International Break Conclusion: Why You Should Watch TODAY!

Axel Witsel – $40mm man

The International Break is about over.  While most people will be excited to watch club soccer again (code word for EPL), there is A LOT of soccer to be excited about TODAY!  Yes, that is right –  a TUESDAY!  You have to love soccer for giving us these wonderful, competitive, dramatic, storytelling matches on a Tuesday.  Thank you soccer.  And, since has adopted Belgium as our darkhorse, today is especially big for they host Croatia in their qualifier.  There is no bigger game for Belgium in their qualification schedule than today.  Yes, it is early and Brazil seems a long time from now, but Belgium needs a result against the top team from Group A.  Croatia is currently ranked 9th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, while Belgium has moved up to 40.  Based on the FIFA rankings, Croatia seems to be the favorite for Group A — they are a country that consistently punch above their weight class in soccer.  At the same time, Belgium’s starting 11 is the third highest paid team of all the World Cup national teams – and that was before Witsel signed with Zenit for 40 million Euros.  The game is at 1:45 pm today and you can watch it on ESPN3.  In “UEFA” (“Union of European Football Associations”) qualifying, the top team from each group advances to Brazil (A-I).  The next 8 highest point getters will then compete in home and aways for 4 more spots, making it 13 from UEFA for Brazil.

Here are the other games you can watch on ESPN3:

Cyprus v. Iceland (12:00 pm)

Israel v. Russia (12:00 pm)

Georgia v. Spain (12:30 pm)

Romania v. Andorra (12:30 pm)

Bosnia-Herz. v. Latvia (1:00 pm)

Turkey v. Estonia (1:00 pm)

Bulgaria v. Armenia (1:00 pm)

Slovakia v. Liechtenstein (1:15 pm)

Switzerland v. Albania (1:30 pm)

Hungary v. Netherlands (1:30 pm)

Serbia v. Wales (1:30 pm)

No. Ireland v. Luxembourg (1:45 pm)

Greece v. Lithuania (1:45 pm)

Poland v. Moldova (1:45 pm)

Scotland v. Macedonia (2:00 pm)

France v. Belarus (2:00 pm)

Portugal v. Azerbaijan (2:15 pm)

England v. Ukraine (1:00 pm) (on Fox Soccer)


The HOME team in each match is listed first.  Here are another couple of story lines:

Can Hungary defeat Spain at home?

Hungary is in the dawning of its next great generation.  Maybe.  While Hungary’s greatness is still defined by its Wunderteam of the 1950s, they have been largely quiet in recent years, failing to qualify since the 1986 World Cup.  Can they get a result hosting Spain?  Spain has won the last three major tournaments (2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euros), a feat unmatched.  Can they make it four in a row?  This match is more important for Hungary than for Spain, who, you have to assume, will qualify.

Will there be a changing of the Guard in England?

Roy Hodgson is having to relying on inexperienced youth in their home qualifier against the Ukraine.  Walcott is out, Adam Johnson is out, Sturridge is having stomach cramps, John Terry is injured, Ashley Cole is out, Rooneyis out and almost died after the last match, and Andy Carroll was injured in his debut with West Ham.   Will a virus spoil England’s qualifier opener?  For those following, is it wise for Hodgson to keep trotting out Carrick, Gerrard, and Lampard, with a combined age of 97?  In the summer of 2014, Lampard will be 36, Gerrard 34, and Carrick 33 — how is that for your midfield?  It is a good thing Arsene Wenger is selecting the squad.

Is the US in danger of not Qualifying for the World Cup?

No, but Klinnsman is being judged harshly for the result in Kingstown on Friday night, a game nobody saw because of its limited televevision coverage — who ever heard of the beIN Sport network anyway?  Well, tonight’s game is on ESPN 2 so there is no excuse not to watch the US men play host to Jamaica.  US currently sits in second place in their group behind Jamaica.  After this match, the US will have matches against Antiqua and Barabuda away and against Guatemala at home on October 12 and 16 respectively.  The US needs to finish in the top 2 of their group of 4 to qualify for Round 4 in CONCACAF qualifying.   For those that do not know, “CONCACAF” stands for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football and is the organization the US plays within FIFA.  3.5 teams from CONCACAF qualify for the World Cup  — the US has qualified for six consecutive World Cups.  While the US is struggling behind Jamaica in Group A, Mexico is cruising in Group B and and Group C is tight between Canada, Panama, and Honduras.  As long as the US finishes in the top 2 of its group (a virtual certainty), it will make it to Round 4 (the “Hexagonal” stage).  In Round 4,  ones and twos from Groups A-C compete in home and aways.  Three teams will emerge from Round 4 with the fourth highest point team participating in an Intercontinental Playoff November 15& 19 of 2013.  The North, Central American & Caribbean Zone playoff structure is laid out here.  There is some talk about merging the qualification with South America in the future – that would improve the competitiveness of the tournament.  South American countries qualify through FIFA from their association CONMEBOL meaning CONfederacion SudaMEricana de FutBOL (yes, that is Spanish).  CONMEBOL are allocated 4.5 teams plus Brazil, the host country.

Some are already criticizing Klinnsman’s shift to possession soccer stating that we do not have the players.  The argument is that our first ever victory over Italy (in a friendly which Italy notoriously blows off) and the surprise win in Mexico City, we played just like Bradley’s team or Bruce Arena, etc.  Typical of Americans, patience is not in our vocabulary.  It is a disease that effects our youth leagues and impedes growth – win at all cost no matter what it means for the program.  For now, that means, like it has always meant, sitting back and playing defensive counter-attacking football while relying on our superior size and athleticism to out-muscle the other team.  Yes, the team is having to do that now, but remember Bradley is out–a possession style player that quarterbacks our midfield.  I hope we are patient with the development process because Klinnsman’s ideas have percolated down to the youth levels, which is where the real change can hopefully come.

Enjoy the games today!  USA! USA!  No excuse for not watching the game on ESPN2 tonight!


International Break — Get Ready for World Cup 2014

The soccer season kicked off a few short weeks ago.  Just when things were getting good, players moving, Man City contemplating a $95 million dollar bid for “sad” Ronaldo, Arsenal beating Liverpool at Anfield with scores from two of their new signings, West Brom running away with the league…a two week break.  Don’t despair.  It is actually a good thing!

We are in an international break to allow time for qualifying matches for World Cup 2014.  If you just cannot wait for Brazil, the good news is that you do not have too!  Most teams will play a match this Friday followed by a match the next Tuesday.  What fun!  Here is a link to the great World Cup website:  World Cup Website.  So, while you are lamenting the lack of club soccer the next two weeks, get excited about the story lines heading to Brazil, like

1.  If this is the golden age of soccer in Belgium, will they actually qualify for a major tournament?

2.  Will England insert life into their wings with Sterling and Ox?  Can Hodgson live up to #3 World Ranking?

3.  Can Brazil recapture the magic of 1970 at home?    Are they in the middle of another Golden Era?  Is Neymar the next Pele?

Neymar & Hulk

4.  How many more goals does Forlan have in him?

5.  Who will replace Pirlo in Italy?

6.  Was the Dutch performance in the Euros a sign of decline?

7.  Will the Germans be the most creative attacking team?  I mean, Ozil, Reus, Gotzke, Schurrle, Marin, Kroos,…and the list goes on.  Will Neuer accept the mantle of best GK in the world?

8.  Can Spain add a 4th Major tournament victory in row?  Will their core be too old in Brazil? Will they give the best player in the EPL a starting spot (yes, talking about Cazorla!)

9.  Will the US qualify without Bradley and Donovan in two games against Jamaica?

10.  Can Messi shine in National Team competition?  How will Argentina fare?

Can Belgium’s Golden Generation Qualify?

I am sure you can think of many other interesting issues.  Important games are coming up, including a biggie with Belgium playing host to group favorite Croatia on September 11.  If you need a darkhorse to follow, join me in following the Red Devils of Belgium.  With Eden Hazard creating, Lukaku up front with a robust midfield featuring Dembele, Witsel, Fellaini, and Defour, they seem strong in the middle and up front.  And, at the back, they have the best center back in the world, Vincent Kompany, who will likely be paired with Vermaelen, Vertongen, and Van Buyten.  They have bright young stars in Chadli and Alderweireld.  So, if you need someone to root for, root for the Red Devils!

As for USA, they play Jamaica away on Friday then host them the following Tuesday.  They are currently tied with Jamaica on points and would count a draw away with a home victory as a major coup.  I will be missing Bradley as I love how he “pulls the strings” for the team, but will be cheering them.Post your World Cup interests here.  Here we come Brazil!

Q & A with Justin Neese regarding New US Youth Soccer Curriculum

Reyna Delivers New Curriculum – April 2011

The new US Youth Soccer Curriculum has been addressed on this blog several times.  The New Curriculum was published in April 2011.  Here are some prior blog links:

Possession, Possession, Possession: New US Youth Soccer Guidelines

“Go on son, take him on.”

Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part II

US Youth Soccer VISION Statement

And here is a link to the actual curriculum:  New Curriculum

And here is a link to Cladio Reyna presenting the New Curriculum: Reyna Presents New Curriculum

I sent some Questions to Justin Neese regarding the new US Youth Soccer Curriculum to get his impressions of its implementation and effect.  Just has posted on here before, but I will share his qualifications and background again.

Justin played competitive soccer throughout his youth and played four years of college soccer at an NCAA Division III institution, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s degree in 2005. Since then, he has been coaching as a full-time profession on the collegiate and youth levels (3 years as a head coach at two different DIII institutions, and 3 years as a DIII assistant at two different institutions). He holds an “A” license from US Soccer in 2008, a Premier Diploma from the NSCAA in 2007, and a National Youth License from US Youth Soccer in 2003.  He has been an age group coach within the North Texas Olympic Development Program, a member of the North Texas Coaching Education Staff, and a member of the State teaching staff for the NSCAA.  He currently is the Assistant Manager of Soccer Programs for our hometown Houston Dynamo.

 Q & A with JUSTIN NEESE regarding US Youth Soccer Curriculum

What is the impact of the new US Youth Soccer Curriculum on youth soccer?

First and foremost, I think that the Curriculum is a fantastic piece of work and a massive achievement by Claudio Reyna and Dr. Javier Perez. I genuinely think that the Curriculum is a giant step towards the soccer nation that we are all trying to build because it defines the American style of soccer and the principles that flow from that style. To me, these concepts have always been somewhat vague and that the definition you got when you asked coaches, players, fans, etc. about these concepts varied widely depending on who you were talking to, who had one the last World Cup or Champions League, or who every happened to have won their Premier League or La Liga match the previous weekend. I think that having such an undefined style and set or principles was harmful to the growth of soccer in this country, to the development of our youth players and, maybe most importantly, I think that it hurt our confidence as a soccer nation and fueled a “grass is always greener,” second fiddle kind of mentality in our game that hurt our coaching and administration of the youth game.

For example, before the Curriculum, if you were to ask most youth, high school, or college coaches to define their team’s style, I think that you would have received a lot of different answers, and you would have been told that their team plays like any number of foreign professional or international sides. “Great,” you’d (and maybe I’d) think, “but my kid is an American and I don’t think that he will fit in with a Barcelona style of soccer.” The next two thoughts had to be very, very common, and I have to believe that it was an either or scenario: If the parents were determined that their kid play soccer, maybe they’d say “Where can we go where they play American soccer?” If the parents heard all of this talk of foreign teams and concepts, of all of the soccer nonsense that people like me are so prone to spout, they may start to think: “Maybe soccer’s not our game.” Beyond damaging our psyche and self-belief, I have to believe that the American soccer community’s over reliance on foreign “thinkers,” coaches, concepts and ideas has damaged the overall and systemic growth of our game in our country. Now that it is clear who we are, though, I have to believe that the tide is turning, and that we are taking steady and confident steps towards a future of “American” soccer.

Because it defines us and our “Way”, I think that the Curriculum also fills a cognitive and informational gap in our collective thinking in American soccer because it clearly and precisely spells out both the end product and the timeline; it defines the exact kind of player, teams, and games that we are trying to produce and it tells us that we are trying to produce it eventually, for the future health and wealth of our game. This was a vitally important piece of our developmental puzzle that I think was unclear over the last 40 years of organized soccer in the States because, without it, I think that it has been very difficult for a lot of very well-meaning youth coaches in our country to develop realistic coaching philosophies or long term development plans, and that this has caused our growth and development to stall or at least slow over the years.

The over-arching impact of the Curriculum is difficult to say with it being relatively new (and maybe unknown), but I think that it is clear that we can look at the Curriculum as a defining document in a relatively short line of seminal documents that have changed soccer in America.

What is the impact of the US Youth Soccer Curriculum on professionally trained academies?  

Of course, I think that the above applies to the Academy teams and Clubs, but I also think that the Curriculum has provided some much needed guidance to Academy clubs on the structure and development around their younger teams. With regard to how and what to actually coach younger players (those in “Zone One”) I think that the Curriculum does a great job, and that it offers solid advice, but I think that the real seminal works in this arena are the Vision Document (which you have already written about here), US Soccer’s Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States, Tom Turner’s Total Player Development and, from US Youth Soccer, The Official US Youth Soccer Coaching ManualSkills School and Player Development Model.  I think that these works and writers were the giants upon whose shoulders Reyna and Perez could stand in direction our new efforts and our new era.

Has there been a shift in teaching possession soccer, ball on the ground, short passes, etc., that you have noticed?  

Yes and no. It really depends on the level that we are talking about. By and large, I think that a lot of people at the top levels have found that their kids enjoy the game more, that they can win more, and that the game is “better” when they ask their players to play aesthetically pleasing soccer precisely because aesthetically pleasing soccer is also amazingly efficient, attack minded soccer that is difficult to break down and defeat. However, I think that a lot of people who are not at the top levels are having a difficult time coaching this way (despite what they might say), but that the cause of their problems is not the kids, the game, their opponents, leagues, fields, etc., the cause of their difficulties is that this kind of a game, the real game, is difficult to teach and they don’t have the knowledge base, educational spirit, or teaching skills to teach their players how to actually play the real game. The simple fact is that we may have a lot of “coaches” in American youth soccer, but we do not have a lot of teachers, and it is the teachers that we need now because they are the ones who are going to make our kids and our game strong, who are going to move us into a new era. This is exactly why US Soccer and USYSA have been saying for so long that we need our “best” coaches working with our youngest players. I also think this realization is the cause of the coaching education evolutions at US Soccer and I am trying to be as supportive as possible in these new endeavors and ambitions.

Is it hard for teachers of the game with a different philosophy to adapt their training sessions?  

Yes, but I think that it is more down to the above, than it is down to adherence to something more ideological.

Where do you anticipate the most growth of this philosophy to thrive?  

I think that the concepts and ideals presented in the Curriculum (and the other works noted here) have, in the past, found their home mostly in coaching education, in courses and coaching schools around the country. But, now that we have a well-organized base for youth soccer, now that we have organized Clubs that are professionally managed and run, and now that we have full-time professional Clubs with a noticeable stake in the present and future state and quality of youth soccer, I think that these ideas are going to find a new home with these organizations and in their leaders and, hopefully, in the hearts of all of the current players that these organizations impact so that these can go onto become our future coaches, administrators, parents and so that they can start from a better foundation than pervious generations have started.