Sunday, May 29, 2011

RCU Falls To Chattanooga FC In USOC Qualifying

Saturday was not a good day for teams wearing red and black.  While Rocket City United weren't dominated in quite the same way their more famous United team were, both went down to superior sides.   CFC's star forward, Chris Ochieng, created one goal and finished the other.  And it could have been much worse as Tyler Early had a terrific match keeping CFC off the board for the first two thirds of the match.
RCU failed to generate much in the way of possession and attacking penetration and were punished by a 2:0 defeat and elimination from NPSL Southeast Region's US Open Cup Qualifying Tournament.  CFC will meet the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves in the Finals Sunday night.   ASR defeated Jacksonville United 3:1 on two very late goals.

Friday, May 27, 2011

RCU Blows Out FC Tulsa In USOC Opener

Rocket City United couldn't stop scoring Friday night in Chattanooga as they crushed FC Tulsa 7:1 in the NPSL Southeast Region's US Open Cup Qualifying Tournament opener. The win sets up Saturday night's 8 PM (7 PM Central) match with host Chattanooga FC in the tournament semifinals.  I'll be tweeting updates of the match.  Follow me @ryanogol
RCU forward Kenniel Hyde opened the scoring early with a classy slotted finish, and he wouldn't stop there.  After pouncing on a bobbled ball from the Tulsa goalkeeper, he finished into the open net to make it 2:0.  Minutes later FC Tulsa briefly made it interesting by scoring against the run of play on a counterattack.  However, RCU deliverd the knockout blow within seconds of the ensuing kickoff and it was Hyde who completed his first half hat trick.

The second half was a glorified training session as RCU ran out several subs.  The substitutes would not take the foot off the gas, however.  Andrew Nkurunungi came off the bench to score a break away goal in the 59th minute.  Hyde then scored his fourth goal of the night and was immediately subbed off.  Shortly thereafter, Hyde's replacement Marco Nunez was hauled down by a Tulsa defender who was sent off for the action.  Nunez converted the spot kick himself.  The carnage wasn't over as center back Joseph Omondi got into the action with a long distance bomb to make it 7:1 shortly before the final whistle.  When it was all tallied up, RCU had set team records for goals scored and largest margin of victory.

In the night's other match, Jacksonville United defeated the Knoxville Force 1:0 to set up Saturday night's early match against the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves.

FIFA Implodes, Time for a Name Change?

Everyone at FIFA is under investigation.  At least it seems that way.  Asian Federation President Mohamed Bin Hammam, CONCACAF President Jack Warner, and even FIFA President Sepp Blatter are under investigation by the ethics committee.   Bin Hammam and Warner for paying/getting paid for votes, Blatter for knowing about said payments and not telling the ethics committee about it.  
Warner, Bin Hammam, and Blatter in FIFA's Reservoir Dogs
It reminds me of the penultimate scene in Reservoir Dogs (I know it was a rip off of some Hong Kong action flick, but I've never seen it and don't really care.)  where three of the main characters face off with guns pointed at each other.  In the end, they all get theirs.

Now, the scheduled election for FIFA President between Bin Hammam and Blatter may be postponed.  This is freaking circus!

By now, you're probably tired of hearing my griping about FIFA corruption.  You can go to all the usual soccer sites to read more if you'd like.  But recent events have forced me understand that significant change is order for FIFA.

So, with that in mind, I submit my proposal to change the name of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) to one of the following:

Federation of Incompetent Football Administrators
Football Is Fleeced Absolutely
Freedom In Funding Affluence (of Executive Committee Members)  
Fatcats Instituting Fraud Abundantly
Federation of Incriminated Fraudsters All
Fools In From the Asylum
Feels Insult From Accusations
Faces Indictments For Absurdities
Federation of Infant Football Assemblers (see child labor scandal of a few years back)
Fraternity of International Filching Artists    

Feel free to add your name changes in the comments.

UPDATE:  Bin Hammam has quit his bid for FIFA President.  Claims he's putting the game before his personal ambition.  Whatever...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Champions League Final Viewing: Brickhouse Sports Cafe

This year's Champions League Final between Manchester United and Barcelona is one of the most anticipated matches in recent years.  This is a perfect time to get together with fellow soccer heads to enjoy the beautiful game together.  So, where are you gonna watch it?
There is one group of dedicated fans who will be gathering at the Brickhouse Sports Cafe in Providence.  The game starts at 1PM and all are welcome to join them.  I have a family commitment that may keep me from joining them, but expect a soccer bar review of the Brickhouse next week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

HUGE SOCCER WEEKEND!!! US OPEN Cup and Champions League

This weekend will be a huge weekend for soccer in the Tennessee Valley.  There are two high quality US Open Cup Qualifying tournaments within a two hour drive from Huntsville and a dream match up in the Champions League Final on TV.

US Open Cup Weekend in NPSL SE Region

The NPSL Southeast Region season will take a break for the week to focus on determining a qualifier for the US Open Cup tournament.  The NPSL has been given four automatic spots in the nearly one hundred year old knockout tournament.  Previously, each NPSL club had to qualify out of its USASA region to gain entry to the tournament (see next section).  Each NPSL region has been given free reign to decide how to determine its qualifier with the Southeast Region electing to hold a mini-tournament over the Memorial Day weekend at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.  Here's the schedule of games.

All times Eastern
Friday, 5:30 PM Knoxville Force v Jacksonville United
Friday, 8:00PM Rocket City United v FC Tulsa
Saturday, 5:30 PM Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves v Winner Friday 5:30 PM Game
Saturday, 8:00 PM Chattanooga FC v Winner Friday 8:00 PM Game
Sunday, 7:00 PM Winner Saturday 5:30 PM Game v Winner Saturday 8:00 PM Game

Tickets are available for $5 per game or $15 for all 5 games.  At this price, it's well worth the short drive up to Chattanooga.

USASA Region III US Open Cup Qualyfying in Tuscaloosa

Of course, if you wanted to drive in the other direction, you could catch some pretty good soccer in Tuscaloosa this weekend, too.  The US Amateur Soccer Association Region III will be holding its tournament over Memorial Day weekend, too.  Eight teams from six states (but none from Alabama) will compete for two slots in the US Open Cup.  The schedule will be published on Thursday night from a blind draw in Tuscaloosa.   Until the NPSL was granted the 4 automatic berths this year, the Region III tournament was the route teams like RCU would take to attempt to qualify.

Champions League Final on FOX!!!
Oh! BTW, there's a little soccer match on TV, too.  Manchester United doesn't often find themselves the underdog, but that's what they are in this match against Barcelona.  The game will be shown on FOX54.  That's right!  For the second year in the row, the UEFA Champions League will be shown over the air on FOX in America.  The broadcast starts a 1PM with the kickoff at 1:45PM.  If I hear of any watch parties, I'll let you all know.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

RCU Victorious Over Struggling Jacksonville United

After going behind in the first ten minutes for the second game in a row, Rocket City United (2W-0D-1L) fought back to score three unanswered goals to defeat the winless Jacksonville United FC (0-0-4).  Two goals by debutante Kenniel Hyde and a third by super-sub Freddy Okello where enough to make the long ride home a happy one for RCU.  The three points bring RCU's total to six and enough to guarantee them third place in the table after this weekend's action is tallied.  

In the rest of the NPSL Southeast, it was a weekend of derbies.  The I-75 Derby saw Chattanooga FC (2-1-0) remain on top of the table by defeating the visiting Knoxville Force (1-0-2) 1:0.  On Friday night in the first of two weekend matches between the two Atlanta teams, the Georgia Revolution (2-0-0) traveled east to upend the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves (1-1-1) 3:2.  The same two teams will step on the field in Conyers in the Atlanta Derby rematch on Sunday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

RCU At Jacksonville Saturday, Closer Look At The Knoxville Force, and Rocket City Futsal

RCU Play Away to Jacksonville United Saturday Night
Rocket City United boarded the bus for the 12 hour trip to Jacksonville at 5AM Friday morning.  Following the trek, Coach Gerry Cleary's club has the unenviable task of taking on Jacksonville United at their inaugural home match.  RCU (1W-0D-1L, 3 pts) is smarting from the unexpected home defeat to Knoxville and are sitting mid-table in the NPSL Southeast region.  Meanwhile, their opponents JAXU (0-0-3, 0 pts) are struggling at the bottom of the table, having opened their season with three losses on the road.  

Knoxville Soccer Team Trying to "Force" Its Way Into Relevance
Forgive me the silly pun, but you have to admit that name of the newest NPSL Team in Knoxville is not the greatest.  Anyway, Cari Wade Gervin of the Knoxville Metro Pulse wrote a terrific article about the expansion team that traded home defeats with RCU in the first two weeks of the season.  If you have a few minutes, it's well worth the read.

Rocket City Futsal To Start League in July
The new futsal court in McGucken Park in Southeast Huntsville is the home of Rocket City Futsal.  The new small sided league began earlier this year and fields teams of all age groups.

If you've never played Futsal, the game is much more technical than the smash and run game typically played in a hockey-like field in America.  It's played on a field, or court really, roughly the size of a basketball court with 5 players on a side and no walls.  It can be played outdoor or indoor and is a great way to learn control and touch for young players.
RCF is registering teams and individual players, sign up here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

American Outlaws in Huntsville, Rocket City Invitational

American Outlaws Want You!
The American Outlaws, a supporters group for the US Men's National Team started in 2007 by some soccer buddies in Lincoln, Nebraska, are looking to expand to the Rocket City.  AO member Andrew Adams is looking to organize the new chapter in Huntsville and needs 25 paid members to become official.

The chapter will gather for USMNT viewing parties at the AO's home bar, organize trips to USMNT games, and generally support soccer in the Huntsville area.  It will also be the first AO chapter in Alabama.  Right now, Andrew has 12 members.  I've just signed up, and if you are a fan of US Soccer, you should too!

With your $20 membership fee you get an AO t-shirt and bandana, discounted tickets for USMNT games, flight discounts on Continental airlines to any US Soccer game, even games in other countries.    
Join now through the AO Membership page.  

Rocket City Invitational Announced
The Rocket City Invitational 6-aside tournament is back.  The 2011 version will be held at Dublin Park on the weekend of July 23-24.  Southern Soccer is going all out once again to provide the best tournament possible including several divisions for all skill levels, on site massage and mist tent.  Register your team now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Post: Random Musings on RCU Home Opener By Chris Shaffer

Friend of the PWT-blog Chris Shaffer casts his critical eye on the RCU loss to the Knoxville Force on Saturday night.  Enjoy!

RCU aficionado Chris Shaffer

RCU now stands at one win and one loss, both vs. the expansion Knoxville club (Storm, Force, help me out here (It's the Force, Chris.  Knoxville Force, forgettable name.  I agree.), and the real meat of the season yet to come. That the loss to Knoxville came in Huntsville raises some questions.

We must bear in mind that the team is literally still coming together, with veterans of the 2009 championship season Joseph Omondi and Fredy “The Kenyan Quasar” Okello arriving in town this week.

I don’t know what to expect in terms of other players joining the squad in the next week or two, but a few things seemed obvious as I sat next to speedy winger Sutton Shults during the second half.  Sutton goes under the knife Tuesday and may return in a month:

• RCU lacks speed on the wings. Please don’t tell me this also because Paul Willoughby is injured, as I highly doubt PW would play for RCU this season were he healthy. Remember last year’s press release “Willoughby Signs on for2010 Season.” Sure.

• RCU lacks a bonafide central distributing midfielder. Last season, the whole game plan centered on the gifted Lexi Munro, a real #10 in the sense of a Riquelme or Zidane. This year there’s a gaping hole there.

On the positive side

• Jason Sabio’s return to central defense, and Joseph Omondi’s ability to play there or at holding midfield should be a vast improvement over last year’s back line.

• Gifted left-sided player and this year’s captain Jacob Letsholo has returned. Unfortunately, if he plays on the left wing in mf, we lack speed and at left back.
RCU Ironman Brian Hadley
• Brian Hadley is back and, now starting at forward, has actually played every position except ‘keeper for RCU. Why he’s not playing right back, central defender or even holding mf, I don’t know.

• There was only one 1st half substitution not due to injury.

• The return of Andrew Nkurunungi, which I probably spelled incorrectly, is a plus.  He just knows how to score, period. If that doesn’t work, he knows a few quality swimming pool maneuvers too.

• Brian Kimbugwe is a solid player in mf.

Tell Me Why??????
Why does RCU expend time and resources signing out of town goalkeepers when we have two outstanding, experienced ‘keepers here already in Tyler Earley and Jeffrey Preston. These guys are veterans of US Open Cups and NPSL Final Fours.  We don’t need a carpetbagger for this. Shades of last year. On Saturday, the winning goal for Knoxville was scored when the RCU ‘keeper came off his line, failed to get a touch on the ball, and was beaten by a headed chip. This shouldn’t happen. OK, I said it.

Why does RCU not have a home field advantage? Aside from silent, lethargic fans, because, instead of painting lines on the field that would allow both benches and the 4th official on the same side as the fans, they either don’t think about it or just take what’s given them. There’s plenty of space on either sideline to do this AND the pitch, unlike last year, is in decent condition. Chattanooga gets a lot of mileage out of having the visitor’s bench directly beneath the fans. Plus, why should the visiting team get the short walk to the locker room while our boys trudge across the field at halftime to get to theirs? Furthermore, it would make the press box volunteers jobs a whole lot easier.

Finally, last year’s “experiment” with Desmond Armstrong set the club back. It caused dissension in the ranks and destroyed good players’ confidence. RCU is on the right track and they deserve your support now more than ever. The bus trip to Knoxville was just the sort of idea to inspire a real, rabid following. Kudos to whomever came up with that.  Now we need some songs, and someone other that Chattanooga fans tailgating in our parking lot.

Monday, May 16, 2011

RCU Drops Home Opener to Knoxville

To say Rocket City United started slowly Saturday night would be an understatement.  After just 10 minutes, Knoxville had taken advantage of two defensive mistakes to go up 2:0.  It took another 30 minutes to make a dent in the Force lead when Freddy Okello slotted a goal to bring the Rockets back into within one, but that's as close as it would get.  Despite better play in the second half, RCU couldn't break down the bunkering Knoxville defense, and RCU dropped three points, 2:1.

RCU Soccerfest Thursday Night, NPSL News, Southern Pro Teams

RCU Soccerfest at Madison YMCA Thursday Night
Rocket City United is kicking off its season by holding a Soccerfest at the Madison YMCA Thursday night from 5-7PM.  Fans will be able to meet players, staff, and the team's mascot, Rocky!  The Soccerfest was originally scheduled for April 28, but was rescheduled due to the recent tornadoes.

RCU hosts its home opener on Saturday night at 7:30PM.  They'll be taking on the Knoxville Force, who they beat 2:0 last week.

RCU, CFC, and ASR Featured in Article on Southern Pro Soccer

Believe in US Soccer has written a nice article on pro soccer in the southern US and includes profiles of the NPSL Southeast Region teams along with other pro teams from the south.  Staff from RCU, Chattanooga FC, and Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves are interviewed for the feature.  

NPSL West Leaders Penalized for Fielding Ineligible Player
The NPSL West Region's top team, the San Diego Flash, has been sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player in two matches.  The league has ordered the Flash to forfeited both games in which the player took part.  Those games against the Hollywood Hitmen and Bay Area Ambassadors will be recorded as 3:0 losses by the Flash.  The Flash, who were 6-0-0 before the sanctions, now sit second in the Southwest conference.  These sanctions hurt doubly as the NPSL West Region uses their regular season results in the first seven games to determine their qualifier for the US Open Cup.  As a result, the Hollywood Hitmen have qualified with a 7-0-0 record.  No other team can catch them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Behind the Scenes: Knoxville Force v Rocket City United

Here's a video I put together of the trip up to Knoxville for the RCU season opener.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

RCU at Knoxville: Post Game Quotes

Here are some videos from some of the key players and both coaches following the 2:0 win over the  Knoxville Force.

First, here's a link to a report on the game from a local Knoxville TV station.  It shows both goals. 

 RCU GK Jeffrey Preston talks about the shutout and his key saves.

RCU goal scorer Andrew Nkurunungi describes his goals and looks forward to the home opener next week.

RCU coach Gerry Cleary discusses the game and his halftime talk.

Knoxville Force coach Derek Broadley on the game and his team's effort despite the loss.

RCU beats Knoxville in Season Opener

Sorry it took so long to post this.  Yesterday was Mother's Day and soccer was put on the back burner for the day.
Rocket City United went on the road Saturday night to face expansion side Knoxville Force.  It was the Force's inaugural match and a large crowd of nearly 1,200 were disappointed by the 2:0 victory for the visitors.  Andrew Nkurunungi scored two good goals just before halftime to give RCU all it needed to secure the three points.  Knoxville stepped up the pressure early in the second half, but RCU weathered the storm with some nice saves from goalkeeper Jeffrey Preston.  RCU then successfully killed the game with good possessional play.  Full game reports can be found here and here.

I'll have more on the match later.

Friday, May 6, 2011

RCU Open Season, NPSL News, and FOX Soccer Night In America

RCU Open Season in Knoxville On Saturday

  Rocket City United hits the road tomorrow to open the 2011 season against one of three new teams in the Southeast Region, the Knoxville Force.  The Force will play their inaugural game in University of Tennessee's Regal Stadium.  Don't expect a beautiful game during this one.  Neither team will be at full strength and each will likely try to grind out a results until their full complement of players arrive in the next few weeks.

RCU has made seats available on the team bus for fans who would like travel to the game.  This is a unique experience in sports and any fan interested should contact Director of Operations Jan Henner for more details.

BTW, here's a nice league-wide season preview from the Wisconsin Soccer Central website.

NPSL In Talks with Jamaica's Premier League Clubs

NPSL Technical Director Matt Driver will participate in the International Alliance Symposium hosted by the Jamiacain Premeier League Clubs Association.  "The mission is to have the top U-21 players from both of our leagues have access to different markets, different stages to play on," says Driver.  Hmm, I wonder what this is about.  A player sharing scheme?  An international competition between the leagues? 

Chattanooga FC to Host DC United U-23s
Chattanooga FC has announced that they will host the DC United U-23 team at Finley Stadium on July 23rd at 7PM eastern.  DCU's U-23 is coached by the legendary Jaime Moreno and features the DC Metro areas top college prospects.  The teams met last year at RFK stadium in Washington with the DCU defeating the eventual NPSL Finalists 3:0. 

FOX Soccer Night in America
FOX Soccer Channel has rebranded its weekly MLS broadcast into Soccer Night In America, and it will begin with the Portland Timbers v Philadelphia Union match on Friday night at 9PM.  Also, as part of the festivities for those without FSC (Hello, Knology customers!!!) MLS is offering access to the 2011 MLS Matchday Live online streaming service for free for all of this weekend's matches. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

NPSL Southeast Region Preview

Three new teams, two returning teams, and one rebranded team...  The NPSL Southeast Region has a very new look in 2011.  Matches begin this Saturday, May 7th as Jacksonville United travels to Chattanooga FC and the Knoxville Force hosts Rocket City United.  The teams will play ten matches home and away to the others with the top team at the end of league play advancing to the NPSL Championships held locally again at the Madison City Schools Stadium. 

In this post, I'll preview the teams.

Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves
Original NPSL Southeast team Atlanta FC had been on a downward trend.  After winning the inaugural NPSL Southeast title in 2008, Atlanta served as runner up the next season before finishing bottom of the table last season.  Then, last winter the team aligned themselves with the new NASL Atlanta Silverbacks pro team to become the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves.  The team will retain one of the most talented coaches in the region with Ricardo Montoya.  One of the reasons that AFC found themselves in such troubles last year was the absence of Montoya who was away for much of the season coaching overseas.  I fully expect the team to bounce back, find some new great talent, and battle for the regional title this season.   

Chattanooga FC
2010 NPSL Runner-up and Southeast Region champion Chattanooga FC will once again be impressive on and off the field.  The league's attendance leader has the majority of it's lineup back for the year, but coach Brian Crossman has two big holes to fill.  Forward Luis Salazar and goalkeeper Richard Masters have left the club for personal reasons.  Expect CFC to once again be in the hunt for a place in the NPSL Championships.

Georgia Revolution
The first of the new additions to the region, the Georgia Revolution hails from Conyers, GA which is an eastern suburb of Atlanta.  The team is owned by Rockdale Youth Soccer Association and will look to build a team using players from the many surrounding universities.  Eventually the RYSA would like to use the team as a top level in a player development structure from youth teams to pro.  Expect the Revs to have some growing pains as they adjust to the competition.  Will coach and general manager Rafe Mauran be able to mold the new group into a unit capable of making a dent in the region?   

Jacksonville United
The latest expansion team to the join the region is Jacksonville United FC.  The team from the Florida coast will draw many players form the successful Lynch's FC club and have added some former professional talent to their roster.  Expect JUFC to use the experience gathered from the Lynch's FC club to smooth some of the hurdles most expansion teams face.  

Knoxville Force
Another expansion club who will look to make an impact on the region is the Knoxville Force.  Experienced coach Derek Broadly would like his team to play "passing football" and will build a team with an eye to that end.  The top talent form Eastern Tennessee will fill the roster, and will be tested on Saturday when they host the region's opener against RCU.   I expect the Force to face some difficulties in their opening season.

Rocket City United
Rocket City United will likely have a rebuilding year.  New coach Gerry Cleary will serve as the third coach in as many seasons.  The lack of consistency in coaching and player personnel will make it hard to compete with the top teams in the region.  Only midfielder/defender Brian Hadley has played in every season for the club.  Two season ending injuries to Paul Willoughby and Derek Pirtle has hurt the depth in attack.  However, there are some exciting returnees form the 2009 championship squad including star defender Joseph Omondi.  Expect RCU to have trouble against some of the top teams and finish somewhere in the middle of the table.

UPDATE:  You may be asking, "What about FC Tulsa?"  As far as I can tell, FCT is still affiliated with the NPSL, but due to travel costs, the league decided to remove them from the Southeast Region.  The idea is that they will take part in a new region along with future teams from Texas, Oklahoma Arkansas, etc.

A Storm Refugee at a Charleston Battery Game

Last Wednesday's storms tore through North Alabama and in addition to the terrible death and destruction, it knocked out power all across the Tennessee Valley.  After sitting in a darkened house for nearly 24 hours and no restoration of power in sight, it was time for my family to seek refuge elsewhere.  Fortunately, we have relatives in the Charleston, SC area and after we spent the one night in a hotel in Chattanooga hotel and still no news about the power coming back at home, they were adamant that we should take the opportunity to visit them.  I love our visits there for the many relaxing diversions available: good company, the beach, the pool, the hammock, and... the soccer.  Charleston is the home of one of the most unsung clubs in American soccer, the Charleston Battery. 

The Battery were founded in 1993 and have been a mainstay of American minor league soccer ever since.  They've won several titles and hold an very successful annual preseason tournament that attracts the best MLS clubs.  But perhaps their most important achievement is the 1999 opening of the country's first real soccer specific stadium, Blackbaud Stadium.  The 5,100 seater has two stands and an in-stadium Pub that is the closest thing to a soccer museum that can be found in the South (and perhaps the USA now that the Soccer Hall of Fame has closed its doors).   

Shortly after setting off from Chattanooga to Charleston, I got a call from my uncle asking if I was interesting in a trip to the stadium on Saturday night.  "Of course!"  It was Kick for the Cure Night where the home side would wear pink to recognize cancer survivors, and we had great seats for the match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The night was fantastically cool and despite numerous opportunities the home side could not find a goal and the visitors were happy with a scoreless draw.  But it was another great visit to one of the best venues for soccer in the South.

Here are a handful of photos from the night.
Kids sit on the cannon outside the stadium gates
The Battery Supporters Group, The Regiment, raffle off a jersey.  I didn't win.  :(
Stadium food. Yummy!
The Stadium's Pub: The Three Lions
Line-ups for Pink Night
The Beer Garden behind the goal.  Every stadium needs one of these.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guest Post: Greg Petersen on the New US Soccer Coaching Curriculum

Former Rocket City United head coach and current technical consultant for Extratime Professional Football Consultants is kind enough to share his opinions on the recently released USSF's Coaches Curriculum which is designed to organize the development of players in the United States through consistent coaching methods.  If you are a youth coach, you should become familiar with the curriculum and read what Greg has to say about it.
Greg Petersen

The New Curriculum: Hopeful and Positive, with Some Concerns

Recently viewing Claudio Reyna’s presentation on You Tube (see below) and getting feedback from my colleagues during the recent summit at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon left me with two reactions:

The Positives:

The first reaction was positive.  Reyna came out and said we are not doing a good job developing top talent in our country for the world stage. It was refreshing to hear this from someone who had a very impressive professional career in Europe and represented his country in four World Cups. Even more impressive is the time he has spent learning and observing the developmental process in top football countries and at clubs around the world.  Mr. Reyna is working very hard to learn his new position as US Soccer’s Youth Technical Director and does not suffer from the self-aggrandizing hubris that some former USA National players do. One simply can’t know everything about a job without any real experience in that position. It is also refreshing that Reyna is spending time truly learning from and honestly evaluating developmental methodology in other parts of the world, something I have been very critical of in coaching circles in the USA. How can we assess and develop top level talent if we really don’t know what that means?

Reyna will be learning as he goes. Colleagues of mine in attendance at the summit mentioned that Reyna stumbled on a question during the Q&A about “how do you run less,” demonstrating he still is growing into his new role. But to be fair to Claudio, might he have been in shock that someone would ask that question?  Claudio needs to teach the elite youth coaches what “good positional play” means to answer that question. It also will help promote the possession style he wants the youth of our country to play. I know the curriculum was presented was designed for players 5 to12, in which the main emphasis and goal should be developing competent technical players by age 12. Promoting good positional play, however, even in the simplest of forms at early stages of development is just as important to learn how to pass and control a ball. You should not introduce possession without promoting good positional play. You cannot have one without the other. Good positional play makes defending much easier, too. Possession exercise diagrams in the newly presented curriculum in which supporting players stand in corners must be corrected. Reyna’s project will be a work in progress and will have its dips, but I like what I hear from Reyna and like the staff working with him. He should have all our support. He definitely has mine. Let’s hope US Soccer does not get in his way with politics and vote preservation tactics. Let’s hope this is not another Project 2010!

Some Negatives:

My second reaction was of anger and frustration. Why has it taken our country so long to recognize and acknowledge that the inherent flaws in our system of developing top talent? Reyna will be the first to admit that his new curriculum is not new information. It is information that has been available before and it is not like our country didn’t have other good information available prior to Claudio’s tenure. I like the fact Reyna is trying to promote a possession style foundation and promoting one language amongst the youth coaching community, but I have some real concerns about this really paying off, especially concerning development of special talent within our youth ranks.

In our country, nobody has ever put a gun to anyone’s head and told them what style to play. Coaches have had complete tactical freedom. That said, most coaches have chosen a style emphasizing the physical attributes of their players, thinking is optional and technical qualities are accepted at inferior levels. Not to say there are not coaches and clubs that try to promote the style of soccer Reyna wants. Unfortunately it is a small minority. One could argue that coaching is reflected by the talent pool, but I am too experienced to know that is not true. Maybe at the professional and Senior National level that is true. At these levels coaches are hired to succeed immediately, if not they will be fired, but the inadequate talent we are developing at the youth level has nothing to do with the talent pool. It has everything to do with the coaching, the selection process, incompetent decision makers who have no business being involved in the game, and the current youth soccer culture of winning over development that has been prevalent for the last 30 years. The culture must realize results are not important in youth development at younger levels.  If Reyna’s main goal to really develop a higher level of an intelligent, technical player base within our country, do we really have the coaches to get there? My opinion is no!  I don’t think we do. This is based on first-hand knowledge: most coaches in this country promote a style of football and possess a mentality of how the game should be played that is far away from Reyna’s vision. Playing and promoting an attacking style of football is the most difficult form of football to teach. We have very few coaches that are capable of teaching this style and more importantly have the moxie to commit to it. We also must lose the “Defend first” mentality. Teaching attack should be promoted as a priority for our youth. Emphasis on teaching possession not only has it’s importance in attack, but creates an understanding that possessing the ball is a form of defense, a much more effective form of defending than defending when the other team has the ball. Simply look what happened to Germany against Spain in the last World Cup.

Our Current Youth National Teams selection motto seems to be, “athletic players with very little smarts or technical ability wanted!” Is this perception or reality?  Because we really don’t have that many athletically gifted technical or intelligent players. Or is it because of the selection process used by the current coaches? Or is it a reflection of our coaches’ abilities and understanding what an elite player is? Or is it a reflection of the environment our players currently come from? Or is it that we have no true definition of what we are really trying to achieve here?  I would say a little of everything mentioned. The last thing we need are coaches at the youth national level telling players who just gained possession to kick the ball behind the opposition’s back line because if they lose possession, which they do most of the time, we can put the opposition under defensive pressure farther up the field, but unfortunately they do. Where is the development in tactics like that?  Why do we even have coaches like this at this level? Saying this tactic is reflective of the talent at this age group is not a good enough answer nor is it true. It just reflects coaches’ limitations. Let’s hope US Soccer and Bob Bradley will let Reyna do his job. This age group needs to be taken more seriously by US Soccer. Technical players in this age group should be the focus and made a priority. If we don’t have enough of the quality players we need, then it should be made a priority we start developing them. Changes definitely must take place here.  We will never improve at the World Cup level if we don’t produce more intelligent and better technically competent players at a younger age.  Recently viewing USA U-17 and U-20 squads performances just demonstrate we are currently not doing a very good job of providing this type of player. Contrary to media reports, neither of these squads is very talented, and any talent that is there, which is miniscule for the top level, is very difficult to see when you watch them play with their supporting cast.

The Problems with Prevailing US Youth Soccer Culture:

Our current youth soccer culture will be a big challenge for Reyna.

First, it is financially driven. In the big picture everything financial is a priority, where development should be the priority. This leads to decision makers like State Youth Associations, Youth Club Boards, Director of Coaches, US Soccer, and Coaches who most of the time that make decisions in the interest of making money or self interest, which usually means “how do I keep my big paycheck and my controlled environment?”
Follow the money?
Secondly, the people who supply most of the money, parents of players, are really clueless in the big picture of development. As long as their kids are winning and have a positive experience, they are happy, even though the child might be getting poor coaching or leave a team that is well coached prematurely because the team is not winning. The fact is parents are mostly interested in getting their child in front of college coaches. Very few have interest in the child being offered a professional contract. A serious culture challenge when we are talking about development for the top level. Do players and all others involved really care? The current culture is not providing an environment for quality soccer and high level soccer development. Just look at the stop-start nature of current youth’s soccer training and competition calendar. There is no continuity. In reality the structure is  poor! We can do so much better. The shear number of youth players creates the perception that we are doing a good job developing top players, but in comparison to other top soccer countries with smaller population, we fail miserably with the percentage of players we develop for the top level.

Lastly, our culture needs to stop making things bigger and better than they really are.

There are always media darlings who are touted as our country’s next GREAT COACHES, but recent sessions at the summit demonstrated this is far from true. Like many other coaches in this country, they don’t address the small details. Reyna really needs to spend time identifying coaches who are actually capable of coaching his vision and have the ability to teach attacking soccer.  Claudio must ignore the hype and focus on the quality coaches this country does have to offer; especially coaches who can help him reach his goals, so to speak. Currently, talented coaches with proven coaching experience are ignored. Look for coaches who are there to challenge you and your vision, but at the same time to support you and your vision. Remember, the college game has nothing to do with developing players for the world stage. In order to get to the next level, the college game has and will have very little, if anything, to do with us getting there. This last MLS Draft pool was touted as a special group of players. If this was the case, would the cream of the crop really have signed with MLS? Also remember the tactical and technical foundation that most retired MLS players possess and understand is not the kind of soccer Reyna is promoting.

Letter to Brian McBride:
Dear Brian,
We need you to be integrally involved in player development in this country, but we don’t need robotic training methods promoted here. These methods have hurt the development of U.S. youth greatly over the years. We need training that promotes creativity, technical competency, and intelligence, especially with our attacking players. Wouldn’t it be nice to produce skilled and multi-dimensional strikers with your goal scoring abilities, midfielders who can possess the ball and dictate the rhythm of the game, and defenders in this country who can actually possess and pass a ball?

Role of Coaching Schools and Academies:
Where do the US Coaching Schools fit into Reyna’s new vision? I hope the importance, professionalism, and the seriousness under Chysowicz’s and Gansler’s tenure will return. US Soccer’s Coaching Schools have gotten soft over recent years, but are great revenue generators for the US Soccer.  When will we have a course for the professional coach? Do we currently have a staff that can fulfill the above and promote a level much larger than the MLS?

I know certain MLS US Development Academies have produced players for their first teams and I hear some are quite decent, but most of the US Developmental Academy games I have seen and evaluated for my work in Europe have been played a very low level. Finances are still a big issue here. Some good players cannot afford to play, yet MLS Academy teams are paying for their players’ expenses and MLS owners’ are committing serious money to this project. I would too if I were MLS. Player transfer revenue is serious business and big money. The question is, will the MLS Academy commit to Reyna’s vision or do their own thing? Do the other USDA’s who charge fees for players to play understand that they’re not entitled to any developmental fees under current FIFA rules? The fee-based “pay-to-play” system in our country is a big obstacle in developing top talent that needs to be rectified.


In conclusion I am very positive about what Reyna is bringing to the table, but this requires far-sightedness over the long-term. I hope it is not just another US Soccer gimmick like project 2010. It definitely will not happen overnight and will have its share of road blocks, but it can happen much faster than most think. We just need to be realistic and use the resources available to us in this country. Being on the Senior Technical Staff Ajax Amsterdam‘s American project and currently scouting for the top levels of Europe, I know first hand we produce very talented players in the USA comparable to their European counterparts at the U-12 level. My sincere hope is that under Reyna’s vision we will produce even more, because based on our numbers of youth players playing right now, we are not doing a very good job overall. Until we get this vision established, I can’t recommend special players over 12 to stay in this country under the current conditions, even if MLS has money to throw at these players and their parents. Our best players must be in Europe no later than 14 years of age or, unfortunately, they will get worse. This is a sad fact about our current youth soccer environment that I hope will change under Reyna’s plan, along with the improvement of our U-14, U-15 and U17 National team programs, along with the MLS establishing serious youth academies. Remember MLS, Europe is your competition, not these non MLS US Developmental Academies. Set your standards high and start focusing on younger age players. If not your return on your investment will be disappointing and so will the opportunity to improve the level of play in the MLS. Good Luck Claudio!