Since Claudio Reyna accepted the position of Technical Director for U.S. Soccer Youth National Teams in 2010, he has preached the same message to anyone who would listen, ‘one style of play.’
The continuity from one age group to the next perhaps has been lacking in the past, as a clear vision was not always apparent, but Reyna has set out to change that from top to bottom.
In the combined U14 and U15 Boys National Team camp, the two youngest age groups in the national program, that wrapped up last weekend, Reyna’s blueprint and message of continuity was obvious.
Both teams stuck religiously to a 4-3-3 formation and attempted to hold possession for long stretches throughout the scrimmages against local clubs and an ODP team from California.
The similarities between LePore’s U15 team and Hugo Perez’s U14 team are easy to spot, as both coaches preached building from the back and holding onto the ball, but it is still a laborious process to teach a style of play that the players may not be familiar with at the club level.
“You go building up little by little,” U14 Boys National Team head coach Hugo Perez told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “The focus for the first few days here was building out of the back. [And] we did not boot the ball once [in the scrimmages].”
Perez was referencing the scrimmages for the U14 national team where his group of 36 players was split into two groups and played against LA Galaxy Academy and ODP – Cal South.
Perez’s teams ended the pair of friendlies with a win and a loss, but it was the style of play that pleased the coach more than any result.
“The concept of the team and the style of play is very important and I was happy to see it today,” Perez said on Wednesday.
After wrapping up camp on Sunday, Perez will not see the U14 national team group again for three months, but he is pleased with the initiative from the federation to stay more involved even when players are not in camp.
“U.S. Soccer is trying to do a little bit more now,” Perez said. “We are leaving them with homework: skills, [watching] games, technical stuff – to play like this you have to be technical.”
So what exactly is the style?
Beyond the formation and possession-heavy mantra, there are some obvious other messages that Perez and LePore are trying to teach the players at an early stage in the development.
“Our message is if we lose the ball, we have to win it back because we need to have the ball to play the way we want to play,” Perez said. “Losing the ball cannot be an excuse anymore – in terms of being unlucky or anything like that – so they have to press and win it back.”
The coaches continue to build one stage at a time, as Perez said this camp was focused on keeping the ball on the ground and moving it quickly.
“That was the goal for this camp – to see if we can play a lot with the ball on our feet,” Perez said.
LePore was encouraged by what he saw from the players in bringing the lessons from training into the scrimmages on Tuesday.
“The big emphasis was implementing things from training especially in terms of style of play in these games,” Lepore said. “That is a big part of what we are trying to do – keep the ball, move it quickly, and also make sure we are looking [to get] behind [the defense].”
As for Reyna, the former U.S. national team captain stays heavily involved with the structure, and loomed on the sidelines over both camps.
He is supervising, noting, and improving the way the youth national teams play when any one takes the field. The message remains clear: one style for all teams.J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.