Monday, June 2, 2008

The Latino question

It's not that I disagree with Rob Hughes about how the U.S. needs more skillful players, I do agree with him on that. I also think that Latino players, their style of play and making sure that talented players in their ranks receive opportunities in the U.S. is very important.
But the U.S. just needs better players - no matter where they come from. Can Freddy Adu's style be considered "Latino"? Who cares? McBride probably isn't thought of as a Latino-type player, but boy, could the U.S. have used Brian in his prime versus England. For that matter, the U.S. misses a John O'Brien type of player as much as a Tab Ramos sort.
Or a Clint Mathis, pre-ACL injury. Basically, though I heartily support finding skillful Latino players, I don't really think the U.S. team needs to get more Latinos to improve. It needs to find good players to improve, and it needs to make sure that it's not looking past Latinos in doing so. Yet the other extreme, thinking that Latino players will save the team just because they're from a certain background, is bogus.


Anonymous said...

uh, I think the point of the piece is that the US program NEEDS to tap into the US Latin population for future players...

Edgar Castillo in Mexico is a prime example of this... a skilled, skilled player now playing for Santos and the Mexican National Team... did you watch the Mexican final this past weekend? Castillo was key helping Santos Laguna win its third national championship... what happened there? why is Castillo playing for Mexico and not the US? WHY was he missed?

Isn't it a necesity that the US National Program start identifying these players? I mean, there are Mexican scouts now tapping into this base...

saludos, d

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with the above poster d.

AC, the way you constructed your argument and paint the picture that some people think Latinos are needed to "save the team" is misleading.

The underlying issue is that until recently, Latinos have been ignored, omitted and excluded from the US National system both in player development and coaching opportunities at all levels.

Ignoring a large portion of the player pool has proven foolish. I am glad the media and US Soccer is looking more into this issue.

Let me pose this question, would anybody choose our current left back over Castillo? Castillo is a supreme talent, his speed, skill and conditioning are off the charts, he reminds of Damarcus Beasley but better in all categories version 2.0. He will be playing in Europe very soon, unreal pace with and without the ball. He will be missed in South Africa 2010. Hopefully we don't let the next Castillo slip through the cracks in our system.


A.C. said...

You may think my argument is misleading if you like - Hughes' article doesn't address how Latino players have fallen through the cracks in the past and how best to address that - he doesn't mention Castillo at all. In general, he just revives the name of a few great Latino players and says the national team needs more like them.
As far as what happened to Castillo, it's quite simple. He was offered a professional contract while still young (something the U.S. youth teams can't do yet), developed there and was capped by Mexico before the U.S. had a chance to do it. Castillo wasn't missed any more than Guiseppe Rossi was missed. Talented players who have a choice between two countries will often pass on playing for the U.S. Some, like Freddy Adu and Michael Orozco, will not. The U.S. youth national team program can identify these players, but given the choice of playing with a pro club or at Bradenton, many Mexican-American prospects would choose to play with a pro team. Besides, the Bradenton spots are very limited, and some players, late-bloomers especially, will be missed. That makes the system more inadequate than systematically biased.
And I don't agree that there has been a systematic denial of opportunities for Latino players. Many have shunned U.S. development in the past, deeming it unworthy. In general, though, the U.S. has failed a lot of low-income prospects, because too often good soccer clubs are expensive. Latinos have been affected to a disproportional degree by this, perhaps, but it's victim-wailing to say its because of race.
Bottom line, I believe that when better development opportunities are presented for all skilled young players, and technical soccer is valued as much as athletic soccer, that Latinos will be represented in the U.S. soccer ranks just fine - and without the specific calls to just arbitrarily include more Latinos.

A.C. said...

By the way, I asked Gulati, at the World Cup, why the U.S. Soccer website wasn't bilingual - not to say that was the reason why he made it a priority to do so, but I did feel it was important to push the fed on things like that. Reaching out to Latino fans can only help soccer in America. But I think more opportunities across the board, and breaking U.S. soccer of some of its inbreeding habits is more important than a blanket move to Latino soccer.

Anonymous said...

AC, I don't believe that's how Castillo described his situation in a CNNSI article I read a few months back when he first was capped by Mexico. I seem to remember him and his father saying that he was largely ignored by US youth teams because of his lack of size, and out of that frustration he went to Mexico. It wasn't because US youth teams were drooling over him and he just went where the money was. He was clearly overlooked.

A.C. said...

You mean this article that Luis wrote?
It doesn't say anything about why Edgar didn't make the Bradenton cut. Edgar himself doesn't know. It does say that that U.S. system had him on the radar at 14. Maybe they did hope to look at him again after he grew a bit, but they didn't get the chance because as a high-school junior he tried out with Santos and got a contract there. Except for Adu, very few high-school players are getting MLS contracts. That's where the U.S. system needs to improve, but that's not exclusive to Latinos.

D.S. said...

AC, the following is a loaded paragraph:

And I don't agree that there has been a systematic denial of opportunities for Latino players. Many have shunned U.S. development in the past, deeming it unworthy. In general, though, the U.S. has failed a lot of low-income prospects, because too often good soccer clubs are expensive. Latinos have been affected to a disproportional degree by this, perhaps, but it's victim-wailing to say its because of race.

I agree with you that the denial of opportunities for Latino, specifically Hispanic, players may not be racist, but I strongly believe that it is certainly systematic, that is, it is a consequence of the way the system is set up. Fact 1: players from poorer families drop out of high-level soccer at or about the age of 13-15; Fact 2: there is a massive correlation between being Hispanic (more generally Latino) and being both relatively poor and well-immersed in soccer within the US. The combination of the two facts means that the system is failing Hispanic players.

Moreover, addressing the Hispanic players' situation is likely to address a large fraction of the affected population. (The struggles of the Dempsey family to put Clint through expensive soccer programs is well-known.)

IMHO, the emphasis on soccer scholarships at the collegiate level is entirely mis-placed (and, consequently, all the hype about "college showcases" and such tournaments is misplaced as well). You and other writers have written quite eloquently about how the college system is unproductive in terms of developing an elite soccer pool for the MLS and the US teams to draw from.

Which leaves me with the following thought: Professor Gulati's legacy of expanding the base of elite soccer development to about 64 clubs across the country is brilliant. Will he able to go a step or two further, and institute a large number of scholarships for deserving youth from poor families as well? We are not talking big bucks here: 64 clubs times 7 age groups (U12-U18) times 10 players per club per age group times $5000 for the U12-U15 and $10000 for U16-U18 is only $32M (twice that for both genders).

For comparison: Nike's annual marketing budget in the US is about $650M, worldwide about $1B (based on random google searches), Puma's annual marketing budget is over €120M, Bradenton's annual budget is about $2M, Barcelona's youth system has a budget of $10M, MLS salary cap is around $2M...

yes, it's difficult to come up with $32M, but we need a start. It is important to have a successful scholarship programs to players that can't afford expensive elite club soccer training, the associated travel, and equally importantly, the proper nutrition. A player from a poorer family is likely less able to afford nutritious food than one from a wealthier family, and the differences often show up in showcases, tryouts, etc., that are already predisposed to favor the stronger athlete over the technically superior player. I submit that if a player doesn't have the technical supremacy by age 15, he can never be developed to gain it, whereas good nutrition and training methods can easily fix perceived lack of athleticism to a large degree.

Sliced differently, a $32M scholarship budget is $0.5 M per club per year; if US soccer + sponsors can come up with $300K of this per club (for a total of $1.92M), then it is not unreasonable to ask these elite clubs to raise the remainder ($200K per club per year) of the scholarship budget.

Selections for these scholarships is not likely to be too difficult -- there are numerous player identification programs (the ODP being the most prominent one).

papa bear said...

I totally agree that the USSF needs to do a better job of identifying players of ALL walks of life. (African, Asian, Latino etc) To boil down success to one subset is a bit condescending.

Another thing that is often ignored regarding kids like Castillo, there are a lot of Mexican parents who 'encourage' their kids to aim for El Tri rather than the USMNT. (it doesn't only happen with Mexican kids see: Rossi, Jermaine Jones et al)

Look at Chivas USA's academy teams. They have embedded scouts for El Tri combing over the players there. The USSF has to do more to recognize players early and get them involved in the national team system to avoid fighting for players in situations like that.

Suddenly stocking the whole team with Latino players won't make us the best in the world, stocking it with the very best players in the country could.

One other thing I do agree with in the article is we MUST get away from this gargbage English worshipping style. It was disgusting to watch our play against England especially after seeing how the U-20's under Rongren and the U-17's under Cabrerra put a premium on holding onto possession and moving the ball around quickly.
We've played better and must play better than that. Many of our guys are larger so having the option and ability to play physical is nice if you need it, but I'd so prefer a more possession style thatn the direct sh*t we've been playing under Bob by and large. (the garbage empty bucket formation doesn't exactly foster creativity either though I must admit.)

A.C. said...

DS, I don't see my paragraph as loaded at all, and I think we're actually in agreement. I'm saying the US Soccer system is flawed and needs improving, because poor kids are denied chances in the current set up. But that's different than saying that they're denied chances because they're Latino, which is what Hughes is saying.