Women’s Soccer World Cup 2011: France – Nigeria 1 – 0

France won the World Cup opener against Nigeria and confirmed their ambitions in this World Cup. The French controlled ball and opponent and were never in danger of losing that control. France will meet Canada on Thursday, June 30th.

Why no Soccer Superstar and no World Cup for the U.S.?

Here are three reasons why we still don’t have an international soccer superstar and no World Cup success:

  1. College soccer
  2. Insufficient coaching and opportunity to learn “more”
  3. A young league and young teams/clubs that have to grow slow and need to adjust to the requirements of international soccer.

College Soccer

The major reason why we don’t have a soccer superstar in U.S. soccer is college! College soccer is also the major reason why the U.S. has not managed to win a World Cup or reach consistent significant success at past World Cups.

Of all major soccer countries, which the U.S. is, despite the lack of international success, the U.S. has the most talent available. The exception may be Brazil and Argentina. There is no European country, or soccer power house, that has the same pool of youth players to chose from, not only by numbers, but in quality. American soccer talent up to U18 is enough to create 3 world class teams with a number of super stars.

In 2000 I started getting involved in a program called ODP (Olympic Development Program). I have been told the program has been founded to prepare the U.S. for coming soccer World Cups. As a European coming from one of the major forces in world soccer (Germany), I had to smile. I couldn’t believe the U.S. will ever have a chance to take a serious shot at a soccer World Cup. My opinion changed quickly. When I went to the regional tournament of Region 1 (the U.S. has 5 regions), which was held at Ryder University in New Jersey, and saw the quality of youth soccer, I was stunned. Looking at the talent in all age groups, I was convinced the U.S. has a serious shot at the World Cup, possibly earlier as 2010.

While the ODP program had major flaws, for one it wasn’t able to pull all the talent this country has, it produced more than enough players to work with and be successful. One of my classical claims is, with the show ups of a NYC tryout for an ODP program, you can create a World Cup winner in any age group. The problems in American youth soccer turn up later, when the players turn 18 and go to college. American college soccer  is by far not as competitive as programs the rest of the world has in place for players age 17 – 23. While here in the U.S. the players “run around” in college teams, European players in that age group are playing and practice with the big shots in soccer. The learning experience made in Europe during that very important stage of a soccer career, can’t be made up by college soccer. Over the years of college, American players lose so much quality, and much more, do not add to their quality, that it can’t be made up afterwards.

Lionel Messi is 23 and a superstar in soccer. Make him join the American college program would have been a waste for soccer AND the player. To become what he is today, required him to leave his country and move to Spain. This is what young American kids have to do in order to advance and become superstars in soccer. They need to go abroad to keep learning and establish themselves in professional soccer.

Over the past years American youth soccer has incorporated an Academy program. While the program has the advantage that it brings the top youth players of an region together earlier and lets the players compete on a higher level of quality, the major problem remains. Comes college time, the most are lost. For those that stay around and join MLS teams, the limit is that, MLS soccer, which is not top notch soccer, yet.

In a Wall Street Journal report from June 17th, 2011, Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, made an interesting statement:

Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said he would have expected a U.S. player to become a stalwart for one of the world’s top clubs by now, but that he’s not “shocked” it hasn’t happened. “There are so few players at that level,” he said. “I believe it’s something that will happen over time.”

Gulati said the U.S. is better off building a broad base of excellence and a system that can nurture greatness rather than enduring a Godot-like wait for an American soccer icon. A country has its best chance of producing a Nobel-prizewinning physicist, he said, if it has a collection of top research universities housing 50 great scientists.

His statement tells me that he is aware of the problem, but because he won’t be the man that will change it (and neither will I), he goes with the flow and relies on the sheer numbers of talent. One or two will finally make it. He is right. It will happen, but that superstar or quality of the national team will not come out of college soccer.  With the increasing number of players that take a risk and go to Europe, rather than college, one or more of these kids will make it big. Those that don’t make it big, will at least make it bigger than those that stay and go to college. If you take a look at the U.S. national teams over the past 10-15 years, the number of players that played or play in foreign countries is increasing. So it will go on, and so the quality of the team and the players will increase. One can take a look at every soccer superstar in the world, they all took a risk at one point and made the decision to become a professional player, rather than getting educated first.

Education is big business in the U.S. and so it is sold as the most important invention since the wheel. Education has turned into a powerful industry and is treated, similar to housing, as an “American dream”.  While education is important and should be pursued by soccer players, and all young athletes and kids, it is also possible to obtain college level education at a later time and even while playing professional soccer. There are more than enough examples for such. One of the most prominent examples for this is the German ex-international goalie Oliver Kahn. He finished his education while stopping shots for Bayern Munich and the German national team. Also, being a professional player is a business and provides players with plenty of comparable experience. With the right attitude and approach, a professional soccer career provides more practical experience and business skill than any college.

Insufficient coaching and opportunity to learn “more”

In the same report of the Wall Street Journal, Eric Wynalda, the former U.S. international stated:

“We are a country of overcoaches. The talents and abilities of our players now exceed the knowledge of the coaching, so the result is stagnation”.

Coaching of the more advanced youth teams in the U.S. is insufficient. While many of the coaches have a long list of certifications under their belt, the practical experience and understanding of the game on a higher level is lacking. With that, a major ability to read games and adjust quickly on the field is missing. Many coaches that coach decent youth teams are unable to play more systems than one or two. Special situations, as they occur multiple times during a game, will not, and cannot, be addressed. The same counts for the majority of college soccer teams and even many youth teams of MLS teams.

Taking a decent youth soccer team in the U.S. to the next level remains a major challenge. Parent involvement to the disadvantage of the team, over emphasizing of officials, adjustment of rules and other actions that are meant as good turn many good soccer performances and important experiences into a major problem and hold the players back from creating and learning a winning attitude. This attitude is needed in order to be successful on an international level. Many players are so “protected” by parents and coaches, that they are unable to develop important skills needed in international competition.

Eric Wynalda’s statement is certainly true when it comes to the U.S. national team. With players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donavan and others, the experience on the field by far exceeds the experience “on the bench”.  It is important for U.S. soccer, in order to advance and further close the gap to the world class teams in the world, to have a coach and management that has significant international experience, as a player, coach and management overall.  The problem can be found on the junior level as well, where very often the players exceed the experience of the coaches and get stuck.

A young league and young teams and clubs that need time to grow and need time to adjust to the requirements of international soccer

While the MLS is steadily improving, the league is depending on players coming over from other foreign leagues. Professional players that are near retirement seeking a last payout in MLS. Sounding rather negative, it is a very important part of the MLS and will continue to be for quite some time. Even if these players are not playing on 100% anymore, they still have to offer a lot young American players can learn from, not only on the field, but also off the field. Shining examples are David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. Playing with such personalities can only help players like Tim Ream from the New York Red Bulls, and many others, to get better and prepare them for a possible move overseas when the chance presents itself.

The MLS is suffering from the major U.S. soccer problem, college soccer. MLS and soccer are losing the best and most hopeful players to college. While the number of players that decide to go with soccer is increasing, the quality of the MLS is still taking a hit. In the current system, it will take a long time until the league will reach top international class.

What to do?

With the current structure, there is not much U.S. soccer can do. It is probably next to impossible to change the system to improve soccer. Too many chairs have to be moved, or removed, to make such changes. The improvement will come from individual decisions, as always, by single players. Someone, or like in this case, many players will turn their back to college and chose a soccer career. Some will make it big and at one point the U.S. will have a superstar or more. The sheer number of quality youth players will also give the U.S. a shot at every World Cup. One day, the number of quality players and improved coaching will break the structures that held the U.S. back longer than necessary.

Why the U.S. is unable to follow a good example to accomplish debt reduction and prosperity

Following the daily news regarding debt reduction is a nerve racking event these days. Congress and administration beat each other in political gambling on the expense of the American people. Both have their interests and are fighting hard to come through with their agenda. Armadas of lobbyists, mainly on the republican side, are crowding the internet message boards and are promoting interests. For Main Street America there is nothing left than sit tight and wait. What will it be? Reduced medical services? Cut in Social Security? Tax breaks for the rich? Cut in government spending? Tax increase for the rich and corporate? Raising the debt limit? Improving infrastructure in order to be competitive? Programs for better education and workforce? Anything else?

Last week President Obama entertained visitors from Germany. While it is unusual for America to take a look at what others do, this time it seemed the German model caught some interest in the political writer scene and amongst economists (see link below). Taking a look at the last 20 years, it became clear that the Germans faced some of the challenges we currently deal with here in the United States. Infrastructure round up in Eastern Germany after the iron curtain fell, immigration issues for the same reason plus several wars in Europe and elsewhere, a spoiled population with no need to work, Germany being one of the biggest welfare states in the world. Looking at these problems and others and seeing what the Germans did, one is wondering on whether German measures could be used in the U.S..

The quick answer is no, unfortunately not. Political system differences (only two parties), different party donation rules, different take on the government’s job and, I am afraid to say, a lesser politically and generally educated population in the U.S. make it impossible to adapt the German program here in the United States.

With only two parties and the current “donation rules”, political decisions and actions are always in danger of being “bought out” by lobbyists. Donating $260,000 to one party and $240,000 to the other, as it commonly happens, can have an influence on political decisions. The winner of any election is barely the man of the entire population. Nearly the half of the population is always in opposition. In Germany, coalitions form the government and represent more interests of the people. Many Americans argue that the government needs to stay out of everything and “markets” need to do the sorting out. In Germany the government is seen, and is, the balance between different sides, regulating and steering politics and business. Some in the United States, “educated” by certain groups sound bites, would call such as “socialist”, “communist” or “liberal”, without knowing what the words actually mean. Many European countries have also understood, that certain groups of the population need help and support, for various reasons and that such support actually pays off. While the Germans have cut down on this support over the past ten years, those that now say “aha, here we go, the freebies have to go”, need to understand that, even with cutting down services, Germany’s social services still beat American social services, including health care, by far.

U.S. politicians need to find the right mix in their negotiations for debt reduction and prosperity, matching the people’s need. The priority in all discussions should be people. America needs tax income, more of it. That can only be accomplished when jobs will be created and taxes will be increased for the rich and corporate. There is nothing wrong with tax decreases for those groups. As a matter of fact, this is a must happen, but only after delivering their “social services”, jobs and investments. If the tax decreases are given before, the money goes somewhere else.

America is on the brink of financial default. It is important that those in Washington understand what their responsibility is. A good poker game is a good thing, gambling with your peoples lives, is not.

The German Example

Gold Cup – More exciting because of more competitive teams

Today is the day for the U.S. in the final group game against Guadeloupe. The rather disappointing performances of the first two games caused the “Rainbow Press” to fall into all kind of speculation, number crunching, tea leaf reading and other space fillers. It seems that the soccer press had a plan A and the pre written reports are now obsolete. Worse, there is no plan B and the experts are now forced to fall back into speculation and other fear mongering such as what happens if the U.S. is going to lose against Guadeloupe? Please. One could think these reporters have never followed soccer tournaments and are completely unaware of the dynamics that can develop throughout such a competition.

Yes, the U.S. have to win against Guadeloupe. So? They will. For the U.S., the knock-out stages have begun a game earlier as planned. That is a good thing. It wasn’t the first time that a tournament favorite struggled to “manage” group games, and, it wasn’t the last time. From now on it is winning the games, one by one as they come up. This is exactly what is going to happen tonight, the U.S. will win and move on into the next stage. Who they will play, doesn’t matter. It is not going to be Mexico, which is the only serious opponent in this tournament, despite the improvement of other teams. By the way, how well the Mexicans will do in the knock out stages has to be seen. The “fuzzing around” against Cuba and such is over now, a lot of stuff is possible.

It is quite possible that the U.S. is ending up on first place in their group. In all the reported horror scenarios, the fact that Canada wants to qualify is forgotten. They can, with a win against Panama. That would straighten out the table and everything is going to be “normal” again. A lot of smoke about nothing.

In case Panama confirms their improvement, the U.S. will face Jamaica. That’s bad for the Jamaicans, even though they are confident that their game is good enough to make it far. Some reporting suggested that Jamaica is going to go deep in this tournament. Well, that depends on the outcome of the U.S. group.

It is great to see that some teams have improved and became serious contenders in this and future CONCACAF tournaments. That will help improve soccer and the competition in the region. The new normal might be that others can play soccer as well, maybe even better. That’s an experience the Europeans and South Americans make all the time in their regional tournaments. Those that are afraid of losing to other countries can watch other sports that have no foreign competition. One way or the other, they are always “World Champions”, aren’t they? Let’s all stop crying and enjoy better and more competitive soccer.

Soccer is Life!

Cosmos New York U23 landing first win in Premier Development League – From Monsignor Farrell High School to Old Trafford

While The New York Cosmos take promotional efforts for the team intentionally slowly, the club’s U23 team is progressing in the Premier Development League (PDL). The team, coached by Giovanni Savarese, landed its first win yesterday against Reading. Considering that this is only the beginning of much more Cosmos soccer to come, the game had a high value of entertainment, and, quite some quality. For those that still believe The New York Cosmos are far away from playing real soccer, you better come to the next game and take a look at these boys.

A word about these exhibition games, the Cosmos U23 are carrying quite some “social soccer responsibility”, considering that they are the major representative on the field for the club and its legacy. That some players of this team, along with players picked by Pele and Eric Cantona, have the amazing opportunity to play at the “Paul Scholes Testimonial Match” at Old Trafford in August, is not only a dream of every American soccer player, but it also puts some major pressure and motivation on the young team’s shoulders. Who wouldn’t run his heart out for such an opportunity? This is one of the reasons that turn these exhibition games into a serious competition for the players and  nail biting events for the officials. While the players and coaches want to be prepared for the big game at Old Trafford, the officials have the worry of representing The New York Cosmos in an appropriate way and strengthening the Cosmos foundation.

As a soccer player and coach by passion and heart, looking at the Cosmos boys, I remember the first time when I walked into a stadium filled with 70,000 people and was asked to perform. Between the walk out from the locker room and the kick-off, there were at least 100 moments when I was considering falling over or just running away. Up until that time, I had played in front of a couple of thousand people. “Surviving” such a game will make you grow for life, not only in soccer. For those that have an interest in soccer, the Cosmos U23 represent an extraordinary opportunity to see a team and organization to start out, grow and learn for life. This is not an opportunity all MLS teams and players had in the past. In my opinion, this deserves attention and support. Keep in mind, if they do well at Old Trafford, it might open the door for a great business opportunity for all clubs (and players) of the MLS.

The New York Cosmos play their PDL home games at Staten Island’s Monsignor Farrell High School. The school’s stadium is a perfect place for the club’s first PDL season. It is easy to reach, for all New Yorkers. I came from Brooklyn (Heights) and the entire trip cost was $9.00, both ways. I took the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and the MTA train from there right to the High School. Since I was early, I had a drink and a snack at a nice family run Mexican place called “Mesquite Grill” that is just three minutes from the field on 105 Guyon Avenue. Jose, the owner, is  a sports nut, and, like all Mexicans, has knowledge and expertise about soccer. Not only did I have a very nice conversation with him, the food was good as well. The next time I am going to visit a Cosmos game at Farrell High, I will have a dinner at his place. Judging by the snack and the menu, I know it will be good. Go check the Facebook page under “Mesquite Grill”.

Soccer is Life!

Barclay’s English Premier League – English (National Team’s) Football’s Major Headache

After England’s disappointing 2-2 draw against Switzerland it is time to take a closer look at the English team and what’s to expect for the future. First of all, it appears I am not the only one that found some major weaknesses in the English squad. The difference between the new critics and myself is more that I see the English overrated for much more than a year and in the past took a lot of heat for it.

Let’s start in defense, in goal. Joe Hart is a great talent, however, he is far away from being a world class goalie. He is the best the English have these days, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. If you take a  look who is behind him, as an England supporter, you feel major pain in your stomach. With Joe Hart, and those behind him, England has a massive goalie problem. And to be honest, this is going on since Gordon Banks stopped playing. It is time to take a look at this many decades old problem and find a way to solve it.

The four in defense were very lucky that the Swiss fell asleep during their counter attacks on Saturday. They caught them multiple times on the back heel and weren’t able to take advantage of the obvious problems, because they were too slow themselves. Against a top class European team we would have seen a complete disaster. Rio Ferdinand is in a major position in that defense line, but he has absolutely nothing to offer to help the team. Overrated since years, he is as far away from international class as he always was. Too slow and technically clearly not good enough. In my eyes, top class looks different.

In midfield you can find one player that deserves world class or international class, Frank Lampard. The rest, well, there is nothing at all that would deserve an international mentioning. Milner? You must be kidding. Nick Webster stated Milner is lacking intelligence, well, I am afraid that’s not all he is lacking. Parker? Well, maybe. For me, he hasn’t shown top class on an international level. If he has, show me when. Clearly, without Rooney, there are no teeth whatsoever.

On top? Bent? Walcott? You must be kidding again. Nick Webster is right when he states that Walcott is too fast for his technical abilities. He might be a good choice when you have to defend against a top class team and there is space for quick attacks, but if the English have to make the game, he falls over his own feet. Another name that is luring around, Andy Carroll. Please! Webster is also right when he states the quality is at best a quarter final attendance in an international tournament. This time, however, it might even end earlier. Looking at the schedule for the remaining qualifiers, I am afraid there is potential for a bad surprise.

England’s problem is the Barclay’s English Premier League, no doubt. It is the best league in the world, but not because of the English players. It’s the foreigners that are the superstars and carrying the league. Unfortunately, there is not much space for the English talents. Look at the English U21 team. That’s a pretty good team, but the young kids have no chance in their club teams. Look at Sturridge. In between him, Bent and Walcott, he is the best forward. He needed to leave Chelsea to make space for Torres. That’s a problem. If you want to keep the Barclay’s English Premier League on the same level, you must let your young players go somewhere else. There is a good example coming up: Mancienne. He is leaving for Hamburg. Watch out the next two or three years, he will become a major source for the English team. Some more of that U21 team should take a look at similar opportunities, Germany, France, Spain, Italy. There are many teams these English talents would be very welcomed at and would grow and, at one point, could come back as super stars.

A word about Fabio Capello. I think he overestimated the “English opportunity” and now has a major problem to work with “medium quality” and manage the expectations. His excuses and actions around the team indicate a lot of confusion and no clear strategy. The English need a coach that clearly has understood the problem and works towards correction. Capello is not the man for that. For the English fans, the come back to world class might take a few years more.

Nick Webster: The deluded dreams of England’s fans

Soccer is Life!

United States – Spain 0 – 4, Review and what to take from the game

The U.S. men’s national team is currently preparing for the Gold Cup and yesterday played Spain in a friendly, before, on Tuesday, the Gold Cup tournament will start. It is questionable, to have a game such as this ahead of an important tournament. On the other hand, it is not easy to get a team such as Spain over to the US for a friendly and “tank” valuable experience. With the right expectations and taking the lesson the right way, the result of the game can still be of help for the US Team.

Reading the news and expert opinions a day later, I am wondering if I have missed some major development in US soccer over the past few days and weeks. It appears, that a lot of people have expected the US to give the Spanish a serious run for their money. Hello, what have you guys been thinking?

Let’s take a look at the circumstances. Three days after the Spain game the Gold Cup starts. This is clearly the event that has the team’s attention. Obviously, the intent was to give some young players an experience of finest international soccer. Looking at the line-up of the US team should serve as sufficient confirmation. For me, as an ex-professional player, it didn’t take that much to understand that the US team is not coming out full speed and trying to land a win, no matter the costs. And if they did, the Spanish would have not played that game. They are coming out of a long season and are all happy that the season comes to a close. They came here to play and give their fans an appearance. Besides that, they have a Euro 2012 qualifier to play, on Tuesday. So, why in the world, would you expect a serious fight from both teams?

Would you seriously expect players like Rogers, Ream, Agudelo and the other talents on the pitch in the first half, would give Spain a serious game even if this would have been, let’s say, a World Cup game? Man, you must be dreaming! These young guys play in the MLS and that league is by far not competitive on an international level. Games such as yesterday’s are supposed to help the kids playing in MLS getting some valuable experience. And that was the purpose of that game, and nothing else. I think we all need to “stay in the pants”, despite our excitement about soccer. The way how things go, we will not be World Champion over night, at least not in soccer.

Sometimes the press has mysterious ways to steer things into a certain direction. The reports about this game could indicate some mind game in the direction of Coach Bradley. If such is the case, this game is not the right way to “dish out”. Wait until important games are played, and lost. Otherwise you are going to create a “British Rainbow Press Environment”, and that we should not do. After all, it is in all our interest that US soccer can take advantage of all the incredible resources available. This should include an informed and knowledgeable press as well.

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V. is an ex-professional Bundesliga player that has learned the game from some of the best. Today, V. is an international soccer and business analyst.

The New York Cosmos – Why Cosmos can be the best thing that ever happened to U.S. Soccer

As a soccer fan living in New York City, I am very excited to see The New York Cosmos coming back to life. As a matter of fact, I see the Cosmos coming back as the best thing that ever happened to U.S soccer, besides of winning the World Cup. Not only does this create the first serious soccer rivalry in American soccer, Cosmos also has the ability to draw international business attention to American soccer. Not only that, but the opportunity to attract superstars and increase the sports national and international “flair” will dramatically increase. Unlike other major sports in the U.S. such as “football” and baseball, soccer is a sport that is catching Global attention and for U.S. soccer catching that kind of attention would be an incredible business opportunity. That, in the long run, can’t be met by “football” or baseball.

There is of course, as it always is, not only support for the Cosmos comeback. Click here for an example of opposition. This report describes weaknesses of Cosmos such as “they don’t have a team, don’t have players, they might face fierce opposition of the Wilpon’s and the NY Mets”. It also offers a comparison between the past and now, stating, then the Cosmos “were a flash” while today “there has to be something on the field is a must”. The report goes on with “recreating the past doesn’t feed confidence”.

First of all, it is great to understand that the Wilpon family has an interest in an MLS expansion team. That is great news. It is proof that people in the sports business have understood what I stated above: Soccer is an incredible business opportunity with a potential to blow everything ever seen out of the roof. That’s not a negative for Cosmos, that just supports the idea. Besides that, the Wilpon’s face other problems currently and it is not clear how these problems will turn out. Another important point, New York City and surroundings would easily support even three or four MLS clubs.

That the Cosmos have no players and no team is an argument without base. Where is the Wilpon’s team? Or where was the Philadelphia team 4 years ago? Once the MLS becomes comfortable with the Cosmos, and they should quickly, Cosmos will have players and a team ready to debut in the MLS. As far as “something on the field is a must” goes, I agree with that one. That Cosmos can’t be brought back as a “flash” only, is correct. I have confidence that the owners and those that are involved with the Cosmos, know that. I am pretty sure that the time until 2013, or whenever the Cosmos come back will take place, will be wisely used to provide a successful base for the club or franchise.

Cosmos’ “flash” of the past, however, must be used for the franchise and American soccer. Every team in the MLS is busy with trying to create a buzz, Cosmos already has one. It would be foolish not to use such an advantage, by both, Cosmos and the MLS. Cosmos is by far the only name in American soccer that can make money outside the United States, with gear and even with appearance overseas. The “buzz”, combined with good promotion, can fill a stadium in Germany, Italy and many other countries, I would bet on that. At this point, that can’t be said about any other soccer club or franchise in the United States. Soccer, unlike “football”  or baseball is a global attraction and sport. American soccer needs a franchise such as Cosmos. The name would clearly attach international recognition to American club soccer.

A name and “buzz” such as “The New York Cosmos” is interesting for the corporate world, within the United States as well as overseas. If you are afraid of the “flash”, don’t be, this is America, everything good in that kind of business must have one.

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