An email this morning, relating to my college soccer article:
I'm dad of a recent college player, and your comments have helped enlighten me about the strange nature of NCAA soccer. I've seen about 30, D-I games and I remain puzzled by the nature of college soccer and the boys who play it--and perhaps by the men who coach them.
Watching college soccer, a fan can see that it's not easy to play college soccer well, which seems to indicate that the players are talented, and therefore hard to play against. Paradoxically, most college players don't seem to actually know much about, well, playing soccer.
Our son gradually adjusted to the college game and became a league all-star. He had barely made the team during freshman tryouts, and couldn't do much on the field the first few months, overwhelmed by the frantic pace of the game. Still, when it came to team practice and training, he was literally shocked at what his experienced, and nationally-recruited amd recognized teammates, did not know. He gave an example: "Our coach today showed the players how to go to a ball that's going out of bounds. He said we should sprint to get there as soon as possible, then approach the ball in time to turn our body and look back at the field before making the first touch, so we could already know what to do next. I couldn't believe it! How could anyone have played even a couple of games and not already know how to do that, and when, and why? Guys were literally practicing the move, and asking the coach "Like this? Did I do it right?" and so on. I was totally frustrated."
Our son grew up playing overseas in countless pickup games and had already taught himself lots of stuff the American boys were learning as college players.
So your article was very helpful to me. I agree that most college players are very good athletes--fast, fierce and tough. Watching them play, though, I cannot help but believe their main talent is the ability to disrupt the other team, to break up plays. And it seems to me the coaches pick players first and foremost for this perceived eagerness to "do battle" on the field, rather than to pick boys who can see ahead in the game, plan attacks, take action when given momentary tactical advantage, notice weaknesses, press an opportunity, and so on. And it's my perception that some of the college players are picked by MLS coaches simply because they are so good at speeding up the game, but in my opinion, that is a two-edged sword. Simply adding hustle to a team may hurt the quality of play as much as it helps, particularly if the hustling player doesn't actually know soccer.
I personally think the whole nature of the game of soccer is that, once the whistle blows, the players are basically uncoached. It is up to them, on the field, to figure out how to win. That's what makes foreign soccer so entertaining. When our son was growing up, he used to say, "I just love soccer. There are so many ways to beat the other player and his team." Watching the college game, I don't think that players who can actually do this are rewarded, coveted, and nurtured by the coaches. It's almost like the coaches are hoping to beat the other team off the ball through speed and intensity alone throughout the game, and win the game via set plays, corners, and penalty kicks, which actually can be coached.
I suspect the foreigners recruited into MLS teams must be pretty surprised by the level of soccer knowledge and perception among their new, US teammates.