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Op-Ed / Dan Roudebush

A national fan movement needed to push for pro player development.

By Dan Roudebush
Special to SoccerTimes

(Saturday, August 29, 1998) -- The United States Soccer Federation annual convention in Maui, Hawaii, is over, and Alan Rothenberg's departure leaves U.S. soccer at a crossroads. While Rothenberg has done much for professional soccer he left a major challenge for the U.S. soccer community: development of American professional soccer players.

Pro development is in a state of disarray. Pros should develop pros. Not the USSF Olympic Development Program nor the colleges, essentially an amateur federation system, even if expanded by Project 2010.

By now all but the most naive have written off ODP and colleges as capable of developing professional players of future international quality. The number of exceptions is inconsequential. The ballyhooed Project 40 Major League Soccer cooked up as a replacement is a sham. Look at the numbers.

MLS has already announced two more expansion teams are coming up and this will mean a minimum of 30 new U.S. players. Not to mention rollover of from the first two years of league operations, and dropouts that don't make the grade, Project 40 should be running 80-100 hundred players today. To get higher quality and create job pressure double those figures.

Ah, you say there is the minor league United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues. Consider that for development purposes the minor leagues are way over age. In 1997 we sampled approximately 22 per cent of the USISL teams for U.S. and foreign players by age. Here are the results:

Average age U.S. player: 24.9
Number of U.S. players sampled: 327
Age range of U.S. player: 18-38
Number of foreigners: 115
Age range of foreigners: 19-35.

Extrapolating to all 101 teams, average 20 players per team:

Number of U.S. players: 1,495
Number of foreign players: 525

We also counted those U.S. players under 21, on the theory they would still have some development years. There were only 26 in our sample extrapolating out to 114 or less than eight percent of the total American players in USISL. And we had no way of telling if the young ones were playing or growing splinters, Germany coach Bertie Vogts’ complaint about no under-21's playing in the Bundasliga.

This trend continued in 1998. We don't have a large enough sample size yet but the average age is still about the same for the A-League, and it appears, unfortunately, also for D-3 teams. Incidentally, these figures are hard to come by. The USSF should demand that USISL commissioner Francisco Marcos produce age stats.

The withheld-from-the-public Carlos Queiroz USSF report on American youth development, which should be released to everyone that has ever contributed a cent to the USSF coffers, calls for an under-19 professional league. You could get the same result by having D-3 Professional League third division teams average out at 21 or 20. Then the young ones would have some older experience to play with, something missing in a straight age restricted league.

And no wonder there is no youth in our development leagues. There is no professional identification and recruitment process in place. Neither MLS nor the USISL has put together a package to sell young players to try a career in professional soccer. Yeah, you say, but kids should go to college. How about recruiting those that don't? Over 25 percent of high school grads pass up college (double for Hispanics) counting those that drop out after a year this percentage rises to almost one-third.

Dollars? Don't swallow the MLS owners groaning about losses and no money for development. If clubs were released today from single entity to develop players, a half million dollars per club could be raised in cash or services from local sponsors, volunteers, and fans with young blood as bait. Baseball, junior hockey, golf, and surfers all do it.

Please help our national fan movement to get the MLS involved in player development at the 16-19 year old level similar to baseball and youth hockey. Your support will help get this on the MLS owners agenda coming up soon. Get those placards out in front of the TV cameras at your next MLS game. March around the ticket booth, circulate at the tailgates.

"400 not 40", "MLS Young Blood Now!" anything to get the owners off their proverbial duffs. There are a lot more like exciting MLS teenager Jamar Beasley out there.

Dan Roudebush has 25 years experience as a coach and trainer of coaches. He is currently boys coach at Konawaena High School in Hawaii and can be e-mailed at easybi@aloha.net. His web site, operated with Dan Barnes, is http://www.visi.com/~dpbarnes/Commentary/Index.html.

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