Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Soccer in the United States is on the rise, there is no denying this. The US Soccer Federation has been recognized by FIFA for over 100 years. It has done an excellent job fostering the sport in our nation for the past 20 years. Thanks to their efforts we have multiple leagues on the rise, one of the largest youth player populations in the world, and a loyal fan base for both the Men's and Women's national teams. Despite this, there are still areas where our countries lag far behind.
Coaching is not up to the standard of many of the European and South American countries we are competing with. Domestic clubs have no incentive to build academy systems within their communities. Our nation squanders our numbers advantage in youth player population, with only a few players that could be considered international superstars coming from a population of millions. The USA also has a tremendously confusing league structure with a bizarre system of player transfers.
As the manager of the USMNT, Jurgen Klinsmann is in a unique position to push through reforms to bring America into 21st century football. He has already breathed life into the squad by selecting a youthful World Cup squad that rekindled American public interest in the sport. Under his tutelage he led the United States to their most successful year ever in 2013. He was part of the reform effort in Germany that ultimately led to World Cup triumph just a week ago. Klinsmann is at his heart a reformer, there is no better man to overhaul the American system. With that being said, here are reforms Klinsmann should push through in order to take American soccer to the next level.
1. Encourage Unification of American League Structure
As it currently stands, American professional soccer is divided into three tiers comprised of 50 teams. Expansion efforts will increase this number over the coming seasons, with the top tier Major League Soccer being the 3rd most attended sport in North America. These indicators signal that American soccer at least at the top tier is healthy and solvent. For this reason, America now needs to transition that success down the league structure and unify the leagues, utilizing a system of promotion and relegation. This system would give MLS clubs an added incentive to perform at a high level, give USL and NASL clubs rewards for their success, and add excitement at all levels for the fans.
2. Encourage Professional Talents to Forgo Collegiate Soccer
The NCAA is a cartel that profits from free labor and it harms the development of American youth soccer talent. Currently the majority of high school talents are playing for a college scholarship, not to become a professional footballer. By the time American soccer players expend their collegiate eligibility they are at least 21 years old. 21 is considered by most professional clubs to be too old to relearn the skills and benefit from professional training they should have received during their teenage years. At European and South American clubs, professional prospects are groomed from the age of 13 by top youth coaches. They receive training from an early age in order to develop the instincts and discipline necessary to become a professional.
Players are in America are motivated by the hope of receiving a college scholarship and diploma, a worthwhile investment, but a short sighted one. As a student-athlete it is difficult to take full advantage of either opportunity when you are forced to sacrifice academics for training or vice versa. Tying academics to football not only harms college institutions, but the players that are involved in them. Now, I'm not saying every prospect should give up college in order to chase the dream of being a professional footballer, but for elite teenage talents it is something that should certainly be considered.
3. Require Clubs to Develop Academy Systems
American clubs do not take advantage of the youth player populations within their areas of influence. Professional clubs should be motivated to develop talent within their locales. By developing talent locally they foster new generations of fans, can create unique club identities, and perhaps most importantly, avoid excessive transfer fees and profit off the sale of these players. Also by improving and developing academy systems, the national team can better keep track of elite talents in different areas of the country. This would decrease the number of youth players that fall through the cracks. America is a unique country so there will always be players like Clint Dempsey that succeed without club academy involvement, but these should be rare occurrences, not the norm.
4. Pay Professional and Semi-Professional Players a Living Wage and increase the Minimum Wage
The average salary for MLS players in currently $207,831 per year, however 76% of players make less than the league average. In 2013, 62 players were paid the league minimum of $35,125. Compare this to the English Championship, the second tier league of England, where players make 211,068 per year. Salaries for leagues such as USL Pro are significantly smaller, with players make on average between $20,000 to $40,000 per year. How can professional players be expected to succeed when they could make more money being an accountant? Players must have an economic incentive to continue their careers, giving them something beyond the entry level salary for most careers. Without a living wage, players could be forced to take off season jobs, which can cause them to sacrifice fitness and training opportunities. The future of US Soccer depends on players being able to make a living playing domestically.
5. Win the CONCACAF Champions League
Despite having a solvent league, the MLS still performs poorly in CONCACAF's continental competition. The best ever performance by an American club came from the 2010-11 Real Salt Lake squad that finished runner up to Monterrey. Without a club establishing itself as a dynasty in this competition, American club football will struggle to find itself taken seriously in the world of football. Winning this competition opens the doors to the Club World Championship, which pits the champions of each continent against each other. On this stage, an MLS club could face European giants like Real Madrid and display how far the league has come.
In closing, America is a sleeping giant in world football. Taking action on these reforms would not be easy and may require sacrifice. However if they are implemented, America could begin to wake the beast from its slumber.
Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2014 by Alex Schaffer
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
At the end of the World Cup final on Sunday, Manuel Neuer cemented his place as the greatest goalkeeper in the world. Over the last month he displayed how he has earned that label and his exemplary play earned him the coveted Golden Glove as the tournament's best keeper. Neuer tracked down virtually every ball played within his end. He set a record for most touches in a match outside the penalty area by a keeper with 21 against Algeria. He even boasted a higher passing completion percentage than Lionel Messi.
Manuel Neuer was the keystone of success for Germany, just as he has been for Bayern Munich for some time now. His considerable skill, dribbling ability, and distribution allow Germany's full backs to press higher up the pitch, creating more pressure on the opposition. This allowed Germany to attack with eight, while the center backs could play wider and Neuer scooped up any loose balls in the middle. This tactical advantage allowed Germany to attack with lethal force against Brazil, while remaining stable at the back against Algeria and Argentina. His heat maps for the World Cup cover almost an entire third of the field, something no other keeper at the tournament could boast.
Manuel Neuer possesses the skills set to be an outfield player, yet his body dimensions, jumping ability, and reflexes make him a perfect goalkeeper. Standing at 6'4'', 200lbs, he has a body similar to Jon "Bones" Jones or Richard Sherman. He is a super-athlete wearing a goalkeeper's kit. With almost every performance he spectacularly refutes Twitter critics who clamor for him to stay within the penalty area. He is calm under pressure, capable of making the big saves, as he displayed in the dying moments against France when he denied Karim Benzema with a palm of defiance.
As time goes on, and the tactical advantage that Germany and Bayern enjoy grows more apparent, we will begin to see the sweeper keeper role utilized more commonly. Children will grow up wanting to become goalkeepers, so they can dance around defenses and deny attackers in the same fashion as Neuer. Players will want to emulate him because he is involved in buildup for attacking play. Few things in football are more impressive than Neuer starting a counter attack. He is the model goalkeeper for the future and possibly one of the best of all time. He is a treasure for our time.
Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by Alex Schaffer
Monday, July 14, 2014
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
The 2014 World Cup has been the best World Cup of my lifetime, but until yesterday it had yet to see a transcendent performance. When the Germans struck with brutal record-setting efficiency, they set numerous World Cup records, including the record for most goals scored in a semifinal. Miroslav Klose set the career record for goals scored at the World Cup. Tony Kroos scored the fastest brace in the history of the World Cup. Germany became the first team to score 5 goals before the 30th minute. The match also ended Brazil's 62 match unbeaten streak that stretched back to a 1975 loss to Peru in the Copa America. It was Brazil's worst ever home defeat.
The list of records was not only reserved to the pitch, it also was the most talked about event in Twitter's history. In Germany, the match received an incredible 87.8% of the market share. Within hours the match had it's own Wikipedia page to list the records broken and collective reactions of fans and experts alike. Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter overflowed with memes and quips capitalizing on the schadenfreude enjoyed at the expense of Brazil.
Brazil's fans lamented openly, providing one of the most surreal atmospheres I have ever witnessed at a sporting event. An elderly fan, Clovis Fernandez was pictured clutching a replica World Cup Trophy as he wept, but was later photographed handing it to a young German supporter. Fans wept through face paint, while players were virtually inconsolable following the final whistle. A nation usually known for their enthusiasm and exuberance fell quiet and demure. It was a moment when the beautiful game displayed how fickle and cruel it could be to those that love it.
At last this tournament saw a transcendent performance from an elite team. It also saw a very talented Brazil squad self-destruct in front of the world. A nation that had been filled with so much hope, even during the early stages of the match, fell silent as the goal total rose to seven. Even Oscar's consolation marker barely drew a cheer. At the end of the match, the world witnessed a usually jubilant David Luiz weep as he apologized to his beloved country. The match will remain in the record books because of the incredible performances, but it will be the sorrow of Brazil that the world remembers.
Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2014 by Alex Schaffer
Monday, July 7, 2014
Subscribe and Listen on Stitcher
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2014 by Alex Schaffer
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Subscribe and Listen on iTunes
Subscribe and Listen on Stitcher
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2014 by Alex Schaffer
At the end of the World Cup final on Sunday, Manuel Neuer cemented his place as the greatest goalkeeper in the world. Over the last mont...
5. Iker Casillas Iker Casillas makes it onto this list by default. Casillas is not currently the best keeper in the world, but he stan...
This past Saturday was one of the most exciting and memorable days of my life. There are thousands of Chelsea fans around the world that...
The opening match of the 2014 World Cup began with a fantastic spectacle, which saw a paraplegic kick the opening match ball with the help...
The term “Renaissance Man” is heard less and less in today’s world where specialization is favored, but it was the perfect term to describe...
Post World Cup Depression is a medical condition that I invented to summarize the feelings of emptiness, boredom and depression ...
Today’s top stories: Diego Costa has completed a medical exam ahead of his £32 million move from Atletico Madrid to Chelsea. ...
Through the din of vuvuzelas, the South Africa 2010’s goal scoring began with Siphiwe Tshabalala’s thunderous left footed strike and finis...
World Cup Team Preview: Belgium Wilmots shows he's still got some skills. Their Manager: Marc Wilmots Their Captain: Vinc...
Subscribe and Listen on iTunes Subscribe and Listen on Stitcher I’ve had quite an eventful week since I last left you. We wer...