When discussing the quality of play at the Development Academy Finals with Goal.com last month, U.S. Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna remarked, “If we are being honest, it will still be like this in 10 years.”
The realistic nature of Reyna’s candid comments means that U.S. soccer fans should not be expecting monumental leaps in the improved quality of player development in the coming years.
No. That takes time, devoted resources, and an ideology shift from the basic core of the sporting culture.
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However, the introduction of new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann provides the opportunity to begin laying the groundwork for what both Reyna and the former German international envision as the key component of the future for the national team – a clear playing style.
Over the course of Bob Bradley’s reign as head coach, the former Princeton University man struggled with a style that would benefit the player pool. He, for the most part, failed to develop an identity for the national program.
In the conversation with Reyna, the former captain of the U.S. national team highlighted other nations such as Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands for having a clear idea of how they were going to play. The identity that was established with those full national teams trickled down to the youth level and helped with various aspects of development.
When asked about establishing the identity of the national team during his introduction as the new head coach, Klinsmann emphasized the role of culture in building a playing style and how it should reflect the people.
“There comes a lot of ingredients into the pot for that – it’s the culture here, the diversified culture, and it’s the way people look at soccer, the way people have their own lifestyles,” the new coach said at his first press conference. “Obviously, it’s also based on the player material that you have at the end of the day.”
The player material or the pieces that Klinsmann has to work with are the long-term improvements for the federation and why Reyna has been so close to the new coach in his first few days.
“There’s no immediate answer to all of that, because I think that there’s a lot of people out there that know that even better than I do,” Klinsmann remarked when asked about the future path of developing players. Reyna, albeit only entering his second year in working with the youth structure, will bring Klinsmann up to speed on where the youth program needs improvements.
And there is obvious room for growth, the scouts and technical directors from the Development Academy, U.S. Soccer’s elite youth club league, are moving forward with a plan to publicly publish grades this fall, no club will receive a top mark and only a few will be in discussion of getting there in a few years.
The grading system is the first step in moving beyond a win-only recognition system and towards a scheme that rewards clubs for producing talent for the national team level.
Reyna also wants more of the elite youth clubs to buy into his idea of how the teams can develop young players through the curriculum that was published by U.S. Soccer earlier this year. The hope for the former U.S. international is that now there is a path for other teams to follow based off the playing style of the full national team.
“The kids are the ones who suffer when there is no clear vision or direction,” he said. “You have to build a vision or else it is like driving with no lights on.”
The question now that both Klinsmann and Reyna have turned their focus to turning on those lights, and developing a defined U.S. style of play, is how quickly will anyone follow?
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