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.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.