Author Archives: Will Parchman

Written by Will Parchman

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There is little question among those who’ve watched American flanks break down in chaos time after time that outside back has been something of a bugaboo in USMNT history. The position is scarce to begin with, but the reality is magnified in the halls of American soccer. The list of truly transcendent fullbacks who’ve pulled on a USMNT jersey is notoriously small.

There may be help on the way in the coming decade. And you need look no further than the looming U17 MNT cycle for proof.

The U.S. U15 BNT just wrapped up a successful run through the U15 CONCACAF Championship, which ended just shy of the title in the finale against Mexico. There were plenty of reasons for optimism, not least of which the level of individual technical ability on display. It’s clear the U.S. is beginning to produce more truly versatile operators all along the formation, and the game’s creeping globalization here was plainly evident.

That was perhaps no more clear than it was at fullback.

NYCFC right back Joseph Scally and Atlanta United left back George Bello both enjoyed tremendous tournament performances, both on an individual basis and as part of the collective. Scally’s one of the quieter up-and-comers with NYCFC, but he should probably be NYCFC’s first defensive Homegrown signing. Bello, meanwhile, is a year older and was signed to a Homegrown deal earlier this summer. Both Scally (2021) and Bello (2020) will be firmly in the reckoning for the 2019 U17 World Cup once the cycle resets in November.

For now, let’s take a gander at this TDS Scouting video compiled by our J.R. Eskilson to see just why both these dudes are on such encouraging fast tracks.

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Written by Will Parchman

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The German Bundesliga opens its season today. This is the literal height of sporting news on Germany’s annual domestic sporting calendar, of course, but it’s also a matter of European if not fully trans-continental news.

Germany is currently No. 2 in UEFA’s coefficient ranking, which ranks clubs’ performance in Europa League and Champions League competitions. It is not a full reckoning of a league’s vitality, but it provides clues and hints as to which leagues are outperforming their contemporaries. The Bundesliga, then, can unquestionably be considered one of the world’s top three leagues, alongside Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League. Based on the eye test, it can reasonably be considered No. 2, behind only Spain.

Whatever your personal bent on the matter, the Bundesliga is big business. And as we saunter into the 2017-18 season, one of the biggest leagues in the world with some of the heaviest economic stakes in play is about to push six coaches under the age of 40 into the fray.

This is a big deal, and it should be something of an international model. There’s a reason why German teams are so enjoyable to watch and so front-foot on the international tactical curve. It’s a place of experimentation, of professional sideline Clint Dempseys who try things and have a mandate to do so. It’s cultural as much as anything. The German coaching institution is a lot of things, but it is not stuck in neutral.

This is not the way of it in the U.S., which, to be perfectly blunt, has done a pretty shameful job of developing young bright-eyed coaches and pushing them into places of prominence. This should change.

The youngest professional coach – that is, coaching in either the NASL, USL or MLS – in an American soccer league is Jacksonville Armada chief Mark Lowry, who’s all of 32 years old. But he’s English. The youngest American coach in any of those three leagues is Mike Munoz, the 33-year-old LA Galaxy II coach who’s been on the sidelines as a coach since practically the minute he retired in 2009.

In fact, there are a paltry five head coaches under the age of 40 on the 61 teams split between the nation’s three fully professional soccer leagues. That’s 8 percent of the total. Remember, 33 percent of the Bundesliga’s head coaches are under 40. That, to me, is the gold standard.

A couple are close. OKC Energy’s Jimmy Nielsen just hit 40 a couple weeks ago. Ben Olsen’s been coaching in MLS for seven years and just turned 40. Ian Russell, who’s turned Reno 1868 into an attacking juggernaut in a span of months, is 41. But opportunities for men in their 30’s have simply not existed with any seriousness until lately, and even then it’s been a slow trickle.

This has not been entirely on the clubs, of course. You can only hire the coaches who apply, and the pool of talented forward-thinking coaches under the age of 40 in this country is depressingly low. But still, the stakes in U.S. professional leagues are comparatively low in relation to just about every major league of record in the world. There’s no reason not to take chances in the hope of exceeding all-too-common norms. What I am saying, then, is maybe don’t hire Frank Yallop if you think you might have a less experienced 34-year-old with some harebrained ideology.

The point is not that hiring coaches under 40 is necessary – or even advisable – in all cases. Merely that the chances need to be there for fresh blood to infuse the old with ideas from a different wave. And those chances haven’t existed in any volume at all, ever really, in this country. And the percentage sure as hell needs to be higher than eight.

With that in mind, these are my 10 favorite American coaches under the age of 40 in this country right now.

Not all are professional, obviously, meaning I dipped heavily into the college ranks. The college game is often panned in the public purview for its tendency to produce blunt objects for players, which is too simplistic an analysis but has its merits as far as critiques go. But one area where college has been indispensable is providing opportunities for young coaches denied them on the professional level. College soccer, for all its faults, is actually doing a mighty fine job of giving chances to young coaches – certainly a far better job than any professional league in this country.

My hope is that they are not ignored.

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Written by Will Parchman

Busio

Gianluca Busio wasn’t much of a known quantity on the national team level until December of 2015, when he earned his first YNT call-up to a U15 camp run by John Hackworth. At the time, Busio was a little-known midfielder/forward hybrid playing for out-of-the-way North Carolina Fusion in Greensboro.

From there, it’s been a quick climb from USYNT outsider to DA phenom with Sporting KC (which he joined at the start of the 2016-17 season) and U15 BNT centerpiece. We introduced you to Busio earlier this year after he hit a crazy free kick for Sporting KC’s U16 team. Since then, he was named to our DA Playoffs U16 Best XI and become an increasingly important cog for the youth national team.

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Written by Will Parchman

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We have all been sleeping dangerously on Jonathan Lewis.

When the U.S. U20 team lost its first game of World Cup qualifying earlier this year, a dire 1-0 setback against 10-man Panama, coach Tab Ramos essentially hit the reset button. Part of the recovery in the group phase was undoubtedly down to the opponents: Haiti and St. Kitts & Nevis were more speedbump than roadblock. But as part of the reshuffle, Jonathan Lewis was subbed onto the left flank as its primary driving force and suddenly it was open for business. Lewis played most of the final two group matches and the U.S. won them a combined 8-2.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Less than a month ago, we were greeted with this lovely little message from Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel on Haji Wright.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Borussia Dortmund is misleading.

All the tropes of a Big Club are there; the 85,000-seat stadium, always full. The world class players. The Champions League runs. The domestic cups. The global fan base. If you were new to the game, there’s nothing blatantly obvious, really, to separate BVB from, say, clubs like Manchester City, Juventus or even Real Madrid.

They are, of course, not like those clubs. Their budget is smaller, their mandate more constricted, their ultimate aims in player acquisition different. They trawl up coveted youth players for pennies, or, in Christian Pulisic’s case, for free. They’re willing to burn time pushing them up through their U19 apparatus in exchange for lower fees. They need to make big sales before they splash for big buys.

And, in the case of Ousmane Dembele, they use their multi-faceted scouting network to pull up transfers for teenagers at a fraction of the cost.

Dembele moved from Rennes in 2016 for $15 million. His latent value according to Transfermarkt more than doubled in the last year, which Dembele spent setting Europe to the torch. But latent value doesn’t mean much in the afterglow of Neymar’s $222 million move to PSG. Barcelona, now flush with cash everyone in the world can see spilling from their coffers, needs a replacement. Or two. And Dembele is on the list.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Money is flying from clubs’ collective coffers these days at a rate that has largely broken our compass. Whether or not the transfer fees being posted worldwide make economic sense – and maybe they do – they certainly enfeeble our ability to dissect and understand.

So perhaps D.C. United getting to the brink of doubling its transfer record to buy 22-year-old USMNT international Paul Arriola at $3m should not come as a shock of cold water to the system. Arriola’s been on an upward trajectory with Bruce Arena’s national team, has more than 3,000 minutes in LigaMX and, while he hasn’t been asked to score with any volume for club or country, is an able winger. We can quibble about the price, but it only seems enormous for D.C. United. It’s not a huge sum for league teams anymore.

This does, however, put Arriola in some pretty interesting transfer territory. Luciano Acosta, the spritely attacker at the head of D.C. United’s final third danger, was acquired for half that sum less than a year ago. David Accam, Shkelzen Gashi and Hector Villalba were all purchased for less. Nemanja Nikolic and Romain Alessandrini, two of the league’s most dangerous attackers signed within the last year, were right at Arriola’s transfer number.

If nothing else, it would seem the USMNT designator and D.C. United’s desperation drove up the fee considerably. Xolos came out smelling pretty fresh in this deal.

That, it seems, will all be sorted in one way or another. Fees are rising everywhere, and perhaps Arriola’s deal simply signals that advance. We’ll see. I’m far more interested in a seemingly smaller detail that, apparently, has set a new precedent in MLS transfers for Homegrowns.

Arriola, as you’ve probably heard by now, spent some time in the LA Galaxy academy. A brief amount of time. Very brief. While moonlighting for various USYNT age groups, Arriola scored 15 goals in 17 games for SoCal club Arsenal FC during the 2011-12 Development Academy season. The Galaxy, as MLS clubs often do, swooped in and collected Arriola for the 2012-13 season, his last on the club level. Arriola was stretched by national team duty that year, mostly with the U18s, and only played 11 games. On May 3, 2013, Arriola joined Tijuana, and most of this seemed to be moot.

It, apparently, was not.

Isn’t that curious.

This has never happened before, or at least not that I can tell. Until now it’s more or less been an ethereal test case: a player with held Homegrown rights returns to MLS via transfer fee without having signed an MLS contract in the first place. What happens then? Teams have secured Homegrown rights (as Sporting KC did with Josh Sargent) and dealt Homegrown rights (as the Red Bulls did with Adam Najem and the Philadelphia Union this year), but this? Arriola seems to be a test case. And one we didn’t think possible.

Here’s the relevant passage from MLS’s roster rules page.

A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements. Players joining MLS through this mechanism are known as Homegrown Players.

Bolded part for relevance.

We never really knew what this meant, practically. What defines a retention requirement? A couple training sessions per year in the offseason? A greeting card during the holidays? But what it did signify was that Homegrown rights could be lost to time if they were not met. I think a fair reading of this rule is that if you don’t hit a certain threshold, you lose the player’s rights. And Arriola, by this definition, should’ve lost them.

Arriola had been away from the Galaxy for five years, and he’d played all of 11 games with their U18s over a period of about seven months. His first game for the Galaxy academy wasn’t until the middle of October in 2012, and he signed for Xolos in the first week of May. It wasn’t even a full season. Arriola’s ties to the Galaxy are as tenuous as any player designated ‘Homegrown’ in MLS history. And yet the Galaxy are on the business end of $500K in allocation.

Whatever those retention requirements were – I’ve never been able to acquire a firm answer on this – it doesn’t seem to matter now. We have the Arriola Precedent in hand.

This matters. And if it doesn’t as much now, it will in the future. MLS is producing more and more academy players coveted not just by their own technical staffs, and a fair amount of them are already leaking out to foreign leagues before signing at home. Weston McKennie left for Schalke in 2016 before signing a contract with FC Dallas. Say he returns in five years and the Red Bulls, for instance, secure his transfer. It doesn’t seem to have mattered that McKennie had been gone for five years. Under this Arriola Precedent, FCD is owed allocation. Full stop.

The news here is that if you have a Homegrown claim on a player, it doesn’t seem to expire. And, as SKC proved with Sargent, they don’t even need to have played for your academy, just have lived in your Homegrown catchment area. Whether or not MLS has a secondary deterrent to keep teams from simply squatting on the Homegrown rights of dozens of local and regional players it’s never even developed in hopes of collecting future fees, we’ll have to wait to see.

MLS allocation rules are so intricately webbed that they often require real world precedents, much like landmark court cases, to set them in stone. We seem to trip over new scenarios by the year. If this one is the way it appears, MLS clubs who’ve watched academy players fly the coop before signing them, only to have them return years later for another team, will be compensated.

That’s not such a bad thing, even if it does appear to contradict MLS’s own rulebook.

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Written by Will Parchman

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This week’s TopDrawerSoccer Show is a doozy. Just how do we go about addressing and perhaps even fixing the pay-to-play dilemma in the U.S.?

It’s a vexing question, one the guys attempt to address in full on this week’s program. The big news this week involves DeAndre Yedlin, whose training compensation case following his sale to Tottenham in 2014 is about to go before FIFA. Does Crossfire deserve a cut of the cash from the sale, as he would in any other country, or does U.S. law supersede those rules?

We use that as inroads to delve deeper into the question of how to properly address pay-to-play in this country. Is it the evil it’s often portrayed to be? Is there a fix on the horizon? And can this Yedlin case go some distance in providing some answers?

The guys peer into all those things on this week’s show. That and more, including a rare dual prospect of the week and, as always, time spent delving into your questions in our weekly mailbag segment. You can submit your own questions here for consideration each week. And, as always, thanks for listening.

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Written by Will Parchman

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At least from a practical team-building perspective, there is no real incentive for MLS teams to sell on their best players. They can only use up to $685K of the sale toward their allocation budget, and MLS pockets either 33 percent (non-Homegrown) or 25 percent (Homegrown) of the transfer fee in the event of a sale.

The clubs get the rest, but as far as actual team-building goes, the benefit is relatively slim. When you consider MLS prospects are generally devalued on the transfer market – the most expensive in history was the $5 million for Matt Miazga – MLS front offices aren’t exactly falling over themselves to sell their teenagers.

This is at the heart of the league’s most front-and-center standoff today. Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, one of the most exciting young players in the league, apparently wants to leave Montreal. And the club doesn’t want to let him go.

From ESPNFC’s Peter O’Rourke:

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Written by Will Parchman

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NYCFC’s stunning 3-2 come-from-behind derby win over the Red Bulls Sunday afternoon was enticing for all the requisite reasons. The rivalry itself appears to have turned into something a bit more legitimate a bit faster than most of us expected, and the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium was an electrically charged wire.

The stars came out for it, too. David Villa scored a hat trick, his first (incredibly enough) in MLS. Bradley Wright-Phillips added two on the other end. This was, it must be said, the sort of spectacle MLS wants from its rivalries. For all intents and purposes, it worked.

There was one aspect about the game that I could not help but notice, blinking like a lighthouse beacon through fog. It was this goal of Villa’s, which drew NYCFC level at 2-2.

The goal itself is beautiful enough. Villa crosses up RBNY defender Aaron Long – this reminded me so much of Messi’s pantsing of Jerome Boateng in the Champions League – rakes the ball back underneath his path and then finishes near post. It’s the sort of goal maybe a handful of players in the league are even capable of dreaming up in the run of play, let alone executing at full speed.

But there’s something else about this sequence; the salaries.

Villa’s salary for 2017 is $5.61 million, putting him comfortably in the top 10 of the league’s wealthiest earners. More specifically, he was the most handsomely paid player on the field Sunday by some distance. Long was on the extreme opposite pole. His salary was the lowest of any player who started the game at $65,000. With this salary, it’d take Long about 86 years to earn what Villa takes home in one season. And Long was being asked to track Villa in space, on the backpedal, one-on-one.

At least in hindsight, the result was relatively predictable.

In 2016, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast touched on the topic of weak link/strong link theory. Gladwell used it to make the point that our higher education system is a weak link problem; we gain little to nothing by continuing to philanthropically fund elite schools like Princeton while ignoring smaller, regional schools that need those resources far more. And we are doing far more of the former than the latter.

In making this point, Gladwell references The Numbers Game, a well-regarded look into why soccer, too, is a weak link game. In it, authors Chris Anderson and David Sally argue that money is better spent shoring up the team’s weakest link rather than pouring money on top to fortify the strongest. Had the book been written now, they likely would have had stern words for PSG on their decision to buy Neymar for the GDP of a small Caribbean nation.

Here’s Sally speaking to Gladwell.

“Soccer is a game where, if you get a single goal, if you just happen to be lucky, that goal may hold up. And so mistakes turn out to be a very important part of soccer as a team sport. That leads you to think about, well, mistakes more often happen or are more often produced by weaker players on the field.”

And here’s Gladwell’s summation.

“Sally’s argument goes like this. A soccer team has 11 players on the field at any one time. Suppose one is a superstar, and your worst player is maybe only 45 percent as good as the superstar. Because soccer is a sport where everyone on the field depends on everyone else, that 45 percent player can make one mistake and completely negate the skill of the best player.

“You can have eight beautiful passes in a row, but if your worst player, your 45 percent player botches the ninth, then the previous eight beautiful passes are all wasted.”

This is more or less exactly what happens with the Red Bulls on Sunday, except the disparities in MLS are probably even more stark than 45 percent. The skill disparity between the best player and the worst player on the field is so deep, so abiding, that the result of Long’s matchup against Villa is almost preordained. It’s inherently unfair. And perhaps on a different day, without Villa on the field, Wright-Phillips’ goals aren’t essentially wiped out by a player on his own team making $1.5 million per year less than he is. But here we are.

This is not to pick on Long, necessarily. These things happen on a weekly basis, players on or near the league minimum running up against players who’d be top earners on Premier League teams. There is nothing else quite like it in the global game outside China, or at least not as a baked-in premise of the league’s allocation process.

This is where MLS improvement needs to be most heavily focused. Not in the DPs, but in the bottom third of its rosters. They’re simply not good enough. Not yet.

PSG didn’t pay $222 million for Neymar (and much more to his father and Barca besides) simply because it loves him as a player. PSG’s defense is little improved from the unit that was ripped apart in the Champions League last year. It does not see the game as a weak link enterprise, but rather as a branding exercise that also includes soccer. This is why PSG has yet to sniff a Champions League trophy and probably never will until its ethos changes.

Even Real Madrid understands weak link theory, if on a different scale from much of the rest of the world. It had weakness in steel and width and signed Dani Carvajal and Casemiro in one transfer window for a combined $13 million. Both played critical roles in Real Madrid’s 2016 and 2017 Champions League titles. I have no faith PSG would even think to make deals half as shrewd as either under present management. It has yet to truly grasp soccer’s essence, that the game allows you to be only as strong as your weakest hinge.

I would argue Real Madrid is as good as they’ve been not as much because Cristiano Ronaldo is a cyborg and Luka Modric can see into the future. Allowing that those things count, it’s rather because their “weakest” players outside those superstars are so strong. This is why PSG can spend just as much as Real Madrid and never beat them in a major continental competition. They’re spending in the wrong places. It’s blindingly clear one team has been doing this for a long time and the other has not.

The difference between Europe and MLS, of course, is that European clubs have the choice to ignore weak links. For MLS front offices, hamstrung by money restriction, scouting network and the ability to woo players in the first place, it’s a much harder thing indeed to truly fill a roster from the bottom up. Not impossible, just significantly more difficult.

If there’s one thing MLS as constructed does not like, it’s depth. Even in the starting XI.

MLS has been serious about brand building since David Beckham swept us into a breathless new era of mega-million-dollar Europeans. It has been less serious about bottom-up team building. And this is precisely why people like me annoy the general public about Homegrowns and academies. Under such restrictive cap rules, it is really the only way teams can reliably add these sorts of lower middle class players even increases in TAM can only go so far in remedying.

Until the checkbooks are allowed to creak open more fully, academies have an incredibly important role to play in the lifeblood of a modern MLS team. Look down the rosters of the deepest MLS teams, and they’re inevitably fleshed out by names like Muyl, Tabla, Mihailovic, Carleton, Pomykal, Trusty, Allen, Wingo, Edwards, Davies. Until things change, this, for the most part, is the headline of your bottom third.

MLS has historically been tied to this economic plan. You can’t really begrudge the league for attempting to stuff fans in once-empty seats that now brim with noise and color and light on gamedays. That’s something. But it also plowed over the lengthening disparity CBA negotiations and mega-deals have not and perhaps cannot fully address.

The league can and will continue to sign Villas, but the real improvement will be in what it does with the Longs.

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