Author Archives: Will Parchman

Written by Will Parchman

mckennie

The last time we checked in with Weston McKennie, he was trotting on for his first 15 minutes of fame with the Schalke first team.

McKennie joined Schalke as soon as he was eligible in August of 2016, before FC Dallas was able to secure him to a contract and gain any financial windfall from a move. Whether or not that contributed to Schalke’s interest – scooping up a player of McKennie’s caliber for literally nothing is an unbeatable deal – it certainly greased the wheels to Germany.

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Written by Will Parchman

pulisic

It’s been more than a month since Christian Pulisic’s titillated the American soccer public with form that somehow never seems to be anything but red hot. So, in this short-attention-span age of Pokemons and Skip-Its and Razor flip phones, he might as well have last played in the Mesozoic Age since we last saw him on the field in a USMNT kit in June.

Lest ye forget, Pulisic is still stupid good! A fact he was keen to remind us of on Tuesday.

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Written by Will Parchman

carleton

We’ve been parroting for so long that the Development Academy is arriving, and not yet arrived, that it’s become something of a lengthy exercise in patience. It’s something like sitting in front of an oven with a pie inside it. If you don’t busy yourself with other matters, there’s always a tendency to pull it out of the heat too soon.

But the 2017 DA Finals over the weekend provided a glimpse into what’s baking in the oven. And it was a fairly impressive thing to behold on balance.

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Written by Will Parchman

tds_podcast_logo_final_fam

Has there been a gnawing hole in your podcast oeuvre? Have you needed a true audible touchstone for the vaunted #PlayYourKids movement? Have you felt let down by the utter lack of Lord of the Rings references when taking an in-depth look at our youth development apparatus in America?

Then friends, this day is Your Day. The TopDrawerSoccer Show is nigh.

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Written by Will Parchman

San Jose Quakes take on the Seattle Sounders FCduring the U.S. Open Cup 16th Round.

The Premier League is not a model. It is not an architectural blueprint left on the table for enterprising leagues to prod into, a nicked business framework here, an aped monetary model there. Much like players attempting to become Leo Messi, there is no amount of self-sustainment that can get you to the Premier League. It is simply money, ambition and circumstance. There is nothing to follow in this. Just to enjoy.

The Bundesliga is different, even if the gradients are slighter and the scale reaches beyond what building leagues can grasp. They promote young, play consistently and have holistic policies reaching into the guts of their academies. And if you need proof, look at their daring anti-ageist approach to hiring coaches.

This season, six of the Bundesliga’s 18 teams will begin the year with a coach in their 30’s. Julian Nagelsmann, the most famous and youngest of these, doesn’t turn 30 until later this year and has Hoffenheim in the Champions League this fall. Why German clubs insist on doing this, on hiring on average five years younger than any other major league in Europe, is a matter of culture. Namely, it is a matter of youth culture. From the aforementioned Archie Rhind-Tutt article.

Neither Nagelsmann nor any of his five fellow German compatriots had experience of being a Bundesliga coach prior to their current roles but each of them had worked in a Bundesliga youth academy, with four promoted directly from roles within their current club’s coaching set up to then head up the first team.

In other words, clubs are placing an emphasis on how coaches have been able to develop talent in the past. In some cases, that then allows the coaches to promote young talent that they’ve worked with in that club’s own academy – one such example with Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim is Nadiem Amiri, a European Under 21 Champion this summer with Germany.

This phenomenon has accelerated of late, but it is not a particularly new idea in Germany. Jurgen Klopp, remember, was 33 when he was given his first major coaching job with Mainz in 2001. Thomas Tuchel, when given the same chance to launch his own career with the same club eight years later, was just 35.

This is certainly part of the German soccer culture, but it’s also a choice. A series of choices, really, stacked one on top of the other like bricks sandwiched between mortar. Unlike the Premier League, it’s a capable albeit scaled choice within reach. And though it’s early days in the Jesse Fioranelli Project, the San Jose Earthquakes, those San Jose Earthquakes, have begun walking this most German of pathways.

And, so far anyway, it’s been a thing to behold.

Even before Fioranelli fired Dominic Kinnear in June, expelling the man who represented MLS’s ancient of days, you could feel that there would be little place for Kinnear here. Kinnear was brilliant in how he manipulated the MLS rosters of the 2000’s. He engineered some of the best trades of the decade and crafted a small dynasty in a league that hates dynasties by trading, poaching off the draft bed and trawling for overlooked domestic players. But with the dizzying infusion of cash, which brought about a somewhat staggering bevy of new ways to acquire players, Kinnear had fallen away. There was now too much in the way of foreign acquisition, too many moving parts for him to keep pace. MLS still has miles to go, but if allocation money did anything, it was to lasso Europe’s acquisition practices and haul them a little bit closer in.

The Quakes, under Fioranelli, signed Jahmir Hyka from FC Luzern, Florian Jungwirth from SV Darmstadt, Marco Ureña from IF Brondby. Danny Hoesen joined on loan from FC Groningen. At No. 6 overall, they drafted scintillating UCLA playmaker Jackson Yueill after drafting a goalkeeper and a holding midfielder first the previous two years under Kinnear despite having a glaring need at neither position (both have been good, if predictable positionally vis-à-vis Kinnear, for what it’s worth). Yueill was widely reported to be Fioranelli’s pick.

But the real meat on San Jose’s bone, or at least the biggest difference in the organizational nomenclature these days, is in the academy. And this is where the Quakes become as German in ethos as any club in MLS.

When I talked to Fioranelli earlier this year, about five weeks before he fired Kinnear, he left no doubt about the academy’s primacy in his future plans. He told me San Jose plans to break ground on a new facility soon, and his carefully chosen word here – backbone – leaves nothing to the imagination.

“The youth academy will be the backbone of our club,” Fioranelli said. “Ownership has completely bought into this. We are looking into a youth academy complex as well that will be a significant investment that we’re really excited about. The youth talents here in the area have to have a perspective provided by an MLS club, so we’re taking it very seriously.”

San Jose lagged terribly behind most of the rest of the league in academy integration, boasting barely two Homegrowns (Nick Lima had just signed) by the time Fioranelli arrived. But the academy was slowly ramping up under the watch of Chris Leitch, who ran it from 2012-2015 and then oversaw its continued progress from 2015 while operating also as the broader team TD. In this time, the Earthquakes managed to raise up some truly important talent, and not just Lima and Thompson; names like Arda Bulut, Amir Bashti, Andrew Paoli. The Quakes are producing first team candidates at a quickening pace, and Leitch, it should be said, had a heavy hand in helping that wheel to turn.

It was out of this swift-running stream that Leitch was poached to assume Kinnear’s former position. Leitch is 38, making him one of the youngest first-time coaches in MLS history. His post-playing history was mostly spent overseeing the development of young players. And he has the mandate of the front office because of all those things.

This, friends, is what coaching promotion and team-building looks like in the Bundesliga. Pay attention to those things here.

“Chris is the ideal person to take the role for the Earthquakes at this time,” Fioranelli said. “He has a history with the club and has very good knowledge of our entire development pipeline from the youth teams, through PDL and USL up to the first team. He combines that with a shared vision for the club’s identity that we have been developing for the past months. Chris and Alex give us two very good soccer minds with a desire to make this club one of the best in MLS.”

Keywords: History with the club. Development pipeline. Shared vision. Club’s identity. And of course there’s this, a literal collaboration between the Quakes front office and the DFB as a knowledge exchange.

The results, so far anyway, have been stirring. The Quakes flipped the switch about as fast as any team in history from being almost entirely unwatchable to absolutely tap-dancing on opponents’ souls. Go watch back San Jose’s 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy in the US Open Cup quarters and behold. Leitch started Tommy Thompson, Nick Lima and Jackson Yueill, the Holy Quakes Youth Triumvirate, and the Quakes ran the Galaxy out of the building. With all apologies to Atlanta United, there might not be a more enjoyable watch in all of MLS than San Jose at the present moment.

This is a sort of risk most MLS teams have been historically loathe to make. It takes more than a simple blueprint to do what Fioranelli and Leitch have planned. It takes ideology, or an unwavering belief that you can build something out of miry clay. These sorts of projects rise and fall and then reset in Germany all the time, but the framework is left behind for whoever slides in next.

This, ultimately, is Fioranelli’s vision. And right now, it looks every bit as fun as its Bundesliga cousins.

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Written by Will Parchman

watt

JJ Watt is cocky about his soccer skills. JJ Watt, it turns out, should not be cocky about his soccer skills.

Watt recently linked up with the Albion Hurricanes girls club side in Houston, where he plays for the NFL’s Texans, to have a nice jog-about during practice to test skills he hasn’t flexed since the third grade. Watt, notably, is dating Kealia Ohai, a former national champion with North Carolina who also hit the winning goal in a 1-0 game against Germany in the final of the 2012 U20 World Cup. So we no doubt have Ohai at least partly to thank for the joy you’re about to witness.

Watt, who’s probably done enough to apply for mayor of Houston by now (you can apply for that, yes?), was schooled as the middleman in a rondo, spouted off some nonsense terminology (I’M GOING DIAGONAL) and generally just enjoyed the hell out of the day.

Now if Watt could just win more than one playoff game in the next six years, as he has so far, we’ll be all set.

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Written by Will Parchman

mls-homegrown-game

Saying an MLS Homegrown side is set to be the most enjoyable iteration of itself is something like calling Master of None the best Netflix comedy series featuring an actor of Indian-American descent released in 2017. It may be good, but you aren’t saying much of anything.

Nonetheless, the 2017 MLS Homegrown team is A Lot Of Fun. The most fun, in fact, we’ve ever had in this game stretching back to the wild days of yore in 2014.

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Written by Will Parchman

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The soccer infrastructure in Texas is an unwieldy beast consuming structural plans like the Cookie Monster dropped into a Mrs. Fields convention. The state is roughly the size of France, a country with decades of infrastructural work set into firm ground with the undergirding strength of titanium beams. Texas… does not have that.

The state of Texas boasts four professional teams for an area boasting about 28 million people: FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC. It’s roughly representative of the three major population centers of the state – DFW, Houston and San Antonio – but the number of clubs itself is notable. Texas, simply put, does not have the ability to drill into its communities to find promising young players with the help of professional clubs and their attendant academies alone.

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Written by Will Parchman

161029 US Soccer Development Academy stock

It’s your favorite time of year, kids, when Development Academy golazos rain down upon your face like so many raindrops drumming on a tin roof in summer.

U.S. Soccer is currently running its DA GOTY competition, which is open for voting through Wednesday. You can see those voting details here, and below is the list of candidates (each with a trusty hashtag, as we all must have). One, Shandon Hopeau, is already on a pro contract after signing with Sounders 2 in the USL earlier this year following a promising stint with the full team in the preseason.

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Written by Will Parchman

7-1-USA-kellyn-celebrate

I think it’s a fair read on the situation to call the Gold Cup something of a ocean floor trawler of a tournament. There is value in it, whatever Average American Soccer Fan X would tell you, but the value is often mixed in with layers of silt and obscuring phytoplankton and performances that would otherwise only serve to confuse the hell out of you.

Perhaps the deepest trawl, and the one that muddied the USMNT waters the most completely, was whatever spirit possessed and animated Freddy Adu’s legs in 2011. Adu, you’ll recall, had already lustily fallen off the pace in 2011, and he quickly found himself on those seemingly self-populating Players Who Need To Prove Themselves listicles.

Adu had himself an enormous tournament, or at least by his own wonky standards, and this field-opening pass to Landon Donovan (I saw it live, and it was, at the time, arresting) to crack open a game against Panama in the semis the U.S. eventually won was… well it was pretty damn incredible to see after everything.

Adu’s 2011 Gold Cup was a lark. We know this now. His pathway into the first team was no clearer a month after the tournament than it was a month before it as his performances plummeted back from the troposphere, but at the time you couldn’t see past that pass, man. It was something else. And it was, for all its splendor, so much silt floating up from the bottom of the ocean and making the USMNT roster that much harder to glimpse through the shimmering fog. Do we… do we need to start talking about Adu again?

This is the ultimate trouble with the Gold Cup. It does this to us, forces us to make entire meals of table scraps. How do you ultimately handicap the performances, both from the field and from the sideline? And what do they matter, in the end, when the XIs on the field are so far set apart from the preferred first team XIs most any given coach with Gold Cup title aspirations would utilize in an ideal world? How many 2011 Adus will this particular tournament trawl up?

And this crack in the foundation is where the seepage of bias worms its way into the discussion.

The only real way to win the Gold Cup, at least from an American coaching perspective in non-Confederations Cup qualification years, is to drop unsubtle hints to your fan base about your system. You may not have your first choice side, but you certainly have the tactical framework in which they’ll play. This was why Bob Bradley’s 2011 Gold Cup was so disastrous and why Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2013 Gold Cup was arguably his greatest triumph. The 2013 team played some legitimately swashbuckling soccer, and Klinsmann managed to tease surprisingly robust performances out of fringe guys like Brek Shea, Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski. Even Mix Diskerud had a relatively successful tournament. The U.S. ultimately won its six games by a staggering plus-16 goal margin and, of course, ultimately won the entire thing.

It was not so much the trophy itself that hung so lightly around Klinsmann’s neck, but the performances that led them there. These tournaments are only valuable insofar as they tell you something broader about the team playing them, like a plot point hidden under the fourth layer in a Dostoyevsky novel that suddenly makes you realize your shortcomings as a spouse (or, you know, something). You know most of these players aren’t playing in a World Cup. But the system in which they operate? That’s immutable. Or else it should be.

This is the hinge point where we start talking about bias in how you see meaning in Gold Cups. And the Gold Cup, with all its strange moveable expectations that vary so wildly from person to person, it immediately becomes easy to see how coaches can either become hung by the Gold Cup (as Bradley was in 2011), vindicated by it (as Klinsmann was in 2013) and then have it act as a sort of blood-red blinking engine light for systemic problems almost entirely unrelated to the Gold Cup at all (this would be Klinsmann in 2015).

The Gold Cup is enough of an oddity and an outlier in what people expect from the USMNT in that all these things are possible. If you hate Incumbent Media, whatever that means for you, then anything other than withering criticism of Bruce Arena in the absence of soaring soccer in this tournament will be soft placation. If you are one of Arena’s Rough Riders, then there are practically no worthy criticisms aside from the meager individual jabs at players seemingly performing under their potential. And if you are somewhere in the middle, then you can simply shrug and wait until World Cup qualifiers begin again. And all of these viewpoints are ultimately incomplete.

This is all made that much harder to discern by the murk driving up from the bottom created by poor performances from supposed World Cup hopefuls (Kellyn Acosta, for instance, had an objectively poor game in the opener against Panama) and quality performances from players who emerged from nowhere (Dom Dwyer, for instance). The Gold Cup is important because it allows these World Cup stories to rise, but they are so often obscured by the tournament itself. Wondolowski’s 2013 Gold Cup more or less led to his inclusion in the 2014 World Cup, the only player to really use that venue as a true launchpad to Brazil, and… we know that story.

If there’s a way to watch this tournament – or if there’s a way I watch this tournament – it’s to expect far more out of the team ethic than anything individual. Look at the system and the fruit it produces, much like you would a projection-based U17 or U20 World Cup. This tournament can be an important vehicle to the World Cup, albeit for a select few, but it’s more important as a signal flare to the fans about the sort of soccer the particular coach at the time plans on playing. Around the Gold Cup, the U.S. was on a tear in 2013 after a 4-2 loss to the Netherlands that revealed some genuinely pleasing attacking play and of course the 4-3 win over Germany. In 2015, the wheels were rusting and cracking at the axles. The Gold Cup merely reflected all that back to us.

The individual performances will come or they will not. There’s not much Arena can do about Kelyn Rowe coming to play or not. But what he can do, and what I think is most important in not only this Gold Cup but in every one to follow, is set up a style and a basic framework for 2018, whether these are his horses for that tournament’s paddock or not. That is why the opening Panama match was concerning on a base level. Not because of the individual blasé-ness of it all, but because the interchange was bored and laggardly, the gaps between the back line and the defense were horrendous in size, and the crater where the creator should be was smoking and ruinous.

These are foundational things that can tell you a significant about a coach’s plan (or conversely, that there isn’t much of one). It is the Gold Cup, of course, and reading microscopically into every detail will forever be a fool’s errand. But continue to watch the tactical cohesiveness with which this team plays. From there, everything else should follow. Including the praise and ultimately the criticism.

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