A first look at Project 2010.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Tuesday, August 31, 1999) -- It didn't draw much attention but the first fruits of the much-heralded Project 2010 were on display a couple weeks ago in Mexico.
Two groups of under-14 boys, under the aegis of the United States Soccer Federation, competed in a series of three games against Mexican youths from top-notch clubs including Chivas and Atlas.
Development of young talent is the keystone to the massive eight-figure Nike-led effort to make the United States a World Cup contender by 2010. "We have improved, both in the quality of athlete and quality of soccer player," U.S. Soccer director of youth development Tim Carter said. "We have much better understanding of the game, we're technically cleaner, have more control of the ball, the speed of play is better, and so is the quality of decisions on the field. But the rest of the world is not standing still."
U.S. Soccer is moving forward with an ambitious development program in an arena that is far from unified -- with Olympic Development Programs (ODP), a new United Soccer Leagues' Y summer league, and hopes from many for eventual Major League Soccer involvement on a reserve team basis. Thirty-four players made the week-long trip to Mexico, with the "A" team going 1-2, and the "B" team 2-1.
That group was culled from a one-week San Diego training camp that consisted of 64 players from four regional ODP camps -- and, importantly, 31 other players identified by a national scouting system instituted earlier this year, consisting of eight head scouts who are independent contractors paid by monthly stipend -- and 40 scouts paid on a per-diem basis.
Also heavily involved is Juan Carlos Michia, national staff coach and coordinator for minority development. "Six of those 31 scouted players were on the teams that went to Mexico," Carter said.
U.S. Soccer had held under-14 training camps in 1997 and 1998, but this was the first with some players selected by the scouting system.
Carter said a good working relationship has been developed with ODP, which has made changes in recent years after coming under heavy fire for its selection practices. He declined to elaborate, but there is considerable turf involved in youth soccer -- club teams, high schools, state associations, the Super Y summer league, the U.S. Youth Soccer Association tournament -- and most observers believe more coordination is needed.
"It's an area we will have to address in the future," Carter said. "We certainly are going to have to sit down and decide how we're all going to proceed."
He did say he looked forward to working with elite club teams -- "the foundation of youth soccer in this country, with the continuity they offer, and they will continue to have a major role in player development."
World soccer governing body FIFA wants a calendar for club teams throughout the world. Carter would like to see one domestically for youth players "so they are not playing 12 months a year . . . and are in a position to go to ODP and other national development events."
Establishment of a formal national youth development teams program -- which would take ODP players and others, much as was done this season on a small scale, and work toward the ultimate goal, the national team -- is the goal, and he is working on plans to present to national team coach and technical director Bruce Arena.
There is no talk about copying other soccer-playing nations and having full-time youth teams or lengthy residency camps for under-14s. But he would like to be able to have elite players in this and other young age groups for 60 days a year, compared with 20 days this year.
"We mature later as soccer players," he said. "We need to cut the distance in development in a way that is compatible with our culture. We have to go in phases. It's a gradual process."
Whether Major League Soccer will get in the picture at a later date -- with respect to reserve teams -- is unknown, though that is how it is done in most soccer-playing nations. But MLS has financial problems of its own as a new league. And there are questions concerning NCAA eligibility for players who wish to go to college that must be resolved. Thus, looking to MLS for much help at this stage appears out of the picture.
Carter hopes to enlarge the under-14 pool next year from 95 to 128 -- and also work with under-15s and under-16s. "We need to broaden this as much as possible, and also look for new talent in future years," he said. "We had some players on the ‘B' team that may turn out to be better players than those on the `A' team. Good early doesn't mean good late.
Some are physically advanced at a young age and can do well just for that reason. But other players are going to undergo significant physical changes, and may also turn out to have more ability to solve problems on the field, learned in part earlier but overshadowed due to their lack of size."
Standouts on the under-14 teams that played in Mexico, according to Carter:
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.