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Op-Ed \ Dan Roudebush

MLS needs to do its part in developing professional players.

Special to SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, August 10, 1999) -- The recent success of the United States womenís soccer team is in sharp contrast to the men's performance in France last summer. And no wonder. Every nation that has reached the finals of the men's World Cup in the past 40 years has one thing in common: a professional development environment from teenagers to adults.

True, the U.S. men have been successful in the early days of regime of coach Bruce Arena they did well early for Steve Sampson before the debacle in France but for sustained improvement, itís time the United States Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer, and sponsors sat down at the table and constructed a youth pro feeder system at the high school level for MLS.

Pro club development of players aged 15-20 is a proven system world wide for ultimate success in the World Cup. Not junior national teams selected from the amateur ranks. As Arena has publicly stated, pro development for these ages is missing in the U.S. Such a system, similar to junior hockey, is the key to future success of the U.S. team and MLS competitiveness at the international level.

Project 2010 is a continuation of the old Olympic Development Program amateur college system with increased scouting, and more elite play for kids going to college. Now they call it PDO. But it isn't. USSF president Bob Contiguglia let the cat out of the bag during a half time interview of the U.S.-Argentina game when he stated PDO is really "national youth team development."

Contiguglia, emphasizing changes in scouting and exposure to best coaches for national youth team development, is merely making an attempt to improve old program objectives. It doesn't address the weaknesses identified in the Carlos Queiroz report for which the USSF paid $500,000.

Here's what Mr. Queiroz had to say on the subject: "The development of pro players in the USA historically is based almost exclusively on federation initiatives and structures. This is especially true with programs that support the activities of the national team selection, and recently the (MLS) Project-40, PDO, and under-17 residency programs.

It appears that the current approach has proven insufficient to achieve the objectives of Project 2010."

Insufficient is an understatement. Look at the historical track record of U.S. amateur\college development vs. pro club development overseas. One could argue that MLS having no pro youth development program is why the USSF 2010 document has no pro emphasis. Nonsense, it caters to the existing USSF structure. Contiguglia claims his job is to put together a system that will produce. Why doesn't the USSF then sit down with MLS and say "OK. You're our ticket to a World Cup championship. You need better upcoming U.S. pro players. How can we work together to get a 'pros develop pros' program going?"

International Management Group money would be a nice seed for MLS, but constructing a local feeder system at the high school freshman and sophomore levels to enter a pro program for juniors and seniors would be even nicer. And if MLS balks, the USSF should turn to the United Soccer Leagues. All they need to do is dump the current MLS agreement to free up the sale of young players overseas.

The Seattle Sounders have shown the way with their contract with Germanyís Werder Bremen. Signing an agreement or two with some richer Italian clubs might shake Lamar Hunt and other MLS owners out of their lethargy.

The cost of 2010 is estimated at over $30 million and includes a proposal to raise youth player registration fees up to 500 percent. Fans, parents, and USSF members should stop this nonsense. MLS could do professional youth player development, producing more players than the national youth team concept at one-third the cost. A contract arrangement between the USSF and MLS might even be feasible. Let the remaining kids stay in the current college development track. That's where 99 percent belong anyway.

Dan Roudebush, along with Dan Barnes, maintains the "Soccer Commentary" web site at www.visi.com/~dpbarnes/Commentary/. Roudebush and Barnes devote considerable effort to promoting a national fan movement supporting the idea that player development in the United States should be taken over by the pro leagues.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.