Similarities: Riding Giants & Playing Giants

TSG North was sitting at a barbeque this past Sunday and fraternizing (actually socializing since their were some wahinae there) and having a discussion on the challenges and step development process of improving one’s surfing ability.


Joel Tudor is to longboarding as Fernando Torres is to striking

The progressions of surfing are very simple in terms of development/improvement.

Step 1: Consistently stand up

Step 2: Consistently turn on the wave

Step 3: Consistently ride the way

Step 4: Go bigger, if you like…

Of course, surfers are like donuts in that they come in all different types and flavors, so some people move aggressively along this line, some people move sporadically along this line and some people toe the line, but never get in the water.

The progressions and repetitions of each step, including the board selected for practice, is important in moving to the next step. Most, not all, beginners, rightfully, grab a longboard. The longboard is more forgiving on balance generally.  Once a surfer has their balance, they’ll graduate to a “fish” short surfboard which has the flotation of a longboard in many cases, but allows someone to get comfortable on a shorter and less forgiving board.  Then the water manager graduates into a shortboard which enables turning and when they go big, they move to a “gun” (narrower and now a longer board) to handle the size.

MLS or Arsenal?

As I considered 15-year-old Luis Gil’s supposed planned move pro in the MLS, the steps of surfing popped in my mind and my first thought was, “Oh wow, that’s all wrong.” I didn’t think this because the MLS is still an inferior league–I thought this because the progressions were wrong.

For a player of Gil’s ilk, he needs to be developing solid fundamentals against, predominantly, players physically similar to him. The path to the MLS through Generation Adidas–as is surmised for the U-17 midfielder–is not an ideal trajectory where, from my rough math, the path to the senior squad is typically 1 year and maximum 2 years. That would mean a player, in Gil’s case, that is all of 16 and 150lbs. could be going up for headers against Brian Ching in less than a year.

Go one level deeper and the MLS decision seems all the more tricky.

A check of players in the Generation Adidas program since 2000 who entered before their 18th birthday and are making waves in world soccer (so to speak) is extremely limited. I count about 9 depending on how you evaluate Bobby Convey and Danny Szetela (in) and Brek Shea and Santino Quaranta (out) or about 8% “success” rate overall (9 “globally recognized players” vs. 110 overall players). Additionally, only 26% of the players (or 29 players) were less than 18 when they entered the program–clearly Generation Adidas doesn’t cater to that age group. *Disclaimer to the aforementioned data in that we may yet hear from 2 or 3 players in the under-18 range that will have global success (but that only pushes the ratio of success up slightly greater than 10%)

To bring you back to my surfing analogy, if Gil goes MLS in one year that would be like giving him a longboard and telling him to go ride a huge, nasty messy wave, like Ghost Tree.  As you are wont to do in bigger waves, you skip the fundamentals.  You rush to your feet as quick as you can and basically the get hell out of impact zone (or get ahead of the wave) as fast as you can. Nine times out of 10 you fail and in the process you don’t learn anything, except how to survive under water. I can comment on this because I learned surfing the wrong way and have atrocious fundamentals.

I would much rather see Gil (who I’ve seen sporadically) compete against a depth of players more similar to him physically and with comparable or better talent, say at the West Ham Academy or the Arsenal Academy (where he is also rumored to be signing) — playing matches against the likes of Cody Arnoux and Anton Peterlin. This would be like Gil picking up a fish and getting the reps to graduate to bigger waves.

Mind you, this post isn’t a knock on the MLS–players go abroad and come back much more frequently now so the MLS stands to benefit from overseas development as well. I would just rather see the cream of the USMNT future’s crop competing against the cream of youth globally to make the USMNT better until the MLS reserve squads are near or at par with the EPL and other Euro leagues.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/03 at 1:04 AM

    Wait, is that number on his jersey his age or what?
    Bada bing!
    Is there any sport for which you cannot make a soccer analogy?
    I don’t know anywhere near enough to have an opinion on player development, but I do find it suspicious that 2 of our most promising new talents towed their own road (Davies and DeMerit, of course) and that the supposed big deal of american soccer (Adu) has nothing of note to show for his “development.”


  2. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/11/03 at 6:45 AM

    Yeah.. is this kid not wanted by European academies/youth squads? Playing in the MLS at 16 is sure to be a real bad thing for his career. He is going to look like a chump going up against fully grown men.


  3. As both of the above pointed out Freddy Adu’s path to success has not allowed him to fulfill his potential; case-in-point the U-20 World Cup from two years ago I believe, Freddy looked like quite the talent against players roughly his own size and age. In the MLS he had flashes of brilliance, but never panned out. Since he was a first teamer in MLS he went abroad to attempt to become a first teamer elsewhere but ended up not having the proper technique to handle the big waves, yet.

    I agree that all of the promising U-17s we’ve seen so far need a little more seasoning, preferably in a Youth Academy setup.


  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/03 at 7:25 AM

    Nick — thanks for making the Adu point — I didn’t want to state the obvious.

    @Kaya — says something that DeMerit didn’t recognized by the system and made his own way abroad.

    Can’t wait to hear all the commentary on this one since I’m a relative newbie to the U-17.


  5. Posted by Shane on 2009/11/03 at 10:21 AM

    I think we should be more open to bashing the U.S. Youth program, no need to sugar coat it! Our youth in the states have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of U.S. soccer..

    I think they do much better when their heart is fully wrapped around soccer, which in my opinion can only happen outside the U.S.

    I can also imagine how hard it must be on a close nit family to let their 15-16 year old son move to Europe without knowing a shread about life yet…

    I can only say what I would do if I was Luis Gil.. I would be on the first plane to Europe, and take things slow..

    Of course i’m 25 now and I cant imagine what the youngter is going through haveing so many big choices to consider at a young and vulnarable age..


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/03 at 10:28 AM

      Good reply Shane.

      I don’t know why I didn’t think of this already. Chris Ordonez, you played U-23, is on my soccer team — he played in both the Barcelona academy at an early age and then semi-pro in South America before going to school at Brown.

      I’ll do a follow-up piece with his thoughts. (Kicking myself….)


    • I agree with you except for one thing; I’m sure that this U-17 is living, eating, breathing soccer living and going to school at the Bradenton Academy. Having said that I don’t believe that Bradenton presents enough of the professional environment that Gil would get at the Arsenal or West Ham academy, which is ultimately what some of our youngsters need in order to progress beyond being phenomenal athletes that are good at soccer and instead becoming phenomenal soccer players.

      Speaking directly about Gil’s decision, my wife and I were both players back in our younger days. She has more technical ability and I was all heart (read: scrappy). If our kids show signs of becoming decent players I will stop at nothing to give them the opportunities, if they want to take them, they need to succeed, including shipping him/her off a foreign country or moving there myself if need be. Hopefully by the time I have kids and they’re around 12 years of age, the MLS and USL clubs will have caught up somewhat in terms of player development through starting their own academies and partnering with local youth clubs. If anyone is interested I put some thoughts to paper about that topic a week or so ago:


      • I read and enjoyed that blog entry and I think you’re absolutely right about that being the way forward. The thing about MLS is that Americans tend to like a winner and MLS is bloody communist in the lengths it goes to to keep everyone equal. Allowing clubs to develop youth talent they can keep is a way to create sustained excellence without getting away from the strict salary controls that are in place to keep the league viable.

        The thing the U-17s are missing at Bradenton is the constant proximity of older, more accomplished players and the occasional attention of the senior squad’s manager. In a club academy players often have the opportunity to step up to training with the reserves or the first team. I think that is where the development of promising young players can really accelerate by stepping up to a higher level when they are no longer being challenged by other youth players.


        • Tuesday – Excellent point about stepping up to play with the bigger kids and that speeding up development technically and mentally.

          MatthewSF – In response to Bradenton, my feelings are that it is, on paper, perfect. However, it has not produced the results that it’s supposed to and I think that may be due more to the “politics” of US Youth Soccer, ODP, etc.amongst other things. I can’t shake the {unfounded} feeling that if Bradenton was run for an MLS club, things would proceed a little differently and the results would be better. Though, I’m not sure if that’s because of the more professional nature or if it’s because of other factors. I would have to do some more digging on Bradenton’s setup and mission statement to make an informed opinion.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/03 at 11:16 AM

        Good post Nick. I haven’t addressed Bradenton yet because I haven’t formulated my complete opinion.

        I do know the numbers and percentages of Generation Adidas and I’m not impressed by them.


  6. […] heard I’m starting some games on the Everton reserves and receiving some decent reviews. Luis Gil…this is what you should have […]


  7. […] at Everton isn’t that a more enviable situation for a young American from the States than Luis Gil going to MLS? Did that really help Freddy […]


  8. […] Do you recommend that all American try overseas or focus on MLS first? I mean there is the Luis Gil situation. We just talked to Preston Zimmerman, who had nothing short of an absolute nightmare–no […]


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