Liverpool academy director: 'American soccer is improving'

Liverpool's academy director spoke with Goal about his thoughts on the evolution of American soccer, Clint Dempsey and Marc Pelosi's recovery from a severe injury.
Liverpool’s U18s participated in a August youth tournament in United States and the club’s academy director, Frank McParland, came away impressed what he saw.

As the United States men’s national team continues to ascend in the rankings and Major League Soccer is starting to retain its high-profile American stars, McParland believes that soccer is entering a new phase in its evolution in America.

“Every season that goes by, American soccer is improving,” McParland told Goal in a phone interview. “The world rankings are getting better, the talent is improving so it’s a fantastic situation for football out here.”

McParland and the U18s were involved with Newark’s Liberty International Soccer Summit hosted by St. Bendict’s Prep high school. The man who helped developed many of Liverpool’s top young first-teamers, including Raheem Sterling and Suso, took some time to touch Clint Dempsey’s decision to return to MLS, Marc Pelosi’s recovery from a double fracture on his leg and how the club scouts North America for prospects.

[Editor’s Note: Responses have been edited for length]

Goal: Frank, what your thoughts on American youth talents especially considering that you are facing a few in this tournament that Liverpool’s U18s are in?

McParland: We delighted to be a part of this really prestigious tournament. It gives us a chance to look at some of the American players and it’s a really good competition. [American youth teams] They are always well coached with good technical players. As you know at Liverpool, we signed the captain of the U20s, Marc Pelosi, and he’s a very good player.

Where can youth teams improve?

As the league [MLS] gets better and it gets more [top] American and foreign players, it’ll improve. I think what the league has done is based on good concepts. They had Beckham come over along with real top players and I think his legacy will continue to help it grow. I think it’s a terrific place to play football and be involved with it as well.

Speaking about MLS signing top American players, are you surprised to see Clint Dempsey back in the league? It’s no secret that Liverpool tried to sign him just a year ago.

Obviously, I know that our manager [Brendan Rodgers] is really keen on the player because he was a fantastic footballer and a proven goalscorer. When you can score goals in the Premier League, I’m pretty sure you can score them in any league around the world. I’m not surprised that he’s come back. It’s his country, he probably got a really good deal and he enjoys playing football there so it’s a fantastic situation for him.

Back to Marc Pelosi, how is he recovering from the double break in his leg?

I was at the game when he did it and it was a really bad break. I speak with Marc and the physios everyday. He’s really way ahead of schedule because of his professionalism and his determination. He’s such a good professional and a good athlete. He’s desperate to get back quickly. He’s a couple of months ahead of schedule so everyone at the club is delighted for him.

Timetable on his return?

We would hope that he would back before Christmas. It’ll probably a year out [since his injury] but because of his age, we don’t want to risk it and bring him back too quickly. But he is chomping at the bit and I don’t think it’ll be too long before he’s training with the squad. He’s actually already weight bearing and running, so he’s certainly on the way back.

Speaking about young American talents, Juan Agudelo, a guy that trialed with you guys two years ago signed a pre-contract with Stoke. What are your thoughts about his talent?

Yeah he’s obviously a very talented and athletic boy. I think if he keeps on improving and gets comfortable... obviously we didn’t have him for too long but I know the coaching staff really liked him. Let’s wait and see but I think he has a good chance to do well in England.

Obviously, American soccer fans always want to see top prospects sign for clubs like Liverpool. How often does the club scout North America?

We don’t go scout colleges but we do scout a lot of leagues and the national teams [from the region]. I don’t have a major spreadsheet with all of the stats for example but we do scout the national teams a lot. I’m sure that the scouts have a number of targets that they look at.

How do you make sure that a player is the right fit for a team like Liverpool?

The best thing to do is to bring him for a few days and have a look. With Pelosi [for example], I had a number of meetings with his parents and you could tell by speaking to him and looking him into the eye… you know that he was someone who is very rounded and is able to cope with things. With the guys on the U.S. national teams, they are usually used to being away from home anyways.