Well at a Nike Store in New York City the regime of Jurgen got kicked off in an oh so typical way, a press conference where the tough questions got skimmed over as everyone put on their happy faces. Press conferences often go this way, as Major League Soccer fans are used to when they hear from their Commissioner, but there were a couple of things that were said that I thought were interesting, when asked On how he intends to fix some of the issues of the team he responded with:
"I don't think there is anything wrong with the team. They lost a Gold Cup final against a very, very good Mexico team that over the last couple of years became one of the top 10 teams in the world and have a lot of talent. When you come into a situation like this, you analyze every individual player, the team itself and the program, which I'll have the chance to do during the next couple of weeks, to see how I can develop them further. You build on what was built before, and if you look back on the past 20 years in this country, a lot has been built. The U.S. has, since 1990, always qualified for the World Cup. The U.S. has made a lot of noise with MLS being introduced. Now look where MLS is. I know in the beginning there were eight or 10 teams and half of those were supported by Phil Anschutz. Now, you have a league with 18 teams and growing next year again. There are development teams being introduced with the Academy program. It's come a long way, soccer in the United States. I'm now getting this opportunity to move it further.
Now I know there are a good number of fans who would disagree with him, and believe that it is the wrong things that got him hired. Now the next month will be interesting as there is no time to rest, he has said that he will announce the roster for next weeks match against Mexico on Wednesday, talk about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. One has to wonder if that match as well as the two friendlies next month (Sept. 2nd against Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center, and then Sept. 9th against Belgium in Brussels) will be used more to evaluate talent or will they be a time where the very formation, style of play and overall philosophy of the team are changed?
more after the jump:
Let me say that when I listened to the press conference this morning, I could find little of the real content that I disagree with. I think that US Soccer has to figure out a number of issues starting at the youth level and ending with the various national teams. Some things are going to be easier to figure out, but there are some big issues to deal with the competition of the US Soccer Academy system, with those being run by MLS teams, and where do those players progress to the professional levels or into collegiate soccer?
He talked about this a bit in a couple comments that he made:
It is important to understand your culture and how you grow up and where your emotions and priorities are. It took me years to understand how important this whole educational path for people is in this country. I never got it the first couple of years, and I said, ‘Why is the program really not that important to people, and why is it always about where you are going to college? What's the high school? Where are your kids going to school?' I always responded, ‘My kids are going to school at the next closest school. What's the big deal?' Over the years, I saw that those are the reasons why you think that way and it's because it's a completely different setup.
There's such a wealth of knowledge in this country. In Europe or in South America, it's unheard of. The college coaches have a four-year education as well. Traditionally in Europe, you become a pro at the age of 18, so you never get to go to college. It is important over the next three years, especially in the beginning, that I have a lot of conversations with people engulfed in the game here to find a way to define that style. What suits us best? What would you like to see and identify with? I think a great example is the women's team, and how they played their World Cup final. This is how America wanted to see their girls play that game, and they did an awesome job. It will be one of our main topics, always sitting down and discussing that. It should reflect your mentality and your culture. If you talk about Brazil, you know how Brazil plays. You know about Argentina, you know about Italy. They sit back and wait for one mistake, and if you do, they're going to kill you. We defined that with Germany in 2004, which was a very difficult process, but we worked through that process and now it's settled that style of play. Your opinion is important. College coaches' opinions are important. Youth coaches' opinions are important. Everyone is involved in that process, players as well. I'm looking forward to a lot of talks."
Now I think that the politics and economics of these issues will be more than Jurgen will be able to deal with, the reality that youth soccer is a multi-billion dollar industry here in the US. That often the elite youth teams have close relationships with college programs, and that those relationships are profitable for both sides. My greatest hope is that while I never envision a day that at some youth levels will abandon the "pay for play" system, that MLS, USL/NASL, and US Soccer can develop a system of youth teams and academies that will provide a pipeline where talent and not family or finances matter, a system where we can truly develop generations of players who can become the very best in the world, a system where professional teams around the world will come to look for their next generation of superstars.
The task is big, and it may be more than any one man can deal with, but if you listened to Jurgen today, and in the past you know that he has some grand vision of where the sport needs to go in the US in order for us to become one of the top soccer nations in the world. I wish him well and I can't wait to see what happens over the next month as the changes will begin.
OFF MY SOAPBOX