Surveying the Soccer Scene: American Youth Soccer

The strides that the United States Soccer Federation’s Development Academy has made since its inception has produced much hullabaloo recently.  Just last month, both the u15/16 and u17/18 age divisions wrapped up their national playoffs with the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas claiming the respective trophies.  This season’s playoffs saw more exciting American youth prospects than prior years.  The Development Academy (DA) has become the preeminent choice of age eligible soccer players in the United States.  But what about after high school?

If players are good enough, can find a national amateur team near their hometown or college’s town, and are willing to put in the time without an immediate tangible gain… they can play in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League or in the National Premier Soccer League during the summers of their college career.

What can players do if they don’t live near clubs in these leagues?  Or if a young player and his parents decide to pursue soccer before age 15?  What if players are competitive at a u18 level but can’t yet make the cut in the PDL or NPSL?  These are the questions I’m trying to probe in this exercise on the multiple structures of youth soccer in the United States.

During college, there are currently several paths for players to get from “youth” leagues to the “professional” leagues.  Most of these paths include college soccer during the NCAA season, as even promising prospects from MLS academies still play college ball, but in the summer athletes have a number of options.  Considered the most professional of the various summer leagues for college-aged players, United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League (PDL) offers a high level of competition with established clubs that are often scouted by Major League Soccer teams.

The second most well regarded national amateur league, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), is growing in its number of teams and nation-wide profile.  NPSL allows new clubs to join for smaller expansion fees and operate a lower-cost business model while claiming to provide the same level of play on the field as the PDL.  United Soccer Leagues’ Super-20 League is a u-20 league that was designed as a stepping stone between youth leagues (Super Y-League) and the PDL.  There are many S-20 clubs in areas without PDL teams and several S-20 teams that also operate youth development structures. Continue reading

The College Soccer Season is Kicking Off

NCAA Division 1 has 203 nationally ranked teams, 13 of which are in Upstate New York in 7 different athletic conferences.  Teams are ranked according to the Rankings Percentage Index (RPI) was released today, a system in based on a school’s record and the strength of their schedule.

The 13 Upstate Division 1 Men’s Soccer programs from a variety of conferences finished the 2011 season with varying degrees of success.  SUNY Binghamton (154) and SUNY Albany (156) play in America East.  Syracuse (179) plays in the Big East.  Niagara (105), Siena (173), Marist (122), and Canisius (197) play in Metro Atlantic. Hartwick (108) and Universtity at Buffalo (146) play in Mid-American.  Colgate (90) and Army (177) play in Patriot.  Cornell (64) plays in Ivy.  St Bonaventure (198) plays in Atlantic 10.

In the full list of rankings for the 2011 season can be found here.  The best represented conference is the Atlantic Coast, which has 3 teams in the top 10.  Sadly my college (Hamilton) does not have a Division 1 athletic program, but I will be following these 13 teams throughout the season and living vicariously through their relative successes.  Somehow the NCAA secured a TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel to broadcast a couple games a week for the duration of the college soccer season.  Unfortunately none of the Upstate schools will be broadcast this year.

Every year after the MLS Draft, dozens of promising college soccer talents are signed by the MLS club while several others are waived.  Some of these players wind up in the lower divisions of American soccer like Rhinos break out star J.C. Banks.  Others still opt to ply their trade in Europe with Scandinavia still a popular destination. Continue reading

Robbie Keane’s Red Card, José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto, and CCL Refereeing

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard of a controversy with CONCACAF referees and, undoubtedly, it won’t be the last.  In the past week there has been a big fuss about referees in MLS.  Mark Geiger seemingly threw a game between Philadelphia and D.C. United out of whack by himself.  Jasen Anno pretended no one has ears or eyes and tried to take back a penalty he called in Portland’s visit to the New York Red Bulls.  Neither of those botched referee calls can compare to the performance of José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

“Hold on guys, hold on, hold on.. I totally got this!” says a clearly confused Peñaloza during Thursday night’s CCL match.

Because the Champions League is a CONCACAF competition, the referees are provided by all (or most) member nation federations.  Peñaloza became a referee in Mexico’s Primera Division in 2007 but has not demonstrated an improved control of games since that time.  

Players and coaches and spectators look for a few things in a good referee.  First is fairness, followed by consistency, and then maybe modesty.  You could make an argument that Peñaloza displayed none of those traits in his controversial performance.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about by now, have a look at the following incident. Continue reading

Response to “MLS needs to clampdown on the F-word chanting at referees”

I haven’t done this before but I love berating the opinions of others so I’m going to go through point and point and write why this article was a waste of time.

“It’s time for Major League Soccer to clean up its game. R-rated chants should not be welcome at a PG-rated sport.”

In this country, as long as there are actual fans in the seats there is no PG-rated sporting event.  This isn’t Chuck E Cheese’s; this is a match in which supporters have emotional vested interest.  There is a legitimate discussion that needs to take place in the American soccer community about the use of offensive chants but that discussion does not revolve around referees.

“What a perfect moment to introduce young people to the beautiful game…. Those youngsters got to see an ugly side of the sport and left with their ears ringing from the foul-mouth chants spewed out by a certain section of fans upset over a number of referee decisions.”

That “certain section” is the Barra Brava, D.C. United’s supporters’ group, and is the lifeblood of the league.  Supporter’s Groups are the reason why attendance has swelled in MLS (making MLS 8th in the world) and they deserve the praise of the league’s fans.  Perhaps Supporter’s Groups across the country have also earned the scorn of over protective suburban soccer moms but SG members are season ticket holders while the author of this article is talking about a parent taking his or her children to a soccer game for the first time.  If it came down to it, the league would have to choose season ticket holding fans over mildly interested families attending their first game. Continue reading

Hoxie’s Late Goal Squeaks the Rhinos Past Pittsburgh Riverhounds

The game wasn’t pretty but at the end of 90 minutes the Rhinos had done enough to claim victory in their regular season finale.  In the 87th minute of the match Andrew Hoxie played a give and go with Tyler Rosenlund at the top of the opposition box before curling a shot to the far post.  While certainly on different levels, Hoxie’s goal reminded a beleaguered Tottenham supporter of Demba Ba’s goal earlier in the day.

Even though the game was scoreless for 86 minutes, doesn’t mean the match was boring.  Kristian Nicht was going nuts all game.  Each time the ball went out of play for a goal kick, Nicht immediately turned to the ball-boys behind the net screaming, “Ball! Now! Ball! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!”  Rochester had one goal kick late in the game after going ahead.  When the ball went out, Nicht pointed at the ball-boys and yelled “No!” so then he could walk over and retrieve the ball himself.

Nicht was as animated as I have ever seen a professional athlete.  He was screaming the entire game; at ball-boys, at linesmen, at the center ref, at his teammates, at the crowd at end of the game… At one point in the game, Nicht yelled the greatest thing I have ever heard hurled at a referee.  When a Rhinos player was clearly fouled but the official decided not to blow his whistle Nicht yelled from half the field away in his thick accent, “What! Do you have eyes?!Continue reading

El Tri Stutters Against the United States

I was lucky enough to be a part of something special on Wednesday night.  Not only was I with a group of other American Outlaws watching the United States Men’s National Team make history with their 1-0 victory at Estadio Azteca, but we were part of a dual fan base effort at a Rochester area Mexican restaurant.  I said in an earlier post about the U.S.-Mexico rivalry that the two footballing nations are intrinsically intertwined and this came to light on Wednesday as well.  Here are the conclusions I reached about the Mexican national team after two car ride discussions Thursday afternoon with my girlfriend, a lifelong Mexico supporter.

By most accounts, Mexico should have done better than they did against their biggest rivals.  El Tri was missing two players from their first choice XI, Carlos Salcido and Giovani dos Santos, but Mexico still trotted out a much more experienced starting lineup than the United States.  Mexico dominated in all statistics but one; the score.  Mexico had 19 attempts on goal to 7 for the United States, 13 total shots to 7, 10 corner kicks to 0, 34 crosses to 4, 490 passes to 248, 66.2% possession to 33.8%.  The point is, quite simply, that Mexico could not score.

Jorge Torres Nilo is Mexico’s first choice left back and the pairing of Hector Moreno and Maza (Francisco Javier Rodriguez) is the partnership for the next World Cup cycle.  Hiram Mier, an Olympic breakout player, is one for the future but at age 22 he isn’t better than either center back who started.  Severo Meza is the right back that started the last two World Cup Qualifiers and he is some way better than late game substitute Enrique Perez and Efrain Juarez at the moment.  This means that in each of the four defensive positions, Mexico played their strongest option.

Jesus Zavala is a starting XI player for Mexico in central midfield.  The other starter in Chepo de la Torre’s 4-2-3-1 is Carlos Salcido.  The former Fulham left back now plays one of the two holding midfield roles for Mexico and he was missed against the United States  In his place, 24 year old Manuel Viniegra made his debut for El Tri as Salcido recovered from his participation in the Olympic Games. Continue reading

Sober Reactions to the Historic U.S. Mexico Match

My initial reaction Wednesday night and most of Thursday was jumping up and down yelling USA! USA!  Now that it’s Friday I feel as though I should post my thoughts about the game from the American perspective.

First and foremost: Geoff Cameron, where have you been all my life?  The recent Stoke City signing was a star of the game for the U.S. along with goalkeeper Tim Howard.  Cameron was dominant in the air and made a point to put a body on Chicharito early and often.  Cameron’s constant reminders to the forward were one of the reasons why Chicharito was unable to put his mark on the contest.  

Tim Howard had his best game for the national team in a calendar year, perhaps with the exception of the match against Italy in Genoa.  Howard was absolutely fantastic in goal on Wednesday night and made two of the biggest saves of recent memory late in the game to preserve the U.S. lead.

Maurice Edu did not earn similar plaudits.  He sometimes looked lost playing in defense instead of his normal midfield role but was physically strong enough to adapt quickly.

Fabian Johnson has proved in the past that he is Klinsmann’s first choice left back.  Klinsmann trusted him so much that he played Johnson on the right side and employed Castillo on the left side.  Edgar Castillo played well in the first half but once Mexico opened the game up in the second period, the Tijuana left back appeared to struggle with the pace and intensity of the match.

Jermaine Jones was solid defensively but lacked quality going forward.  Kyle Beckerman played a strong game and wasn’t intimidated by the atmosphere in the Azteca.  Danny Williams made a couple of quality runs in the first half but didn’t do much else to impress while playing in an unusual formation.  The 4-3-1-2 also failed to get the best out of Jose Francisco Torres.  Pachuca’s talismanic attacking midfielder was largely absent from the game and he was subbed out at halftime. Continue reading