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Archive for October 11, 2017

Oct. 11, 2017 — The Trinidad disaster and what it may mean for a number of youth sports

Last night’s failure of the U.S. men’s national soccer team to make the 2018 FIFA World Cup is the latest in a series of systemic failures of the soccer federation since 2010.

These failures have led to a senior national pool (players from roughly 23 to 30 years of age) which failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 FIFA World Cup, the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and next year’s World Cup in Russia.

The current senior pool contains a group of players who should be in their prime. Some are making a lot of money overseas or are showcasing themselves in the domestic league, Major League Soccer. But as a group, they have showed, time and again, that they are not good enough for international competition.

Let’s take a look at how deep these failures have been for this age group. It was such a failure that, when the game ended, every single player head coach Bruce Arena left on the bench except for one was over the age of 31. The failure goes far beyond the on-again and off-again call-ups of players like Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Benny Feilhaber, and Aron Johansson. It goes far beyond the shortcomings of the players who actually made the roster last evening.

Indeed, all you need to know about the state of U.S. men’s soccer are the capsule stories of four men who burnt out:

Freddy Adu: Burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old, but after a knee injury has been on one contract after another. Last seen on a trial with a Polish team after not being declared fit for Portland Timbers
Steve Curfman: Scored during an age-group World Cup on a team for which Adu was playing; last seen playing in California for an amateur team
Bobby Convey: Joined the pros at age 17, played in England for Reading and helped the team win promotion to the Premier League in 2006. Sidelined since 2015 with health issues
Jose Villareal: One of the leading all-time scorers in USA U-20 history, he made exactly three appearances last year with the Los Angeles Galaxy, an MLS team coached by current men’s national team boss Bruce Arena

What many pundits, including former New England Revolution forward and current ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman, have latched onto is the “pay-to-play” culture that exists in the U.S. club system.

In other countries, a promising player may be identified and given free schooling and training at a youth academy which is charted and licensed through the local government and overseen by the nation’s football association. In other countries, the signing of preteens to go to prestigious youth academies is routine.

In this country, it is utter dreamland and the actual stuff of Hollywood. The premise of the soccer film Goal: The Dream Begins is that a Mexican-American kid, playing in a public park in the southwest U.S., is found by a scout from Newcastle United of the Premier League.

Let’s get real: if someone from, say, Pali Blues or L.A. Galaxy II had found him, he would have had to have joined an academy team for fees ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Soccer is not the only sport where this has been happening. This TIME Magazine cover story focuses mostly on baseball, but it is happening everywhere.

And friends, this includes field hockey and lacrosse.

Yes, you are part of the problem.

Granted, in both field hockey and lacrosse, there isn’t enough in terms of corporate sponsorship or organized club infrastructure in order to fully fund a youth academy in every hotbed of the game in the United States. The folks at Spooky Nook, WC Eagles, Gateway, and Mystx have found that, if the club owns its indoor space, the players will come. That, I think, is a good thing, and prevents players from simply putting away their sticks for nine months until the next preseason.

But let’s get real here. There will come a time when the senior national team will underperform because they have not gotten the necessary competitive level in their developmental league. There’s nobody to push them to that elite level because they have been told that the indoor team they paid money to join is at the elite level.

I guess it’s fortune or blind luck that has prevented club field hockey and club lacrosse from turning into the cesspool that AAU basketball has become. After all, you have had some rather uncomfortable events happening the last 10 years, many of which have been detailed in this blog.

I’m not suggesting, especially if your child is currently in a field hockey or lacrosse club team and is benefitting from it, that the investment is not worth it. Activity is good for the body and mind, no matter what it is.

It’s just that there are too many parents buying into the pipe dream of a career at the highest level of the sport. And you can do the math: depending on the tournament, your senior national field hockey or lacrosse team can be as few as 16 players.

Right now, the entire world youth sports is now at a crossroads given the fact that the current model of player development apparatus is, apparently, no longer serving the needs of the player or his/her country.

That’s a hard reality to take.

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