A while back I read an article on a British website titled ‘Major League Soccer: Can the MLS revolution survive and thrive?’ The answer, I think, is yes it can, but it has to keep changing and evolving with the times. The real question is can soccer as a whole thrive in America where Football, Baseball, Basketball and even Ice Hockey take more sport column inches than the Worlds game.
I would like to look at Soccer in America in several parts. In the previous part, I focused on the MLS, its continuing growth and whether the current model is the correct one, or even sustainable in the coming years. Today, I would like to talk about the youth in America and what I have seen while out and about.
Last time I spoke about the MLS and promotion and relegation, however, is not the make or break point for American soccer and, from a few weekends ago now, I can confirm that Baltimore at least has a healthy youth system in place. On Saturday, I was invited to a game in which a friend’s son was taking part. The game was not of the highest quality of course but I would have loved to have seen the coaches be a bit more vocal in guiding the team with pushing up, marking opposition and a whole variety of other instructional and educational calls but the main thing was the kids were out on the field, kicking a ball around and having fun. I am not for the coaches berating kids for mistakes but the fact is if you are not constantly coaching and instructing them their game tends to drift off and once a bad habit is learnt it takes a lot of re-educating to get them back on the right track.
Sunday by contrast saw a whole different level of players. These were young girls, of all differing age ranges taking part in a soccer tournament. The team I had gone to see won their initial match 2-0 in what was a well-drilled performance. Regular substitutions, encouraging shouts and tactical guidance was very clear and distinct. As a result, each girl knew her role, duty to the team and what to do in the situation she was in. Now there were no 60-yard cross-field passes and in fact the turn over in play was frequent, but that was a good thing, all of the girls got a lot of touches on the ball. Needing one more goal than they got to progress the team I was watching were level on every stat with another team in the competition and so had to go to a penalty shoot out in order to determine who would progress.
During this time, the coaches kept the girls relaxed by practicing penalty kicks against their keeper. The coaches would watch each girl and then give feedback if needed on their technique. One coach took up a position behind home plate, which was the makeshift goal, and proceeded to give the keeper advice on her role in the shootout. The point is they were still being educated on a part of the game they will not have to face everyday but the session was kept informal, relaxed and to the point I am not even sure the girls realized it was an impromptu training session. Needless to say, when the girls stepped to the spot each of the four girls who took the spot kick for our side, scored. Meanwhile, the fifth girl was not required with our keeper saving two of the opponent’s attempts.
The problem is not with the passion for the game at this age, nor really with the set up of the MLS, although I would like to see promotions and relegations as said before. The problem seems to be at the late teen level. Three million youth soccer players should equate to more pro players than we currently produce, but we also need to insure quality over quantity.
Jason Bardwell is a Soccer writer for Rant Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @PACityboy or on Facebook.