Gentlemen’s Agreement – Is Raul Jimenez up to the Challenge

gentlemenIn yet another edition of the Gentlemen’s agreement, the aforementioned swaddled some cognac, lit some cohibas, and dug in to a rather lackluster start to the Liga MX season, among other topics.  Pour yourself a cognac and join in the fun.

 

John Jagou:  Joel, Chivas TV made its regular season debut and it was not terrible, according to the 20 people that watched it. I am sure that Liga MX was thrilled that one of their marquee games of the season was so readily available. But it may not be such a bad thing, because the quality of play from the first two weeks across the league, as my high society Spanish friends would say, ha sido paupérrimo.  The fans have noticed as well.  Attendance has been well below average

 

Joel Aceves:  Yon, the poor start of the Apertura, with very few goals to boot, was to be expected given the early start of the season. Seems like many teams are still on pre-season form. My beloved Goats are even playing a friendly game against Arsenal this Thursday. That said, I was trying to track Chivas TV numbers but have been unsuccessful. I’ve only managed to find estimates. Those being that for every 1 Chiva fan watching the clubs stream in Mexico there will be 20 Americanistas watching their club on television. The reports talk about Chivas TV having 500,000 people watching their stream compared to 10 million for free T.V. The numbers for the Tshirt presentation were at 190k and that was free. We must also add that Chivas TV reported that 46% of the people that watched their match against Monterrey were Rayado fans. Then there are the numerous complaints about the streaming qualities with the image freezing and the delayed sound.

Not all is lost though. Chivas owner Jorge Vergara already saidt hat if Chivas makes the league final the match will be on television. However, I am guessing that if Chivas TV streaming doesn’t pick up, as they are already offering 2 games for 1 specials, if they make the playoffs, their games will be shown on Television. Read more

The Gentlemen Break Down the Liguilla

In the latest edition of the (and freshly rebranded) Gentlemen’s agreement, (nee Weekend at Joely’s) futmexsource.com correspondent Joel Aceves and soccerchronicle.com writer, John Jagou take a look at the 3 big mid-week fixtures, including Pumas’ Libertadores quarterfinal.

 

John Jagou:  I felt bad for Gullit this weekend. He could have increased his hit points and attained legend level status with Chivas fans, but the cross bar said otherwise. And then our friend Oribe scores another huge goal to add to his legend.  It is why Osorio has to take him to Copa America. There is no Mexican player who has come up as big and as consistently as Oribe over the past decade.

 

Joel Aceves:  Gullit has gained a reputation for lacking testicular fortitude.  It is the alleged he lost his starting spot in Mexico’s World Cup squad.  Agreed on Oribe, he even has shown to have the quality to bench Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez! In any case the Horrible One should be a welcome addition to either Olympic or Copa America squad.

 

JJ: I do recall hearing the same thing about Gullit, that he did not deal well when the pressure was ratcheted up, and it cost him in Brazil. You saw some of that when he first played with Chivas, but it seemed like Almeyda had gotten him to calm down and not press. Regardless, the season overall was a good turn of events for Chivas. If they can manage to avoid a slump in the coming Apertura, they can finally, after 3 years, exorcise the relegation fantasma. That should help them play with a lot more confidence. It has been a while since I have said this, but I am bullish on Chivas, provided they find a goal-scorer.

 

JA:  Mexico Boss Juan Carlos Osorio claims that it was his call to Gullit that set the player straight. He is on record saying that he talked to el Lagrimas Esmeraldas and told him to set aside his personal problems and that if he regained his level he would be called up to the national team again.

Next season will be key for Chivas, which have already climbed to 13th place of the relegation chart. Below them are Atlas, Morelia, Puebla, Veracruz, and whichever team gets promoted (either Necaxa or Juarez). As for finding a goal-scorer, Chivas’ best bet will be their Cantera,

 

JJ:  Over to America. As much as it pains you to admit, you have to be really impressed with the job that Ricardo Peláez has done at Club América several years ago. The club was in complete disarray, even flirting with relegation before he took over. Since then, they have become the model club in Liga MX.

In a sense, he has made America hated again. 4 titles with 3 coaches, but with essentially the same base of players. If they manage to win the title this season, it will be even more impressive because they will have defeated 3 of the 5 best teams in the league this season.

 

JA: On the contrary John, I’ve actually been an advocate for Peláez as it was a welcome change in Liga MX. Nestor de la Torre had been doing a similar job at Chivas. Granted not as successful but the team was very consistent:  won the league title, then played two semifinals after that, in addition to a Copa Libertadores final.  It is no coincidence that the club fell apart once he left.

With Peláez, I like that America’s board of directors have given him complete confidence to run the club.   In the past we have seen coaches come into a club like a snake oil salesman, making big promises.  The club would then supply Mr. Snake Oil a brand new roster of players, and when that coach’s fails to meet the high expectations he had set himself,  it’s on to the next quick fixer.

Peláez has shown that long term planning has its merits. He sacked coaches that were not willing to be part of the club’s process. Those were risky moves on his part as was hiring the low profile Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Ambriz but the club’s success has shown that Peláez has been right all along. My hope is for more Liga MX clubs to take this approach as I feel it will lead to a more competitive league.

 

JJ:  I am not so sure your fellow Chivas compatriots would understand or appreciate your healthy respect for Club América’s recent fortune. Some maybe asking to revoke your credentials. But there is something to be said about continuity. And it makes much more of an impact when a club with America’s pedigree succeeds because of it. If Liga MX turns into a copycat league, then, as you stated, the league will become more competitive.

A certain degree of continuity also be used to describe how Pachuca and León have worked themselves into the top echelon of the Liga MX as well. Both of them had good wins to advance to the Liguilla semis, where they will face each other. Pachuca’s kids are fun to watch, but Leon’s Elias Hernandez has been spectacular this season. He deserves a chance to play in Copa America.

 

JA:  No need to revoke my Goat creds.  I’m about to hand them in myself. Chivas CEO (Jose Luis Higuera) and General Manager (Jaime Ordiales) are known Americanistas. And the club owner (Jorge Vergara) is rumored to be an Atlista. His first foray into Liga MX was to sponsor Atlas and then even tried to buy them. I maintain hope that Vergara’s ex wife Angelica Fuentes, who owns 49% of Chivas, will sell her shares to a proper investor that can then buy out Jorge. Cough Slim Cough

While Leon and Pachuca have been on the right path it is America that has taken the spotlight. For the greater good of the league, America’s success in Concachampions, and even at the Club’s World Cup can influence other clubs to take the same approach:  having a set of goals to reach instead of betting on a coach and mid-season transfers to turn things around.  Last season Cruz Azul brought in Eduardo ‘Yayo’ de la Torre as GM, so it will be interesting to see how much freedom he will have to shape the club. As we can see Yayo has bet on continuity with Tomas Boy remaining at the helm. In the past he would of been gone once the final match-day whistle signaled the Maquina’s latest fracaso.

 

JJ:  Pumas did the same with Antonio Sancho. And they also were judicious in their recent acquisitions — most already Liga MX veterans.  They may not be in the liguilla, but their season is not over yet.

And we can also say that this season was one that was not pockmarked by coach firings. In the not so recent past, it was normal to have 6-10 coaches given the boot at midseason. Some teams would have 3 coaches for the 17 games. So maybe this is the new normal in Liga MX.

The king of continuity is Tuca Ferreti.  Tuca has coached Tigres for 6 years, which is incredible for Liga MX. It is unfortunate that the series with Monterrey was marred by bad officiating and then baiting Tuca into one of his classic eruptions. What the press won’t show, though, is Tuca going back and calmly answering questions.

 

JA:  Well then, I guess we can say that the trend is catching on. We can add Toluca to the list who under Jose Saturnino Cardozo played two Liguilla semifinals. And like Pumas dominated the Copa Librtadores group stage. Unfortunately, Toluca had one bad game against a Brazilian giants Sao Paulo.

That said both Pumas and Toluca failed to make the Liguilla, which I blame on the short season which, ironically, has been one of the most influential factors in Liga MX club owners’ erratic behavior in their quest for instant results with the quick fix.

 

JJ:  I don’t mind that Pumas didn’t make the liguilla. I would much rather they focus on the Libertadores anyway, which they can do now without any distractions. A few years ago when Monterrey won their first title under Vucetich, they chose to play the Libertadores with reserves. The reigning champions at the time had an opportunity to measure themselves against SA’s best, and they play with reserves.  Baffling!

Take the shot when you have it because you never know when you’ll get another chance.  Pumas has a legitimate shot at the semis after a 10 year absence in the tournament. It is a busy midweek schedule. Pumas vs Independiente del Valle (ECU) on Tuesday, América-Rayados Wednesday, and Leon-Pachuca Thursday. Who you got?

 

JA:  I’m going with Pumas over Independiente not just because they represent Mexican soccer but because I’d like to believe we have a better league than Ecuador.

In my opinion America-Rayados is the final adelantada and the winner should lift the Liga MX title. I got the sense that Rayados showed some weakness against Tigres in the quarterfinals that America can exploit. So, I will side with the Wilas on this one.

Leon-Pachuca is the Grupo Pachuca Clasico. We’ve all seen what happens when teams owned by the same owner meet: the main club gets favored and in this case it’s the Tuzos.

So, we can be seeing an America vs. Pachuca final: two clubs that have bet on a long term project and continuity. Maybe this is becoming a trend. Latest news is that Vergara offered Matias Almeyda a five year coaching contract.

 

JJ:  I also hope to see Pumas through, but it will be a lot tougher than people expect.  Independiente did just bounce none other than the defending champs, River Plate.  So they are no pushover by any means.

Monterrey’s discipline will make Club America unravel, and Pachuca will prevail over Leon because the last time they played in the liguilla, Leon won.

It’s daddy’s turn.

As always a pleasure, Joel.

 

JA:  Same here.  I am really enjoying these chats.

 

JJ:  As am I.  Hopefully the readers are as well.

 

Catch John and Joel every Wednesday on the Dos A Zero Futbol Podcast live on youtube at 9pm CT, or on itunes.

Follow Joel on twitter @joelyaceves

Follow John on twitter @jjagou

Weekend at Joely’s

In the first of what will surely be a series of captivating installments, Soccerchronicle.com columinists John Jagou and Joel Aceves will publish their weekly conversation. The first of edition of this new feature, Weekend at Joely’s, expands on a topic that they both discussed on the dos a zero futbol podcast, the decision by FMF to limit Liga MX gameday rosters with only 8 Mexican nationals.

John Jagou:  Earlier this week, FMF decided to “limit” the number of foreign and naturalized players to 10 per convocación, which would only leave room for 8 natural born Mexicans to dress for a game. What do you think the motivation was for FMF to do this?

 

Joel Aceves:  It’s all about ratings. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) is run by two competing media conglomerates whose main interest is selling the product of futbol. That said, the availability of football from the world’s top leagues makes FMF believe that in order to maintain fan interest they need to bring in high profile players.  That makes sense but the reality is for every Gignac we get 30 Fantiks.  FMF is foolhardy to believe that a Mexican kid will watch Champions League, La Liga, EPL, then go to Liga MX stadium and be bored. They completely overlook the cultural aspect of the sport and the fact that only a handful of Euroclubs play consistently exciting games. While that same kid can watch Barcelona on tv he still won’t get the excitement that comes with going to the stadium, being part of the club that represents your community and feel pride at their achievements.

 

JJ:  It doesn’t seem to make sense, though. Mexico’s structure, at least at the U-Level for the national team has enjoyed unprecedented success over the past 10 years.  It would seem logical, then that the FMF and the member clubs would give the youngsters as many opportunities as possible to see how much better they can become. Limiting the player pool to 154, while allowing 170 spots to foreigners or naturalized players, when we take it face value, seems to be a very quick way to throw away all the progress that has been made.

Now, there are some who will argue that you can’t just give a player a spot, he has to earn it. And there is plenty of truth to that. If a kid beats out the veterans and foreigners, then there is no question that he is a special talent. But there are so many who don’t really blossom until later in their careers – mainly because their limited opportunities stunted their growth. Oribe is a perfect example.  How many others make their top level debut after the age of 24?  Too many.

 

JA:  I absolutely agree with you that this new rule does not make sense but we have been seeing it since the 05 U17 World Cup win. Very few players since then have gotten opportunities despite the constant success at the youth levels. It almost feels like Liga MX despises their own talent. A few years back the league had implemented the brilliant 20-11 rule, which guaranteed youngsters playing time, and clubs fought tooth and nail to get it removed. It also becomes difficult for Mexican upstarts to compete for a first team place given the short season format that demands instant results. So, clubs would rather bet on a 2nd rate foreigner than nurture their own talent.

As a Chivas fan, I can already see some of the adverse effects the increased amount of foreigners in the league is causing. The club has a very difficult time in the transfer market as there are fewer quality local players available. Chivas desperately needs a striker for next season. A quick look at Liga MXs top 10 goalscorers shows us that there’s only one Mexican player, ironically its Oribe the late bloomer who plays for the dreaded rival, America. He is on the wrong side 30, so his career is winding down. Ideally there should be 3-4 Mexicans on that list and its worrisome that having very little presence is a non-issue for the league.

 

JJ:  Frankly, it is not surprising that there are so few Mexicans among the top scorers. Clubs tend to shop internationally for strikers almost exclusively.  But back to Chivas; the club has a small pool to pick from, and then also has to pay a premium for talent as well because of their personnel policies. The answer for Chivas, at a minimum, is to heavily invest in their youth system. But with Jorge Vergara changing coaches every time he feels a breeze cool his rosy cheeks, he continually sabotages his most sustainable method of talent acquisition.

A lot of this foreign influence also has to do with promoters (which I quite haven’t figured out how different they are from agents) who have embedded themselves in certain teams. They will make more money, no doubt. The bright spot, though, is Pachuca. Their youth system has become Mexico’s most productive. They won the U17 and the U20 Champs this season and are not afraid to give young players chances. There should be more like them, but with this new rule, the incentive is not to make the investment in the future. It is a shame, there are a lot of talented youngsters with nowhere to go.

 

JA:  Pachuca are indeed a good example that it is possible to nurture talent and have foreigners. In addition to their youth success, Tuzos finished the season 2nd in the table. But this is the exception, not the rule.  With the wheels are already in motion for most clubs to easily build up squads with foreign born players, Liga MX will soon mirror the English Premier League with matches having 1-3 nationals on the field.

 

JJ:  Exactly. I guess that is the existential question FMF needs to ask itself. “Do we sacrifice our own identity to make a move that we think will make our league better? Do we improve Liga MX at the expense of the Mexican player?”

England has a top flight, entertaining league that is popular all over the world. England’s national team has made 2 semifinals in international tournaments over the past 50 years. One would think that England would look to the Continent for inspiration, but why would the foreign owners of EPL teams care if the 3 Lions did well at a World Cup? What is their motivation?  On the other hand, Germany was humiliated in 2004 by crashing out of the group stage of the Eurocopa. They committed to overhaul their entire youth and development structure to limit the chances of a repeat performance. I say, so far so good. Italy did the same after their 2010 fracaso. It is true that the Italian league has suffered and may not be as strong as others in Europe, but they have also committed to strengthening the player pool. We will probably start seeing if they were successful or not soon.

One thing none of these countries have, though, is a rule that forces them to play locals like the new FMF rule. But they are also in the EU, so I guess it is moot. Nevertheless, Mexican players may need to start looking elsewhere to make a living.

 

JA:  On that note Major League Soccer must be licking their chops with all the possibilities that will open to them. They have always gone after Mexican talent given the large Mexican community in the U.S and for the most part have been unsuccessful. Either the aging star is burned out or the younger player never adapts. We’ve seen a shift in this however with Giovani Dos Santos joining the league in his prime. We’ve also seen relative unknown youngsters rise up to get called into the national team or return to Mexico with Erik ‘Cubo’ Torres and Carlos Salcedo being prime examples.

So, it is a very good possibility that we will see more and more young Mexican talent flourishing in MLS, being capped for youth national team, and then either going abroad or returning to Mexico.

 

JJ:  They should be licking their chops, and, coincidentally, MLS commissioner, Don Garber, spoke to the Mexican press about his desire to bring in more Mexican talent into the league. It makes nothing but sense. The demographics of the MLS fan base indicate as much. Not to mention the fact that MLS hopes to expand to 28 teams. 28 teams!  There are a lot of roster spots available to fill the 8 new franchises. I am not so sure the NCAA system can fill it all. The irony of a situation where MLS catches up competitively to Liga MX because of Mexican players would be at worst… delicious.

 

JA:  John, are you telling me that Liga MX is about to turn into a bargain bin of young talent for MLS and some of the Euro leagues?  And can such a move be a blessing in disguise provided many players go abroad and succeed?

 

JJ:  I certainly can envision a future where Mexican players can establish a beachhead in MLS. Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Paraguayans have done the same in Mexico for decades.  Mainly because Liga MX has always been an importer’s league. If you look at the historical superstars of most teams, a good chunk of them were foreign born players. There is nothing wrong with that. But with the new rule in place, I suppose Liga MX is trying to become more of a global brand. It would help immensely if Gignac has the Euro of his life.

But it will still be hard for Mexican players to make the jump to Europe from either MLS or Liga MX.  They are still, even today, unproven in the European market. Yes, there are a few players who are making a name for themselves. Compare a dozen or so Mexicans to hundreds of Brazilians, Argentines, even Uruguayans.

 

JA:  That’s the Tricolor fallacy right there; believing that having a dozen players in Europe is enough to truly compete against the top national teams. It is not.  Not by a longshot.  The one thing all of those countries have in common is a very strong and competitive domestic league where their players can flourish. Looking at the last 3 World Cup champions (Germany, Spain, Italy) they all had squads with a core group of players that play for the same home club. It is something we have talked about in the Dos a Zero podcast.

 

JJ:  Those three national teams benefited from having a strong base from 1 or 2 clubs. With the new regulations in place in Liga MX, it would take a very special group of players to even take the field, much less translate that on a national team level. Maybe Chivas will be the answer one day…

 

JA:  Hopefully someday soon.

 

JJ:  Well, don’t get your hopes up.  Haha!  It has been fun, Joely.  We’ll do this again next week.

 

JA:  Hasta la proxima

 

Be sure to tune in to the dos a zero futbol podcast special Liguilla editions.  Next one will be Sunday at the Conclusion of the Pachuca-Santos match

Follow us on twitter

@jjagou

@joelyaceves

Let’s Fix the Liguilla


It is something that has happened every year since 1970. That means that except for a small handful of people that are reading this, the only way you have ever seen Liga MX crown their champion is at the conclusion of the famous Liguilla. So for all the talk about changing the season format, and changing the post-season format, one thing is very clear. The Liguilla is just not going away.

Does not mean it cannot be tinkered with, though.

There has been some tinkering over the years. The best thing the string-pullers have done over the last few years is to eliminate the Repechaje (Wild Card round for the monolinguals). A 10 team playoff in a league of 18 was just silly. It was a move in the right direction. The other major modification that has had an impact was changing the tie breaker. It used to be that the first tie breaker was the seeding. In other words, the lower seeds had to win the series no matter what. The first year this new wrinkle was added, there was a major casualty. Can anyone guess who fell victim to the tie-breaker? If your first (and frankly, it should be your only) inclination was to say Cruz Azul. You are right! And you move on to the next round.

It happened in the C14 season. #8 Leon and Cruz Azul ended level after their tie, but Leon made it through to the next round because away goals became the first tie breaker. Ay ay ay, Cruz Azul! If it were up to me, I would set up the liguilla tie breakers in the following way:

1st round – Higher seed advances if tied on aggregate
Semifinals – Away goals
Final – No tie breaker – penalties decide champion.

Of course, I am making the assumption that there would still be 8 teams that qualify for the post-season. Which would be a good number if the season was not split in half as it is now. Which segues nicely into my next proposal: limit entrants to the fiesta grande.

If we have to deal with 2-season seasons, then 8 teams are too many. It cheapens (or chepoes, depending on how you feel about the man) the regular season. Not to mention, and I quote soccerchronicle.com regular contributor, Joel Aceves “it rewards mediocrity.” He is right. Now, I am also a realistic man. The reason there are that many teams in the post-season is that there will be more games to broadcast. I get that. So while my gut tells me that a 4-team post season would be best, the business man in me says a reduction to 6 teams would be the most palatable.

So the top 2 seeds would get a bye after the 3-6 teams play a one off over the weekend. Tie breakers would be the same as above.

1st round – Penalties after 90 minutes
Semifinals – Away goals
Final – No tie breaker – penalties decide champion

6 teams out of 18 would not cheapen the regular season as much, and would make for some very dramatic finishes over the last few weeks.

What are your thoughts?

Listen to the dos a zero futbol podcast at a special time Thursday at 11pm CDT and Sunday night at the conclusion of the Pachuca – Santos.  Catch all previous editions on itunes.

Follow me on twitter @jjagou

A Coach’s Perspective on US Youth Soccer

There has been a lot of discussion lately about FIFA’s rule 19, and whether or not Mexican clubs can register under aged Mexican-American players.  In some cases, some Liga MX clubs have decided to abandon their scouting efforts in the US on a temporary basis until they get clarification from FIFA about the legalities of registering Liga MX Mexican-American players.  It is unfortunate for all involved – for the clubs because they will leave what has been established as a very fertile area for scouting, and the players themselves.  For better or for worse, one has to have money to play and develop their soccer skills in a hyper-competitive environment in the US.  The ones with modest means get left behind.

We wanted to understand a little more about the culture in the US Youth Soccer world, so soccerchronicle.com conducted an interview with a gentleman who is a youth coach in the United States.  We wanted him to break the myths and explain the realities.  We also understand that this coach’s experiences are not universal, but he does paint a vivid picture of the state of youth soccer here in the US.

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Soccerchronicle.com:  What processes, if any did you have to follow to become a coach?

Coach:  There is a starter license to coach club/travel called the “E” license. That’s the first step into becoming a travel team coach. For recreational leagues and Latin leagues there really isn’t a requirement and most of the time those teams have dad coaches. You also go through a background check and have your fingerprints run through an FBI database. Turns out I’m not the Zodiac guy or DB Cooper.

Soccerchronicle.com:  That we know of yet.  We may feel differently at the end of the interview (both parties laugh).  What prompted you to start coaching?

Coach:  To be honest it was for my kids. My oldest child played and her team was terrible. So I started working on my licenses and becoming a better teacher of the game. She ended up not liking the game but I enjoyed the coaching aspect.

Soccerchronicle.com:  I know a lot of youth baseball leagues where I live have a reputation for being “daddy” leagues.  Is it the same in youth soccer?  

Coach:  You definitely run into that from time to time. Certainly, the apparent favoritism. To a certain extent it’s acceptable, but it shouldn’t affect the team performance because better players aren’t given the playing time. But I have run across them, sure.

SC:  How long have you been involved in coaching kids in the US?

Coach:  I’ve been coaching for over 10 years for various age groups and skill levels. From AYSO to travel team and high school players.

SC:  That seems to cover most of the levels of youth soccer.  It looks like we got the right guy, then.  When a young player emerges as one who is truly gifted, and you know as a coach that your faculties as a coach aren’t sufficient enough to aid in the player’s development, what course of action do you take to see about developing the player further?

Coach:  The answer to this question depends on the coach and organization. The organization I coach for is constantly helping coaches to continue learning and this keeps the coaches knowledgeable ahead of what their players will need. Luckily, we have a way to promote these players and offer them further advancement.

Not every organization can offer this or has a director of coaching that cares to develop the coach. It also really helps to have an open minded person that accepts different points of view and grows from these interactions.  Know-it-alls prove over time to not know it all, and they are more of a liability than an asset.

Our group doesn’t just prepare the players to play the game but how to approach the game and life outside it.

SC:   It is good to hear that your group focuses to help kids prepare for life outside of soccer.  Not every kid is going to make it.

Coach:  Quite the opposite, actually.  But we all know that.  Sometimes I wish the parents would understand that a little better.

SC:  OK.  We have identified this kid as a can’t miss prodigy.  What would be your ideal path for this talented youngster?

Coach:  Ideally, getting an invitation to a professional youth academy and then having them leverage this for a free education. With luck and lots of hard work they would land in Europe and play Champion’s League one day. First they must learn the discipline required to be successful and grow into balanced human beings.  Que sean buenas personas ante todo.

SC:  That certainly is the best possible scenario.  I am sure that any player and their family would love to have that kind of opportunity.  Now that you have lined out the ideal situation of the path for a gifted youngster. Now gives us the reality

Coach:  The reality is a lot of talented kids get left behind for one reason or another. The culture here in the US is so different. It’s not about which player shows long term potential, but which players can help the team win in the short term, help the coach make a name for himself, and fatten his bottom line.

Many kids end up quitting the game because their parents, who never played beyond the occasional pick-up game, expect their kid to be Maradona or Messi from day 1. The pressure is just too daunting for a 12-year old to take most of the time.  Ask this parent to help him with homework, though.

Lots of kids stop playing travel leagues because they are eventually priced out. The average annual cost for a 12-year old is $2000, and that does not include travel expenses.  To an extent, it’s understandable for those coaches who make their living from youth teams, but it is definitely borders on exploitation, particularly for the more talented kids.  Both by their parents who never emphasize education over sports, and the youth clubs who proudly display their trophies won by players they “developed”.  It is how they market themselves.

There are a lucky few that may end up getting college scholarships. The rest. Who knows.

SC:  It seems, then, that one would have to make a serious financial commitment to refine a child’s development in the sport. I have always thought that because of this model, soccer is more of an elitist sport in the US compared to the rest of the world.  Everywhere else it is the sport of the people.

Coach:  It is very much an elitist sport. You still have the local kids that play just for fun and participate in local Latin leagues. But, those leagues take you nowhere.  Most of these kids that go pro and end up in MLS are from middle to upper-middle class households.

SC:  Are public schools equipped to make up the difference?

If I am being completely honest, public school soccer is a joke. High School soccer players are really bad. And the coaches are usually there because they know someone, not because they are good at their jobs. Most kids play high school soccer for school pride and/or the experience of having their classmates cheer for them.

SC:   Well, as a former HS player, I would have taken a little umbrage with that had I not seen Dallas Cup.  I just finished working the Texas State Championships, and there were some very talented teams and players.  But when I compare the level of play from Dallas Cup to what I saw last weekend, there is no comparison.  But the Brownsville team was fun to watch.

Coach:  Understand that Dallas Cup is one of the elite global youth tournaments.  National Teams compete in Dallas Cup.  It is very prestigious.  But you see my point.

SC:   Yes, yes I do.  You mentioned that winning and trophies are the main marketing tools of select programs?  How protective are they of their players when an MLS team or another club comes calling?

Coach:  I’ve heard of some coaches camping out in front of MLS academy tryouts to catch their players…  it is a dirty business in some respects. There is the Olympic Development Program where the “elite” kids are invited as part of the scouting process for national team pools. It’s a farce.  Players have to pay to be able to attend the sessions – 100 kids at 100 dollars a head – a $10,000 session.

If they are lucky enough to make the later rounds of cuts, there will be pressure to join a United States Soccer Development Academy League team. This is the league that MLS Academy teams play in. There is a connected set of clubs that also field teams in this league. Most of the talent is supposed to funnel towards that league and teams. That isn’t necessarily the case because of travel costs. Only MLS teams and a handful of non-MLS organizations can afford to pay a player’s room & board + travel.

SC:  So a lot of kids that have talent & potential, but modest means fall through the cracks.  It seems like the system is upside down because the stakeholders have their priorities out of kilter. Are there any academies that have built their reputation for developing kids as opposed to collecting hardware?

Coach:  There are a few that are able to stake that claim. But, it is only a handful of coaches. One guy would be Clint Greenwood who was Landon Donovan’s youth coach. Unfortunately, he has retired.  The system is upside down, the parents that can pay are the stakeholders. They get to make demands, and if they do not get what they want, they will find coach that will capitulate.

SC:   It doesn’t seem surprising, then, that Liga MX teams have had success in scouting the US. Their endgame might be the same, but priorities are a little different. 

Coach:  It benefits the US National Team to have these kids developed in a professional environment. When you go to a trial to Mexico, these kids are offered room and board for a week. Sometimes they stay 2 weeks and also put in a classroom so they don’t miss too much school. They do pay for their own travel due to FIFA rules. Compare that to a trial for LA Galaxy Academy; you don’t even get a bottle of water for your troubles.

SC:  Are Liga MX teams the only out of towners that scout the kids?

Coach:  I’ve heard of kids attending trials in Spain and Germany. I don’t believe the scouts ever make it out here on their own to scout unknown players. What appears to be happening is that intermediary agencies, operating locally, scout prospective kids, polish them up, and then bring in the overseas scouts. A bit more targeted.

Sure, you still have the big youth tournaments like Dallas Cup and San Diego Surf Cup that attract interest outside the country. And, you do get scouts from Mexico and beyond looking to find that diamond in the rough.

SC:  It is unfortunate, but you are painting a grim picture for young soccer athletes in the US. In your opinion, how far behind are the MLS clubs to the rest of the world when it comes to having a solid infrastructure in place to really start mining for diamonds?

Coach:  They won’t be catching up anytime soon. MLS academies just simply can’t put in the training hours. They just simply don’t have the infrastructure to develop these kids. You need to be able to provide room & board, education, housing and all the logistics to make it run. American soccer players fall behind the curve once they hit their teens. That is the age the rest of the world begins approaching the beautiful game as a career.

SC:   Again, there are exceptions.  FC Dallas has done an excellent job of developing their own players.  Just this past weekend, Victor Ulloa, an FC Dallas youth system product, wore the captain’s armband in their match vs Sporting KC this past weekend.  Their roster is littered with their own products, and they happen to be leading the league.

Coach:  As you said, there are exceptions.

SC:   As far as Mexican American players, if a young prospect asked for your advice if he had to choose between going to a Liga MX club academy or staying with his select team, what would you tell him?

Coach:  I would tell them to consider this kind of opportunity very seriously. This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of offer and the experience will help them grow. I find this situation to be very similar to a student studying abroad for a semester. And nobody has an issue with that!  At least publicly.

SC:  I got to spend a semester in Paris and it changed my life.  You learn a lot about yourself when you are thrust into a foreign environment like that.  So I can certainly see the similarities.

There has been reports lately about Liga MX sides putting a moratorium on scouting the US for fear of violating FIFA’s Rule 19. A rule that limits teams from registering players from outside their countries’ borders. 

The rule was put in place to eliminate the exploitation of youth players.  What, if any, exploitation have you seen from clubs, both foreign and domestic?

Coach:  The youth soccer tournament system in the US is the most exploitative instrument out there. Young players are expected to play 4 or 5 games in a weekend and not incur injuries. This leads to lower quality soccer overall when players have to coast and reserve some energy for the following games.

Embezzlement issues have also come up at some of these youth soccer clubs. Most are non-profit organizations, so skimming off the top is not an unheard of practice. There was recently a high profile case with a youth soccer club outside of Los Angeles.

There are other issues as well.  The one where youth soccer clubs and coaches want compensation from the MLS academies that poach the players they develop puzzles me. Given the parents foot the bill. How does that entitle them to further compensation?

SC:  You bring up a solid point.  If anything, MLS should reimburse the parents for having to pony up for the annual fees and the travel expenses.  Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.  You have certainly shed light on a topic that does not get a lot of ink.

Coach:  Thank you for the interview. A gentleman and a scholar. It is good to see Soccer Chronicle at the leading edge when it comes to reporting footie news and shedding light on issues few people are aware of.

SC:  It is our pleasure.

****

This is only one coach’s experience, and like we said at the beginning of the piece, these experiences are not universal.  What is very apparent, and I am sure it comes to no surprise to anyone reading here is that a lot of very talented players are missing out on some key opportunities. Players who do not have the financial capacity to invest in their future in one country, but have a prospect in another where they have the legal right to work and own land, then that player should eligible to be registered by a club.  FIFA’s Rule 19 is well intentioned, but there certainly needs to be some clarification.

 

Listen to the dos a zero futbol podcast every Wednesday at 9:00PM CDT and on itunes.

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Chivas win streak continues

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PUEBLA, MEXICO. Chivas Guadalajara continued their winning streak outclassing Puebla FC 3 – 0. This is the 3rd win in row and 4th straight away win. Making their away record 3 wins, 2 draws and a loss. With this win the Rojiblancos move to the 8th spot for liguilla purpose and are mathematically close to staving off relegation.

Chivas honcho Matias Almeyda stated “And with this result people will say ‘Chivas is a contender’ the primary objective, which has been meet, is for Chivas to not descend.”

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Los “4 Grandes” All Win… Really

With a name like the “4 Grandes”, one would think that news of them winning should not be something to write about.  Well, they did win.  And they all won on the same weekend.  Again, you ask “what’s the big deal?  These are the premiere teams, the flagship clubs, the most powerful and popular clubs in Liga MX.  They are used to winning and winning championships.  So WTF, John?”

Well, let me tell you.

Yes, the big 4 won this past weekend.  America dispatched Leon at the Azteca 2-1

 

while Guadalajara surprised league leaders Monterrey in the tamalera 3-1.  A guy by the name of “la chofis” scored a riveting brace.

Cruz Azul made Atlas look so bad, favorite son Rafael Marquez begged forgiveness from the largest RednBlack supporters group, Barra 51 (named after the last year they won a league title).

After giving up an early goal, Pumas put together a 4 goal spurt to down Monarcas.

 

causing a butterfly to cry in a post-game TV interview.

The big deal is not that they won.  It is that they all had wins in the same matchday.  Something that had not happened in 4 years.  4 years.   Not very big 4-like.  We have to go back to Matchday 9 of the 2012 Clausura to see the last time this happened.

In those 4 years, Club America has certainly had the best run.  A couple of League titles and a CONCACAF trophy have restored order (if you ask any Americanista) to the world.  Cruz Azul and Pumas each have lost a final in that time frame, while Chivas has been in the wilderness, losing games and going through coaches and front office types like a tourist who eat too much street food goes through a roll of toilet paper.

 

The current table has them in the following positions:

  • 3. America       21 pts      +7
  • 5. Cruz Azul     18 pts      +7
  • 9. Pumas         15 pts      +2
  • 12. Chivas       12 pts        0

The 8th place team, Tijuana has 16 pts, so it is conceivable that with 6 dates left, all four sides could make the post-season.  When was the last time that happened? The 2011 Clausura, which coincidentally was won by Pumas – another opportunity to make the Butterflies cry…

Listen to the dos a zero podcast every Wednesday at 9:00PM CDT.

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MLS and CCL Can Co-exist and Succeed

Much like the leaves that molt on the Texas Live Oaks this time of year, out come same the articles dissecting the latest MLS failures in the CONCACAF champions League.  Most of them offer the same laundry list of excuses year-to-year.  The calendar doesn’t favor MLS teams, most of the teams are in Pre-season, the salary cap prevents teams from filling out their roster with quality players from top to bottom, they are not going to go all out and risk injury with a whole season to play….  The excuses are understandable. But it does not explain their performances.

I get it.  It is not the best time of year for MLS sides to play a highly competitive match against a quality opponent.  It is a problem.  Moreso because the hurdles that MLS has to clear in order for them to achieve success have been placed by MLS themselves.  The league starts in the Spring so as not to compete with a crowded sports calendar and avoid playing in the harsh winters of the northern franchises.  The collective bargaining agreement with the players union sets the terms for pre-season training.  None of the the teams that are still in the CCL get a pass to start earlier, so there they are floundering away, if they manage to get that far in the first place. Read more

Liga MX at a Crossroads – Whether They Know it or Not

ligaMXA FEW YEARS AGO, the string-pullers in the Mexican soccer business decided to re-brand their top flight as Liga MX.  New logo, new theme music, new cup tournament – it was quite a show.  The newly branded Liga MX was positioning itself to make a move on the global stage.  The cynics, and there are a lot (too many, really), who make it their business to follow and report on Mexican soccer responded they only way they know how:  cynically.  It is nothing more than just a fresh new color of lipstick for the same pig was the general consensus.  And why not?  The string-pullers of Mexican soccer have long had the reputation, whether justly earned or not, for not being the most transparent when it comes to league business.  The problem is, while these reporters, columnists, pundits, bloggers, beat writers, and pretty TV people are all at the ready to fire the most tired of criticisms, they are not talking about what is happening on the field.  As it turns out, they quality of play on the field is pretty good.

Instead, we hear incessantly that Liga MX is nothing more than mediocre.  Are they paying attention?  The league promotes itself, or at least tries to.  But their positive spins are lost in translation when it goes through the media middlemen.

That’s a problem.  And it is something that Liga MX needs to solve in the very near future.  So me of it is self inflicted.  There is a reason the press is so jaded.  Some of Liga MX’s existing policies are, well, baffling.  Take, for instance, coverage.  Here in the US at least, when watching Fox Deportes, or ESPN, or Univision Deportes, when they talk about the league, the networks may not have the right to show highlights.

Highlights!  It is not a good look.  Not in these times, when all it takes is a tap of the finger to see a goal scored from anywhere in the world.

Liga MX needs as many outlets as possible, and it certainly doesn’t help that the ones who talk about it the most spend a good deal of their time trashing it.  Some of that can’t be helped; it is what sells, after all.  So find new outlets.  Buy time on Eurosport and produce an hour-long weekly recap of the league. Or a couple of 60 min condensed games.  The point is:  get more exposure.  Andre-Pierre Gignac has been the best story of the season.  Why isn’t there a French page on the Tigres website, or at the very least a Twitter account in French?

Their website could use a face-lift, but, truth be told, it has improved dramatically from its initial launch. However, there is no English language version of their website.  Or any other, for that matter.  Their social media can also use a boost.  Again, this is a rights issue, and I get that. But it would be a smart move to have a video available minutes after someone scored, or a great play, etc. Liga MX’s official twitter is somewhat informative – but again, there is a lot of room to improve.

Why the need for all this?  Beacuse Liga MX is not just competing against MLS, but also La Liga, The EPL, Bundesliga, NFL, NBA, Ligue 1, and the Chinese League that has tapped into a seemingly endless pool of funds.  Liga MX has the structure, the funding and the stability to do well in this New World Order.  Their biggest obstacle, however, is for them to prove (to themselves as well) that they belong.  One step to clearing the obstacle is to get the word out.  Hey, everyone!  Liga MX is pretty good.  It is!  Really.  Here watch these highlights.

Instead of doing little to shake the reputation the league currently has, it can rewrite the narrative with an introduction to each new market.  In other soccer loving countries, Liga MX could become a solid, entertaining league that has some quality players.  Players could see a league that pays well, and is extremely competitive.  Other clubs around the world could see a league that is well financed, and open for business.

But this is entirely up to Liga MX.  If they continue to believe that the status quo has worked before and will do so moving forward, then they are missing out on a huge opportunity.  If the only market outside of Mexico that matters to Liga MX is the Mexpat one in the US, then they are selling their own league short.

The String-pullers decided on the name Liga MX for a reason.  Now it is time to let the rest of the world in on it.