These Are America's Questions
I'm conflicted about This is American Soccer. At times, I want to cheer Adam Spangler to the heavens, as I think he has sharply expressed an opinion that needs to be shouted to everyone associated with US Soccer / MLS / SUM. At other times, he exudes too much of the "I'm too smart and hip for this room" attitude while writing things that seem to be insightful, yet turn out to be nothing more than bland platitudes.
In his "Shooting Fish in a Barrel" post, both attitudes crystallize and decide to duke it out in my head. Rather than just moan with a headache, I think I'll vent about it here.
Adam starts by saying that much of the advice given out to date is bland and/or cliched:
ESPN the Magazine shines a light into the darkness, letting the US MNT know what it needs to do in order to compete on the international level: "deal with pressure" "play to strengths" "nurse a lead" "own the back line" "adapt and adjust" and "play with style." Genius. I thought we could use a little real world advice, a little comment on specifics that I can't find anywhere.
A noble goal, and one I agree with. Too often a goal for a team is stated as a tactic. The issue is not whether to Deal With Pressure... but how? So bonus points to Adam for delving beyond the obvious. Adam then makes big promises on what he's planning to offer:
After trolling the vast seas for wisdom, here are my sure-fire changes. This all starts with the organization, from the suits down to the coaches and players. There needs to be a major attitude adjustment.
Okay, great premise, but instead of following through on what needs to be done, he goes on an commits the same errors he blasts ESPN for. The How is abandoned simply in favor of the What:
We need more players in Europe. With all due respect to the MLS, if we enter South Africa with an equal distribution of MLS and European players, we will fail again...If our players aren't good enough to make a first-tier team, then let them eat cake with the second and third-tier teams.
We need some goals...We have targets and speedsters, ball handlers and play makers, but not someone who can do it all...
...We need an offense, so we can score goals. US Soccer always seems to fall back on its athleticism....We could use a full-court press, a fast break mitigated with a half-court offense. Lets risk a thin defense, count on our athleticism to get us back in time and yield some goals. Please, something besides run it down the flank and send a prayer into the box.
We need an international schedule...US Soccer needs to take the list from this year's final 32 teams and make sure we get a meaningful game with every one of them, preferably on foreign soil.
We need to accept MLS as a developmental league...Example: Freddy Adu. He should have been playing 90 minutes in the MLS from day one, and the second he turns 18, he should bolt for Europe. Tony Kornheiser, soccer savant he is not, even gets this one right.
Of Adam's five major points, only two are real concrete suggestions, which I rephrase as "Move away from athleticism to an offensive system" and "Treat MLS as a developmental league." I'm not even sure I agree with those points, but at least they are real strategies. The three other arguments: "Play in Europe", "Get a Goal Scorer", "Get International Competition" -- they're just as easy to say as "Play with style." It's not that the goal is bad, but I'm not sure that this is a revelation to anyone. Adam thinks more people should play in Europe, even if it is for second or third division teams. Fine. But with work permit issues abounding, how do you get those players in Europe? I'm not sure. But if you're going to demand it, you should at least think about how to do it. As for "Get a goal scorer" -- again, how do you propose that US Soccer bring that about? Will the system change do it? Adam seems to imply that it will, but I'm not sure. Again, without debating the merits of the goal, the issue here is how do you accomplish such a worthy objective. Ditto in international competition. Having listened to the Sunil Gulati conference call on Bruce (thanks Dave) you can tell that there are obstacles in scheduling European competition on FIFA fixture dates since they have Euro-qualifying. Copa Americas is again on the table. I still hold a soft-spot for the Confederations Cup (which starts with winning the Gold Cup). If Adam were to endorse any measures here, it would helpimmeasurablent immesurable.
Now, it so happens that there are other issues where Adam does make a case, and I disagree or agree with it. I think he's right on that we can't just focus on conditioning and athleticism. Word. I think he's absolutley wrong about MLS, and intensley wrong about Freddy Adu (specifically, if we treated Adu as Spangler recommends, I think he would have failed, lost confidence, and become as has-been. Piotr Nowak has done an incredible job in bringing Adu around to a point where he may not be a great Pele type star, but I have no doubt he will be a major player for the US and perhaps for some La Liga or EPL team.) But if nothing else, at least Adam makes a case there.
And that's what I'd like to see more of: Make the case. Even if I think you are wrong, at least you will have offered concrete steps which are implementable actions, not platonic ideals. Why and What are great places to start, but recommend the How. That's the challenge for all of US Soccer at this point.