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MLS and U.S. Youth Soccer Announce New Partnership

US Youth Soccer and MLS logos

On Friday May 16th, the MLS and U.S. Youth Soccer announced a new partnership to help identify the player jewels that surely exist in the United States. It’s not the first time it’s been tried, and I suspect it won’t be the last. This is the latest in a string of failed attempts to identify and lift the quality of our player pool in the United States.

It also comes one month after dropping the Development Academy partnership, and the MLS creating their own competitive league.

This time they are attacking the barrier of pay-to-play by funding regional competition events so that quality players of any financial background have an opportunity to be identified.

They also promise to address improving player identification and monitoring, and coaching and scouting education for parents, coaches and volunteers.

It’s a good sounding announcement, and we hope it will work, but the goals are just words, and we will need fundamental changes in the way we look at the players.

In the U.S. we have a tendency to look at the size, strength, speed, and general athletic ability of a player and decide those are the qualities of a good player. They are important, but more important is the skill of the player with ball management at either foot, the players vision of the field, and their soccer awareness that is manifested by a player letting the ball do as much of the work as possible, leveraging their teammates, and their movement off the ball to be creating space and moving into space that puts them in the best position to help their team win.

One of the finest examples of an overlooked player is Chris Wondolowski, who still doesn’t get the credit for his quality of play, but who scored more goals in less time in MLS play than any other player in MLS history. He doesn’t fit the current player model because the people who make the judgements aren’t necessarily good enough to recognize the skill and talent he does have.

Once we overcome our prejudices in player identification, then we will make the significant strides needed to compete on the world stage. In the meantime, the MLS will continue with their own youth academy teams, and I suspect will continue to do what they have always done.

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