The View from South Texas -- Notes on the 2015 U-20 WC

Discussion in 'Prem talk, Those Other Leagues, and International' started by HatterDon, Jun 18, 2015.

  1. HatterDon

    HatterDon Moderator

    Mar 18, 2006
    Peoples Republic of South Texas
    The View From South Texas – Notes on the 2015 U-20 World Cup

    This year, for the first time in my life, I watched the United States perform in an U-20 World Cup. I watched every minute of every match the lads played, and enjoyed much of it. I learned a considerable amount about the state of our game vis-a-vis the rest of the world at this age group. Here's some thoughts.

    This is the first time I've ever seen American soccer players in a competition where they were not the fittest and most disciplined players on display. Fitness, discipline, and a total commitment to the team is the trio that was immortalized by Sir Alex Ferguson as “that American thing.” With the exception of our match against New Zealand, this was not this case. If our players were remarkable in this, it's certainly not down to any of them. What it IS down to is our system of player development in this country.

    In countries like Ukraine, Germany, Serbia, and Colombia, players attach themselves to professional clubs at very early ages. They play competitively while still young. In Europe, everyone does this, but it is especially in the “smaller” countries, where players in their late teens and early 20s are most apt to be playing regularly in professional leagues. The Ukranian and Serbian teams were filled with players who play on first team squads in the lower divisions of their professional systems. Of the players in the US squad, only Rubio Rubin is first choice in a professional league, and – and I might be wrong here – only Bradford Jamieson and Emerson Hyndman have contributed to their clubs while playing significant minutes. It should be no surprise that those three players, along with three or four others, displayed the kind of fitness that their opponents [other than New Zealand] displayed.

    For other American players who are tied to MLS clubs, or clubs in the Mexican, English, or German leagues, most of their match work is in scrimmages or short appearances in cup matches. It became obvious also that these players are not high enough up the hierarchy to work on ALL their skills. For this reason, we fielded flair players without discipline or vision, and hard workers without remarkable technical skills. Only players who have heavy doses of both are going to make a professional career at any level in any country. I wonder, also, if we and New Zealand [again] were the only countries who fielded amateurs at this level?

    How can we produce professional footballers in their teens with significant experience as well as training that emphasizes fitness, discipline, and skill? One thing that's been rolling around in my head since the Ukraine match is that I'd like to see at least two MLS minor leagues – staffed with established professionals and kids right out of college or high school. The main MLS clubs can start their high draft choices there and give them 90 minutes each week rather than 15 minutes every three weeks. With each MLS club providing a team concept throughout the three levels, a player “making it to the majors” will be more ready for prime time, and those still working their way up the ladder will be forged in the crucible of meaningful matches and league tables. Also, clubs will be able to identify those who will never make the big club.

    Yes, it's hard to put something like this together. I think it will take the amalgamation of the MLS with USL 1&2 and the NASL. I'd be happy with San Antonio as the top level farm club for one of the MLS sides. Will it happen? I don't know. Since the league began, I have yet to see a coherent “long view” from the halls of MLS ivy. I have a sneaking suspicion that JK would love that sort of scheme.

    And now to the games. I saw a sustained level of toughness from our kids. There were a couple who routinely infuriated me, but several who I think have a bright future in the game. Paul Arriola is strong and has a tireless motor. Tommy Thompson may be starting in the MLS before his 21st birthday. Matt Miazga and Joel Soñora show a lot of promise. Here's the list, in order, of players who impressed me most:

    1. Rubio Rubin – He's a hard worker with a good eye for the pass and he's greedy in front of goal. It's a shame that he was so often up there by himself. I'd like to have a word with Tab about that. Yes, he's small, but he's very strong. I think he has a bright future and was, in my opinion, clearly the best American on display.

    2. Cameron Carter-Vickers – I had never heard of this guy, but boy can he play. When I found out in the Serbia match that he was only 17, I was stunned. I think if I were Spurs, I'd be considering turning him into a defensive mid. He's got two good feet to match his heading, and there wasn't a striker he faced that bettered him for speed or strength.

    3. Zack Steffen – When they name the “Best XI,” I expect him to be the keeper. While his penalty saves were remarkable, it was his decisiveness that really caught my eye. He has great footwork and positioning. His distribution needs work, but – please don't shoot the piano player – he already looks a better keeper than Bettinelli.

    4. Emerson Hyndman – After the New Zealand match, the word was out: shut down number 8 and the Americans are weaker. EVERY team we faced put him in a straight jacket, but he still found 8-10 minutes a match to break through and influence the game. He's very decisive on the fast break and has a good shot. I'd like to see him replace Parker for Fulham this season. We'll see.

    5. Bradford Jamieson – If he doesn't get injured, I think we're still playing. He's fast and strong and committed. The Galaxy have a fine player here, and he was just what we needed as an attacking partner for Rubin. When he came on as a sub in our first match, things changed dramatically for the good, and when he left the pitch injured, Rubin never had a reliable attacking partner.

    Who disappointed? Well, it's hard to level too many brickbats at players who had poor matches. As long as Rubin was up front by himself and Hyndman was shackled, we were always going to struggle to stay in matches. The fact that we nearly got to the semis is testimony to the entire playing squad, but … . The player I was MOST looking forward to seeing was the player who frustrated me most. This entire past season, I heard and read about Gedion Zelalem, the attacking midfielder who is in Arsenal's youth squad. Man did he drive me crazy. When we were counter attacking, he was the guy most likely to hose it up. How? Mostly by making the best pass one or two seconds too late. The guy he was passing to would have to backtrack to get the ball, or a defender would intercept. He got his head up in time to see what was happening, but his reactions were much too slow. He also seemed to be easily manhandled at times. This was especially maddening, because there were other times that he was aggressive and hard to dispossess. Yes, he has flair, but all too often all I could think of was Freddy Adu.

    Over all, though, I enjoyed watching the lads, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of them feature more over the coming 18 months.
    SoCalJoe, nevzter, astroevan and 2 others like this.
  2. ChicagoCottager

    ChicagoCottager Active Member

    Jan 16, 2015
    Great breakdown HD. I agree with a lot of that.

    Having watched the US in a number of youth tournaments over the years, I think this was the most talented group we've ever sent to a youth tournament. In that sense, the result was disappointing because I think this was our best ever chance to win a world youth tournament. You mentioned the lack of professional players, but compared to teams from 15 or 20 years ago, it's night and day in terms of players at full-time professional clubs, either in MLS or abroad. 15 or 20 years ago, you might have seen half college players, this team only had one. We may not be where we want to be with youth development, but we're moving in the right direction.

    In regards to the MLS minor leagues, some clubs have started to set up something like this. My MLS team, Portland Timbers, have set up "T2", which is essential a reserve team that plays in the USL. The Timbers also have a U23 team in the USL PDL (which primarily consists of college players during their off-season). I think more teams are starting to move toward this setup, but given the fractured league setup in the US, each team is kind of on their own to create their own structure.
    encorespanish, nevzter and HatterDon like this.
  3. nevzter

    nevzter Well-Known Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    A City by a Bay
    As for player development, I agree with the proposition to establish a "AAA" type structure for MLS clubs. Promotion / relegation isn't on the table in the foreseeable future (or if ever), thus MLS would be wise to purchase either the USL or NASL and create, essentially, a minor league that mirrors the North American models of MLB and NBA. As Chicago stated, a handful of MLS clubs have established development clubs in the USL and that is a positive step forward in my opinion.
  4. SoCalJoe

    SoCalJoe Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2006
    Walnut, CA
    Great stuff HD! The kids ended up losing to the eventual champions in Serbia (talking about a team of destiny, the Serbs won all their knockout games in extra-time or PKs).
    nevzter likes this.
  5. HatterDon

    HatterDon Moderator

    Mar 18, 2006
    Peoples Republic of South Texas
    I stumbled across this article today after the morning's Boxing Day fitba, and I thought it might be fun to follow up on the players I highlighted as "Impressive."

    Rubio Rubin -- He's still on Utrecht's books in the Eredivisie, but according to the stats I found, he's only turned out for them once and for a second-tier Dutch team three times. I hope it's not a health problem.

    Cameron Carter-Vickers -- Pottechino likes him so much he didn't want to loan him out this season. He trains regularly with the first team, but has only appeared twice -- in the league cup. I still think he's going to be an incredibly talented defender some day.

    Zack Steffen -- when I saw him he was with Freiberg. Now he's part of the Columbus Crew organization. He played a few matches for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds this season. He's still only 21, but I guess nobody was as impressed with him as I was.

    Emerson Hyndman -- off to Bournemouth where he was injured in pre-season. Two sub appearances very early this season is it for the guy in the squad with the biggest immediate prospects. It didn't look good when the club secured the loan of the Arsenal almost star. Ah well.

    Bradford Jamieson -- Spent most of 2016 in the domestic second tier -- one goal in 20 matches. Still only 20, so there's still a chance for him.

    Tommy Thompson -- Still part of the Earthquakes, I guess. I couldn't find any data for him in 2016

    Paul Arriola -- As near as I can tell, he's still with Tijuana. I thought he was pretty impressive in his summer full internationals. He might have made the biggest stride since the World Cup

    Matt Miazga -- Like Carter-Vickers, this is a "can't miss" central defender. I thought he'd be wasted at Chelsea, but he had two starts for the first team shortly after signing. He's a regular now with Vitesse in Holland. I expect his next step is a loan to the Championship. 18 managers ago, he looked the heir apparent to John Terry, but who knows what's next at the dog track?

    Joel Sonora plays in the third tier of German football where at least he's getting some game time.

    and the one one who disappointed me

    Gidion Zelalem -- After a disappointing loan to Glasgow Rangers last season [in the Scottish 2nd tier], he's back with Arsenal and has made a couple of appearances in the League Cup. He's continuing to flatter to deceive [as our Brit cousins like to say].

    If anyone has any more complete information on any of these guys, let me know.
    SoCalJoe, encorespanish and nevzter like this.
  6. nevzter

    nevzter Well-Known Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    A City by a Bay
    Great revisit, HD. FYI, Thompson is still with the Quakes - was in the "homegrown" MLS match this past year. Sees minutes occasionally and has solid potential, but for my boy and many others, he's kind of a cult favorite.

    And who knows, Hyndman stays with Fulham, isn't injured and the Whites are sitting around 3 or 4 in the table.
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