The degradation of American talent (or) Where have all the players gone?

There’s a guy at work I chat with, and we frequently have the following discussion: whether it’s good for the United States for soccer players to increasingly be heading overseas to play.

There are — at least — two sides to the discussion. I’m sure there are more, but for tonight I’m going to focus on just two of them.

  1. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, etc, the United States ends up with a stronger pool of talent for the national team and the U.S. is taken more seriously on an international level.
  2. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Seria A, etc, the United States ends up with a weaker stateside league, leading to the decline of a recently increasing soccer enthusiasim in the U.S.

Both arguments have merits. Both arguments have pitfalls. For instance, do U.S. players from foreign leagues make for a stronger national team? Our performance in the 2006 World Cup would seem to indicate otherwise with the only goal coming from an MLS rookie of the year, Clint Dempsey.

Does the MLS get weaker with the best players leaving for foreign leagues? MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis says no (ref: SoccerNet article here), but if soccer has a reputation of being a boring game here in the states, how is it a good thing that our most exciting players (most recently, Clint Dempsey) are leaving?

What neither argument takes into account is the opportunities for the players themselves. In short, it’s a good thing for individual players who want to succeed and prosper in professional soccer to get out of the U.S. at the moment. That’s fine. We should, however, be thinking of how to build up the MLS so that those players can make a living here. Can be successful and prosperous here.

Call me nationalistic, but I think it’s a shame that talent like Dempsey, Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, and local ace Charlie Davies aren’t playing for our league.

So I land closer to the second point listed above, though I can see merit in the first. First and foremost, however, I believe that the MLS should work to strengthen not only the league financially but also with talent. To do that, we need to get these players to want to play here. As more stay, the competition gets tougher, and more will want to stay.

U8 Tactics: Continuing Progress

Saturday’s game was a rough one. Our opponents played very good soccer. Plus, I think they were all like 8 and 1/2. They were tall, anyhow. And fast. My team’s average age is seven.

In addition to age and height disparities, only 8 out of 12 of my players showed up, so I wasn’t really able to field the combinations I was planning on. My goal was to see what happened when I put players in their natural positions and put four players with four different natural positions on the field. As it was, I had to field some players in places they weren’t familiar with or didn’t want to play.

The plus side of that was I was able to see what happens when a kid who naturally gravitates towards a defensive position — and who incidentally rocks in that position — needs to play forward.

They all worked really hard, though, so kudos to the kids. There were some phenomenal saves in goal, though, and some real heroics in the midfield leading to a shutdown of the other team’s scoring about halfway through.

I still believe there to be merit in the idea that removing the confusion of playing a position by having players be in a position natural to them can be a boon to focusing on skills during games. It’s all the more important during our winter indoor season to be able to focus on skills during the game because there is no practice. I’m determined to figure this out because I still believe that soccer at this level is about getting the kids used to how the game is played.

More to come.

Soccer Tactics for U8: Playing Natural Positions

Tomorrow I’m going to put some of my ideas about soccer tactics for U8 into practice during my team’s game against Swampscott. Strategy at this level is more about finding ways to bring out the kids’ natural tendencies than it is tactical thought. The focus is still on footwork: passing, dribbling, trapping. We begin to try to develop a sense of field vision, however, and this is accomplished by removing the stresses of position play.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been rotating the players through the positions on the field and taking note of where they seem the most confident. I’m going to use that information tomorrow to put together the 4 groups of 4 players that will go out on the field together. My hope is that by putting the players in the positions which are most comfortable for them, they can then be able to focus more on skillwork. Also, I suspect that they’ll be less likely to bunch up around the ball, giving them more opportunities to play an open game.

That’s the theory, and I hope it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll just keep working on it. I’ll let you all know here how it goes.

Just one, single, giant, burning question …

Heaps?!

What was Steve Nicol thinking having Heaps take the final penalty kick? Heaps is an amazing defender, a phenomenal player and — yes — a local talent. But to put a defender on the 12 yard mark when it’s all down to him seems a bit much.

Revolution drop a third straight MLS cup attempt, and for once I’m questioning what Nicol was thinking. I wonder if it has anything to do with missing a penalty against AS Roma when he played for Liverpool …

Probably not, but the game just ended and I’m upset.

Migration to Blogger

Well, I had designs on a new blogging platform to run my site on, but time at work and other stuff has kept from it. For the time being — read: forseeable future — I’ll be posting from Blogger.

I like Blogger. Don’t get me wrong. I was just hoping to release at least one thing from my imagination into the world.