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.
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.
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.