Pitch Points gotta catch ’em all

After an extremely long delay, Pitch Points is back. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates. Some of these links are old because portions of this post have been sitting in my drafts folder for literally months. We regret the error.

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Slipping through the cracks. I thought this 343 Coaching podcast with Joey Anthone of @USAProspects was fascinating. It’s most interesting to me coming from the world I do (I cover high school football recruiting at the day job, or given that FCAC is not a for-profit venture, we can just say “the job”).

Joey has some consternation about some of the players he’s communicated with only getting US looks because of his coverage… but that’s just the way this world works, man. Maybe it’s not in other countries, maybe it’s not the way it should, but that’s the reality in a country this large: it is in football and basketball (sports in which the United States is far more advanced than the competition in comparison to our status in soccer), and you can bet your booty it’s the case in a sport that’s considered secondary or tertiary in our culture.

Part of the landscape in a country this big, and with this much talent, is that the media plays a role in the scouting thing – as should high school coaches, club coaches, college coaches, etc. That’s the sort of thing we need to figure out as a country, that the federation needs to figure out for purposes both self-serving and not: how to take advantage of everyone’s skillset that’s available.

Minor leagues are our future. Forbes delves into how second-division soccer and below can be key to future World Cup for the United States. It uh, does not actually do that so much as it’s just a feature on FC Motown – there’s a throwaway line or two about how a local club can show people what it’s like to be a pro, and about how maybe they’ll add some sort of youth team in the future.

Howeva, the point is more important than actually making it (and of course it’s one I’ve made in the past): American soccer needs the local clubs to help be that developer and example, and (this ties into the final graf of the section above, as well) in a country this size, unless and until we have more community clubs like it, kids are going to slip through the cracks. That’s what makes it especially frustrating for me to see people complain about, for example, the pay-to-play system (though the complaints themselves are legitimate to a large degree). Think kids shouldn’t have to pay to play soccer? Start your own organization that’s free for them.

From Olympics to the World Cup. Stars and Stripes FC takes a look at how much impact Olympic success has historically had on the next World Cup cycle for the USMNT. Short answer: not a ton.

There are 16 teams at every Olympics. One caveat to remember is not the best U23 players are at the tournament because they overlap with the Euros and Copa America. Also, during qualifying, players don’t have to be released for the tournament, so the deepest teams are the ones who qualify for the World Cup, not the top heavy ones.

Important caveats, yes, but if the analysis is strictly “does the Olympic tournament predict the next World Cup,” rather than “is the Olympic tournament strongly correlated with future success,” or “why might it not correlate?” then we good. In fact:

The players who will help boost senior national team success, like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie if they stay on track, will most certainly not be released for qualifying and may be needed with the senior team for the summer of 2020.

So essentially, we wouldn’t expect it. As mentioned in the first pull quote, Olympic qualifying and tournament can be more a measure of U-23 depth than U-23 quality. And of course, different nations treat it differently (Neymar was an overager for Brazil at the most recent Olympics, for example, whereas other countries simply don’t value it quite like that).

Building from scratch. This is more a feature on new CEO Ian Ayre than it is actually a story about how to build the MLS side from scratch, but interesting nonetheless.

He said: “When you are creating something from nothing, you have to create a DNA, then bring in people who fit. If you look at Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, culturally he was a brilliant fit for the club.

“For us, it means starting with scouting and analysis. By doing that we can begin to build a picture of the type of player we need in the timescale we are looking at.”

Appointing a coach is “some way off”, according to Ayre. Discussions have taken place internally, though, and he expects to be working seriously on a couple of names by the end of the year.

That’s certainly newsworthy-ish (as long as you don’t consider it the obvious way to build), at the least.

No, YOU’RE on loan. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the European mega-clubs and their loan practices lately, especially after FIFA regulations to limit the number of players that clubs can have out on loan have been proposed.

Seems to me that this would be detrimental to players from the United States, who routinely use big-club money to transfer abroad, then get loaned out elsewhere within the continent (Matt Miazga with Chelsea, Erik Palmer-Brown with Man City, to name a couple that spring immediately to mind). Closing off a path for such moves doesn’t seem to benefit Americans at all.

Should the legislation come to fruition, one potential change could be a necessity for MLS to bring its outgoing transfer rules, policies, and practices closer to something approaching sanity, which is good in the long run, but more in a way to react to overcome new difficulties than a way that nets positive.

Etc.: This list of suggestions from the united supporters of FC Cincinnati will be an interesting document for Nashville fans to revisit (and make their own version of) in a couple years. … Very in favor of as many teams getting an opportunity in the US Open Cup as possible. … One of Nashville SC’s owners is a good dude. … Will be interesting to see what the Tampa Bay Rays do with the Rowdies. … Nashville got a boost for hosting 2026 World Cup games thanks to a solid job (and sales pitch) with the Mexico friendly.

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Pitch Points plays catch-up

Hey! It’s been a while since one of these posts. Herein, I round up links of interest in the world of Nashville and US Soccer. If you ever find something you want me to include, you can hit me on the socials or via e-mail. On with the show.

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US Soccer taking notice of Nashville. This was a hype piece for the US Open Cup game against Louisville, but it ages pretty well.

“Coming in from Sporting Kansas City, the Open Cup, and what it means to American soccer, is just part of my DNA,” said [Mike] Jacobs, an understated front-office wizard who had a large hand in finding the talent to fit the needs and desires of coach Smith. “We’re making a statement in the Open Cup in our first year and that’s massive for the equity and credibility of this club and for the future of soccer here in Nashville. We’re showing we can compete with teams from all levels of the American soccer scene.”

Nashville aren’t just competing with teams higher up the food chain, they’re beating them

Yes, the loss to Louisville stunk. It prevented NSC from getting the national hype that Cincinnati received for its Open Cup run. However, some of that groundwork has hopefully already been laid, and the club can grow from it.

There may be positives in terms of reduced fatigue down the home stretch as well, though I’m sort of skeptical that playing two extra games really tired FCC out all that much last year: they were just the sixth-best team in the East, and earned a deserving first-round playoff exit.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Nashville SC’s trajectory, including inaugural season ticket record. Hopefully that means we don’t have to have extended season ticket discussions ever again (unfortunately, “Twitter” and “the FC Cincinnati fanbase” still exist, so that’s a pipe dream).

World Cup on the way. It doesn’t feel like the World Cup in the United States is eight years away – the level of celebration has been higher than something not happening for nearly a decade – but that’s fine. It’s going to be a massive positive for the United States, no matter how far off in the distance it is.

Sorry for subjecting you to the absolute nightmare that is SI.com. How have they not hired new web designers?

Anyway. It’s a big first step for USSF president Carlos Cordeiro (along with hiring Earnie Stewart as the GM for the MNT), and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where his focus goes now. He campaigned largely on a platform of “change but not too much change” and “landing the World Cup is very important.” Will he focus on development? Stay on the side of building finances for the federation? A lot about the future of US Soccer depends upon where he goes with it.

So far, the federation has been more “let’s stay focused on this big win“-oriented, which is fine for the short-term.

The striker whisperer. I’ve actually been higher on Gyasi Zardes than literally every other USMNT fan ever, so it shouldn’t surprise that I’m very happy to see him thriving in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter.

Perhaps no team in the league has as defined a system as Crew SC. Columbus play one of the more consistent, recognizable styles in MLS. They’re committed to playing nearly everything out of the back, they almost always dominate the ball and they’re very rarely out of step with each other. The system makes them better than the sum of their parts – and it regularly serves up gorgeous chances for their strikers.

That… also sounds like a system that you’d like to see the USMNT play, yeah? Berhalter has been one of the most-mentioned names for the managerial position, and he and Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls) have probably emerged as my top two, if General Manager Earnie Stewart intends to hire domestically.

Bobby Wood could certainly use a guy to generate scoring opportunities for him schematically to help snap out of what feels like a two-year slump (but is actually only one year and ticking).

Hot takes are dumb. It sucks when your team doesn’t make the World Cup. There’s a lot of blame to go around in the case of the USMNT in 2018. “The team lost its fight,” however, is a dumb hot take. However many former US Internationals (or current US Soccer staffers!) say that, it’s a level of analysis that you expect from a sports talk radio caller, not someone who’s actually interested in identifying or solving the problems.

Again, it sucks. How many countries made the previous seven World Cups in a row, though? (Hey, time for me to make a Sporcle quiz!). Evaluating actual weaknesses that you can take action upon (like don’t hire somebody to be coach and technical director if you’re not willing to implement his plan, don’t then fire him only to hire a worse coach, etc.), rather than “DURRR GRITTY GRIT” is preferred, thanks.

Etc.: All sports is political. Part 2. … US Soccer feature on Timothy Weah. … A country that’s the subject of “hey, not quite as racist as you think, but still really racist” columns is currently hosting the World Cup, by the way. Not that the US is a whole lot better these days. … Entracht Frankfurt opening an academy in the States. … Livin’ the blog dream.

Pitch points defeats Eagles soon

Welcome to Pitch Points, wherein I round up interesting links about local, national, and international soccer. As always, if you see something out in the ether that you’d like me to include, you can always hit me up via Facebook or Twitter.

US Open Cup tonight! Inter Nashville FC takes on Charlotte Eagles (who, I must note every time, have never been sanctioned by USSF despite brazenly flouting Federation rules?) in Matthews, N.C. tonight. You can see the Open Cup match center here.

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There’s no clear indication as to whether it will be streamed, but probably?

If you want to know more about Inter, check out my story with head coach Rich Askey last week. They’re a little too known as “Nashville’s other club,” when a rivalry status isn’t all that necessary – unless and until tonight’s win over Charlotte, at which time a one-week rivalry period leading into the second-round Open Cup derby is allowed.

Either way, there are plenty of reasons to pull for Inter Nashville tonight, so do it!

Men’s National Talk. The USMNT has turned down an invitation to the Copa America, and Stars and Stripes FC’s Donald Wine says it’s the right choice.

While many fans may be disappointed that the USMNT will be missing out on competing against some of the best teams in the world at Copa America, this is the right call. You want your best team, whatever that may be, ready to go to compete in the Gold Cup and win that to qualify for what could be the final Confederations Cup (if it actually happens).

I understand the spirit of that argument, but reject the premise. You can… still send your best team to the Gold Cup? Like, am I missing something here? Just send the B team to the Copa, and give young players competitive minutes against great opposition in South America. Here’s an example that took me like 30 seconds:

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It’s not polished, but again, pretty much just thrown together (and yes, primarily based off the call-ups for the Paraguay friendly, plus a couple key players added for the Gold Cup roster).

That’s your Gold Cup side on the top: basically an A-team, but composed of guys who won’t age out out the pool by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. The bottom is your B-team with a similar concept: those who aren’t quite going to beat out the players for the Gold Cup team, but are pretty darn good for a B-team (and again, aren’t going to age out by 2022).

It’s hardly a polished breakdown, and you could flip-flop a player between the teams here and there, or make an argument for plenty of guys I didn’t include to be on one roster or the other… but that’s the point, yeah? You have two capable starting lineups, and you can have veterans (Bradley, Dempsey, Guzan, Altidore, et al) plus other younger guys who aren’t going to age out and could have an argument for being in one of these sides (Acosta, Delgado, Moore, Rubin) on the bench that you can distribute between the two teams in any fashion that fits the needs and goals for each squad.

Obviously, this is just a thought exercise, because Copa ain’t happening, but that’s a bit of a bummer, of course. And this was a fun thought exercise nonetheless.

In other national team news, DeAndre Yedlin is “proud” that Americans care enough to be upset about missing the World Cup. I know the word choice is going to rub some folks the wrong way, but I’m okay with it. I’ve been thinking about a post pushing back on the “missing the World Cup will set us back 10 years” concept. Yedlin’s statement is part of what I’ve been thinking of: while the layperson is less likely to get interested in soccer this Summer, a lot of those who are already engaged to various extents have or will step up their engagement as a result of that anger/frustration. It’s already played a role in a presidential ouster, even if that ended up being not quite as exciting as folks wanted.

Meanwhile, the MNT manager hiring pool is… fine? Still uninspiring though? Surprised not to see Greg Vanney on it, and it’s a little too focused on American candidates, but there are some decent options there.

Busy Saturday morning? Get out and join the Roadies Rally for Soccer for the Nations, a v. cool local charity. Doing well and doing good simultaneously is obviously something this blog gets behind, and causes like SFTN are right up my alley.

Etc.: USL out here launching an in-house podcast. … Ideas more cohesive (and certainly more interesting) than the mindless “let’s do pro-rel.” … Chicharito for MLS? … Nashville SC’s Liam Doyle is unavailable for the Isle of Man National Team in the World Football Cup the non-FIFA version of the World Cup). … Add another book to the ol’ “things to eventually read” list. Phoenix Rising building a development pathway.

Pitch Points pays solidarity

Welcome to Pitch Points: rounding up links of interest in Nashville, US Soccer, and other topics of interest. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, where you can always drop links to share in one of these posts.

Development. This one snuck through (as in “I had a tab for it open and totally forgot to include it”) last week’s links post, but it’s très intéressant. New England Revolution is basically starting solidarity payments unilaterally.

Recognizing the important role alliance clubs play in nurturing young talent, the Revolution Academy is investing back in the soccer communities that develop Homegrown Players for the Revolution’s first team and has established a scholarship program for Academy Alliance Partners. The scholarship will be awarded when a partner club’s former player signs a first team contract with the Revolution and is intended to recognize the role the alliance clubs provide in developing players who join the New England Revolution Academy.

I’ve made it very clear that solidarity payments are an important part of reducing the importance of pay-to-play in our country (truly original idea, that), and while it’ll never completely go away – as long as there are folks willing to pay to get their kids another bit of coaching, onto another club team, etc., there will be pay-to-play mechanisms – allowing a wider range of players (in terms of SES primarily, but geography, ethnicity, and other delineating factors, as well) will naturally improve things.

That’s one of multiple initiatives mentioned in that release, which also includes free ID clinics conducted by the club. The more development pathways, the better.

There’s some form of great exodus from Girls’ DA to ECNL, which… I don’t really know how to read too much into it: I haven’t paid enough attention to the conflict to know the motivations, the differences between the two (my understanding had been that ECNL existed instead of Girls’ DA, then the federation launched a competitor to what had been a partner), etc. Just something to pay a bit of attention to, I guess.

That’s always a good time to focus on the core product of youth sports in general (H/T Beau Dure on Twitter).

#MLS2Cincy? Plenty of developments in the Queen City’s push for an MLS team in the past week-plus. FCC got approval for its preferred West End location for its stadium. MLS owners met about it, didn’t say anything specific about their opinions. Local media in Cincinnati is waiting with bated breath nonetheless.

The MLS website did a straight news story about the stadium developments, but the official statement was entirely unenlightening. I’m still expecting that we’re in a “dot i’s cross t’s” situation nonetheless.

(I’m still absolutely dumbfounded that the Detroit papers – one of which I used to freelance for, in the interest of full disclosure – are absolutely clueless about the fact that the Gilbert/Gores decision to make Ford Field their site absolutely ended any chance of their bid being chosen. You can’t hurt chances that already stand at zero).

Tactical talk. I’m always interested in a little bit of work on the chalkboard (as you all know). Here’s an interesting one: Atlanta United has made basically the opposite shift in philosophy that Nashville SC has, and both changes have spurred decent runs of form for their respective teams.

As we all know by now, Tata Martino shifted Atlanta United’s shape after a dismal start to the season in Houston, moving from his usual 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. Yours truly and our own John Fuller covered the manager’s formation change last month. And the move sparked the team’s current five-match unbeaten run, seeing AU shift into a more direct, counter attacking side in recent weeks.

Without knowing too much about the way the games for Atlanta has played out – or, honestly, the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel outside of what I saw in First Tennessee Park two months ago – I couldn’t say if the opposite directions (with similar results in the table) are a matter of the competition played, individual fit, or what. I do know that it’s a little tidbit of interest.

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Screencap courtesy Dirty South Soccer.

 

It’s also an indication that there’s more than one way to skin a cat: NSC has gone from a seemingly defensive 5-3-2 to the 4-4-2 and remained defensively stout while adding a little more attacking punch. Atlanta has gone in the opposite direction to shore up its defense while remaining a threat going forward. They obviously have the players (and wage outlay) to play a little differently than Nashville does.

Brazil’s first division getting going. The opening of this story takes a nice little (deserved – I’ve voiced some of my concerns with the book before) shot at Soccernomics, but the content of the story is interesting nonetheless: why Brazil doesn’t have a national league that sports globally competitive clubs.

There are multiple reasons, of course, some of them political, many of them economic, plenty of them related to talent acquisition (would you rather move to Brazil and get murdered or, like, Italy?). We shall see if corruption cleanup is enough to change the status quo in a major way.

Etc.: Idea: let’s not do the homophobia thing anymore. Cool. … American Soccer Now with the projected roster for the next USMNT friendlies. The list of scheduled games now includes England, by the way. … The ESPN+ launch has been interesting, to say the least, though Pravda has a different take on it. … The official Nashville SC site profiles Kosuke Kimura.

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.

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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.

Don’t forget to follow For Club and Country on Facebook and Twitter to get all the latest posts on US Soccer and Nashville SC.

Pitch Points writes in its diary

Don’t forget to follow the site on Facebook and Twitter. If you come across a story you think I should include in a links roundup, send ’em to me there or you can e-mail me.

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Alan Winn, thinkin’ ’bout soccer ball. Photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Alan Winn, writin’ ’bout life. The Nashville SC rookie striker is writing a diary for the PDL website. That’s actually secret code for “does a weekly exclusive interview,” but there are still some interesting tidbits.

“I thought Pittsburgh did a wonderful job of staying organized. They had their 3-4-3 system going on and defensively they dropped to a 5-4-1, so they were very organized and structured and, credit to them, they were hard to break down.”

Good tactical talk (obviously something very near and dear to this site).

Also: :galvao: The fan favorite on his move to the USL side from last year’s PDL roster:

“It’s like the whole city has a positive energy,” said Galvão. “I feel positive vibes in the city, and that’s something that I haven’t felt in many of the other cities I’ve visited in the States. It’s definitely great to be in a great city with a great team with a great staff, a lot of good people and experience. The whole package together makes me feel very happy and very excited.”

What he said.

MLS players polled. Many of the questions are lame. But there are nuggets of goodness in some of this MLS player survey.

“There’s an emphasis right now with this league on signing young players from abroad with the TAM money, which is good from a business perspective. But if we want our young players to develop, if we want our federation to develop, if we want our national team to develop, these guys need to get games.”

Agreed – though I always point out that it’s not MLS’s job to help the federation develop talent, it’s the coaches’ job to win games and help the team make money. That said, I have wondered if TAM ends up resulting in comparable talents getting more playing time if they’re not domestic, from a simple “we have invested in this guy whereas that guy was cheap, so let’s not waste our money” perspective.

Do you favor promotion/relegation in MLS?

Yes: 63%
No: 36%
No answer: 1%

Editor’s note: In 2017, those in favor of promotion and relegation numbered 54 percent of those asked, compared to 49 percent in 2016 and 64 percent in 2015.

What the players said:

“To play on a team that’s fighting against relegation, it makes games mean something. In MLS, where we haven’t made the playoffs, those games are dumb at the end of the year. Because people just tune out. Fans tune out.”

“Where we haven’t made the playoffs” is pretty key here: As currently constructed, the playoff race (where every team that makes it has a chance for a championship) is similarly interesting to a relegation race. The difference is where in the table it happens – and of course to a certain extent, the seriousness of the consequences when you lose.

Click through, because there’s quite a bit more, including a pretty popular opinion (and one I agree with) that the playoffs in MLS take way too long. They ultimately make for a ridiculously long offseason for teams that don’t make the playoffs, among the many things that’s an issue with MLS’s ability to develop talent.

 

USMNT. Dave Sarachan extended as the USMNT’s interim manager through June. Kind of “blah” (especially after Tuesday night) but at the same time, if you’ve come this far, you may as well wait until after the World Cup to see who is and isn’t available. Gotta get him working in the best interests of the federation and MNT program rather than the interest of just worrying about a result, though.

The lack of a general manager thanks to a moronic job description plays a role here. Sarachan’s goals and those of the federation are not necessarily aligned right now. That isn’t to say they’re opposed, just orthogonal to each other.

Landon Donovan enjoying his mentor role in Mexico. I’ve brought this up before, but Donovan is a guy that US Soccer needs to get involved. However much of his “I’m here to help teach, not to play” is BS, that he’s at least saying it is meaningful. He can also be a help to young guys in figuring out a career path – because of, not despite, his failed stint(s) in Germany – and that’s what I’ve advocated for USSF to involve him doing.

In that vein, going along with obvious development things that the federation doesn’t think to do, how about a program through MLS (or maybe through the national team program, to include guys playing at a higher level overseas) that has career development stuff for post-playing days for these guys? I know there are some limited programs, but if Landon Donovan had the opportunity to earn USSF coaching licenses, or get front office training right now, wouldn’t that benefit the federation (in a huge way) going forward? Lack of quality coaches problem gets smashed in one generation of players.

A lot to unpack from this story about NYRB’s development. There are certainly legit arguments from the Columbus side of things (before even getting into #SaveTheCrew talk) that central Ohio doesn’t produce enough talent for a full USL side, but… doesn’t it still make sense to have an owned/operated team that you populate partially from your academy and partially from traditional USL signings?

Save the Fairgrounds, a topic that just won’t die. Steve Glover is engaging in a disingenuous, bad-faith effort to try to prevent a stadium from being built at all. “I don’t want a stadium” is a fine position to have (though one I – like probably every reader of this site – obviously disagree with). Misrepresenting that position to try to undermine Metro Council legislation that has already passed just makes you a bad guy (which every constituent from District 12 that I’ve talked to mentions is not a newsflash).

Now District 2 Councilman DeCosta Hastings has hastily (no pun intended but I REGRET NOTHING) joined forces trying to get the stadium moved to Metro Center. It’s a delay tactic for Glover, a face-saving one for Hastings after he rather embarrassingly showed he forgot what he voted for in November – or never read it in the first place – and now has to look like he’s sticking up for his constituents. After last week’s meeting, the chances that this goes anywhere are exactly zero, but Glover seems to get enjoyment out of the constant embarrassment he subjects himself to, and Hastings has put himself in a position where not proposing a #MMLSSTMC bill is no more embarrassing than the 37-2 annihilation his proposal is bound to take on the chin.

In actual productive stadium talk, not Metro Councilmembers putting their egos above the good of their city, NPR has a piece on the community benefits agreement meeting that took place last Thursday.

Etc.: ‘grats to former Michigan striker Francis Atuahene, who was assigned to OKC Energy by FC Dallas and scored his first goal opening weekend. … A ban on heading in youth soccer may be on the way around the world after the US started it. … The differences between the focus of the Canadian Premier League and MLS are interesting as a case study at the very least – and could be another factor forcing MLS to step up its game, at best. It launches in 2019. … Profile of US Youth International Indiana Vassilev from local media – to Aston Villa (where he just signed). … Talk on college soccer’s role in the development world. For now, it obviously doesn’t really fit in. I’m willing to wait for this thing to blow up in the next 2-3 years before I bother figuring out the way to shoehorn it in. … Nashville Scene talkin’ Goalden Ale and Nashville SC.

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Pitch Points like, totally owns Liga MX

As always, don’t forget to follow on Twitter, and you can always drop me links of interest there or in the comments here.

Campeones Cup

Liga MX probably rethinking this one. The top leagues in the United States (and Canada) and Mexico are strengthening their relationship with a champions cup to be played in September. I’m always down for intracontinental club competition, particularly against the only nation whose clubs are consistently better than ours.

The all-star game idea is still fun, but a little less so (it’s a pure exhibition all the way, so whatever). I’d rather see what the NBA did (still does?) with young players v. old or something of that nature (or homegrowns versus other young players, or…) that is exhibition-oriented, but also development-oriented.

Probably bad timing given the level of success MLS sides are having in CCL, though. (I’m being facetious there, of course – I would be pleasantly surprised if one or both of Toronto and New York advanced to the Final over América and Chivas, respectively).

Hurriedly rolls eyes at Save the Fairgrounds guy (and other local activities!). If you’re interested in community events surrounding the future MLS stadium (certainly the disingenuous Save the Fairgrounds and #MMLSSTMC people – who are the same people, and have a agenda well outside the one they’re public portraying – will be there), you can participate this Tuesday.

Early April brings Open Training Week from United Soccer Coaches. Belmont will host a men’s session, MTSU a women’s session (also a couple others outside the Middle Tennessee area). In my “get involved” movement, this is a great opportunity for any coaches to continue learning more about the game.

This town may be Big Enough – for all of us. Dissecting the arrival of two teams in one Southern city. This is presumably something thats going to remain relevant to our interests, and to various cities in our region, as well.

Greenville, we do not have to choose. We should not have to choose. I get it. I truly do. Some of us have built genuine relationships with people associated with one team or the other. There are people involved that I truly consider friends. But this is not about one or the other. We are so lucky.

I don’t try to harp on this too much, but how about another indication that our country isn’t remotely ready for Pro-Rel? If a city can’t support two soccer teams in separate leagues (frankly, I’m surprised ad pleased that a place like Greenville has enough to support one), how are supposed to follow a model that essentially requires multiple teams from – at the very least – the same region to co-exist at separate levels, and even reach the same one?

USMNT downshift. It’s been all-NSC lately with the season approaching (and now here), but how about a little US Soccer talk? Here’s Tab Ramos’s 20-man group for the U-20 side’s trip to Spain.

GOALKEEPERS (3): CJ Dos Santos (S.L. Benfica; Philadelphia, Pa.), Phillip Ejimadu (Nacional Atlético Clube; Minneapolis, Minn.), Brady Scott (FC Köln; Petaluma, Calif.)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergino Dest (AFC Ajax; Almere-Stad, Netherlands), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; Bear, Del.), Jake Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Manny Perez (N.C. State University; Garner, N.C.), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.), Sam Rogers (Seattle Sounds FC; Seattle, Wash.), Aedan Stanley (St. Louis FC; Columbia, Ill.), Angel Uribe (Club Tijuana; San Diego, Calif.)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Frankie Amaya (Pateadores; Santa Ana, Calif.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Chris Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Atlanta, Ga.), Andres Jimenez (Envigado FC; Miami, Fla.), Richie Ledezma (Real Salt Lake; Casa Grande, Ariz.), Alex Mendez (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; Highland Village, Texas), Juan Pablo Torres (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen; Lilbirn, Ga.)

FORWARDS (6): Shaft Brewer (Unattached; Sacramento, Calif.), Zyen Jones (FC Schalke 04; Clarkston, Ga.), Ulysses Llanez Jr. (LA Galaxy; Lynwood, Calif.), Nebiyou Perry (FC Köln; New York, N.Y.), Justin Rennicks (Indiana University; Hamilton, Mass.), Josh Sargent (SV Werder Bremen; O’Fallon, Mo.)

There are big names there (Sargent, Carleton, et al), but also some names that I didn’t previously know a whole lot about. Will be interesting to see the games against France (two of ’em) and Atletico Madrid.

The senior national team for upcoming friendlies will be announced today, and while it should be a young squad, obviously some of the U-20 choices limit those guys’ opportunities to be integrated into the side.

 

Some USSF stuff. Since his election, I’ve gone back and listened to/read/consumed everything I could that Carlos Cordeiro said about his platform for becoming head of USSF, and I’m much less down on him than I was previously. His podcast with Grant Wahl would be a good place to start – mentions the importance of increasing the coaching base (yes!), some governance red tape introduction/removal, and more. I don’t necessarily think many will like him, but the level of dismay that he won the election should decrease.

I also know this plan was in the works before his election, but it was such a transparently stupid scope of the position at the time, and – surprise! – the narrow scope has turned away basically every candidate so far. The USMNT/WNT general managers should be in charge of the MNT/WNT programs, not just teams. A third grader could have told you this. How did US Soccer not realize it?

While we’re on a tangentially-related topic and don’t have any other section to slide this in: Regular readers know my love for the US Open Cup. It’s getting closer, and the stakes are getting higher:

For the first time since 2013, USSF has upped the prize money. The champion will now get $300,000, the runner-up will get $100,000, and the team that advances the furthest from each division will get $25,000 (up from $250k, $60k, and $15k, respectively).

Anything that can be done to make this tournament more important in our soccer culture is cool with me (he said, begrudgingly thanking FC Cincinnati for giving some buzz to last year’s tournament). Both Nashville-based sides in prominent leagues will participate.

Always talkin’ development. For two reasons (it will apply to NSC in due time, and because it impacts the USMNT), this is a pet topic of the blog. I’m glad to see NYRB getting the credit they deserve for an outstanding academy program and integration of their USL side.

I think in the long-term, there’s going to have to be some sort of split between MLS B-teams in USL and other USL teams writ large (i.e. keep the B-teams out of the playoffs, continue preventing them from participating in USOC, have them concentrate on playing each other rather than a wide-ranging USL slate) simply because the purpose is different: they’re supposed to be developing players while non-O&O USL sides are supposed to be winning soccer games.

How have we not figured out that the answer to “should a young guy leave for Europe or leave for MLS?” depends on the situation? That goes not just to media talking about it, but the federation itself, which should have an advisory committee helping young players make the decision.

I’m not against the DA’s rule (that they’re denying in this story even though it’s official policy? Lying never backfires) that kids can’t play for both a development academy side and their high school – but for it to be a just rule, there has to be legitimate opportunity to get scouted by the federation outside of the DA mechanism, and with it slowly choking the life out of the ODP and USSF ignoring other showcase events, the DA has become basically required unless you’re so good that you can develop into a world-class player without it.

This is the area of youth development where Cordeiro needs to focus the federation toward sensible policies. “Pay to play” can’t be ended by policy (USSF can’t tell private programs or clubs what to charge outside the DA system that they have jurisdiction over), but without multiple paths to the next level(s), it’s going to reign supreme. Encouraging and scouting the multiple paths reduces the importance of the pay-to-play model.

Etc.: Think the situation is bad and the rhetoric is toxic in the United States? We got nothing on Australia. … Always down for a little tactical talk. … Phoenix Rising’s new stadium plans sound awesome. Two points: NSC will be designing a stadium soon, and also how does a city of Phoenix’s size/demographics not have an MLS team yet? …