How Have We Not Heard Of This Guy?!

This is a guest post by frequent contributor Nick Sindt

No, I don’t know where I’m going; But, I sure know where I’ve been.

Hanging on the promises; In songs of yesterday.

An’ I’ve made up my mind; I ain’t wasting no more time.

Here I go again; Here I go again…

How haunting that the first verse of Whitesnake’s epic monster-ballad could ring true to the United States Soccer Federation’s supposed deficiencies in identifying “American” talent in the cases of Conor Doyle and Nick May. If you’re a fan of the USMNT or Americans getting chances outside of our borders, then you’ve probably come across this story on Nick May or one of the many on Conor Doyle.

Conor Doyle in action...just not for US Youth...

You’ve heard of them, but the questions that keeps gnawing away at the back of your brains are, “How had we not heard of these kids until now?

“Have they slipped through the cracks of the U.S. Soccer Youth National Team setup?”

After some preliminary digging, I can tell you that Doyle played his youth club ball for the Dallas Texans (one of the most storied teams in all of Texas counting Clint Dempsey, Lee Nguyen, Hunter Freeman,and Jared Jeffrey amongst others as alums) before attending Creighton University, and May was playing for the Florida ODP team when given his trial at Estudiantes.

Without having access to their personal diaries, which surprisingly aren’t available on the interwebs via Facebook, Friendster, or Twitter, I don’t know for certain whether they’ve been given their fair shake with the U.S. Youth National Teams.

But how can Derby County recognize the talent in Doyle (a big athletic target striker of which we have few in the U.S. Player Pool) and the USSF cannot? Or how can Estudiantes, in Argentina, and Queen’s Park Rangers, in London, be salivating over May but he was conspicuously absent from Rongen and Cabrera’s squads for their recent Youth World Championships?

Surely there’s something amiss in our system. There has to be someone to blame, Sunil, resources and scouting, we have a piss-poor system, etc., etc. ad nauseum.

Before marching on Sunil’s office and demanding an explanation, let’s dissect the current situation to see how this could’ve possibly happened. As stated above, the two were playing for high profile clubs/ODP programs and therefore should’ve been on the appropriate radars. Whether the U.S. Youth National Team scouts and coaches are missing the boat, only time will tell, but for now let’s assume that they’ve evaluated May and Doyle and deemed them not talented enough for the big-time yet. For a striker like Doyle, he’d have to be one of the top four strikers in the entire nation to make a Youth National Team squad.

Nick May

Ok, who is <em>this</em> guy?

To be honest, the Estudiantes situation with May was supposedly a youth team position at most so it’s not as if they’ve plugged him into their starting eleven. Plenty of players are offered youth team contracts and never pan out, and a bit of further digging on the Big Soccer boards leads me to believe that there is some smoke being blown by an agent.

Even if that isn’t the case, it is merely another story of a kid pulling a Jay Demerit and taking his career into his own hands. Without having seen him play, I cannot in good faith say whether he’s good enough or not.

The Doyle to Derby situation is more concrete, since Derby has signed him to a two year contract and he has seen some time on the pitch. So why does Nigel Clough rate him but Rongen and other USYNT coaches seemingly do not?

Regardless of the player and situation, my response is this: Derby [insert any club team here] is looking for talent to cultivate and mold into the player they want, the U.S. National Team setup [insert any nation here] is for the crème de la crème at that specific moment in time. It is obvious that one of two things is happening here: 1) Doyle is not considered one of the best strikers in his age pool in the nation; or, 2) the USSF scouts are blind. Right now, I’ll give the USSF the benefit of the doubt, because this kid isn’t exactly lighting up the Championship. The scouts have probably tagged him as one to watch for the next couple of months and see how he develops; when he gets a starting spot at Derby and starts bagging goals left and right, I can guarantee that he’ll be called into the appropriate U.S. National Team camps.

Could've been...

Now, everyone will immediately point to the Neven Subotic situation and draw parallels, especially if the FAI begin making doe eyes at our kid.

Before we go screaming for a Doyle call-up on October 9th against Poland everyone should take a look at where Subotic is at currently.

I haven’t been hearing the same amount of praise for the young defender in the beginning of this Bundesliga season, but that could be my monolinguistic shortcomings preventing me from perusing the Borussia Dortmund message boards. All of the U.S. articles bemoaning our loss of him to Serbia mentioned his talents with a “what could be” bend. No one is denying that starting for a Bundesliga team is an achievement, but he is not currently the next coming of Maldini/Cannavaro/Beckenbauer.

Did the USSF get that one wrong? That depends on whether you can confidently say Subotic would’ve displaced Gooch, Bocanegra, or Demerit in South Africa, and whether he does turn out to be a great defender in 4 years. My point being that Subotic is good and has potential, but right now the question is whether he is U.S. international level good?

The same goes for Doyle; he’s obviously talented enough for a Championship team to sign him and give him minutes, but is he Youth National Team or even Senior National Team level good yet?

Right now I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t develop into the next McBride.

Getting back to the Subotic situation. His “defection” to the Serbian team because of some rift with Rongen is probably the reason most of us are worrying about players like Doyle before there’s even a real reason to. The counter-argument to all of this is prodigal son, Freddy Adu who got caps at an early age to keep him away from Ghana in 2006, but how has that turned out so far?

As for our system, is it flawed? Unequivocally and absolutely yes. But let me throw this statistic out there: Tim Howard went to Manchester United at age 24 but didn’t become arguably one of the best until his time at Everton when he was 28 (okay, okay, keepers develop later); Landon Donovan signed with Bayer Leverkusen at age 16 and we all know his trials and tribulations in Europe, but he’s finally blossomed into the player we all knew he could be at the age of…27; Clint Dempsey went over to Fulham when he was 23-24, but didn’t blossom until he was 25-26; Jozy Altidore is 20–an age when most European stars are hitting their strides, but he’s obviously not there yet; Charlie Davies started blowing things up at Hammarby when he was 22 which is younger than those previously listed but still older than Cesc Fabregas when he made a name for himself.

My point being that Americans, right now, tend to blossom a little later age-wise than their European counterparts, meaning that Doyle, May, my future children, your future children, may never be good enough for the Youth National Team and then grow into the Senior National Team stars we all want them to be.

Sure Donovan and Altidore got chances with the YNT, but Davies wasn’t noticed until he was playing college ball and Dempsey and Howard never played at the youth level.

There will always be players who slip through the cracks in a nation as populous, diverse, and geographically large as ours, and there will always be dual nationals defecting.

Do we need to step up our game and come up with a better way of identifying talent and potential?

An emphatic “yes,” but we need the professional clubs in this country to begin taking on some of the heavy lifting from the USSF.

With the return of the reserve league, Vancouver and other MLS clubs running their own academies or partnering with youth clubs in new ways. With all of the MLS academy teams competing in the USSF Development Academy (League), the future looks brighter and brighter every day.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2010/09/27 at 7:43 AM

    One addition that’s worth adding: scouting, no matter what country we’re talking about, is really hard. Every country and every sport routinely messes up scouting decisions; the question is, really, whether the U.S. is worse than it should be and worse than its peers, which isn’t immediately clear.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/09/27 at 8:42 AM

      In addition, I feel that scouting cannot be looked at in isolation. Surely we need to take into account resources available. Hard enough to do anyway for reasons Matt mentioned in the article, but it takes resources to have a comprehensive scouting network.


      • The resources argument is one that I hope Claudio and Sunil can figure out sooner rather than later. We have a lot of players in this country (see Al’s comment below) in many different areas of the country and we need to identify.

        As I mention at the end of the article, the revival of the reserve league should help the USSF in their identification since it will put better players in a more condensed environment to be scouted. We’ll still have players going to European Clubs at young ages if they’re talented, but the MLS Reserve and Academy leagues should give these players a chance to show off their wares before hopping the Atlantic.

        DTH – whether we’re worse than our peers shouldn’t be how we measure our success, instead given the number of people in this country that could be counted as dual-nationals and play for other countries, I think we measure success by whether or not we’re losing actual “difference makers” due to lack of recognition by the USSF. If they’re getting recognition by the USSF National Teams and being called into camps then that’s really all we can do aside from slipping some Reggie Bush money under the table.


  2. Posted by al on 2010/09/27 at 8:37 AM

    I thought for sure this was going to be about you never hearing of Whitesnake… Excellent article and I look forward to checking out both these boys. Having been close to a couple ODP and DA squads as an observer, I think we’re in for a treat co me ’14 and ’18. There is some AMAZING talent out there right now. Much stronger than I’ve seen in years. My concern is, are the Nats doing enough to ramp up their scouting efforts to stay the course with this rise in youth soccer development nationwide. I’m seeing kids right now (16/17) that need immediate attention right here in So. Cal, that are sadly being overlooked. I can only imagine how many kids are being marginalized across the states. I guess in the end though, the cream will rise to the top and they’ll find their way in front of the right scouts.


    • Posted by scweeb on 2010/09/27 at 10:38 AM

      I completely agree on this. I for one making two ODP tryouts in utah and then getting cut cause of politics and not skill know that there are tons of talented kids out there that need more room to shine. But hopefully with the MLS gearing up there development teams we can see more youth getting shouts at making it.
      Just a quick list of things that could help
      1-MLS gets youth development going
      2-MLS brings in the other local leagues to make a champions league.
      3-Each state should get more ODP teams depending on the population of the state.


  3. Posted by Michael on 2010/09/28 at 3:15 PM

    Minor quibble: “Tim Howard went to Manchester United at age 24 but didn’t become arguably one of the best until his time at Everton when he was 28…”

    Howard was named to the PFA Premier League Best XI in 2004, his first year with Manchester United. Everyone recognized how good he was straight away; ManU simply had two first-class GKs and had to deal one. They didn’t dump Howard because they didn’t think he could play, they just decided that Edwin van der Sar was their guy.

    Otherwise, good article. I wish all the people complaining on all the soccer sites about “Why isn’t this guy or that guy getting called up?” would read this piece.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/09/28 at 6:01 PM

      Thanks for the compliment. I’ll pass along to the writer Nick.

      On Howard, I would say the historical is somewhere in the middle.

      Remember Sir Alex played Howard immediately and until Howard felt a little of the pressure (as he himself would acknowledge about that time) he was near the top of EPL goalies.

      But Fergie also went out after getting Howard and got Van Der Saar because of Howard’s stumbles. The original plan was to keep Howard their guy a few years later and loan him out to Everton as they did. Only Van Der Saar continued to impress.

      At Everton, despite the accolades, I’m not sure Howard is still fully recognized. For the past 3 to 4 years, Howard has continually worked with a makeshift backline and an average to below average offense to keep Everton near the top of the table. He’s–as we know–pure class.

      From last year and still relevant:


    • Van der Saar was not brought into United until after they lost confidence in Howard. The #1 shirt battle was initially between THo and Roy Carrol (who is not considered first class by anyone). Though I concede your point about him being in the Best XI in his first year, but he wasn’t as consistent as he is now.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/09/28 at 6:11 PM

        He wasn’t (on Van Der Saar) — I thought they got him from Fulham and then lent Timmy out?


        • Howard arrived at United in the summer of 2003, VDS in the summer of 2005 (after Timmy’s dip in form), then Howard went on loan to start the 2006 campaign.


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