The Copa Independencia is the self-proclaimed “mejor torneo de clubes del continente categoria sub-17;” the best club tournament in the continent for under-17 sides, and kicked off proceedings earlier in the week. This year’s edition of the under 17 youth tournament is hosted by Club América, Cruz Azul and Pumas. From Mexico, Pachuca, Monterrey and Chivas de Guadalajara join the joint-hosts. Sao Paulo and Santos flew up from Brazil with Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors, while Russian side CSKA Moscow round out the 10 team competition.
You can follow the match results with this link. But to me the youth club culture is more important than the results of the tournament. You could argue that this tournament unearths future stars, like Erick “Cubo” Torres. But the mentality of the Chivas youth system is responsible for developing a player you would have gotten a spotlight regardless of the platform. As an American looking in, two thoughts flooded into my head when I read about this tournament on Tuesday evening. Firstly, who won the matches on the first two gamedays and secondly, what would it take for an American club to compete at a tournament of this level.
The initial thought stems from an American impulse for winning. So much of American sports, which has sadly transcended into American soccer, follows the mantra of Ricky Bobby: If you ain’t first, you’re last.
For the longest time there seemed to be an American perversion towards youth tournaments every week. Partly because massive tournaments give scouts a chance to watch hundreds of players in one day. The need to congregate so many players is the result of a terrible network for identifying talent in America. Everywhere else in the world, clubs actively seek talent and hold open and free trials for youths with ambitions (see Luis Suarez’s personal story on Premier League World magazine show). But in this country, a player has to pay to try-out for club teams and foot the bill for travel costs to weekend tournaments in which a player may play as many as ten games in a two or three day span.
People with brains on their shoulders say that youth soccer players should spend more time on tactical and technical training than on marathon style tournaments. An article by Leander Shaerlaeckens on ESPN sums it up better than I could…: “In its zeal to create better soccer prospects, the youth soccer community in the U.S. had crammed more and more games and tournaments into tight schedules, leaving little time for the necessary repetitions that might not come in a game but that are fundamental to the pursuit of professional-grade skills. Youth soccer, the task force decided, had to be brought back to basics: lots of practice interspersed with a few good games against quality opposition.” The Development Academy league was created to fill the void of quality competition at a youth level on the national stage, allowing high levels of competition for youth teams.
Claudio Reyna was recently appointed by Jurgen Klinsmann to oversee youth development in American soccer. He stresses that American club coaches need to switch their mentality away from winning and towards producing quality players if the Untied States is going to be truly competitive on the global stage. The focus should be on players first and then results second.
Often times in youth tournaments, even prestigious ones like the Dallas Cup, scorelines can run 6-0 or 9-1. That’s fine, because there’s nothing on the line. At least there shouldn’t be. Players need to be brought up in a less pressurized atmosphere where the fear of losing is not imposed down upon them by a screaming despotic coach. In that respect, it is not a matter of whether American youth teams (MLS academies, USSF Development Academy-affiliated, or independently operated clubs) can compete on the field with the Arsenal side that won the 2011 Dallas Cup, or those playing in the 2011 Copa Independencia. The real question, is whether these American clubs can become as competitive off the field; whether they can go out to find promising talent and cultivate them into quality professionals.
Josh Gatt played for Michigan-based Development Academy club Derby Wolves. Gatt made the right choice professionally by skipping college and flying to Europe to sign with SCR Altrach. Recently Seth Moses, a midfielder in the u-18 pool and a stand-out for his Development Academy club, signed with the same Austrian second division team. The Development Academy is bringing about professional players, but we haven’t had time to observe its full impact on the national team.
The clubs invited to the Copa Independencia this year are at the top of their respective countries and among the best in the world. Monterrey sent 5 players and Chivas sent 4 into Mexico’s World Cup winning u-17 side. Chivas have had a knack of producing national team players for a while, also having 5 players named into this summer u-20 World Cup team and 6 players in the original u-22 squad list for Copa America. This is the future that the Development Academy can aspire to, rolling out national team products en masse.