USMNT U23 Fail to Qualify for Olympics again!
On March 28th, 2021 the US U23’s failed to qualify for the 2021 Olympics. This is the 4th failure out of the last 5 Olympic qualification cycles that US Men have failed to qualify for the Olympics.
There is a large amount of voices right now saying that our best U23’s are playing professionally overseas and that the fact that FIFA will not force clubs to release them to play in this tournament (including in the qualifiers) is the problem. My answer is that there is never a simple answer to “Why” for failure with so many people involved.
I do place a lot of the blame at the feet of US Soccer. Not with the selection of Jason Kreis as the head coach of the U23’s (different topic) but with the selling to the US Soccer public that going to the DA structure in 2007 would prepare the US soccer player to be a world class player and have the US in a position to compete for the World CUP in 2024. The US Soccer membership (read parents) bought into this and believed that their sending their son (along with a large check) to a DA academy would prepare him out into the world’s great soccer universe ready to compete.
While the output from the DA program has help produce individual players that at a technical and tactical level are resources that some of the best clubs in the world want, the DA structure failed those players in coaching them in all 4 of the soccer pillars – particularly in the Psychological pillar. Note that the US, based on its population size (3rd largest in the world), health care systems, and access to good food has and will continue to produce world class athletes.
US Soccer’s allowance of a player to leave a club at any time forces the coaches and club administrators at that club to give all of the power to the player and the player’s parents. The majority of the US soccer player’s parents don’t have the knowledge of how the rest of the world’s best clubs work in their development academies. The coaching methods used within the confines of a training facility – not the technical skills being taught. Not the tactics being taught, but in the daily if not hourly challenges the players are placed under to compete for a spot on the team.
While all of the clubs provide coaching that teaches technical and tactical and help with the physical training – the psychological side is critical. When a player is being taken out of their comfort stage and challenged, does the player quit? Does the player act out in a violent behavior, or does the player start to figure out what they need to do and grow? Does the player start to take ownership for their results?
I am not a physiologist, but I know that when you start to challenge young people to examine themselves or to find ways to compete they will improve. But when you challenge the modern DA product and tell them that they are not good enough and need to improve (like to only using the non-dominate foot throughout a week of practice) do they take that as a challenge or do they pack up their bag and take their parents check to some other DA club? Its most likely the latter, due to Johnny being made uncomfortable and told the truth – that he has to improve. Does the DA club structure itself to keeping just 15 to 16 players per team, and limiting the competition for positions on the team, let alone with the starting 11! Oversea clubs tend to limit the size of the squad for training, but when a player is not progressing, another player is brought in/up and that player not producing is dismissed.
I strongly believe that US Soccer’s allowance of transfers of the players from DA clubs at any whim is at the heart of the problem. Coaches can’t train the players to overcome failures, problems in their technical or tactical abilities by challenging them. Without the ability to push Johnny out of his comfort zone, is he really going to get to be the best soccer player he could?
Most of the world’s clubs have the ability to push their players to be the best they can be. This makes the players think about how to be one of the best 11 on the team so they earn their starting position.
One of the lost positive effects from the DA’s rules of preventing players from playing in High School soccer – is the one and done tournaments. The pressure the players would have if they are the star of their team and all of their teammates expect them to carry the load of wanting the ball in tough conditions would be on their shoulders. State HS tournaments are one and done, and there is no “do-over”, or wait till next weekend or month for the next tournament as there is in DA. Next year is just that a whole year away and a new team.
I am not saying that the DA structure was not correct in promoting development over winning, but the internal pressure of winning makes the player use their skills to get results. As a coach I personally had to find ways to get players to hate to lose. Too many said that want to win, but never found ways to improve so that they would stop being on a losing team. If that happens with US Soccer Club teams, the player’s parents take their son and checkbook onto the next winning team. Again there is no pressure on the player to learn how to succeed when they have failed. If that player played in their local HS and could not just switch schools like they do at the DA or US Club level would that player have developed under the teachings of a coach that has the long term view of developing people who they will live next to. Someone who takes ownership of their actions and has to improve or be left behind – just like it does with the rest of the world’s soccer clubs, and especially in business!
Roland “Ron” Frechette