Pitch Points is annoyed that #stadium_stuff is back in the news

Rounding up the latest across the internet in links that are interesting and relevant to soccer in Nashville, the US National setups, and beyond. If there’s anything you’d like me to share in a future post, you can always let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram – and hit those socials with a follow while you’re there – or drop anything in the comments.

how dare you disrupt this post-industrial wasteland with nice new buildings! Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

#stadium_stuff. Save Our Fairgrounds has inexplicably been allowed to continue their frivolous lawsuit against Metro trying to stop construction on the MLS stadium. If you had any questions about whether they’re actually concerned for Nashville, or just want their way or the highway, with the citizens of Davidson County on the hook for the legal costs… well, you shouldn’t have needed more evidence, but now you have it. (As an aside, maybe they should link up with their spiritual companions in the NASL leadership? Spitballin’ here).

Meanwhile, Nashville’s NPR affiliate has a (very very brief) story on the Community Benefits Agreement, with a throwaway quote from the author of Field of Schemes saying “yeah well this is just another way to get people on your side,” which, yeah? That’s the, uh, point?

Elsewhere in #stadium_stuff, this is actually old news (Mortenson-Messer awarded construction bid), but pending the outcome of SOF’s frivolous lawsuit, we have a timeline:

According to city documents, final plans should be submitted to the MLS by Feb. 25, 2019, with construction starting the following June. The stadium is scheduled to open Feb. 19, 2021.

I would assume we get public release of the final-final plan within a week or so of submission to MLS, and the stadium is scheduled to open in plenty of time for the second season in the big leagues.

MLS to Copa Libertadores? This would be interesting, essentially a combination of the current Copa Libertadores (the South American club championship) and Concacaf Champions League (North American version of same). It’d be similar to Copa America Centenario on the national team side of things: cooperation between the two confederations.

The travel might be… interesting… but there are certainly ways around that. I’ve advocated for some time that the continental North and South American nations band together to form a new confederation (while the Caribbean teams band together to form their own, which would feature a lot fewer 10-0 scorelines against the USAs and Mexicos of the world – each group finds its level with a new confederation, essentially), and any cooperation is a symbolic step toward that, if not an actual one.

TFCII piece. The Athletic also covers life in the USL($), though (and this is not the fault of the author, their TFC beat reporter), I’d wager that MLS B-sides have a pretty different experience from independent teams at both ends of the spectrum. It also frames life in USL in a way that I don’t much care for – though I don’t think it was the intention of the author to slam the league – it’s just been interpreted that way.

It’s one thing for college players to have crappy life on the road where they’re not paid and coaches (more in revenue sports, but college soccer coaches are well-compensated, too). Somebody – the labor! – is getting the raw end of the deal there. In a minor league sport where the players are making about as much as possible while the team is barely surviving (or in many cases, unable to do so)… I have more of a problem acting like somebody is being wronged, except inasmuch as everyone is being wronged by the market’s lack of making soccer profitable. Obviously, I would love for there to be a world in which guys can making a living playing second-division soccer in the United States (and teams should obviously thrive to do as much for them as they can). But the reason we *don’t* have that isn’t some greedy-owner situation, either.

MLS2 sides and independent USL clubs also have very different organizational goals and finances from each other… perhaps it could be considered an indictment of Toronto FC from top-to-bottom ($28 mil in salary among MLSPA members) more so than the USL system.

NPSL Pro. The long-rumored/planned/whatever professional division of NPSL will launch in 2019. The teams:

New York Cosmos, Detroit City FC, Milwaukee, Chattanooga FC, Miami United FC, Miami FC, San Diego Albion, Cal United, Cal FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.

At least two of those are extremely expected (Detroit and Chattanooga), while there’s a notable exception in Jacksonville, though there’s a note at the bottom of the story that they’re still exploring the professional opportunity while keeping one foot in a commitment to the amateur variety of NPSL.

My thought? Cool! More opportunities for soccer – and particularly professional soccer – in our country is always a good thing. Much like I’ve said the anti-NCAA (the college soccer pathway, not the objectively evil organization) zealots are wrong: the more pathways, the more opportunities for the sport to become profitable and the more opportunities for development. That’s good!

I do question the viability long-term, especially in markets with at least one MLS team (New York, Miami) and the smaller markets with USL competition (Chattanooga, Cal FC), but I hope they’re successful. Not sure how I’d feel about every non-MLS/USL-affiliated professional league failing over time. It would say bad things about our soccer culture. (No problem watching the fake NASL fail over and over again, though. Screw those guys, even if two of them are involved in this project).

fh. Good stuff on Dos a Cero (and its death?) from The Athletic($). … The basics of the Dortmund bus bombing story aren’t exactly new. That doesn’t make the story any less wild. … World Cup tactics and the return of the counter-attack. … Louisville City helped energize the area’s soccer community. We’re seeing that in Nashville as well, though perhaps starting from further behind. … Memphis’s USL team announces first signings. … USMNT losing prospects to Mexico as players head to the land of their heritage for opportunities. … This agent-fee story is probably way more interesting to a Europe-focus audience. … Nissan will host a Gold Cup semi next Summer. Holy cow I’m out here clearing oooooold links. … USYNT’s Konrad de la Fuente one of the 60 best 2001-born players in the world.

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Pitch Points has fingers crossed for 2026

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Interesting times for World Cup 2026. The process for winning the World Cup is semi-complicated (to say nothing of errors leaving Nashville-based media scrambling to fact check and get official comment on MLS items). Here is how it works, with a warning that the process appears to be pretty overwrought for no reason (the reason is helping obfuscate corruption). Here’s Morocco’s take on the matter:

I’ve been pretty surprised that this Kyle Martino point – one I’ve made before – hasn’t been a major topic of discussion: Morocco is going to bankrupt its country to build stadiums if it wins the bid. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are going to have to do some infrastructure/capital improvement work, no doubt, but already have a surplus of big stadiums available. If FIFA wants to not be an organization running countries into the ground (note: it does not want this, or to be more precise, doesn’t care whether or not it is), Morocco is not only the lesser choice, it’s an outright irresponsible one. Of course, FIFA’s only desire is “help FIFA executives get lots of cool stuff in bribes,” so here we are, world.

Also interesting times for stadium discussions. Readers here (or anyone paying attention to the soccer world) is well-aware that the majority of “move MLS stadium” talk is not done in good faith. I’m well aware that I’m preaching to the choir here, but there’s… this:


MMLSSTMC, Inc. is not a group of people who want the MLS stadium in a different part of town: they are people (or more accurately, one person) who don’t want a stadium or soccer team at all. (Nor could I find any evidence that they’re legally incorporated in Tennessee, in case you were wondering how deep the lies run, it’s “very”). Alas, we live in an era where you can lie to the faces of the public, as long as you shame those reporting the opposite in a louder voice (and with a catchier term). Being an outright liar is a way to succeed in America in 2018, unfortunately. It’s the responsibility of the media to not fall for that lie, but as a member of the media who has watched his industry go in the tank over the past several years, well, responsibility in the press is not at an all-time high.

The other part of this particular meeting is one Metro Councilman (DeCosta Hastings) who is trying to look out for his constituents after embarrassing himself with a lack of reading comprehension – or maybe memory – at a previous council meeting. A bit of face-saving and “I’m looking out for you” PR, aided by some disingenuous people whose goal is to submarine a stadium in general, and you have a weird perfect storm of ugliness.

It’s extremely unlikely that anything jeopardizes the stadium (which has already been voted upon and approved by the council, with Hastings among the yes votes), but certainly remaining vigilant won’t harm anything.

(Meanwhile, Phoenix Rising is taking steps toward an MLS stadium of its own).

A second Pulisic in Nashville this season. Surely, you were blown away when Pittsburgh Riverhounds assistant Mark Pulisic stalked the sidelines in Nissan Stadium a couple weeks back? You’ll probably be more excited when his son is here this Summer.

Liverpool Football Club will play Borussia Dortmund this July in Nashville, Tennessee in a friendly match that will see the return of Jürgen Klopp to face his old Bundesliga club, according to a World Soccer Talk source. The match, scheduled to be part of the 2018 International Champions Cup, will be played on Sunday, July 22.

NSC is away July 21 and home (First Tennessee Park) July 25, so no potential conflicts there… wonder if it would make sense to move the Atlanta United 2 game to a field that’s already going to be set up for soccer? And find some other interesting friendlies (Just one guy out here thinkin’) to host in that stadium?

Of course, I also encourage you to read the elder Pulisic’s interview on this very site. Some really good stuff about youth development from a man who knows as well as anybody.

Black soccer culture. Incredible video from Copa90 and Black Arrow FC about black soccer culture in Atlanta.

Very cool, and an outstanding display of diversity for a club (and a supporters’ culture) that has done a great job promoting it. Hope to see more of that here in Nashville going forward.

Etc. Should the US recruit dual-nationals? Why is this phrased like a question? The answer is obviously yes. … Y’all know I’m a sucker for a little tactical talk. … NCAA starting to get closer to international rules. … I wish Detroit City FC fans didn’t suck so bad, because otherwise I’d really like the club. … ESPN-Plus launching soon. … US Soccer looking at “bio-banding” instead of birthdate age groups. Funny, I heard a lot of complaints about the change to (FIFA-compliant) calendar-year age grouping from a lot of the same people who bitch about FIFA compliance in other areas. … Michael DeGraffenreidt’s twin brother signs with a new team. … A local take on Nashville SC’s newest signing.

Pulisic and putting the United States back on the right path

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Mark Pulisic has been on both sides of the pond as parent and coach. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

Mark Pulisic has had a long and distinguished career in soccer. He played collegiately at George Mason University, then professionally with the Harrisburg Heat. He’s been both an assistant and head coach for professional teams, college teams, and even as a youth academy staffer in Europe. He’s currently an assistant with the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The average American soccer fan, of course, doesn’t know him by that curriculum vitae. They know Mark more as “Christian Pulisic’s father.”

That may be unfair to a man who is an esteemed soccer professional in his own right. Certainly, though, his experience with his son – currently in his third season with Borussia Dortmund (who sit third in the German Bundesliga), and undoubtedly one of the public faces of the United States Men’s National Team – has helped him get a wider breadth of experiences in the soccer world.

Following the USMNT’s failure to qualify for this Summer’s FIFA World Cup, the topic of player development has been a hot one. Simply put, what are we doing wrong in America?

“It’s not so much that they’re doing something right or better than us as far as the sporting aspect: training sessions and things like that, it’s not so different,” he explained. “The biggest difference is the culture that’s built in the country where soccer’s the biggest sport. Kids are following their heroes on TV every weekend and wanting to be that – want to become a professional footballer. That’s their dream, and that’s all they think about.

“The biggest difference in training sessions is the competitiveness of the kids. Even at nine, 10, 11 years old, they’re training so hard and they’re so physical, and they’re so committed to a training session, their concentration level is so high. As a coach, you almost have to tame them down a little bit, whereas here in the States, it’s the opposite. You’ve got to continuously motivate kids. You’re wondering where a few kids in your training sessions are here in the States, and they’re at band and other activities, whereas I was there two and a half years, and these young kids, I don’t think they missed a training session the whole time. It’s just a culture, it’s inside of them that ‘this is where I want to be, I’m able to follow these Bundesliga teams on TV, and I see the life they have, and I’m going to do everything I can to be that.’

“Here in the States, you might have a handful; there, you have a bucketful of kids that want to be the best and are committed to work for it. Here, if something doesn’t go right, whether a coach doesn’t play a kid, they make excuses: it’s the coach’s fault it’s difficult. There, there’s no excuses. There’s no – or very little – parent involvement. You either have to sink or swim as a young player. You’re learning the hard knocks of the game from a young age. Here, those kids are coddled at young ages, and it’s very difficult for them to break out of their parents’ grasp.”

Pulisic’s time in the Dortmund academy allowed him to observe those differences first-hand. He worked with various youth teams in the system, and with the now-famous Footbonaut training machine. Marvel of modern technology aside, he was able to see that the issue is not with a given training method or curriculum. To the extent that we do have an issue with developing talent in the United States, it’s more about that drive to succeed, and a larger subset of youth within the country not only playing the game, but playing it with the goal of becoming a professional footballer or eventually working up to don the colors of Die Mannschaft.

It’s certainly a mentality that his son demonstrated from an early age. Christian’s desire fueled a work ethic, and that work ethic has led to success on the pitch. He’s starring for one of Europe’s top sides before turning 20.

“He has that mentality, we saw it in his eyes and his desire and all of our conversations,” the elder Pulisic said. “It’s something he wanted to try, and be successful at, and push himself. That’s the biggest thing: you as a player need to understand how you’re going to get better. You have to be put out of your comfort zone. Christian was the best player on his teams here in the States, even a year or two up. What’s really pushing him and motivating him outside of his own motivation? It wasn’t that. He wanted it, he wanted to be pushed day-in and day-out by players at the same level, not only soccer-wise physically, but that have the same mentality and goals to improve – getting pushed out of your comfort zone. That’s exactly what happened in Dortmund: he would go every day and fight, fight, fight, fight, and he’d have bad days, and he just believed in himself and kept pushing and pushing, and all those difficult days of very good players competing against him definitely raised his level of his play.”

That’s not to say every young American who has the opportunity should necessarily feel an obligation to hop across the pond in order to reach the highest levels of the game. Rob Moore, who helped facilitate Christian’s move to Dortmund, has advocated that there’s no other reasonable path to reach the highest levels of the game. Mark Pulisic, however, knows that there’s more to development than simply the on-field fit. In moving to Germany with his son, he got to experience first-hand the culture shock that can exist – and fortunately, both father and son were able to grow through it together.

“I’m not one to say every kid should go to Europe, because every kid’s not prepared or not ready to go to Europe,” Pulisic said. “Christian was ready: he had a mentality that, as parents, we saw that he would be able to survive. We didn’t obviously know that he would survive as long as he has, and been as successful as he has, but we knew that he was ready to give it a good shot.”

The younger Pulisic’s ability to excel in Germany naturally draws comparisons to another American who headed to Deutschland and was unable to make that adjustment. It’s likely premature to compare Christian to Landon Donovan on the field at this early stage of his career, just like Donovan’s stints at Bayer Leverkeusen and Bayern Munich happened under completely different circumstances than Pulisic’s arrival at Dortmund.

Photo by Reto Stauffer (Creative Commons license).

The loneliness of a culture shock can be mitigated in a big way with a familiar face. Mark Pulisic’s profession – in the soccer world as a coach – gave him the opportunity to make the move as well.

“Having a parent there was extremely helpful [for Christian],” he said. “Just to be able to talk to me and help him get through some tough days. The first few months were very difficult: obviously for anyone, but also for Christian learning a new language, going to a German school, teammates that don’t really want to see a good [foreign] player around because he’s going to take your spot. There were challenges for sure that I helped him get through, but to say that he wouldn’t have been able to do it on his own, I’m not going to say that, because it’s quite possible he would have.

“We got through [the language barrier] together,” he added with a laugh. “We both started taking lessons right away, and he picked it up much quicker than I did, being younger. That’s a whole other thing, too: you gain respect by showing others that you’re willing to commit to being there. Part of the commitment to being in another country is learning the language, and that’s something Christian wanted to do is learn the language, because then you become more comfortable in everything you’re doing: talking to teammates, going out. He fully went in with everything to try and embrace the opportunity that was given to him.”

So what is there to be gained from the Pulisic experience? There’s no one way to skin a cat, and there’s no one way to develop an individual’s soccer talent to reach the professional level. Donovan became an all-time great despite his initial move to Germany not working out, whereas the young man many see as his heir apparent is thriving in the Bundesliga.

Nor is there a magic bullet to solving the woes that many see with the way we develop talent in our country. Mark Pulisic has seen it on both sides of the pond, and the training methods are more similar than they are different. It has long been a hard-and-fast belief of this site that there is no one answer, but rather that the solution is finding the best development path for the individual. It’s our task as a footballing nation to make those paths clearer, and the choice between them becomes a much easier one for young players to make.

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