The United States needs to tap into its large soccer player pool

05/26/2010 6:36 PM - Coach Farrell
The U.S. has one of the largest soccer player pools in the world. It's a sleeping giant in the soccer world, yet has been unable to produce the consistent quality needed to become a world cup champion contender.

If the U.S. wants to be world champions in soccer, it has to accomplish one of two things, if not both. First thing is to improve the level of play in Major League Soccer (MLS) to that of the top European leagues. The second is to find a way to infiltrate the European leagues with more U.S. players. It will not be able to go all the way and win a world cup until this happens. The level of competition has to be raised across the board in the US in order to compete with the best soccer nations around the globe.

For the immediate future, the answer for the U.S. national team is to get more of their players into European leagues. In turn, this will slow down the development of the MLS. I happen to believe that the MLS will one day be one of the top leagues in the world. It is an American trait to strive to be the best at everything, and that inherent culture to be the best will eventually work for MLS. For the time being, it has to be the European leagues that get our players ready for world-class international competition. Only the players that can access a European passport or have played for the US national team on a regular basis can get work permits to play in the European leagues; however, in order to win a world cup, the U.S. has to start producing world-class players. At this moment, our players playing in Europe is the only way to maximize their potential.

Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are prime examples. Both of these U.S. National Team players perform week in and week out in the English Premier League in Europe. Since playing in Europe, both of these players have raised their abilities. If the U.S. team is going to be successful, it's critical for these players to perform at their best this World Cup.

The player development system in the U.S. is built around college. This is the only country in the world that is structured this way. Quietly, a lot of MLS coaches will tell you that the Premier Development League (PDL) is vitally important in the development of the American player, and that colleges do not prepare the players adequately. While most of our best talent is playing in college and the PDL between the ages of 18 to 22, other top nations have their best talent signed at the professional clubs in Europe as early as 14 years old. I am not suggesting that we need to send our best away at 14; however, without a top class major league filled with some of the best players in the world, our best players will never reach their full potential. This is why I believe we must continue to send our players to Europe, and are a long way off from producing a pool of world class players at the international level; consequently, we will not have the ability to win a world cup for a long time to come.

Our best players will advance to the MLS and probably never get the chance to play in the top European leagues; there are far too few that can access that opportunity. This is very unfortunate because as a nation we produce world-class athletes in almost every other sport. In soccer, we produce great but not world class players.

Anton Peterlin, for example, formerly of the Ventura County Fusion in the PDL league, signed with Everton of the English premier league after a 10-day trial with them in May 2009. He was able to secure a European passport because his parents were born in Denmark. Peterlin may or may not turn out to be an impact at the international level in the future. He turned down the opportunity to sign for the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS to sign for Everton in the English Premier League. If Peterlin were ever to become successful at Everton and maintain a regular 1st team spot, he would be far better prepared for the US national team than a MLS player. The fact remains that he is one of the few that has the opportunity to develop in one of the best clubs in the world. It would be great to be able to get more players into that situation. It would enable us to groom more players that could have an impact at the international level. For now, it's just our national team players that can obtain the work permits.

Grant Guthrie is an example of a Jesters player who has incredible technical ability, but was unable to get into the US national team system as a youth. After college, Guthrie had stints with Serie B and C clubs in Italy, but was unable to obtain a work-visa to stay on with any club. His hope would have been to work his way into Serie A, which is the top league in Italy. Instead Grant has the opportunity to excel with the Jesters and hope to get picked up by a MLS team.

As I mentioned earlier, it is extremely important that we raise the overall level of our players in the U.S. in order to compete against the national powerhouses. Until our domestic major league is able to compete as a world power, the only way for our top U.S. national team players to be able to compete against the best is by playing overseas with and against the worlds top players.

Having said all of this, credit has to be given to U.S. soccer for the rapid growth and success they have achieved in the last 20 years on the international stage. Even though we now have a growing soccer fan base in America that wants to see their country win a World Cup, a plan must be laid out to at least become a contender for a world cup championship. That is not the case at the moment. We need to continue to encourage and send our full national team players to Europe, while we wait for our domestic league to become an elite world league. We will probably have to keep losing the Grant Guthrie's from the system until they can find other routes to maximize their potential.

Coach Bradley needs to be a tactical maestro for the US to make the semi-final or better

04/06/2010 4:41 PM - Coach Farrell

The Men’s USA National Team Head Coach Bob Bradley will surely be challenged at the World Cup as he goes up against the best coaches, players and teams that the world has to offer.


Bradley will have to match up against England in the first round, and could possibly face Germany’s Joachim Loew in the round of 16.  If the US can reach the quarter-final stage, they will probably face either France or Argentina.  If they make it to the semi-final, the odds are that the US will play Holland, Brazil, Italy or Spain.  All of these teams are world powerhouses and have experienced success in prior World Cups.  The US will have to be tactically perfect to advance through these rounds. 


The recent growth of professional soccer in the US has provided Bradley the opportunity to advance quite rapidly onto the world stage.  Most elite coaches in the world have accomplished playing careers behind them or tremendous experience coaching in the biggest tournaments, and they are able to draw on those experiences. Bradley has a different background and thus, different experiences to draw from.


Bradley started his coaching career at the college level. He was head coach at Ohio University from 1981 to 1983, before moving to University of Virginia as an assistant coach to Bruce Arena for two years.  In 1984, he took over at the helm of his Alma Mater, Princeton University. After Major League Soccer (MLS) kicked off its inaugural season in 1995, Bradley moved to DC United as assistant coach in 1996, and also became assistant coach of the U-23 USA Olympic team.  Two years later in 1998, Bradley became the head coach of Chicago Fire.


During the early stages of the MLS, it was not much more than an elite college league. Chicago was fortunate enough to bring in some eastern Europeans that were simply better than the rest of the players in the league, and the team went on to win the MLS Cup.  It was a successful period for Bradley, and I believe this helped him become a seasoned pro coach. Based on his success in Chicago, he was recruited to New York and became the head coach of the Metro Stars.  He found minimal success at the Stars in his three years and was released of his duties in 2005.  Bradley’s next step was to become the head coach of Chivas USA, where he lead the team to a third place finish in the western conference. In 2006, Bradley was appointed the interim coach of the US men’s national team after they had a disappointing showing at the World Cup.


Based on Bradley’s resume, one would certainly think that he was not the man to take the US to the World Cup quarter or semi-finals.  He certainly would not have gotten the job with any other country that is expected to make it fairly far in the World Cup rounds. However, he has brought the team to the final 32 and has progressed quickly at this level. At times, he has shown great naïveté and at other times, he has shown an excellent tactical mind that is cunning and calculated. This tactical side of Bradley needs to be on show at all times this World Cup. Any signs of naiveté will cause a lack of confidence in his players. Moreover, he will be eaten up like red meat to the lions of the world cup.


After returning from the Confederations Cup in South Africa, most of Bradley’s top players went back to their clubs in Europe for pre-season training.  The Gold Cup was taking place in the US and Bradley had to assemble a US team that was made up of the best American MLS players. This was an opportunity to see what players he could add to the world cup squad from home soil.  Although the US was basically playing with a B squad, they made it to the final against Mexico. The US was definitely the weaker side on paper, so Bradley had to play a smart tactical game to win it.    


The US played a compact game against their biggest rival, who played most of their star players. The game was close for most of the first hour. Then, Mexico was awarded a controversial penalty to take the lead around the 60-minute mark. Bradley had to deal with a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium and very high expectations from the US soccer public. He made a couple of substitutions which opened up the game in an effort to score and get back into it. By opening up the game in an effort to score, it allowed Mexico (who had far superior players on the day) to exploit the US on their home turf in front of 75,000 fans. Bradley needed to make a change at that point in the game, but he should have weighed the consequences of that decision.  He went from a four-man defense to a three-man defense with what he knew were substandard players, and he paid the price. Mexico won 5-0.   In the situation he was facing, the better choice would have been to keep the game tight and see if they could sneak back into it.


A month later in Mexico, the US faced the Mexican squad again in a World Cup qualifier. The game was played at Azteca Stadium in a hostile setting: very high altitude, 100,000 partisan fans, and a 100 degree temperature at the 2PM kick-off in August.  Bradley had his best players back, but knew the environment would be extremely hostile.  Although the US lost the game 2-1, Bradley nearly pulled it off with an almost perfect game plan.  In all honesty, the result was unfair to the US. The Americans played a very well executed counter attack game, and Bradley had the right players in the right positions. The US went up early 1-0 in the game from a goal by Charlie Davies. It looked like it would end up being a 1-1 tie; however, one mental breakdown late in the game allowed Mexico to take the spoils. That mental breakdown could not be controlled by Bradley, and he deserves praise for his coaching in the game. In my opinion, this game proved that he could handle a top-level game with everything on the line. His calculated decisions were almost perfect. He put the game plan in with consideration for the environment and even though the result was unfortunate, we saw a great coaching performance.


What Bradley will we see at the 2010 World Cup? Will it be the cunning and calculated, or the naïve?  This is a key factor that could determine the fate of the US in South Africa. Although not the pedigree of a top world coach, we have seen glimpses of Bradley’s abilities.  If the naïve coach shows up, the US may endure some more embarrassing moments. If his cunning and calculated side is present, the US may have one of its best World Cup performances ever.


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