US Soccer – The State of College Soccer in our United States

Editorial.

I’ll open by first acknowledging that there are many superb things going on with soccer in this country – it’s grown – not by inches in the last few years – but by leaps and bounds.

And a huge amount of that growth is down to the owners, of not just MLS teams, but those looking to bring the sport to cities through NASL, USL, and other Club level Leagues…

That said, it’s takes Two to Tango and the collective ‘we’ representing the other ‘one’ are the supporters of soccer/football in this country.  It’d be rude not to recognize how much the collective ‘we’ bring to this country in following, with their hearts, the best individualized-team sport in the World!

But, alas, with strength comes weakness – and with all that growth I would offer there is some irrational thinking occurring within umbrella of College Soccer in United States.  To begin…….

College Soccer – NCAA Rules and Regulations versus that of US Soccer and the rest of the World:

First off, being going all negative, it’s still a good thing that the NCAA provides an organized style of soccer – that’s not the issue – the issue is the inane rules and regulations governing the sport and how that not only affects plaeyrs, but coaches and, yes, referees.

I’ve heard there may be as many as 1,100 organized teams in the NCAA; that’s huge for the sport in general but what about the environment in which they play?

With roughly 1,100 organized teams that’s about 25,000 soccer players/students who are learning to play a tactically flawed game given current substitution rules.

This is not supposition, through interviews with a number of Head Coaches, to include those in MLS, NPSL, PDL, and College Soccer, they indicate the style of soccer played in College simply does not match that of the professionals.

Why?

The high volume of substitutions and the ability of a player to actually come off the pitch, get a rest, and then go back on!

And that higher frequency of player rotation results in at least three separate issues.

First and foremost is the common style of play that occurs when teams have substitution capacities that exceed what is required for the rest of the World.

Games played are frenetic, fast paced, high pressure events (across almost the entire length of the pitch) that end up resembling direct-ball festivals where long passes are the norm and results of those long passes mean a constant barrage of deflections, rebounds, 2nd chance balls.

In other words there’s minimal tactical nuance (time and space) for players to really master critical skills they’ll need when trying to transfer to the professional ranks.

In addition, it also means that College Soccer Coaches are always forced to try and run the same tactical approach/system – leaving them no room to grow and experiment with different tactics and strategies.ends up driving the tactics of the game towards frenetic play – with no concerted possession-based attacking.  Put another way – the style most often seen in College Soccer is direct play, (long passes) that result in deflections, rebounds, 2nd chance balls and disrupting tackles that often turn into rough tackles resulting in injury or suspension.

If you want to visualize a game like try to get your hands on the Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers US Open Cup game last night – great result for the Timbers but a blindingly poor result in trying to sell the beauty of soccer in this country.

Even College Coaches interviewed have expressed concern with trying to tactically manage teams (that need to win) in styles that go against other previous training outside of the College environment.

So why would it be good for the development of US Soccer or the NCAA (a learning environment) to have upwards of 1,100 clubs with as many as 28,000 soccer players, 44,000 coaches (both Head Coaches and Assistant Coaches) plus (perhaps?) 20,000 Referees operate in a constrained environment that completely ignores how the rest of the World plays soccer?

I’m not sure – but a few more thoughts from another angle.

As USL, NASL, and other Professional Leagues and Clubs begin to develop more players, outside the structure of the NCAA College Soccer, the ability of students (players) playing College Soccer, and then transferring to the professional ranks, will get smaller and smaller.

Meaning a potential hot-bed for talent will see fewer and fewer highly qualified coaches resulting in a lower educating environment that will drive the creation of more players with lower quality skills – with an end state that will enhance an even worse tactical style of play.

Consequently there will be less value from those 1,100 teams, 28,000 players, 4,400 coaches and 20,000 Referees… basically translating to an idea that if NCAA College Soccer continues to ignore US Soccer and FIFA rules and regulations they will become extinct.

Here’s a different question…

If the NCAA is really about educating and helping students better prepare themselves for the professional ranks of their chosen field then I think it’s about time the NCAA reorganize and educate/help their students prepare for professional soccer; if that’s a chosen professional intent.

And, if US Soccer is really about promoting the growth of soccer in America then they should begin asking tougher questions of the NCAA and how (they) intend to plot a future business plan that not only fits into qualifying as an Official Amateur League(s) but ones that can then join the likes of everyone else as they compete for the US Open Cup.

College is, after all, a learning environment – and what better way to educate the players/students about professional soccer than to have them play by those rules?

USL – Competition versus Development:

I get it – the development of USL is a good thing – and so is a more competitive environment for MLs teams to develop players in an effort to make them “MLS ready”

But after conducting a number of interviews with teams in the USL, these past few months, I’ve reached the conclusion that there are two types of teams in this league.

Teams, whether well-intentioned or not, are either 1) set up to compete with the intent to make a profit and eventually get promoted (if you will) to MLS versus teams or 2) set up to develop players for either a) the MLS first team, or b) to loan and/or sell-on as a way to try and turn a profit in a sport where profits are really hard to come by.

For example, when one team was interviewed a few weeks ago they offered that when playing “MLS team #2 type team” the player personnel fluxuated considerably – in other words sometimes you’d get players who are really trying to ‘develop’ versus players who are not regulars on the first team but do fit into the ‘first 18’.

Meaning that some USL ‘competitive teams’ are not playing the same level of quality players in “MLS team #2 teams” as other ‘competitive teams.

So while USL shows all the trademakrs of being a highly competitive league that has equal status as a US Soccer “League Division 2”; it’s really not what’s it’s advertised to be.

I don’t offer this as a negative to MLS franchises – they are merely trying to set the right conditions to get younger players the best competitive environment as possible – the problem is – not all MLS teams treat their ‘team #2 teams’ the same way.

US Soccer – US Open Cup:

US Soccer uns the US Open Cup that is not “open” —> it’s geographically controlled where zones have been created to filter and drive specific match-ups.

The US Open Cup permits (in essence) non-competitive (more development like) MLS team #2 teams to participate, and part of that participation means (outside of the final US Open Cup) a ‘team #2’ cannot compete with a ‘team #1’.  What’s open about that?

In essence what US Soccer is allowing for is Arsenal the opportunity to play the Arsenal Reserves in the English FA Cup Final at Wembley stadium… WOW!

That’s like ignoring the fact that Formula 1 teams don’t try to ensure their #2 driver doesn’t get more points than their #1 drive if a win in that race secures a Championship for the #1 driver… go figure?!?

It also means that if the two organizations get both their teams in teh US Open Cup semifinals the ‘team #1’ has to play the ‘team #2’ of the opponent in the Semi-final…. again not an ‘Open Cup’ kinda competition.

The US Open Cup is one of the oldest competitions in the United States – and it beggards belief that today, with all the professional soccer on TV we have yet to see US Soccer secure either 1) a significant sponsor, and 2) a TV contract.

What could be better for soccer in the United States than a televised fourth round match (on national TV) between a team like the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and DC United?  Or for that matter, what could be better for US Soccer than to see a 4th round match between Seattle and Portland ( a potential Final match) that occurs in the 4th round?

Seems like a very good and very reasonable way to really promote the growth and development of Soccer in US Soccer!

US Soccer – Foreign Nationals:

What is the point of foreign player limitations in this country if this country is built on the fact that competition, free enterprise competition, is the foundation for capitalism?

It’s like the US Government telling Ford Motor Company, or Boeing, Nike, or Intel that they can only employ “x” amount of foreign employees in the United States and that anything greater than “x” must be filled by Americans… how long do you think that would last?

It simply isn’t reasonable that teams in any professional league in this country are hamstrung to employ a minimum number of ‘americans’ – especially when the only real American source for soccer players gets its foundation from Colleges – where the NCAA doesn’t even play by the same rules as the rest of the Soccer World.

I don’t propose to have all the answers but in my view, I would suggest US Soccer and the NCAA take a REAL HARD LOOK at how they govern the world’s greatest individualized-team sport in this Country.

If the INTENT is to develop players to create a “learning” market of soccer that fourishes, not only professionally, but for pride at World Cup type events, in the United States then US Soccer and NCAA have some pretty tough questions to answer when asking themselves how they can get better in order for soccer to get better in this country.

If you’ll notice I excluded mainstream media from this effort – why?

Pretty much because much of mainstream media, for this sport, is behind the ‘educational’ power curve on all the nuance of this sport; (perhaps???) it takes others,  who have a passion and blog about this sport, to really plant the seed for other, more known journalists – like Grant Wahl – to call-out what looks pear-shaped.

Nevermind that some of the major news media outlets still consider Soccer as an “other sport” on their websites —> yet, now, there are more youth playing soccer than any other sport in this country… and no – Ann Coulter is not the answer either; she already proved her ignorance of the sport during last years’ World Cup!

What are your thoughts? 

Best, Chris

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