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?

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