What’s in a name?

US Soccer Federation – The name of the governing body of the sport of soccer in the U.S.

The Football AssociationThe name of the governing body of the sport of soccer (football) in the U.K.

One sounds like it’s driven from the top. Clubs exist to give the heads of soccer their power.

The other sounds like it is driven from the bottom.  The power exists to enable the clubs to be the best they can be.

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Power of Voice and Exit in soccer

We have two powers at our disposal.

  1. The power of voice — If we don’t like something, we can try to convince the powers that be to change it.
  2. The power of exit — If we don’t like something, we can try alternative — often a competitor or substitute.

Having both is important.

If there was just one beer maker, we’d just have the power of voice in the beer market. The chances of getting the beer we wanted would be low.

Thankfully, we have many beer makers that make many different beers — so we have both the powers of voice and exit and a much improved chance of getting beers we like.

In fact, we have so many beer options that we don’t need to exercise our power of voice to convince a beer maker to make the beer we like.

We simply exercise our power of exit. If we don’t like a beer, we choose another. If enough of us do that, it rewards the beer makers who make what we like and punishes the ones who don’t. The latter either changes or goes away.

An election for the president of US Soccer will be held in February (2018).

One group of soccer fans would like to see a pro league structure that includes promotion/relegation, among other changes. So far, their power of voice has been ignored by US Soccer officials.

Promotion/relegation (“pro/rel,” for short) is where the bottom 2-3 teams in the top league (in this case, the MLS) each year would be relegated to a lower league, while the top 2-3 teams in the lower league would be promoted to the top league, hence ‘pro/rel’.

The current US Soccer administration is against it for various reasons. One reason is they think it would make it tough to attract investors in teams if there was a risk of losing their ‘major league’ status.

The “pro/rel” folks are now trying to use their power of voice to influence who wins the election for US Soccer president. They want a president that supports their ideas.

Unfortunately, the power of voice is muted without the power of exit. It sometimes works. But that’s not the norm because getting enough people to agree on something is difficult enough without politics and corruption. Even more so with it.

With US Soccer having a big say over how soccer is done in the U.S., the power of exit is limited. But, the power of exit is more effective way to get what we want.

Basic question…why does US Soccer have so much say over how soccer is done in the U.S.?

I could be wrong, but I think it’s because FIFA (which organizes international football competitions) recognizes just one soccer federation per country and so US Soccer has a monopoly on dollars from international competitions sanctioned by FIFA.

That makes it difficult for other soccer associations to emerge to compete with US Soccer.

I will add that soccer federations in other countries seem to view their role in soccer a little different than U.S. Soccer. More on that in the next post.

MiB criticizes soccer in the U.S.

In the last 15-20 minutes of the 12/15 Men in Blazers pod, Rog and Davo have some good and critical words to say about soccer in the U.S. and the MLS, especially about the franchise model of the MLS vs. clubs.

Here’s Rog after visiting Columbus, OH and speaking to the fans who are disappointed about the prospect of losing their MLS team in a move to Austin, TX:

…they’re caught up in the middle of city politics, which they feel is the root cause of their nightmare, compounded by desperate ownership moves and the league’s ultimate sense of the teams as franchises, is what you [Davo] always talk about it, rather than clubs, which are rooted in community. Franchises can be moved and yanked around at will. I don’t think anyone in MLS fully appreciates the panic that Columbus situation is causing, not just for fans in Columbus, but for fans in all teams across the league. Relocation is really permanent relegation. It makes teams sleep with the fishes. And I look at the scarlet letter, worn still in English football, MK Dons, Google them if you don’t know who they are.

Davo responds:

I think you raise an interesting point….There’s something about football, there’s something about all sports, which is about authenticity and the franchise based system, the sort of central league system — [Rog:] Which works in NBA and NFL, [Davo:] And also works Major League Baseball, but those based on a long and massive history of those sports in this country. And so, there is a sense you are watching the NBA, when you’re watching the Cleveland Caveliers, you know, something which has grown through decades and decades and decades of this sports. There is also something about the NBA and the NFL which is very much about the urban makeup of America. About the diversity, about the culture and it reflects that…

I don’t think soccer has got to that place yet. But, what I think is starting to happen organically, which is why I’m so excited about what’s happening in other leagues and other cities [non MLS], it feels like there is an authentic soccer culture which is growing up.

And, I’m not saying that doesn’t exist around many of the MLS franchises, around many of the MLS supporters groups, around many of the MLS teams, but it can sometimes feel a little manufactured — [this says a lot here here –>] — I can just feel Alexi [Lalas, friend of the program and often accused Homer to the MLS] listening to this podcast and saying, ‘you’re not a fan…you are either with us or against us’…I am so with MLS…but I do think what they have at league headquarters, Lord Garber and his friends have to acknowledge that there is a desire among soccer fans, not only to not see what happened in Columbus, but to feel something authentic happening in American soccer culture. That is something Major League Soccer has to address and think about is what they are doing is somehow taking that away.

I think some folks would be surprised to hear this criticism from the Men in Blazers, because they are sometimes criticized for being soft on the system since some of their livelihood is depends on it.

I was surprised.

I think it was on point.

I would add on to their comparisons to NFL, MLB and NBA. Those sports and leagues do not have serious international competition. They are American sports that have not caught on in the rest of the world and there’s no international competitions, like the World Cup, that overshadows the importance of the championships of these leagues.

For example, the Super Bowl is the biggest (Am.) football event in the world. It is contested only by American teams. And we call the winners “World Champs,” which I’ve heard many children snicker at because even they recognize that’s a stretch since Am. football isn’t played elsewhere.

If other U.S. pro leagues had international competitions that overshadowed the importance of the domestic league and the U.S. teams had poor showings in those competitions, you can bet that these same types of discussions would take place for those sports.

Another factor that I believe detracts from the authenticity and community grass roots support in the U.S., that Davo gets at, is that sports clubs are structured different here than they are in the other countries.

In the U.S., youth sports are integrated with schools. Elsewhere, sports club provide the sport experience from ages 5 to 65 outside of schools.

I believe that contributes to the authenticity the clubs have in other parts of the world when compared to the pay-for-play club model that co-exists with high school and collegiate sports in the U.S.

Imagine joining sports club at age 5 and growing up with the club’s senior team — the equivalent of the high school or local college team here. That means from age 5, you are coached by members of the senior team, you practice beside them and you go watch them play on the weekends.

This goes back to the observations I made in this post as a missing ingredient in US soccer culture. Our school-based sports programs fragment that experience for young athletes.

It also subjects soccer to the rule-making of governing bodies that don’t have soccer as a priority — like the NCAA and NAIA which oversees all college sports at affiliated schools. So, you get things like short seasons that fit in with the rest of the sports programs schedules and soccer used as a sport to fulfill Title IX requirements.

 

Good reading for issues in U.S. soccer

Regarding soccer in the U.S., here’s some good background reading on the subject.

This guy has some very matter of fact things to say about the whole soccer thing in the U.S.

He supports (and perhaps influenced) my view that the soccer culture in the U.S. is not conducive to producing elite levels of ball control. He also talks about the difference between direct and possession soccer and why direct soccer (which doesn’t produce high quality ball control) is favored in the U.S. (it wins games at low levels).

The following two articles explore some key organizational differences in soccer in the U.S.: promotion/relegation, transfer fees and solidarity payments.

This guy makes a good case for making the MLS a “selling league”.  (HT: Men in Blazers)

These guys make a fantastic case for promotion/relegation (and also making the MLS a selling league).

A key point is that these features are nearly universal in the soccer world, but the U.S. did not adopt them and it holds us back.

US Soccer – What should be done?

With the U.S.’s exit from World Cup Qualifying, there is much discussion on what’s wrong.

How can a nation of 350 million people get beat by a country that has about half as many people than the Kansas City metro area?!?

Iceland, a country of 350,000, qualified! Yes, Iceland has almost as many people as Omaha, Nebraska and they qualified for the World Cup!!!

There are calls for a new manager. That is likely needed, but that won’t solve the problem.

The problem is that we have a top-down system trying to solve a bottom-up problem.

I will add to this post over the coming days with thoughts on this, but I have already posted many of my thoughts in previous posts.

I think a big missing piece of the puzzle is that pickup play in the U.S. is non-existent.

 

More differences between US and European youth soccer

This excellent blog post is on Sacha van der Most van Spijk is on his organization, Home Field Advantage, website.

I think the following from it is a good adder to my post about Sacha’s interview with 3Four3.com:

I spent many years in my native country of the Netherlands coaching at a community-based club. As I began to find a deeper love with coaching I decided to make a switch and move to the United States in hopes of sharing my love and passion for the game. My first stop began in Northern California where I coached soccer camps with the Ziemer brothers. Later, I moved to Southern California where I took a position as the head coach of a High School soccer program. The following year my progression in the coaching world continued and I began coaching a couple of Club Soccer teams.

Not knowing what to expect, I was very surprised with the way the Club Soccer was structured. Our club played “home” games at a variety of different fields in the area and the league season lasted a mere 3.5 months. Most of the weekend games were being played back-to-back both on Saturday and Sunday. In Europe every youth club has their own home field, league season is spread out in a 9-10 month season, and games are played only once a week.

During State Cup is when I began to question whether my involvement in coaching was actually fun. Early morning games were scheduled at giant soccer complexes about a 2-hour drive North, parking fees were charged to add to an already expensive weekend, games would be scheduled 3 to 4 hours apart, and the boys were required to play 3-4 games in two days!

Some things sound good about the structure of soccer in the Netherlands. Ten month season. One game a week.  A long, paced-out season to be able to gain the mastery without the burn-out drudgery or multiple game weekends. Games always on the same day (from the podcast). Mostly in the same place.

What’s keeping us from doing that? The fragmentation of the sport between rec, clubs and schools, that’s what.

Edifice Complex in Soccer

Dear US Soccer:

More of this:

steet soccer Brazil

Less of that:

US Soccer

The story is here.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe opulent facilities to train coaches in is just the thing. Or, maybe you could use the Internet, like these guys?

When I started coaching rec soccer, I was shocked at how little useful information was out there to help someone like me who knew little about soccer. I wasn’t the only one.

There were many like us who simply put the fastest guys up the middle chasing rec trophies and not teaching them proper technique.

I was shocked that there wasn’t something like the F license online course (which is good, btw) out there for FREE for all.