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Mon Jan 28, 2013, 11:27 PM

America's Next Top Messi

This is a great article that is very "inside" US Soccer. It is about player development strategy and the state of US soccer. One interesting statistic to point out. US Elite players now get 350 hours of training a year. Ajax prospects get 576. Barcelona prospects are 768. Italy prospects get 432.

I encourage all soccer fans and especially US soccer fans to read this.

A cruel accusation is often lobbed at America's soccer powers that be: How can a nation blessed with a diverse population of over 315 million have failed to produce a single Lionel Messi? Or, for that matter, a few more Clint Dempseys and Landon Donovans?

In truth, efforts to build that strategic foundation began in 2007, when a United States Soccer Federation task force triggered the creation of a Development Academy system of 63 clubs nationwide (since expanded to 80) with the 19 MLS teams playing a key role. The men charged with injecting order into chaos are Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer's development academy director of scouting, and Alfonso Mondelo and Jeff Agoos, technical directors at MLS. Despite the modest resources they have at their disposal -- the national program has an annual budget of just $2.65 million -- a conversation with the trio reveals they remain strategically focused and ambition rich.

"Our youth system became one that emphasized winning games," said Agoos, a five-time MLS Cup winner, "because that was the way you caught the college scouts' eyes in order to gain a scholarship. This need to win meant our clubs favored a really defensive style that helped win games without ever truly developing the players."

"The first thing we realized was the 4,000 prospects we consider our elite were playing way too many games," Lepore said. A survey revealed the average under-15 player took to the field over 100 times a year, suiting up for high school, club, district, regional and national teams.


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