Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Interesting perspective

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.


Anonymous said...

I feel like I could have written this letter, except for me it's my daughter. She's a highly skilled, intelligent player - her college coach tells her and the team that she has the best shot, she's the best passer, she sees the field better and knows what she's going to do before she gets the ball, can play anywhere on the field - and yet she rides the bench while fast players or big girls who can knock people around get all the playing time.

Needless to say, the team is mediocre - they beat less fast teams and smaller teams; win the same games year after year and lose the same games year after year. Very frustrating.

Bill said...

Wait, beating the other team simply through athleticism and set pieces?

Greg Ryan was a college coach, wasn't he?

Anonymous said...

THe question that should be asked is why the colleges play from a different set of rules than the rest of organized soccer? Time-outs, unlimited substitutions-why?

Play by the same rules as the rest of the world and you will see players who play like they should...

RHdigitalYS said...

College soccer and it's coaching is like any other college sport, dominated by the persona of it's coach. Just look at March Madness and the overemphasis on coach's value.

Unlike American sports, the fluid nature of soccer removes most of the coaches control during the run of play. It's natural that events that can be controlled and their determining factors; the set pieces and specific directions of attack (flank play) and consequently the over-emphasis on athletic ability are central to college soccer.

Anonymous said...

I played and have coached college soccer (community college) and I agree that the rules make it a different game than the rest of the world plays. I played at a small school and while we could keep pace with "better" teams, after 20 minutes the opposition would simply make eight substitutions at once (yes, 8 players off) and overwhelm us with running, harassing, etc.

That being said, you can't blame the coaches for choosing players that allow them to succeed. It is their job, and if they don't win, they lose their jobs.

This may have something to do with why soccer does not draw much as a college spectator sport. There's nothing good to watch! When you only put players on the field because they can run for twenty minutes (then they are subbed off), no one will be able to show any skill, so there's no appeal for spectators.

The NCAA SHOULD conform their rules to FIFA, at least regarding substitutions, but I can't see that happening. It's a shame too, because there are a lot of good coaches out there and some players who never get the chance to shine.

jon e said...

Blogger RHdigitalYS said: "College soccer... is like any other college sport, dominated by the persona of it's coach. Just look at March Madness and the overemphasis on coach's value."

Well, except that in NCAA basketball for either gender, the coaches and the players tend to really understand the sport. It sounds like that too often isn't the case in NCAA soccer.

Jon E said...

The funny thing about this is, in terms not just of raising the level of play but in terms of making the most of one's limited scholarship money, it would probably be better for the teams and the colleges to adopt the FIFA substitution regs (or at least the more generous ones used for friendlies).

When you've got free substitution, you need a big squad to keep your players fresh. Which means you either need more scholarships or to divide your scholarships up among more players if you want to have twenty players you feel okay putting on the field. If you can only put fourteen or so on the field, though, you could probably actually get away with less squad depth. Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

i disagree with the notion that coaching is not that important in soccer... running systems, offensive and defensive, is key to the game. true that players have a certain degree of control, but it's the coach who decides how various lines move and adjust, how and when to make changes, how the ball is moved, when to press or sit back, etc etc... coaching is key to any organized level of play... the letter is really interesting and it makes me think about why the level of mls is so poor... i have a hard time watching entire games... now i think i know why.

saludos, d

Anonymous said...

Great points by everybody. This is why I enjoy this blog!

Men's College Soccer tryouts at my school consisted of two days more suited towards a decathlon training.

The coach delegated his duties to a part-time men's coach, while he concentrated on the women's team. Yes, in fact that is correct, only in American Collegiate Soccer can you have the same coach--coach both men and women at the same time during the same seasons!!!

Back to the tryouts, we were told to bring running shoes, we were timed by stopwatch. We ran the "mile" on the running track (12K) meters. The next day we ran the "two mile" Also, we ran the 100 meters as well. We spent more time on the running track than the pitch.

In all we touched the ball maybe 20% of the time during tryouts. We scrimmaged once! All the while the assistant coach furiously kept track of his stopwatch.


Tony M said...

The shame is that college soccer can play a great role in our soccer development. We (meaning the fans) need to start hounding NCAA to join the soccer universe.

David W said...

I actually don't think that college soccer has a good role to play in developing professional talent. Unlike other sports, soccer is a sport where stars can compete with the best players at an age as young as 17. On the flip side, the high level of fitness required usually makes a lot of players washed up (at least from high level soccer) in their early 30's. That's why it makes no sense (or cents) for talented players to wait until age 22 or 23 to begin their professional career.

If you're American, you need to sign in MLS, play well, and then transfer to a European club to get paid well. It is so much harder to get signed by a European club straight out of college (especially without an EU passport or stardom for a national team). What is the justification for wasting 4 years of your athletic prime playing for half a scholarship?

Brant said...

A few years ago at the U19 World Cup, the US beat Argentina, and Marvell Wynne absolutely owned Lionel Messi. The only Wynne could've shut him out more would've been to sit on him.
After the tournament, Messi goes to Barcelona, Wynne goes to Clemson.
Guess who's the international superstar and who's still learning how to be a pro, in the MLS?

College is setting soccer back in the US, but if you suggest the kids skip college to go pro, people look at you like you have 2 heads.

Brant said...

"The only Wynne could've shut him out more..."

should've said

"The only way Wynne could've shut him out more..."

A.C. said...

Wynne didn't go to Clemson, he went to UCLA.

Anonymous said...

he's huge there, at ucla, i hear

A.C. said...

Though they've had a historically successful program, men's soccer, like everything else at UCLA, takes a backseat to basketball.

Brant said...

"Wynne didn't go to Clemson, he went to UCLA."

My mistake. Point still stands tho...

NCAA player: trouble breaking into TFC's first-year lineup

Barcelon player: fending off $50 million offers from Chelski.

berto said...

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