- Ben McCormick

America’s youth development took a huge step forward on April 21 when Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna presented his curriculum for coaches across the country. The first step in standardizing youth development in America’s complex and convoluted youth system, the curriculum brings a small step America closer to forming a uniquely American player and playing style.

The document itself is impressive. Reyna combines elements of many different youth systems across the world to create a curriculum that will work for a sleeping giant like America. Reyna is calling for youth teams to use the 4-3-3 formation almost exclusively, highlighting keeping the ball on the ground (more technically proficient players, how awesome!), quick ball movement (boy, this will be fun to watch), and minimizing touches so as to avoid over-dribbling…Wait…Over-dribbling?

At first glance this troubled me. I’ll admit, I’ve long been dreaming of what an American Messi would be like. A player who you want taking as many touches as he can because he can change the game with any one of them. Minimizing touches won’t get us an American Messi, or even an Alexis Sanchez for that matter. Aren’t youth programs supposed to develop the stars of the team so they can develop into great players?

And then I stepped back and really thought about what Reyna was trying to say. Simply, the American culture won’t allow us to produce an American Messi. Think about it: every country’s playing style corresponds, even loosely, with their culture. Take Brazil for instance. Joga Bonito is born out of the relaxed fun-first Brazilian way of life. Think about the rhythmic samba as it relates to their style. Conversely, think about Sweden. Don’t they play a direct style like their downhill skiers?

America hates to wait. Instant gratification is preferred, translating to direct, fast and physical play in our sports. We are ten times more likely to produce an Adebayor as we are David Villa. Reyna’s preferred style will use the speed of the players on the wings and physical strength through the middle. Just because we are cutting down on over-dribbling doesn’t mean we sacrifice technical skills like passing. Rather, Reyna’s emphasis on keeping the ball on the ground and minimizing touches will make Americans better distributors by getting rid of the ball more quickly. Teaching quick ball movement will improve the tactical awareness and positioning of our players, helping cover for any lack of “Brazil-ness” we may possess.

Contrary to my original thoughts about over-dribbling, my favorite part of the new curriculum is Reyna’s emphasis on teams working as a cohesive unit from a very young age. Whenever the US goes up against the traditional powerhouses, we grind them for 90 minutes because we play well as a team. Any shortcoming we have physically or skillfully is made up for with determination and the ability to play as a team. This also fits the dual-national side of US Soccer very well. Players will come into the program with unique soccer DNA and be taught how to enhance it, rather than a skilled Latin-style player being told he needs to get stronger and kick the ball farther and faster.

Reyna took the first step of many toward not only streamlining youth development, but creating a uniquely American player by creating the universal curriculum. One day, a typical American player will be smart, fast, physical, and technically proficient. There’s a long road ahead of us until a larger group of such players makes their way to the full national team, but if all goes as planned, it’ll be well worth the wait.

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