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July 27, 2011
 

Dear USSF: WTF?

It's ALL on the test!

Amidst all of the love we’ve been showing for the USWNT, we have also been talking (behind the scenes) about the future of the USMNT as determined by the USSF.

There has been a lot of discussion about two basic things. First, what the heck is the USSF trying to do with its program of scouting, training and playing? Second, what changes need to be made in order for the USMNT to take the next step in international competition?

[Ed. Note: True to our third-rate blog nature, we also spent a lot of time on the email thread discussing penises.]

It’s been obvious for some time that Bob’s Boys lack something necessary to make the rest of the world take notice, but debate has raged over whether the responsibility for that lays at the feet of the United States Soccer Federation, president Sunil Gulati, coach Tracksuit Bob or the players themselves. Heck, maybe it’s our fault.

[Ed. Note: We mean “our” as in fans, in general. UF isn’t powerful enough (yet) to affect the machinations of the USSF. Although we are responsible for the debt ceiling crisis. Sorry about that.]

Let’s start with the second question first, as it is the easier of the two to answer. To wit, what does the USMNT need to play at the next level? That is, what is required for us to truly strike fear in the hearts of sides like Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Italy? Certainly, one could argue that we already do given our performance in the 2009 Confederations Cup (Brazil; Spain) and the 2010 World Cup (England) but those results are more exceptions that prove the rule.

The rule being that the USMNT doesn’t play at an elite level.

In order to address the issue, however, we really need to determine whether our lack of elite play is due to players being selected who are incapable of playing at that level as opposed to whether it is due to players being selected who are incapable of playing at that level together.

The 2011 USMNT player pool contains an astonishing 58 names, yet most of us would be hard-pressed to name more than 25 or so, due mostly to the fact that Huh Bob is a poor personnel manager. Indeed, only 37 of those players have statistics tallied for the current year, meaning that the others have been out of the national team picture for at least the past 7 months. In the world of football, that can be a lifetime. Of the 10 matches played this year, Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore and Bocanegra have been the most consistent starters, but even they have only appeared in 2/3 of our matches.

More importantly, however, is what Bradley the Elder does with players who are considered to be on the fringe of the national side. Does it do Robbie Rogers any good to get 45 minutes in a friendly against Spain and never be heard from again? Is 90 minutes of Mixx Diskerud enough for Bob to know that he shouldn’t feature in the future plans of the USMNT? Who the heck is Jeff Larentowicz? Why have Tim Chandler and Teal Bunbury only appeared twice? Is Gooch still alive?

Here’s the thing about Bob Bradley; he acts like a child when it comes to his players. He gets a new toy and plays with it for a little while, then throws it in the corner to be ignored (see: Wondolowski, Chris; also, Ream, Tim). On occasion his toy doesn’t quite do what he thought it would, so he buries it in the bottom of his toy chest to be forgotten (see: Convey, Bobby; also, Davies, Charlie). Every once in a while he spends so much time playing with his favorite toys that he breaks them, but continues to play with them past the point of utility (I’m looking at you, Sacha Kljestan; you too, Jonathan Bornstein).

The performance in the Gold Cup was the clearest indicator yet that Bradley doesn’t have a clear vision for who should be on the pitch (objectively), as he is blinded by alternating enmity or love for a variety of players. I mean, seriously, did Brek Shea kick his dog or something? We’re past the point of questioning the decision to play Bradley the Younger in the midfield, as he has clearly earned his spot. However, wouldn’t the most effective way of finding a suitable midfield partner be to either: (1) have the same pairing play together consistently; or (2) try various pairings over extended periods of time? Instead, Bob does neither, pairing Bradley with Maurice Edu on some occasions and with Jermaine Jones on others (don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of playing Deuce in the midfield with Bradley). Either let Bradley and Jones play together often enough to develop a true partnership, or afford that opportunity to Bradley and Edu, but it does no one any good to alternate those pairings every 2-3 matches, with the occasional Benny Feilhaber or Alejandro Bedoya appearance thrown in to spice things up.

Over on ESPN, the suggestion is that Bradley revisit players such as Davies and Convey, along with Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall and Marvell Wynne (lolwut?). The player most deserving of another look, however, is Jose Francisco Torres, who, at 23, is a much better choice to partner Bradley in the midfield than the 30 year-old Jermaine Jones. From the current (massive) player pool, Bob also needs to turn his attention back to Bunbury and Ream, while ensuring that Eric Lichaj, Jay DeMerit and Stuart Holden get adequate playing time.

Our initial question requires, perhaps, a little more thought. Just what, exactly, is the USSF trying to accomplish with their newly-developed system of training and scouting? The short answer is:

“The presentation of the U.S. Soccer coaching curriculum is another major step in the implementation of the framework developed by the Player Development Task Force, which was created in 2006 to review all aspects of player development in the United States and recommend a course of action.

The curriculum is designed to improve development of players in the organized player base in the United States, concentrating on creating more organized, age-appropriate training sessions, developing coaching practices and creating an environment that is fun for the players.

The curriculum builds on the successful launch and growth of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Initiated in the fall of 2007 after a detailed review of player development systems in the U.S. and across the world, the Development Academy has improved the training environment; provided relevant, high-level matches on a consistent basis; increased the level and efficiency of scouting for the national teams and provided players, coaches and referees with more structured programming.”

Still here? I fell asleep halfway through reading that corporate-speak garbage.

The US coaching curriculum is ostensibly designed to integrate a standard, structured, regimen throughout all levels of the football pyramid, regardless of talent or age. However, as recently as last week Claudio Reyna, who is now the USSF youth technical director, was lamenting the fact that there hasn’t been a successful implementation of the “one style” training philosophy. Reyna’s concern, which is a legitimate one, is that we cannot move forward as a footballing nation without a clear philosophy, and the failure to establish our identity means that we will continue to waste talent.

For his part, USSF Director of Scouting Tony LePore thinks that the Development Academy has been extremely helpful in identifying talent. Estimating that scouts have seen each of the 78 regional clubs in the Academy at least a dozen times, LePore noted that several of the players in the current USMNT World Cup squads have come from these “showcase events”.

So…our U-20 World Cup side was identified from this player pool? How’s that working out for us?

Our U-17 World Cup was stocked with talent from the Development Academy? Outstanding!

It’s not clear how the new coaching curriculum is going to help us keep the next Giuseppe Rossi or Neven Subotic. Just as with Bob Bradley’s scattershot approach to blooding new players in short (essentially useless) spurts, having scouts spend time spread out over nearly 1000 matches wouldn’t appear to lend itself to the kind of extensive analysis that will identify (and keep!) talented young players.

Although the curriculum itself is rather detailed [PDF WARNING!], the implementation of its principles will require a long-term effort the likes of which the USSF has yet to demonstrate it can handle.

Remember Project 2010? It looks like the Development Academy is just a retread of that tired thought process, so expect the USMNT to win the World Cup in 2022. Qatar here we come!

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The NY Kid