Posts Tagged ‘ODP’

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com

I sometimes wonder how much the United States Soccer Federation cares about developing the game in this country.

I’m sure the federation cares. But not as much as it cares about the almighty dollar.

Fourteen years ago, Garden City High School had one of the best boys soccer teams in Kansas. That’s right, the city of less than 30,000 people, nestled in the desolate high plans of southwest Kansas, had one of Kansas’ best teams. They had a kid named Juan Torres, a tall, powerful, graceful forward. He scored many goals that year, one coming on a jaw-dropping bicycle kick. It was the most beautiful goal I’ve seen a high school player score.

The Buffaloes also had a goalkeeper named Miguel Benitez. Strong, big, quick, Benitez was an elite goalkeeper. They also had Luis Posada, a magician with the soccer ball at his feet.

From that point, I was convinced some of the best soccer in Kansas was not played in the burbs or in the metros, but in southwest Kansas. Around that time, Liberal – which sits on the Oklahoma panhandle and is closer to Tucumcari, New Mexico, than Wichita, began a dominant run, which climaxed with the 2011 Class 5A state championship. Some of those Liberal teams were incredible, routinely beating teams 10-0.

This past fall, Dodge City made a case for being the greatest high school boys soccer team in Kansas history by going 21-0.

All the while, I’ve wondered why more of these guys don’t get looked at by the United States. Liberal once had a player get a look by Sporting Kansas City, and Dodge City senior ball wizard, Joshua DonJuan*, is a regional player in the Olympic Developmental Program, one way the USSF uses to try to identify talent. But again it goes back to dollar signs. It cost a Kansas kid $55 up front to try out for ODP.

* – Can we agree that there has never been a better name to market United States soccer than Joshua DonJuan?

But it shouldn’t be up to these kids in these rural places and smaller cities and metropolitan areas to get noticed. It’s up to the USSF to find them.

The USSF is starting a new system to identify girls talent, called the Development Academy (the DA is already around for boys). Actually, let’s clarify that. It’s a system to identify talent in the metros, and only from certain clubs.

And, on top of that, you better have some money stashed away. Not only are club fees usually high – they can vary from about $500 a year to well into the thousands – but that doesn’t take into account travelling. For the two Kansas City-area clubs that will be in the girls’ DA – Sporting Blue Valley and FC Kansas City, the only other clubs in their conference are in Colorado in Texas. Even if you meet halfway, you’re travelling eight hours round trip for one or two games, and could be staying overnight.

Not to mention that DA games will feature limited substitutions. You come out, you’re finished playing. Yeah, I would love to spend all that money in club fees and send my kid on an eight-round round trip for two games, only to see them get token 10 minutes of playing time each game. Or better, yet, to see my kid get a hard knock early in a game, come out, and then be subbed because the coach didn’t want to play shorthanded for more than a couple minutes.

Whee! Money well spent there.

So really, what the United States is looking for with the DA, is talented players from certain clubs in certain metropolitan areas whose families have money. Yes, there are scholarships available, which is great, but that doesn’t even start to come close to the core issue with the DA.

I don’t fault any parent for wanting their kids to play DA, and I don’t fault clubs for wanting to have a DA affiliation. There’s no doubt the DA teams – which are the top teams in a respective age division in a DA-affiliated club – will be good and have some of the nation’s best talent.

The problem here isn’t with the parents or clubs. It’s with US Soccer. It’s naive on the part of US Soccer, and borderline insulting, to market the DA as the place to play if you want your kid to have the correct inroads to top college soccer, professional soccer and the United States’ national teams.

While I have no doubt the DA will continue to expand, and probably expand rapidly, there currently is no girls DA club in St. Louis. There is no DA club in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Memphis, Omaha or Las Vegas. There is no boys DA club in Salt Lake City.

The DA website, http://www.ussoccerda.com, boasts that “Academy clubs are located throughout the country from markets with a history of National Team player production.”

Sorry folks in New Mexico, Wichita, the Dakotas and Mississippi. If your kid is a great soccer player, you better uproot your family and move to a city with a DA club, or they probably won’t get noticed. After all, the DA brags on its web site that, “89 (percent) of all (Youth National Team) players during the 2015-2016 cycle were Academy players.” Plus, more than “50 percent of all Academy games are scouted.”

If colleges and the national teams are spending most of their time at DA events, they’re a big part of the problem, too. I once heard a story of a girl who went to a college showcase. The coaches then divided up the players into two groups. The first group was nothing but Elite Clubs National League players (the DA’s predecessor). The second group was everyone else. Most of the top college coaches went to watch the ECNL. Nice attitude. Evidently, only the good players play ECNL and everyone else is but a peasant.

And we wonder why the United States women’s team has the likes of Japan, France, England, Brazil, Sweden and Germany breathing heavily down its neck, and the US men’s team continues to lag behind the elite world powers.

There are more problems with the DA. DA teams rarely compete against non-DA teams, but friendlies can be scheduled. But I would imagine there would be hell to pay, and then some, if such a friendly is scheduled and a DA team lost to a non-DA team.

And, of course, there is no high school soccer for boys DA players, and the girls DA will quickly phase out high school soccer for their players, plus the ability to play another sport. I feel for a great soccer player who may have an equal love and talent for basketball … like Abby Wambach did.

When it comes to high school soccer, let me use the example of Newton’s Brookelynn Entz. She played some for Sporting Blue Valley and Wichita Futbol Club. She was one of the best players in Kansas this year. She’s off to Kansas State next year to play. And yet, she loved high school soccer.

After her final high school soccer game, Entz took to social media to express how much she was going to miss playing high school soccer. That it taught her so much that she never would have picked up in year-round club ball.

Entz is right. Different teammates, different coach, different opponents. That means a different role for everyone who plays club and high school. That would mean more playing time for a DA player who struggles to find the starting lineup for his or her club team, but would start for the high school. That means a DA player who is used to playing defender for their club gets the chance to play forward for the high school, and vice versa. That means a DA player who doesn’t shoulder the captain’s responsibility for the club team can learn about the leadership role that comes with being a captain for the high school.

If the United States is serious about becoming a world power in men’s soccer, and maintaining its status as the women’s world power, the United States Soccer Federation needs to start scouring the country for players, and not just from certain clubs from certain metropolitan areas. The players are out there, in every nook and cranny in this country, from Boston to Los Angeles, from Portland, Maine, to Portland Oregon, and from Kansas City to Dodge City. But, at this point in time, money is doing all the talking.

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