The Bradenton Effect

Since the late 1990’s, US Soccer has been grooming the best American teenagers they can find in a full time residency program in Bradenton, Florida.  Each cycle would culminate with a FIFA U17 World Cup, for which the United States has always qualified… except for the 2013 mess presided over by Richie Williams.

Bradenton was an interesting experiment, especially for a country like ours that was well behind the major soccer powers when it came to player development.  I really think it was a good idea at the time.  But as the program has lurched along in recent cycles, the question is not “Does the program still work”, but “Did it ever work?”

To answer that question, I think it’s fair to judge the program on these following three outcomes:

  • Has the program enhanced our country’s production of players for the Senior World Cup team?
  • Has the program enhanced our country’s production of solid professional and National team caliber players?
  • Has the program enhanced our country’s results at the U17 Fifa World Championships?

Players have come and gone through the U17 Residency Program over the years, staying for different lengths of time and not always starting or finishing a full cycle.  There also are some players who have gone on to play for the US National Team but never appeared in a U17 World Cup, such as Bob Bradley and Aaron Johansson, and also players who played in the U17 World Cup without being part of the Bradenton system.  Since I cannot find a complete record of all the players who have ever participated in the U17 Residency Program, I have chosen to focus on players who were selected for the rosters of the  U17 World Cup teams (or, in the case of the 2013 class, the  CONCACAF tournament roster) when tracking the program’s efficacy in developing players.  This seemed fairer to me than just cherry picking data to support a conclusion.

Has the program enhanced our country’s production of players for the Senior World Cup team?

The U17 Residency Program got off to an explosive and promising start.  The first group to “graduate” to a U17 World Cup from Bradenton was the Class of 1999.  Alumni Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Oguchi Onyewu, and Kyle Beckerman would go on to win more than 400 caps between them, and all would appear in at least one FIFA World Cup. Add in a 4th place tournament finish in New Zealand, and it looked like we were on to something.

Any country in the world, even the established superpowers like Germany and Brazil, would be hard pressed to emulate the performance of that group on a relative scale.

Unfortunately that result seems to have been more the result of a serendipitous “Golden Generation” (on a relative scale, of course) as opposed to a foundation for future success. In the subsequent 8 two-year cycles Bradenton has produced only three other players who have managed to play in both a U17 and Senior World Cup. (see chart below)

 

Screenshot (81)

Has the program enhanced our country’s production of solid professional and National team caliber players?

There are more internationals and professional players coming out of The U17 program now than in the pre-Bradenton era, but there has to be, doesn’t there? In 1999 MLS was only in its third season.  Prior to 1996, professional opportunities for American players were extremely limited.  The very best could venture overseas (with limited success).  Others could join the few existing A League teams or play indoor soccer.  Today, going overseas is still a difficult proposition, but with MLS continually expanding and with increasing opportunities in the USL and NASL, there are more opportunities for professional American players than there have ever been.

But while the pure volume of MLS and other professional players coming out of our U17 program seems more than acceptable when compared to other countries that have a professional domestic league, there seems to be an issue of quantity over quality.  The threshold for making my list is one single league appearance in MLS or a professional league.  Yes, there are definitely some solid and even good players that have come through Bradenton, but the vast majority of those players are reserves who will have to settle for a handful of appearances in the top flight before moving on to sell insurance,  or journeymen role players. Bradenton graduates who can impact a professional level game on either side of the ball, even in MLS, are few and far between.  Yes, of course development is a fickle and inefficient process. Even countries like Germany and Argentina have loads of U17 National Team players who fade into oblivion. But these Bradenton kids are supposed to be the best players we could find, who were given the best training we could offer in a federation funded program. Given those circumstances, the “wow” factor is conspicuously absent from our U17 residency graduates. Sure, in many cases the hype never matched reality, but look at all the players who came into the program touted as “something special” who are either out of the game or mired in pro careers that are anything but special.  Meanwhile, MLS and the USMNT are full of players who took much different developmental paths and are having much greater success.

Here is an in depth record of players from our U17 World Cup rosters and how they have fared professionally and internationally

I compiled the data myself from information gathered from the websites of FIFA, US Soccer, and MLS, with Wikipedia filling in the gaps.  It is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of December 2015.  Players recognized as having played in MLS (defined as having made at least one league appearance, not just signing a contract) are noted.  Players who have appeared in notable foreign leagues abroad and USL/NASL are noted as well, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few (or you may disagree either way as to what constitutes “notable”)

Active Players are in bold, whether they are currently in the National Team picture or not

1985 U16 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Brian Benedict (4)
  • Neil Covone (5)
  • Henry Guttierez (1)

MLS: Lyle Yorks, Chris Kelderman,

Other Pros: Joey Valenti, Larry McPhail

In addition, Curtis Pride played 11 years of Major League Baseball

1987 U16 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Troy Dayak (9)
  • Mike Burns (75)
  • Erik Imler (1)
  • Chad Deering (18)
  • Steve Snow (2)

Other Pros: Ben Crawley, Marco Ferruzzi

1989 U16 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Jorge Salcedo (3)
  • Claudio Reyna (118)
  • Imad Baba (1)

MLS: Nidal Baba, AJ Wood, Brian Bates

Other Pros: Rivers Guthrie, Bill Baumhoff,

1991 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Nelson Vargas (4)
  • Mark Jonas (1)
  • Matt McKeon (1)

MLS: Temoc Suarez, Mike SIlvinski, Albertin Montoya, Brian Kelly, Will Kohler

1993 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • John O’Brien (32)
  • Jorge Flores (1)
  • Jon Busch (1)

MLS: Carey Talley, Judah Cooks, Steve Armas, Jason Moore, Tony Soto, Andy Kirk

1995 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Nick Garcia (6)
  • Nick Rimando (21)
  • Tim Howard (106)

MLS: Carl Bussey, Francisco Gomez

Other Pros: Grover Gibson, Caleb Norkus, Ryan Trout

1997 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Danny Califf (23)
  • Taylor Twellman (30)

MLS Players: Gus Kartes, Marshall Leonard. Nick Downing, Kyle Seger

Other Pros: Bryheem Hancock

1999 U17 World Cup Squad  FIRST BRADENTON CLASS

Full Internationals (caps)

  • DaMarcus Beasley (123)
  • Landon Donovan (156)
  • Bobby Convey (46)
  • Oguchi Onyewu (69)
  • Kyle Beckerman (51)

MLS:  DJ Countess, Nelson Akwari, Alex Yi,  Adolfo Gregorio, Abe Thompson, Jordan Cila, Seth Trembley, Steve Cronin

2001 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Eddie Johnson (63)
  • Santino Quaranta (15)
  • Chad Marshall (11)
  • Justin Mapp (8)

MLS: Mike Magee, Jordan Harvey, Tyson Wahl, Chris Lancos, Jordan Stone, Craig Capano

2003 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Jonathan Spector (36)
  • Freddy Adu (17)
  • Eddie Gaven (8)
  • Danny Szetela (3)

MLS: Corey Ashe, John DiRaimondo, Guillermo Gonzalez, Michael Harrington, Jamie Watson, Julian Valentin, Jacob Peterson

Other Pro: Kyle Helton, Steve Curfman, Quentin Westerberg

2005 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Jozy Altidore (89)
  • Omar Gonzalez (30)
  • Neven Subotic (36 caps for Serbia)

MLS: Amaechi Igwe, Kevin Alston, Quavas Kirk, Kyle Nakazawa, Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan, Blake Wagner, Nik Besagno, Brian Perk, Jeremy Hall

Other Pro: Preston Zimmerman, Diego Restrepo, David Arvizu

2007 U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Brek Shea (34)
  • Fuad Ibrahim (10 caps for Ethiopia)
  • Greg Garza (9)

MLS: Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Tommy Meyer, Chris Klute, Jarred Jeffrey, Kofi Sarkodie, Ellis McLoughlin, Kirk Urso, Billy Schuler, Danny Cruz

Other Pro:   Josh Lambo, Bryan Dominguez, Alex Nimo,

2009  U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Juan Agudelo (20)
  • Luis Gil (2)
  • Perry Kitchen (2)

MLS: Jack McInerney, Jared Watts, Tyler Polak, Eriq Zavaleta, Andy Craven, Boyd Okwunyu

Other Pro: Will Packwood, Carlos Martinez, Stefan Jerome, Marlon Duran, Stefan Jerome, Spencer Richey, Carlos Martinez, Keith Cardona

 

2011  U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • None

MLS: Matt Dunn, Dillon Serna, Jack McBean, Kellyn Acosta, Marc Pelosi

Other Pro: Esteban Rodriguez, Alejandro Guido, Paul Arriola,

2013  U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • Rubio Rubin (3)

MLS: Conor Donovan, Justen Glad, Tom Redding, Tyler Turner

Other Pro: Shaquell Moore, Junior Flores, Elijah Martin,

2015  U17 World Cup Squad

Full Internationals (caps)

  • None

MLS: Alex Zendejas

Other Pro: Haji Wright, Tyler Adams

The chart below is another way to compare Bradenton’s record of developing top class players.  Once again, the Class of 1999 is the exception, not the rule

Screenshot (80)

Has the program enhanced our country’s results at the U17 Fifa World Championships?

Last, and least importantly, let’s look at results in U17 World Cup play. Of course, these results in and of themselves are not super important in the Grand Scheme of player development.  But because of the frequency of these tournaments, I think that our tournament results can give us insight into how the program is trending.  We are constantly being told by USSF that American Soccer is getting better and better all the time.  Logically, if we are improving as soccer country, our results and performances at all levels should be trending upwards as well.

Take a look at our collated results from every U16 and U17 FIFA World Championship. Do you see improvement or stagnation?

Screenshot (77)

Again, we have the outlier class of 1999.  Congratulations to Landon, DaMarcus, and the other members of our Golden Generation. This group accounts for USMNT’s solitary win in a knockout round of the U17 World Cup.  Like our solitary knockout win in a Senior World Cup, the victim was CONCACAF rival Mexico.

All told, the USA is a staggeringly consistent 1-9 in post group stage games, falling at the same second round stumbling block over and over again.  Granted, there have been occasional good results against traditional soccer powers in the group stages over the years, but when it comes down to win or go home, we go home.

So back to the three questions:

  • Has the program enhanced our country’s production of players for the Senior World Cup team?
  • Has the program enhanced our country’s production of solid professional and National team caliber players?
  • Has the program enhanced our country’s results at the U17 Fifa World Championships?

I believe the answer to each of these questions is an unqualified “No”, especially once you take the outlier class of 1999 out of the equation.  As to the reasons, those are very much open to debate.  Are we picking the wrong players? Are we picking the wrong coaches? Are we teaching them the wrong things? Does the lack of “meaningful” competition during residency impede development? Some or all of the above?

When all is said and done, does it really matter?  We have been putting a lot of our eggs into the same basket for a long time now, without making any measurable progress.  I say it’s time to shut Bradenton down and invest the resources elsewhere.  What do you think?

The Strange World of 6th Grade Girls Soccer

This is an article I wrote back in 2009, during my first every foray into coaching School Soccer. 

On Monday we played Hunt Middle School. 6th grade school soccer in Tacoma is strictly “no cut-everyone plays”. I was planning for 28 eligible players, but a bunch of kids apparently forgot that there was a game since they are normally on Tuesdays & Thursdays. It may have helped that I had “forgotten” to tell them on Friday.  So only 21 made the trip. Darn 🙂 Most of the ones I need are actually on the bus, so I’m good with it. On the ride I scrap my elaborate Three-people-for every-position substitution plan for a simpler 2 for 1 schematic. (ed note: The 3-for-1 plan did eventually go into action later in the season, and I actually made “corrals” out of cones to keep my two extra team’s worth of players organized on the sidelines)

Hunt only has nine players. Five of them have soccer shoes. If they have fewer than 11, we have to play with an equal number, per league rules. I start doing the math for a new substitution plan. Luckily, two more Hunt players return from the bathroom in time for kickoff.

Our varsity coach, has had problems with kids trash talking his teams on some of his away visits. I had the opposite issue. There is a group of rough looking boys sitting on some bleachers nearby. They are yelling at the Hunt players.
“You suck, Hunt!”
“Meeker is gonna stuff you!”
“You don’t have a prayer, Hunt, you’re goin’ DOWN!”

I ask my girls if they know any of those kids.  They don’t

“Hey guys! What school do you go to? Hunt? Oh. Carry on…”

I used to play on this field back when I was in college. On Saturday mornings all the best players in Tacoma used to turn up here. If you made a bad pass it was a long time before you saw a ball again, unless you won it yourself. Those days are over. The field is in a horrible state; bare in some spots, ragged and overgrown in others. At least it’s a beautiful day. The last time I was here the field looked and played like a rice paddy and the game was held in monsoon conditions.

We take the kickoff, make three passes, and score. 1-0 after about 8 seconds. The first time a Hunt player touches the ball is to pick it out of the net. It’s like Germany-Holland 74 without the penalty kick.  The second time a Hunt player touches the ball is to propel the kick off directly to one of our players. We march down the field and score again. 2-0 after about 190 seconds. Now if this was a club soccer game I would be delighted, but this is Middle School Soccer, where the District AD will give a school’s AD an earful if a coach runs up the score too high. I need to put on the brakes because at the current pace we’re on course for a 40-0 result.

I had a carefully crafted substitution plan to make sure I always had strong players down the spine of the team. I scrap this plan and sub out all ten field players at one time. It doesn’t matter, and the second platoon makes it 4-0 before they all come off again. Hunt has crossed midfield exactly once.

When the score gets to 6-0, I tell the first wave of girls that we are going to limit scoring to eight goals, and that before we can score another goal, we have to string TEN consecutive passes together. Yes, if you lose the ball, you have to start counting over. I’ll count and let you know when you can go to goal, you guys worry about the passes. But before I can pull off the crew that’s on the field and tell them the new rules, the 7th goal goes in.

So in the second half the girls are really working to string ten passes together. Seven seems to be the stumbling block, then they manage ten passes twice but in their excitement they find themselves offside on both occasions. I haven’t told the parents, but they have figured it out. I can here them whispering on the sidelines. “Six…seeeeven… yes, yes,…AAgh!”

Late in the game, I get the opportunity to say something that I have never said in 14 years of coaching.

As a player runs onto the field, I actually hear these words come out of my mouth: “Hey wait! You can’t take your cell phone onto the field with you!”

Middle School Soccer. Like nothing else

 

Surge International Bolivia 2016

As 2015 comes to a close, planning is already underway for Surge International to return to Bolivia in 2016

This Christian mission focuses on the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (the fastest growing metropolitan area in South America) and several smaller communities in the nearby Montanas de la Valle.  Bolivia is an amazing, soccer-crazed country full of warm, friendly people; many of whom have tremendous spiritual and physical needs.  Our job is to support local people who are already doing good work in these communities in any way we can, using futbol as a way to build and foster relationships and deliver a message of hope and salvation through Jesus Christ

Current projects:

Santa Cruz de La Sierra

U.E.B. Escuela de Futbol: What started out several years ago with one coach and one soccer ball has now grown into a full fledged soccer academy that uses “Divine Principles” to teach both soccer and life skills to mostly lower income boys and girls in Santa Cruz.  There is no shortage of soccer schools in this futbol obsessed city, but the U.E.B. is unique in it’s approach due to it’s affordability and Christian message.

Surge International provides staff for special week long camps, new and used gear and equipment, and technical support to the local coaching staff

Fulbito Street Ministry: Fulbito is what the locals call their outdoor version of futsal, played on concrete courts that are ubiquitous to the city.  What started out as a way for Surge team members to let off steam and play some pickup soccer for fun is now developing into a opportunity to build relationships and positively impact the lives of young men and women who live in the area near the Stansberry Children’s Home where our team is based.

(Stansberry Children’s Home, by the way, is an amazing organization for Bolivian orphans that could also really use your support)

Montanes de la Valle:

A bus trek through jungle passes takes us up into the desert at the foot of the Andes.  Working with local communities, Surge’s three pronged programming includes

Soccer Camps– free games, instruction, and activities for local kids of all ages

Coaching Education– Sharing tactical, technical, and teaching methodology with local coaches and teachers who do not have much exposure to modern coaching education and ideas

Futsal Competion– In each community we visited,  Surge fielded a mens and a womens team for friendly games against local competition.  Our womens team won every game in 2015.  Our mens team, featuring mostly multi sport high school kids, could use some reinforcements for 2016

We are not looking to be a traveling road show.  Our goal is to grow and build all of these relationships long term. As this ministry grows, we will be adding other projects as well.  If you have gifts or skills that could strengthen our group, and if God is putting it on your heart to help these wonderful Bolivian people, please contact us via our website http://www.surgesoccer.org