Alfonso Mondelo On The Technical State Of MLS

Alfonso Mondelo: Enlightening and eye-opening. TSG thanks you for your time.

Spanish-born Alfonso Mondelo serves as the Director of Player Programs for MLS and is thus the domestic league’s defacto technical director.

Mondelo has an impressive resume, from coaching the Puerto Rican National Team to guiding the defunct MetroStars for a campaign to working as an assistant with Bruce Arena’s US National team.

Mondelo is now acutely focused on improving the state of the MLS game. He was kind enough to speak at length with The Shin Guardian and our interview with him now ranks as a personal favorite.

Alfonso Mondelo on US soccer development and the quality of the MLS game:

TSG: I’m very excited to talk to you Alfonso, first why don’t you provide for an audience who may not know you what your responsibilities are.

Alfonso Mondelo: I am for the last 6 years the technical director of MLS concentrating mostly on player development and scouting.

TSG: And what does that role typically entail from a day-to-day basis?

Alfonso Mondelo: Oh, man, I wear so many hats.

I watch all the games of course and I’m responsible for delivering the technical report to the ownership groups.

I’m also in charge of the programming for the academies. I’m the driving force behind the all the MLS clubs getting into the academies and the development and the curriculum of that.

I’m also involved in the competition level and everything to do with it.

I’m sort of the soccer guy at MLS Soccer.

TSG: When’s your next technical report do or how frequently do you give those reports?

Alfonso Mondelo: We’ve had them in the past at the end of year and midseason. They go only to the ownership groups.

TSG: Let me ask you a question from when Don Garber spoke last year during the week prior to the MLS Cup. He said that there were foreign consultancy groups reviewing MLS and that there were certain incentives for teams that played attacking football or an offensive style. Would those comments, sort of, fall under things that you work on and reflect on that statement if you would.

About the domestic league...

Alfonso Mondelo: Well certainly, in regards to the offense, that comes from our reviews of the game and looking at what the trends are in MLS.

Perhaps what our deficiencies are compared to some of the other top leagues in the world.

Also in looking at what things we need to grow as league.

And as I’m sure you’ve heard the commissioner say many times, he wants this league to be the most attacking league in the world. And we always compare ourselves to the rest of the top leagues in the world and where we’re lacking in MLS and where we need to improve.

TSG: Let me ask two follow-ups. How would you compare MLS to another league? Where would you rate it in regards to another league in Europe let’s say?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well I think it’s very difficult to compare leagues, especially a league as young as ours as opposed to leagues that have been around for over a hundred years.

I do think that this league has made great progress, especially in the last five to 10 years where the technical aspects of the dominant players, which are the American players in MLS, has improved. In that respect, I’ve seen that improvement from when I coached in the league in 2001 and back to 1998.

I think the overall quality of the American players has improved.

We still lack in some of those so-called special players, the so-called “number nines” and the “number tens” and the creative players that make the game exciting and electric.

So clearly within the constraints this league has with the salary caps and the budgets, I think this league has come a long way in a short period of time, but it’s still far from where it needs to be.

TSG: In terms of those “number nines” and “number tens,” is it an innate skillset or is it something that can be honed over a period of time and through training? What’s your perspective on that?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well, I think it’s both. Well first though, you cannot take someone who doesn’t have the talent and turn them into a special player.

So first and foremost that innate talent has to be there.

After that type of talent is found, that killer instinct around the box, from the very first stages of playing when you see a kid and he gets the ball and he goes right to goal and puts the ball in the back of the net.

Having that talent and skill, it needs to nurtured.

And the same thing with those players who have the vision of the game who can make those passes and for others is impossible and for them is very easy.

So I think that’s the beginning point.

And then having them in environments that promote that type of play, that don’t stifle their creativity, which unfortunately in this country happens all to often. That creativity is taken away for the sake of being part of the team, instead of letting them flourish.

I think that’s one of the challenges for our MLS academies.

How do we take that talent, make it flourish so that they then can become that special player.

TSG: So how do some other leagues around the work or cultures address that challenge? Managing a team goal and conformity to it versus allowing personal expression on the pitch?

Shaping the future at the Sounders academy...

Alfonso Mondelo: : First, it’s done in the academies. That’s what we hope with MLS and that’s what happens worldwide.

It is the development of the individual within the team concept that is important.

It’s not as important that the club win tournaments, competitions and trophies at a young age.

It’s more important that these players, these special players, are surrounded by other good players that help them to flourish

When you look at any of the top clubs in the world, when they can produce one or two good players every year to the first team, they consider that a success.

We have to start looking at the same thing.

Identify the top players and put them in an environment that helps them to flourish.

TSG: Now do you think in the States that there is too much of a premium put on a winning at young age? Would that be a fair way to dissect the first part of your answer?

Alfonso Mondelo: : That is the biggest challenge we are going to have right now as an American soccer culture: To try to change that culture of win at all costs at a young age and become a culture of development and improving.

Having the players that are qualified and have special talents and putting them in an environment where they’ll be challenged and raise their collective level together.

TSG: Now getting back to the positives and negatives of the domestic league, where would you say there are some challenges–beyond the “number nine” and “ten”–and where do you think MLS is stronger vis-a-vis that average world league?

Alfonso Mondelo: : Well first, I think that MLS is one of the tougher leagues to compete in worldwide.

The amount of travel, the time of the year in which we play are challenges that are unique to this league.

Travel time takes away from practice time...

We did some recent research a couple of years back of teams in Europe in that are playing domestic competition, domestic cups and Champion’s League and what they did in the entire year–I think it was Manchester United–competing travel-wise is what the Houston Dynamo due in one month.

When you consider that and then multiply it by the six or seven, eight months of the season, it’s unbelievable.

The amount of time our teams our team travel….wow.

So that already makes for a difficult competition and makes those games away from home so challenging.

TSG: Interesting…

Alfonso Mondelo: : Clearly I think having a more settled type of soccer schedule is something that our league needs to improve upon.

We are a very physical league–we are very demanding. It’s a very uptempo game. There is more premium placed on pressure.

No team in our league would ever consider playing a Barcelona, possession-like game.

Our league perhaps resembles more what happens in the English league, the Scottish league.

The game is more based on the physical nature of the players rather than the tactical tempo and skill of the game.

TSG: But isn’t that because there is a lack of those type of players…or do you think it is a lack of coaches willing and able to instill that Barcelona-type of system?

Alfonso Mondelo: : I think….everything comes down to players. If you have great quality players, whose first touch is always precise, you can play a different type of game.

Then the coaching becomes important.

But if you don’t have that type of talent, it’s very hard obviously to play that type of game. It leads to turnovers and that leads to chances on goal for the opponent.

And clearly the coaches are measured on success, so therefore you take less risk, so you take more chances only in the opponents third.

So something like building out of the back, in order to be able to do that, you need some very creative players who can execute with high proficiency and which I think sometimes these players are not here in MLS just yet.

TSG: Fascinating. Two things that bothers me about US players in general are the first you touched on, the “first touch.” The second being movement. Either moving with the ball in possession to consistently change what the defense is looking at or moving without the ball to change the complexion or landscape in front of the attacker in possession to create opportunities.

You’re the expert, what are the one or two skillsets that you feel Americans lack or wish they would work on?

Alfonso Mondelo: Clearly….technique and tactics go hand in hand.

So first, having players having a clear touch, both in the reception and passing of the ball.

But I think when you look at deficiencies, I think heading is a big deficiency in our game. Heading and crossing the ball into the box, making that final pass, making that killer pass to the forwards is not there.

The crosses from the wing certainly can improve.

But those are just some of the ones that are more noticeable ones.

But I also think the tactical aspect of the game, the moving without the ball as you say–and the timing of those runs–is lacking and is something that should be and is not worked on at a young age.

I just came from a U-18 camp this week.

And it something that was very obvious to me, when the kids got into the camp, their lack of understanding of moving without the ball, the lack of timing to make those runs, to make themselves available for the next pass….

And their lack of ability with the ball to think ahead, to think about where to go with the ball before they receive it.

Those are just some things.

TSG: Great detail. So how do you go about teaching that? How do you go about indoctrinating the right way to play?

Alfonso Mondelo: One of the things that US Soccer has started to do the past few years is…the fact that…there is such a premium placed on competition and games at a young age and not enough time spent on repetition.

Practice and repetition are more valuable at a young age than scrimmaging...

The culture of the American soccer player…they want to scrimmage.

But, before you scrimmage, before you have a recital on the piano you spend many hours practicing the piano.

And the American soccer player needs to practice.

The understanding of the game, of moving with and without the ball, the quality of the touch required….if you have the repetition, because we have some really good athletes, that would improve.

We have to stop having the mentality of competition. We have to stop having players travel three and four hours just to play in one match when that entire time can be spent practicing.

Changing that mindset will be one of the key things we need to do in order to reach that level of aptitude and development in American soccer.

TSG: Great stuff. So what are the players right now that embody the right way to play?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well, first everyone’s seen the quality of Barcelona. It is probably arguably the best in the history of the game.

You could say the Dutch teams of ’74 with Cruyff, the Milan of when Rijkaard and van Basten were playing there with Gullit.

Those clubs were special. But the way that they’re [Barcelona] playing soccer right now, it’s taking the game to another level.

The ability to exploit breakdowns in the opponents is unparalleled.

So, let’s think of the players there.

Xavi.

Iniesta…

and Messi.

So what are their skillsets? The ability to dribble, the ability to make decisions with the ball at the highest level.

Ozil, playing the Mondelo way...

Players also like the German, Ozil.

That’s a guy, a young player, who is comfortable with the ball in making decisions, making a pass, and scoring as well.

So those are the players at the peak in world soccer.

TSG: Back Stateside, do you think the American player, and specifically the US National team, puts too much of a premium on physical presence or physique as oppose to skill.

Alfonso Mondelo: I don’t think that it’s so much the national team, I think it’s just the players coming through!

I know there’s an extensive effort on scouting being done to identify skillful players.

But sometimes, those that are very skillful come in lacking in other areas.

And when they’re all put together sometimes the skillful players are left behind because the physical nature of some of the other players completely takes them out of their game.

Xavi and Iniesta are not maybe the most physical guys, but they’re both able to withstand the rigors of the game and that’s what you need at the top level.

TSG: So give me some sneaky good players in MLS that have that accomplished skillset.

Alfonso Mondelo: Up-and-coming players? Players that I worked with at Generation Adidas.

Players like Corben Bone and Dilly Duka.

The kid from Chicago, Baggio Husidic.

Probably not the most physical players in the world but they do have the talent.

Paolo Cardozo (left...obviously) is the player to watch in this photo this year for the Galaxy...

The new kid just signed by the Galaxy, the kid from Uruguay, Paolo Cardozo…he’s going to be good fun to watch in the league.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how he does this year in the league.

He’s one of those players that is extremely gifted, very talented, great vision, but he’s not very physically imposing.

How’s he going to cope with the rigors of the league?

If these types of players have success, then I’ll think we’ll see more of them in the league.

TSG: So, continuing, what system in MLS is the most advanced or grabbing the most talent?

Alfonso Mondelo: That’s a difficult question to answer. In terms of youth development, the work that is being done by FC Dallas stands out.

They’re really going after the skillful players, not necessarily the ones with the biggest size….and they’re trying to play a more possession type of game.  They’ve done a good job.

I think Chivas has done a good job, most probably because many of those coming in are from Mexican descent.

Columbus.

They play possession soccer and they’re on the lookout.

The academies are all doing good work but some have been around for longer than others.

Dallas has certainly taken a step in terms of their youth, the approach to the game, and the way that they are developing players.

TSG: Here’s a question. Jozy Altidore’s obviously playing in Turkey right now and there are no US players playing in La Liga. La Liga being, of course, more of a technical league. What players could you see from MLS playing in La Liga?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well staying with Generation Adidas players, two players that caught the eyes of a couple of clubs in Madrid.

One was Juan Agudelo from the Red Bulls and Brek Shea.

Brek Shea, here for the USMNT....

Brek Shea played centerback during our trip in December over there. He impressed not only with his ability to defend, mark and make good defensive decisions but more with his ability to play out of the back.

That’s something that’s never really been seen with the American players. Defend, control, and come out of the back in possession.

So he [Shea] caught the eye of the Spanish clubs.

TSG: So should Brek play in the back this year? Of course in MLS, there’s less attack talent, so a player like that gets pushed up the field. But do you think it’s stunting his growth to play in a different position, perhaps, than one that he is best at?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well that’s obviously up to his club to decide…what they have and what they don’t have on their team.

I think the coaches realize what they have and every coach sees the game a different way. What a team needs in MLS in a player is obviously different than what one in another league might need.

I can’t say where a player should be used because of that.

TSG: Fair enough. We’ll break there for this time, but we definitely need to speak again. Anything we should close with?

Alfonso Mondelo: Well, I think MLS needs to take a leadership role in player development in the US. There’s a vested interest in the quality of course.

It’s key that MLS–and the academies–that we create an environment where there is professional development and professional growth with the understanding that not all the players will be pros. Even those that won’t be pros will be good college players and the college game will improve.

It’s also, I think in my opinion, that we need to change mentalities to development at a young age.

Because those are the key years, from the ages of six, seven to the ages of 13 and 14. If the time is not spent well in developing the tactical awareness of the game, the technical skills needed to play at a high level than by 16, 17 and 18 it’s very difficult to change those behaviors.

If we do not do something at those ages, it will be very difficult to quote “move the ball” forward and improve ….and of course to develop those special players in the US that we all want to see!

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29 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joe on 2011/03/02 at 7:48 AM

    what…..an…..interview…Wahl-esque no doubt. Great stuff guys.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Steven on 2011/03/02 at 8:17 AM

    Great Stuff! But you know he never answered where he thought the league stood amongst others.

    Reply

  3. Posted by dbex on 2011/03/02 at 8:17 AM

    Fascinating stuff. Never would have figured that about Shea. Keep ‘em coming!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Andy_4Lakes on 2011/03/02 at 8:35 AM

    Excellent interview, one of your best. This particularly caught my attention:

    AM: “And then having them in environments that promote that type of play, that don’t stifle their creativity, which unfortunately in this country happens all to often. That creativity is taken away for the sake of being part of the team, instead of letting them flourish.”

    Followed later by:
    TSG: “Now do you think in the States that there is too much of a premium put on a winning at young age? Would that be a fair way to dissect the first part of your answer?”

    Alfonso Mondelo: “That is the biggest challenge we are going to have right now as an American soccer culture: To try to change that culture of win at all costs at a young age and become a culture of development and improving.”

    This situation is one of the most frustrating for me as I watch my 10 year old in club soccer. Even at this age, the clubs are so focused on winning. It is amazing the level of “structured” soccer they are playing. But I think the fault here is both the clubs AND the parents. The parents put a lot of pressure on the clubs to WIN, thinking that is the key to the development of their kids’ soccer careers.

    But it becomes a death-spiral: Let’s be honest, 9-10-11-12 year old kids aren’t going to have fun if they are losing every game. Regardless of a kid’s skill development, if they stop having fun, they aren’t going to want to play. And the game itself loses out. It is a very tough balance to strike between maintaining competitiveness and therefore enjoyment, and developing soccer players that can excel through high school and college game and beyond.

    I don’t have the answer, and it is apparent that Mondelo sees the challenge here too.

    Reply

    • Posted by Bode on 2011/03/02 at 8:43 AM

      Perhaps there’s a way to change the game (at least some of the time) that youth soccer plays so that the skillful, rather than more physically mature, players DO win the game. Futsal anyone?

      Reply

      • Posted by Andy_4Lakes on 2011/03/02 at 9:18 AM

        Well, it’s not a matter of physicality at this age group, U11s just don’t play physical soccer (the occasional shoulder barge by the big overweight kid is far from dominating the game). The problem is parents and coaches stress winning, and the easiest way to do that at this age isn’t with the most physical or skillful player, but with the most tactically advanced approach. Important skills, to be sure, but the point I’m making in agreement with Mondelo is that this is not the proper approach at this young age.

        Reply

      • Posted by LarryMontanez on 2011/03/02 at 12:03 PM

        i agree. there are a lot of good outdoor players that aren’t very good indoor players, because they don’t have the touch and vision to play in a tight space. Also, a lot of good outdoor players don’t have 1 v 1 moves; the only thing they can do is a couple stepovers (but it doesn’t usually fool anyone because they only move their feet), or they just kick it past the defender and chase it down. perhaps kids should only play futsal until they get to the full-sided field, so they learn touch, how to move w/o the ball (like in basketball), and the ability to take defenders on. and maybe the age when kids start playing full-sided should be raised to U12 or U13. my 2 cents…

        Reply

        • Posted by scweeb on 2011/03/03 at 9:16 AM

          I fully agree!! I remember coaching a u-14 team and trying to get them to understand possession and that the forward pass is not always the best option. But either previous coaches or the parents that always puss for the ball to go forward instead of keeping it and developing the play.

          Reply

  5. [...] The Shin Guardian talks to Alfonso Mondelo, the league’s Director of Player Programs, which makes him the league’s technical director. [...]

    Reply

  6. Nice interview Matt.

    One of the things that kids in the crucial age groups age don’t understand is how to move off the ball. We were playing the grown-ups vs the kids in the neighborhood this weekend and I drove in a cross from the right, a curling ball about chest high and my team-mate went airborne and put a sweet diving header in the goal. Our 10-year-old neighbor (a good player at one of the top local teams for his age) was desperate to re-create this diving header, but he didn’t understand how to shape or time his run, to peel away from a defender to gain the couple yards necessary. I took him through the run a few times but running in straight lines was pretty deeply ingrained. That’s what comes across on TV, but it’s not what’s happening on the pitch. Kids need to be taught these things.

    I think the importance of movement is glossed when Mondelo talks about how the heading and crossing needs to improve. Being good in the air is so much about the movement that happens in the couple of moments just before the ball comes in. It’s the movement that gains the attacker that extra foot of space that allows him to put it on goal instead of over the top or have the ball cleared. When attackers don’t get across defenders or find space in the box, the floated cross is a better option than the driven cross that will be cleared by the first defender. It’s a jump ball that asks the attacker to use his physical attributes. At the highest levels of the game, headed goals come when the attacker gets in a better position to score with guile and movement.** It’s chicken and egg stuff – the attackers aren’t making good runs so the wide players deliver the wrong kind of ball.

    It all starts with movement without the ball. Not just for crossing and heading, but for all the deficiencies he mentions. It’s the attacker finding space that enables the killer pass to be played, for the driven cross to be turned into a goal rather.

    One would hope the guy who is technical director for MLS would be a little more convincing with his understanding of the problem.

    ** this is why a physically imposing guy like Jozy just isn’t any good in the air. In a crowded box, he just tucks in behind the defender and hopes for the perfect ball to reach him rather than going to get it.

    Reply

    • And that, tuesday, is why a not so physically imposing guy like Cahill is so deadly in the air, the timing and angle of his runs is impeccable.

      Great read Matt, really fascinating interview. I’d love to see more discussion with him and others that explore the idea of how to help correctly develop younger players.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/03/03 at 8:26 PM

        And this discussion always reminds me of the Algeria game where a cross was played in and Edson Buddle was speeding and angling his body as much as he could to put a head on it. He had to do so much work to get there….and then there was Jozy who was probably in the best position but didn’t know how to arc his run or angle his run to create separation on the defender and an angle on goal.

        I remember that play vividly and it also tells me that Edson–age withstanding–will be fine overseas.

        Of course, Edson’s roots are Jamaican and those guys (Ricardo Fuller, Luton Shelton, Omar Cummings) know how to run off the ball and place a header.

        Reply

  7. Nice interview.

    One player I would have liked to ask about is Tim Ream. An American centerback with his technical ability is a rarity.

    Reply

  8. Posted by SamT on 2011/03/02 at 11:27 AM

    I am of two minds here.

    As a father of a 9yr old who plays for a love of the game and will almost certainly never be the next Abby Wambach, I am fine with my daughter competing to win and not doing drills until she is blue in the face. Soccer is but one aspect of a multi-faceted life I want for her.

    As a fan of the USNT, I want everybody (else) in the 7-13 age group to train-train-train until they are blue in the face just like AM said. So that we can improve our talent pool at the highest levels.

    If I’m conflicted on this point — and keep in mind whether you agree with me or not I am one of the more soccer literate parents out there — it strikes me that AM is making a big ask of the parent community in the US, and perhaps not a realistic one.

    Now I’m wondering why there isn’t the same “competition vs practice” conundrum in typically American sports such as baseball, basketball, football…

    Anyway, great interview, Matt. Highly thought-provoking.

    Reply

    • Posted by Bode on 2011/03/02 at 11:44 AM

      I think there isn’t the same “competition vs practice” conundrum in other typically American sports because there simply isn’t that much international competition (player-wise) because the sports aren’t nearly as popular in the rest of the world. Look at basketball- where European players are generally seen to be really technically sound (a “European” big man can shoot the ball really well from distance… something that is about technique and practice). As basketball internationalizes, I think you’ll begin to see that argument more often. Almost no other country in the world plays American football, so without competition, the system doesn’t fall under scrutiny.

      Reply

      • Posted by Dan on 2011/03/02 at 8:49 PM

        There’s a pretty good article from the NY Times about this:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/sports/basketball/18moves.html

        “To some observers, the Euro step helps underscore the difference between the way players develop in the United States, where the emphasis has traditionally been on athleticism, and the way they develop in Europe, where young players tend to spend hours on skill development.”

        I guess it isn’t too surprising, but Europeans approach basketball like they do soccer–technique first, then making athletes after.

        Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/02 at 12:48 PM

      But that’s the thing – the ‘average’ player [in any sport] is going to play for fun, and that’s fine.

      It’s about investing in the youth programmes to spot the players with that ‘innate’ ability, and try to get them to train with age specific coaches, to nurture this talent. Like he said, it’s a combination of the classic “nature vs nurture” debate.

      The players that AM mentioned – when were they spotted and how long have they had football specific coaching from a young age at Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy? It’s all well and good mentioning these players and striving to produce players of equal quality, but you have to have the footballing infrastructure in place.

      I have no doubt the US will get there, but the question for the USSF / MLS is how quickly [read: are they willing to back what they are saying with inve$tment]?

      Reply

  9. Posted by jbart on 2011/03/02 at 11:47 AM

    I got pulled into coaching my son’s team a few years ago because the coach began to travel a lot. It was either I coach or the team folds. My experience has been interesting.

    Most of my kids are solid players. Several are quite good for their age and used to play travel. Interestingly, they stopped travel because of the pressure to win put on them by the coach – and all the travel involved. It’s ridiculous to spend hours in a car going to games.

    Teaching the kids is hard. They view practice as a social gathering and less as a time to improve soccer stills. Yet the always arrive on gameday ready to play with their game faces on. (Strange how that works). They are competitive, win more than they lose and seldom get blown out.

    That wasn’t the case before I took over. The team lost much more than it won and the losses were often blowouts.

    What explains the difference? Not great coaching. I am a total novice at it. But I did several things differently than the prior coach, some good and some perhaps not.

    First, I simplified practice. Some quick-touch passing and kicking on goal at the start. Then offense vs. defense scrimmage the rest of the practice. I let the offensive players organize themselves while I organize the defense.

    It’s far less than ideal, but I wanted to focus on A)technical skill; B) accurate kicking; C) creativity on offense; D) positioning on defense.

    The result is somewhat like how Mondelo describes the MLS. I’ve taught the kids to be organized on defense to limit easy goals and we don’t take any chances in our own end.

    We rarely play possession or use the middle of the field to advance the ball. Instead, I instruct the kids to use the flanks to advance and to use long kicks to clear it out of our end. Our forwards are talented. They will run after the ball and get it, or try to pressure defenders into mistakes.

    I give the offensive players plenty of leeway. I just try to get them to pass more to each other. Break a defense down collectively instead of going 1 on 3, as our best players often would try to do.

    I’ve also emphasized making runs off the ball, and once you get a pass, put the ball where you want your teammate to be instead of where he actually is.

    In other words, I am trying to get the kids to anticipate with their passes and with their movement. Early on, the passes would just end up in empty spots of the field. Over time, though, the kids have started to get it.

    The result is, our team now plays much better and wins more often. The parents, who are very competitive in my area, are naturally very happy about that.

    But I always explain to the kids that winning is not the most important thing. I tell them to play hard and play smart. Be creative when you can and cautious when you have to. If you do those things, I tell them, you’ll win more than you lose and have more fun.

    You can see it in their confidence. They are a much more confidence team now.

    I wish I could teach my kids more – I have two players with great potential – but I do what I can and try to straddle a middle ground between winning and development. In our culture, it’s not an easy thing to do.

    Reply

    • Posted by jb on 2011/03/04 at 11:24 AM

      I enjoyed this comment, thanks for sharing. Sounds like you are doing a good job.

      This is interesting because it begins to touch on the actual practical application of these changes we all want to youth soccer. It’s not as easy as just creating a powerpoint or making a list. These are young kids, 99% of whom will not play beyond high school, if that. Most are there to have fun, not be constantly run thru drills. And if successful at weeding out the serious and the seriously talented, of course there are the parents, most of whom have little if any understanding of the international game. My experience with the parents of kids on “travel” teams is they tend to be the ones too concerned about winning. It’s a complex issue, and will take time. There is a growing segment of young parents who do love and understand the game more than the previous generation, and hopefully they find time to go into coaching.

      Great interview TSG!

      Reply

    • Posted by dc on 2011/03/07 at 11:46 AM

      “We rarely play possession or use the middle of the field to advance the ball. Instead, I instruct the kids to use the flanks to advance and to use long kicks to clear it out of our end. Our forwards are talented. They will run after the ball and get it, or try to pressure defenders into mistakes.”

      That has been one of the criticisms of American development. That is route one play, popular in England and the US. It focuses on athleticism and speed over technique.

      I coach U10 girls in rec, and I teach them technique over tactics. I want them to dribble out of trouble in the back, build up through the midfield and break down a defense through possession. They make mistakes, but they also learn how to not panic on the ball. We rotate through all positions so they all get experience playing anywhere on the field.

      We went 3-2-5 in ten games last season, and the games we got beat handily were by teams that emphasized the “big kick” and the athletic striker. Yet we got a result in half our games with basically a new squad.

      I told the parents that we would do this at the beginning of the season and while some didn’t understand it at first, they’re most all on board after seeing what their daughters can do out there. We didn’t win our division, but every kid was asking me when the next season started…in December, three months from the start of the next season. They were having fun even though our record wasn’t the best.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Crow on 2011/03/02 at 12:42 PM

    My favorite TSG interview ever. Very interesting. I love the guy’s piano recital illustration. Its good to know that someone like this is involved with MLS. Now it would interesting to get some insight into the technical development of the USMNT.

    Also, it was nice how open and honest this guy was in his interview- unlike Sunil.

    Reply

  11. Excellent interview

    Reply

  12. Posted by Dan on 2011/03/02 at 8:56 PM

    Next time you speak with him, would you mind asking about MLS refereeing standards? Namely are there plans to call the games tighter? That would favor teams and players that rely on skill (e.g. Real Salt Lake or, individually, David Ferreira) rather than physicality?

    Reply

  13. Posted by BW on 2011/03/02 at 9:09 PM

    Does anyone know how much interaction there is between MLS and the USMNT? Do both groups have similar goals/strategies in player development – or are there two potentially conflicting systems in place?

    Reply

  14. Posted by Zo on 2011/03/03 at 8:20 AM

    Love this. The youth development comments match what I’ve heard for years, yet we still struggle to get away from a match-heavy, competetive soccer season for our kids.

    Reply

  15. Posted by bunkelUSA on 2011/03/04 at 7:10 AM

    Fantastic interview! On a somewhat related note, I’m seeing rumors today claiming that US Soccer has contacted Marcelo “Madman” Bielsa about becoming technical director for the USMNT…an interesting prospect. Thoughts?

    Reply

  16. [...] companions to one another and as Alfonso Mondelo, Director of Player Programs for MLS recently told The Shin Guardian in a wonderful interview, the endgame is to identify weaknesses in the game in MLS and correct them with a focused [...]

    Reply

  17. [...] Interview: Alfonso Mondelo & The Technical State of MLS [...]

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