Written by Will Parchman

mike

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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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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Written by Will Parchman

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There was no one in the Development Academy last season quite like Efrain Alvarez. In reality, there have been few like him in the academy’s history.

Alvarez has been a star in the making seemingly since he first stepped over the lines for the Galaxy in the DA more than two years ago. His first three months in the academy, for the Galaxy 14s, he scored 16 goals. He was a no-doubt starter in the attacking midfield for John Hackworth’s U.S. U15 BNT practically from the moment he was eligible. He’s been playing up in age group seemingly his entire youth career, and he almost invariably looks like the most dangerous force on the field. He was at the center of a desperate tug-of-war between the USSF and the FMF, a battle Mexico appears to have won.

At least for now.

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Written by Will Parchman

Dwyer-Hero

Europe’s breathtaking transfer jet stream appeared to be sweeping Dom Dwyer into its irresistible flow during the summer of 2016. Transfer rumor piled upon rumor as Dwyer bagged goals in clumps, until one finally caught in July.

Olympiacos, the biggest club in Greece and an on-again off-again Champions League group stage punching bag, offered a reported $3 million to Sporting KC for its stunning rags-to-riches striker.

This was not a windfall, so to speak, but it did represent a significant offering in a league with fewer than 20 $3+ million transfers in its 20-year history. On a personal level, it offered Dwyer a chance to crack into the world’s biggest club competition and provided an in to European soccer itself. On the other end, if it so chose, Sporting KC could turn around and use that money on a striker far more lauded than Dwyer was. Three million goes a ways in South America.

Except this is not, as we know now, how MLS works.

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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

fccinc

When FC Cincinnati flung open the doors to Nippert Stadium for the first time, nearly 15,000 fans walked through them (FCC went on to beat the Charlotte Independence 2-1). A franchise-opening match at home in the middle of the city? Of course attendance was good. Let’s see how it holds up.

A week later FCC hosted its next game. This time more than 20,000 people showed up. And then 11,000 in the driving rain not long after that. Perhaps something was happening in the land of Skyline Chili we had not anticipated. A tremor in the Midwestern Force.

There was something happening here, perhaps something beyond reckoning. And as if there was any doubt, Wednesday allayed any notions to the contrary that FC Cincinnati is about to be the next expansion team admitted to MLS.

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Written by Will Parchman

ronald

By the time the news circulated that Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfumed caravan was ready to leave Spain, the hounds were out. Mostly on Twitter.

Sporting, Cristiano Ronaldo’s first professional club in his home country of Portugal, inscribed a passionate tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really plea to its native son to come home. Bolton, for some reason, told us they would not under any circumstances open contract negotiations with CR7. Salisbury FC did a thing too.

The complications surrounding why exactly Ronald opted to move on not only from Real Madrid but from Spain entirely are complicated if you care enough to dig and extremely uncomplicated if you want the Cliff’s Notes. In essence, Spain is alleging the preening Portuguese hasn’t paid a significant chunk of his taxes – more than $14 million, to be exact – and is attempting to shake it out of him. Cristiano Ronaldo, in response, has apparently opted to pick up his ball and head home in furious protest.

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Written by Will Parchman

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We are inundated with praise for FC Dallas’ academy. The positivity seems to ooze out of the league’s very fabric as the club signs one promising academy kid after another. And when one scores, well, you light the beacons to Frisco and tell the rest of the league to follow the leader.

There is something undoubtedly numbing about all this from a partisan point of view. Fans of the opposition become necessarily calloused to it – here comes more FCD academy news – but there is a method to it. The notion an academy can feed an entire MLS club is notably new, a fleeting ideal that’s never been tested in any substantive way until recently. The MLS modus operandi has historically involved a heavy dose of mistrust when it came to its own fledgling academies. Shifting that viewpoint takes time, but it also takes some small measure of indoctrination.

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