practice. But the reality is that even when these kids get included, as soon as basketball or other sport seasons come around, soccer is no longer a priority. They simply aren’t motivated to become great at the game. It’s comedy to think that there are all of these wonderfully skilled and motivated young soccer players in this country who just can’t afford to play and so don’t develop. The majority of clubs go far out of their way to make room for kids who show promise and desire.

    The good news is that we are making progress. Today’s top young U.S. players are FAR more skillful and developed than they were 20 or even 10 years ago. Look at the youth national teams. You see the impact people like Tab Ramos are having in bringing in the ranks of Hispanic players who better embody the traits of skill and desire that we need to get better as a country. We’re placing more value on skill and first-touch quality at all levels. And the MLS and other pro-level academies are providing a growing number of options for kids to develop in an environment where they can train with and against better players, as well as benefit from access to older players and professionals with similar motivations.

    So is Klinsmann right? In a way, yes. You can’t argue that at the highest level, the quality of play is higher in Europe and other soccer countries. The opportunity to train day in and day out with other similarly talented players at the highest level will obviously impact development. Thus, players who do have the opportunity should absolutely take it. But the mistake would be to discount the benefits of the system that is developing in the U.S. and the invaluable role that the MLS and development academy are having for the vast majority of players for whom a European club is not a reality. These two paths are not mutually exclusive. Both are necessary. Until our youngest players have the opportunity to raise the level of our game across the board, Klinsman will need to encourage the best of our players to seek harbor in Europe. He’ll also need to continue finding European players in other countries who somehow qualify to play for our national team. This makes sense. In the short-term, he needs results to keep his job until the long-term model has the time it needs to evolve.

  56. Why are we talking about how many academies are on London when they got 1 point in Brazil? That coming in a match that Costa Rica didn’t even care about.

  57. Can you blame Gio Rossi ever for heading to Italia instead of wearing the USA shirt. …??

    And the Subotic situation should never of happened

    But pay for play killed that dream. ….

  58. Whew , this guy must be 13 years old. He has no idea what he is talking about. Yes, the passport issue is a problem, but only against competing with other nationalities for permits to play in England. There is no “bias” against any athlete; if you’re good, they use you. And America isn’t a country. Man, what garbage.

  59. A couple points, some I agree with, some I disagree with:

    — Donovan is/was an elite player by any standard (and this is coming from a European)
    — The World Cup is the biggest stage for only second and third tier countries (no offense). Yes it’s a great way to represent your country and it happens only once every four years. But to 90% of Europeans and many of the top level South American players what they see in the Champions League and in their domestic competitions year in and year out is much better competition than the World Cup. Hell 90% of Europeans will tell you they like the Euro Championships more than the World Cup.

  60. Hmmm. I believe there were three CONCACAF teams in Final 8, 2014. In conclusion, just because you write “it,s true” doesn’t make it so.

  61. I’d rather watch the club teams, also. Soccer is so attractive because it takes a team dedication and smarts to win the game, at any level. Landon has all that. Dempsey is a pouting, lazy center forward in the wrong position. I’d put him back in midfield & make him work. Tomorrow will show it.

  62. My concern is that when soccer is finally taking hold in this country we have a foreign coach bringing in foreign players claiming that because they play (?) in a better league they must be better than home grown players. In fact he has almost mandated that in order to succeed on his team you must leave your family, friends and home to play on a European team, any European team rather than the MLS. The best example is leaving the best most well know US player ever off of the WC squad because he chose HIS country over the Coaches!

    So how does that play to the young athlete who may enjoy playing soccer but will have an uphill battle convincing his parents and friends that he should choose soccer over football or basketball?

    I don’t like this coach because he is simply a lousy coach who uses his players as an excuse why he is not getting the job done. Can you imagine this working in any other country? He needs to go and we will be better for it.

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