Drawing parallels between English national team ‘problems,’ U.S. soccer

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England isn’t the only soccer nation suffering from developmental problems. For a long time, American soccer has remained fairly static in its ability to churn out young products who can compete at a world-class level.

The English Football Association has set up a commission to improve the talent pool available for national team selection, and specifically increase the number of Englishmen playing in the Premier League.

“The FA’s investment in and commitment to coaching is exemplified by St. George’s Park [England’s national training center],” FA chairman Greg Dyke (pictured) said during the commission announcement. “The Premier League’s focus on Youth Development through the Elite Player Performance Plan promises much.”

Premier League chairman Anthony Fry added: “It is evident from discussions with the clubs that there is a strong desire to see greater numbers of England-qualified players coming through their Academy systems that are capable of performing at both Premier League and international standard.”

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Before becoming the head coach of the Portland Timbers in 2013, Caleb Porter amassed a record of 119 wins, 18 losses, 17 ties, and one national championship in seven years at University of Akron. (Photo: Getty Images.)

That sounds a lot like U.S. Soccer’s justification for setting up its Development Academy, in which every Major League Soccer club in the U.S. (and the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps) participates. The system is supposed to “provide the best youth players in the U.S. with an every day environment designed to produce the next generation of National Team players” by putting the best players in front of top-level coaches and scouts on a weekly basis.

The biggest problem, which nobody on either side of the Atlantic Ocean has thoroughly addressed so far, is how to ensure the quality of those coaches. Aside from U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Curriculum developed by Claudio Reyna and implemented or ignored by Academy teams as they see fit, the Player Development Task Force created in 2006 has done little to advance the level of play so far.

As Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers put it in an interview with Henry Winter of The Daily Telegraph: “We need to stop blaming the players. The players get the blame in this country. No. It’s the coaching.”

Rodgers’ team plays some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League, as did his previous club, Swansea City. He will be invited to present his opinions to the FA commission, Winter reported, but his views should be heard in the U.S. as well.

St. George’s is a very impressive site, and it’s great that they [England] have the site. But I look at what we had at Swansea: We trained on an AstroTurf pitch at Swansea because we had no facilities. I used to get showered with the public.

We had nothing — absolutely nothing — yet everyone was wondering and talking about how we played football. It’s about football principles and defending those principles with your life. If you can get that fusion between the British players who will work their socks off but also have technique and tactical understanding, then young players will get better and better.

Rodgers named several lower-level and youth coaches who have never been given an opportunity at the higher levels. Instead, the Premier League — and MLS in the U.S. — rely on a merry-go-round of the same coaches, maintaining the status quo instead of evolving to a higher level of soccer.

The possible exceptions that have blossomed in 2013 have been Colorado Rapids coach Óscar Pareja and Portland Timbers maestro Caleb Porter. Pareja started his coaching career in the U.S. youth national team programs and as FC Dallas’ academy director, while Porter coached University of Akron.

Another coach trying to climb up the ranks in the U.S., Paul Dalglish, made similar observations on Twitter:

Dalglish, the son of former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, began his coaching career as an assistant with the Houston Dynamo, followed up by stints in the lower divisions with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Austin Aztex. He is the Lonestar SC technical director.

In February, MLS began a partnership with the French Football Federation to further coaching education among the league’s academies. As part of the agreement, one coach from each club is enrolled in the Elite Formation Coaching License course, which includes first-hand observation of top-level European academies.

France is in an elite group of European nations when it comes to player development, with its Clairefontaine facility churning out Thierry Henry, Hatem Ben Arfa and Abou Diaby, among others. But enrolling less than 20 American coaches in a foreign coaching course and expecting the knowledge to spread to the rest of the nation through osmosis is hardly enough.

The majority of Homegrown Player signings still don’t work. The biggest stars in MLS over the last few years, Landon Donovan aside, have been largely foreign players, much like the Premier League’s top crop. Players who go abroad still find vastly superior development opportunities.

It’s not that this country doesn’t have the coaches and players who could turn the U.S. into a soccer superpower. It’s that those people have been shut out in favor of a largely pedestrian old boys’ club who continually walk through a revolving door of high-level American soccer jobs.

Until that changes, the U.S. will continue to lag behind countries with lower population and less resources.

“Amazing Game” – Pep’s Man City reinforces UCL, PL bid with Napoli win

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If it hasn’t already, Manchester City is one win away from making a Premier League-UEFA Champions League double a very real goal.

The hosts had to scrap to hold onto all three points against visiting and Serie A leading Napoli on Tuesday, giving away two penalty kicks after building a 2-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Napoli ]

But Ederson stopped Dries Mertens effort, and opened the door to further dreaming for supporters of Pep Guardiola‘s dreamy deep squad.

It wasn’t 7-2, or even 4-0, but Guardiola was gushing after a mutually adventurous football match between two electric squads.

“It was an amazing game. Outstanding. Both wanted to play against high pressing. Napoli are one of the best teams I have faced in my career. If you are not aggressive without the ball you have no chance to survive.”

There’s still a very tricky match week in the fourth round at Napoli, and we wonder whether Guardiola will prioritize the Premier League visit from Arsenal later that week. And, even better, it may not be a necessity to prefer either: The Gunners will have one less day’s rest thanks to Europa League play, aren’t exactly inspiring this season, and playing stars twice in four days isn’t the end of the world with an international break following the Arsenal tilt.

City’s status on the precipice of the UCL knockout rounds means it can focus on the Premier League, as well as a kind draw that should put them within three rounds of a League Cup title. While Burnley has been quite good this season, no one’s debating that City could pile up points for their table lead as 2017 nears its conclusion with an away Manchester Derby on Dec. 9:

Sunday – vs. Burnley (PL)
Oct. 24 – vs. Wolves (League Cup)
Oct. 28 – at West Brom (PL)
Nov. 1 – at Napoli (UCL)
Nov. 5 – vs. Arsenal (PL)
Nov. 18 – at Leicester City (PL)
Nov. 21 – vs. Feyenoord (UCL)
Nov. 26 – at Huddersfield Town (PL)
Nov. 29 – vs. Southampton (PL)
Dec. 2 – vs. West Ham (PL)
Dec. 6 – at Shakhtar Donetsk (UCL)
Dec. 9 – at Manchester United (PL)

Consider that United will be finishing an 8-day stretch which includes Dec. 2 at Arsenal, Dec. 5 vs. CSKA Moscow, and the derby. That makes Wednesday’s United trip to Benfica an even bigger affair. If both sides have already sewn up the knockout rounds, the derby will be especially better.

That’s neither to say City’s two-point lead atop the table and win at Chelsea weren’t impressive enough, nor that it couldn’t have overcome a slower start to both the PL and UCL campaigns. And City did start last season red-hot, too.

But it’s already foolhardy to bet against Pep’s men given the path ahead. Given Real Madrid’s relative struggles, and Barcelona’s uncertain status, it feels like City has as good a claim to UCL favorite status as anyone outside of Paris Saint-Germain.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

Spurs’ Kane: Draw at Real “shows how far we’ve come”

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After pressuring Raphael Varane into an own goal, Spurs striker Harry Kane saw Keylor Navas make an outstanding late stop to ensure a 1-1 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

“I thought I did everything right, I opened my body, I put the ball where I wanted to and he made a very good save,” Kane said.

[ RECAP: Real 1-1 Spurs ]

While the red-hot Kane sure would’ve liked to find the match-winner, he knows what Spurs just achieved in Spain against the back-to-back UEFA Champions League winners.

And that, he says, is pleasing. From the BBC:

“We are happy. Of course they are going to have chances but we played well and made it tough for them. A point at Bernabeu, you would take that every day of the week. It shows how far we have come as a team.”

Kane is right, this Spurs side looks far more self-assured than its predecessor. It shows the process of learning to compete in the UCL.

The return date at Wembley Stadium is Nov. 1, where a point would all but seal Spurs’ spot in the knockout rounds thanks to Borussia Dortmund’s stunning 1-1 draw at APOEL Nicosia.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Lovely Lloris!

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An error from each time in its own box and outstanding goalkeeping gave Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid a 1-1 draw in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday at the Bernabeu. (video)

Raphael Varane recorded a 28th minute own goal, but Serge Aurier gave away a penalty as Cristiano Ronaldo equalized for Real Madrid at home in the 43rd minute.

Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas were the stars of the show, with Lloris making the lion’s share of saves.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Both teams are well-positioned to advance, with seven points. Spurs have the tiebreaker advantage, but both Tottenham and Real are six points clear of Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia after a surprising draw in Cyprus.

Early nerves were apparent for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, but Tottenham grew into the game and took an early lead.

Concerned with the presence of Harry Kane, Real defender Raphael Varane saw a cross move off his pegs and behind Keylor Navas to put Spurs ahead.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The lead was short-lived, however, as Spurs back Serge Aurier cut short Toni Kroos’ rare foray into the 18, and Ronaldo buried the ensuing penalty kick.

Lloris made an outstanding save on a point-blank Karim Benzema header in the 54th minute.

A moment later, offside Ronaldo flashed a sitter over the goal before the whistle alerted viewers to his offense.

Ronaldo had another chance stymied by Lloris as Real really began to pile on pressure past the hour mark.

Kane had a 71st minute chance against the run of play off a gorgeous pass from Fernando Llorente, but Navas got low quickly to redirect Kane’s point-blank shot wide of the far post.

Navas made another save when Llorente cued up Christian Eriksen for a chance, and the Dane then sent in a corner that led to a Davinson Sanchez’s header wide of goal.

Llorente was quite good in the second half in this surprise two-striker move from Mauricio Pochettino, and the Spurs boss also deployed Danny Rose for a season debut off the bench.

Man City 2-1 Napoli: Early goals stand up

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Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored early, and Ederson stopped one of two penalty kicks as Manchester City held off Napoli 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

Amadou Diawara converted Napoli’s second PK after Dries Mertens saw his effort saved.

Napoli is six points back of Group F leading City, and three behind Shakhtar Donetsk.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Raheem Sterling was near the spot to blast an open rebound past Pepe Reina in the ninth minute.

Then Kevin De Bruyne swept an incisive pass into the six for Gabriel Jesus to slot home, giving Man City a 2-0 lead in the 13th minute.

Kyle Walker saw yellow after giving a penalty kick in the 37th minute, and Napoli star Dries Mertens had his chance to pull one back denied by Ederson.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

John Stones‘ impressive growth at City continued when he slid to stop Marek Hamsik from testing Ederson in the second half.

Fernando took down Faouzi Ghoulam to give Napoli a second penalty kick, and this time it was converted thanks not to Mertens, but Diawara.