A Star-Studded USMNT Mentoring List….

Giving "this" team just a little help...

During many of Mark and my late night conversations, we often make statements like, “Gosh, I just wish that Conor Casey could spend three days with Emile Heskey.”

Okay, that’s a stretch for sure. Number one, we don’t often debate Conor Casey’s lack of prowess.

In our interviews, we’re also fond of asking our subjects–typically States’ players–who their favorite team was to watch growing up and what player from that team they would train with if they had a day. In that vain, comes this column.

What former or current global soccer player, who if given some hours with a specific US player, would have the biggest impact on improving his career? Conversely, for the American player what skills or gamesmanship do they need to learn for the position or role they play and who is best to offer tutelage?

We came up with some interesting, but also debatable answers and, as always, will welcome and request your input.

I mean, they even have the same hair...

Stu Holden: David Beckham

The skinny: We had a chance to ask Stu Holden what former Manchester United great he would train with if he had a chance and he choose Eric Cantona. However, we’re sending David Beckham circa the early 2000s…you know the David Beckham of Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Becks….to train with Holden and help Stu with reading the game and dictating play.

Both players are extremely similar in that they can play inside or or outside in the midfield. Further they both threaten with the pass and largely possess the ball only as a means of creating a pass or when the play absolutely necessitates it.

We’d like Beckham to help Stu out with two things: 1) Just like Beckham did with Donovan, improving the consistency and threat of the Iceman’s free kicks and 2) staying involved in the game and being a factor at all time–Stu disappeared in some playoff games last year.

Jozy Altidore – Didier Drogba

Everything but....this....

The skinny: A no-brainer here as TSG has been calling Altidore Drogba Jr. for some time now. Both players arrived unpolished on the scene at the EPL.

While he don’t want Didier to teach Jozy endless complaining and antics, we want him to just help refine Altidore’s touches and educate on when the best time is to dish the ball and when the best time is to be selfish.

Michael Bradley: Patrick Viera & Gilberto Silva

The skinny: Being the son of the coach of the USMNT has its privileges and Mikey B is about to take full advantage by having two guys in his corner.

Bradley can use a little bit of both Silva and Viera’s game and approach to the game, but primarily we want the central midfield pairing that led Arsenal to an unbeaten record in ’03-’04 to educate him on the interplay between midfielders in the center of the pitch….learning when to provide support nearby their partner vs. clearing to make a run.

Individually, Mikey B can pick up a little bit of humbleness and sense of urgency from Silva who, before his quick and storied Arsenal career worked in a candy factory. From Viera, Bradley can learn how to marshall the midfield and be responsible and consistent in all facets of the game.


Jonathan Bornstein: Rio Ferdinand

The skinny: The now-England captain, as well as TSG fave Peter Vermes, started out as striker before becoming a central defender. Known for being strong in attack as well as in man-to-man coverage, Ferdinand still suffers from that one error a game that puts his team at risk. The tradeoff, for now, is worth it for Manchester United and the Three Lions.

Jonathan Bornstein is similarly an extremely gifted athlete who began his career much further up the pitch. Dropping his calling card back in 2007 when he helped shut down Lionel Messi for a half, Bornstein’s physical abilities allow him to run and play defense with anyone.

It’s Bornstein’s tactics in one-on-one defense that are sometimes called into question. Couple that with discussing “resolve” during the game and Ferdinand provides an excellent mentor for the Chivas d-man.

Clint Dempsey: Dennis Bergkamp

Just ask Argentina about this guy...

The skinny: Let’s call this one more of a sit down over a coffee or beer.

Berkampf, whose candidacy for a position on the 2000’s all-global, all-decade team was not loudly sounded, made a living in a somewhat ambiguous role in the middle of the pitch. Part CAM, part-striker, part-forward, Bergkamp is an English Hall of Famer and Arsenal great.

Two topics as part of the Deuce-Non Flying Dutchman discussion, among others?

Favoring simplicity: While Demps and Bergkamp have similar creativity in showing the ball to a defender and then beating them with a pass or move, Bergkamp was exceedingly more economical with his motions. Deuce-USA can certainly benefit from some tutelage here.

Connecting with the striker: We saw some difficulty between Jozy and Clint in Slovakia late last year. There is not  a striker who Bergkamp played with that doesn’t sing his service praises.

Helped in turn: Lose the weight...regain the passion...

Charlie Davies – Ronaldo (the Brazilian one)

The skinny: Perhaps there was no better striker, ever, in the history of the game. The combinations of beating his man, ripping a shot and making the proper threatening run made Ronaldo virtually unstoppable in the decade between 1995-2005.

Let’s call this match-up a “mutual mentoring” though. We want Ronaldo Sr., now biding his time at Corinthians, to teach Davies everything he knows about reading defender tendencies, how to throw defenders off balance, etc. As payment, we want Davies to inspire drive in Ronaldo so at 33 the elder statesmen and pride of World Cup 2002  attempts one more shot at a cameo in South Africa.

Some Other Suggestions:

Andrei Arshavin to show Freddy Adu how to not get knocked off the ball.

The USMNT’s very own Brad Friedel to spend 10 minutes with Tim Howard on instructing  the back line.

Gooch already has Nesta at AC Milan…that’ll work.

Kenny Cooper? Peter Crouch…duh….

Martin Tyler, Gus Johnson and Ian Eagle for John Harkes…and that might not do it.



TSG Reader Suggestions:

From “B-Mac”:

Jay DeMerit to learn pit bulling from Fabio Cannavaro, nice!

Edgar Davids gives an eye exam and pitch exam to Ricardo Clark, absolutely spot-on!


67 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Evan on 2010/02/09 at 12:14 AM

    I agree with that last statement. John Harkes is a terrible announcer. He doesn’t even know how to say offside correctly (he says offisdes). Bring back Wynalda, he always said something that was worth watching the broadcast.


    • Posted by Mark T on 2010/02/09 at 12:30 AM

      Johnson and Eagle are play-by-play guys, so I wouldn’t but them with Harkes. Especially, Johnson with his propensity for loud hyperbole. If Harkes hung around Gus he’d be shouting about “unbelievable” throw-ins.


  2. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 12:51 AM

    I disagree with the (yes, the) JB’s mentor. I’d rather have Dani Alves teaching JB how to perfect his service into the box. JB’s positioning has gotten better since last year, and he’s a smarter player. Both players have a lot of pace & are rather small. It’s a perfect match.

    And Kenny Cooper with Crouch? Eh. . .That’s like having Dilly Duka learn from Gattuso.

    And to Freddy I’d like to see a two-pronged teaching combo of Arshavin and Messi. 6 months of that and . . . .


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 6:40 AM

      Good suggestions Antonio.

      I actually wasthisclose to going with Paolo Maldini–who was ironically Conor Casey’s idol growing up for Bornstein.

      Alves is a good call as well.

      Crouch is perfect for Kenny Coops in that he’s a relatively frail and tall striker who still uses his body effectively.

      Nice, slipping in a Duka reference…you crack me up.


      • Posted by B-Mac on 2010/02/09 at 8:48 AM

        I’m not sure I love Crouch teaching his post up game to Cooper. I would rather see him paired with Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is also a big guy but has a first touch and shot from distance that Cooper and frankly Crouch as well could both use.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 3:11 PM

          Ruud is not a bad call. I wrote a few months ago that I would love someone like John Carew as well to work with Kenny Cooper.

          Kenny gets goals, like Ruud gets goals, but Ruud arguably has physical talent in more wealth than Coops.

          I want Coops (and maybe it’s an unfair suggetion) to be more dynamic on the pitch. Right now he’s a 25-year old vanilla striker who is slightly average or above average across the board.

          He’s already 25 mind you. He’s got to use his other advantages to complement his ball-striking prowess in my opinion. Sort of like what Crouch did… sure Cooper is 4 inches shorter…but he has the wingspan.

          It’s sort of like having James Worthy (wow blast from the pass) develop a jump shot so that defenders respect his drives to the whole.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 5:52 PM

        What if Diego Maradona and Cesc Fabregas had a baby together? I’m pretty sure Dulliver would pop out. I mean come on, look at the kid. Scoring 40 yard golazos out the ass. Fantastic. You cant even call that a chip shot. It was like. . .


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 5:52 PM

        I’ve never experienced a man crush this. . .this. . .this fulfilling.


  3. Posted by B-Mac on 2010/02/09 at 1:05 AM

    This might seem a bit out of left field, but I would love to give Rico Clark a training session with Edgar Davids. A criminally underrated player who was a pitbull defensively with great skill and nice powerful shot from distance, not to mention being the the coolest looking footballer of all time. I would love to see Rico pick up just a bit of his game, not too mention the addition of his dreads and goggles.

    The other mentor I’d love to see would be to put Jay Demerit with Fabio Cannavaro. Similar players in being of only average stature, Demerit could learn a whole lot about marking, tackling, and toughness from the Italian stalwart.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 6:43 AM

      Awesome calls…

      You know I remember Davids most from his time at Tottenham…that is spot on!

      Same goes on Cannavaro….

      And you also keyed on the two players that will be critical against England come June 12th.


    • I’d also like to see Rico get some tutoring from Gattuso. If Sweatpants or any other USMNT Boss is going to have a destroyer in the midfield, who better to learn from than The Snarling Dog. Sure he’s prone to a card here and there, but he hasn’t (in my viewings) suffered from the “Why the bloody hell would you do that?” type tackles that lead to US red cards in major tournaments (minus the one game where he was intentionally trying to get sent off).

      I would love to see would be Eddie Johnson getting some knowledge dropped on him by none other than Alan Shearer. Sure they have completely different styles, but the moment EJ thought about dropping his head and not trying as hard, Shearer would give him a lecture that would make Vinnie Jones wet himself.

      Paco Torres would do well to learn from Xavi, who plays the same role most of us feel JFT would/should play on the USMNT. If he also got some 1-on-1 time with Iniesta he could probably become a more attacking threat out of the middle of the park, man he makes some great runs for Barca.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 5:43 PM

        El Pistolero & Nani? I think YES! Robbie already has the 1-v-1 mentality & the great service. A little time to sharpen up his skills wouldn’t hurt him one bit.


  4. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 6:55 AM

    Great article. I think all of the suggestions are very credible. And I have been thinking about this over breaky before doing a Lalas and diving in.

    I’d like to see Schmeiche as the keeper mentor, as I would say he was the best keeper in the modern era. A great all round keper who had everything. And the fact that the US do like to play counter attacking football, who better to learn from – his distribution was top notch especially his quick throws.

    For Gooch, who is a beast of a man, I’d say Costacurta or Desailly (when at Milan). He was a monster in his time at Milan. But Nesta ain’t half bad… For Bornstein (or Bocanegra), it would have to be the one an only Maldini – he could play left back or left pairing of a centreback. For DeMerit, who is of ‘average stature’ I’d say Baresi. There is a heavy Italian / Milan influence here, but Milan’s defence at the beginning of the 1990s, was probably one of the best back fours in the history of football.

    I am biased, so for the commentator, I’d have to go for the legend that is John Motson. If you’re a whore for silly little nuggets of footy trivia, then he’s your man.

    And one “position” that you have left off – the Manager. This has to be Fabio Capello. He was the manager of *that* Milan in the 90s. My coach at Uni used to love the 1994 European Cup Final (where Milan killed Barca 4-0). It was the perfect game. It showed Milan’s mastery of pressing and defending.


  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 6:57 AM

    Holy smokes!

    Nick and George…..great commentary….I’ll add your suggestions to the pitch shortly.

    Shearer for EJ…brilliant…the desire….

    George…I know I should have went with Maldini for JB….my mistake there….


  6. Posted by Matt Mathai on 2010/02/09 at 7:12 AM

    Stu Holden: Beckham’s a good choice, but mine would be Marc Overmars. You old-timers would recall the tireless runs he’d make down the wings for Ajax, sending in threatening ball after threatening ball. If we’re to be our most effective, we need to stretch opposing defenses, and having a serious wide threat does that.

    Zero question on Jozy Altidore learning from Drogba, although McBride wouldn’t be a bad model either to teach him how to receive a long ball, and how to use a header.

    Viera and Silva are great mentors for Bradley. I’d throw Edgar Davids into the mix there, as well as Gattuso.

    Davies is a reincarnation (in style and build) of Ronaldo. Great choice there.

    Bornstein: I’m just not a fan of Ferdinand. You mention his tendency to make one big error a game. Well, that’s just no good for a central defender. “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

    I’d much rather have Bornstein learn from Carles Puyol. He’s not tall, but he’s incredibly athletic, absolutely relentless in defense, can move forward beautifully (witness the lovely Spanish goal vs. Ukraine) and dominates the back line. Another possibility here is Sorin, a sublime left wing back.

    Excellent choice of Bergkamp as Dempsey’s mentor. His name wouldn’t have been the first one I’d have thought of, but now that you said it, i can’t really think of anyone else I’d prefer.

    I’d say Messi is a better example for Adu than Arshavin. Messi’s tiny, but uses his speed, balance, and technical skill to stay on the ball. Freddy could learn a lot from him.

    Gooch: Nesta’s good, but Baresi was far better. So was Beckenbauer. Their control of their back line, their anticipation, and their speed of reaction were mind-blowingly good.

    Good article


  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 7:22 AM

    I was also going to suggest Roberto Carlos, but I don’t think that the US will have possession of the football like Brazil or Los Blancos. Also, I was going to mention Raul Gonzales for the striker coaching, as his movement and finishing is right up there…


  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 7:27 AM

    Apart from Matt mentioning Der Kaizer, nobody has mentioned the ‘true greats’ such as Pele, Maradonna Cruyff, Puscas, DeStefano, Best… Interesting!


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 7:35 AM

      Voller, Romario, Hoddle, Freaking ZIDANE, Ronaldhino, FIGO!

      You know…we need to do a pre-World Cup column on the greats…

      I think most weren’t mentioned because the observations weren’t there…that might be a story in and of itself…with cable/satellite now there is a low more exposure to a lot more soccer beyond just every 4 years.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 5:59 PM

        All said names above should be reserved until four years from now when the U.S. actually has players similar in somatotype and (potential) ability. I’m pretty young so I only know Zizou, Gaucho, Figo, & have seen some Pele/Mara/Cruyff sporadically


        • Antonio,

          I recommend: “Inverting the pyramid.” by johnathan Wilson

          It’s about tactics specifically, but provides one of the best overviews to the historical development of the game that I’ve ever read. You’ll understand WHY great players and coaches were important, not just that they are great.


        • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 6:37 PM

          Thanks Pat, I’ll check it out . . .after i finish my calc and phys. work . haha. -_-


    • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2010/02/09 at 7:41 AM

      I think the greats weren’t mentioned because it’s tough to find analogs on our current team. I can’t think of a single player in the US pool who reminds me of a Cruyff or a DiStefano, for instance. There’s certainly no future Pele lurking in our reserves somewhere.

      The greats are greats because they had such a unique blend of skills, power, and ‘charisma’.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 7:47 AM

        That is a very fair point Matt, but this was a list of mentors… Ordinarily, one would be given a lethal injection just by mentioning Bornstein or DeMerit in the same sentence as Maldini or Baresi!!


        • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2010/02/09 at 8:13 AM

          True enough. I know when I was thinking about the greats I almost considered them untouchable, or even unapproachable. I couldn’t imagine Pele taking the time to instruct Donovan (although, from all accounts, he’d do so with great pleasure.)


  9. Sweet Topic.

    For Benny Feilhaber, how about Yoann Gourcuff or Kaka?

    Another one for Jozy. Adriano

    Another for Bradley Jr. Michael Essien


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 9:26 AM

      Adriano — excellent call.

      Benny…we mentioned Kaka in our mancrush article…though Kaka is a more vertical player.

      On Essien, I’m not sure he’s the best for Bradley…Bradley doesn’t possess the ball the same way and slow play down. I need to write my column on how Michael Bradley is somewhere between Mathieu Flamini and Gattuso…closer to Flamini though…


    • I love Adriano. Excellent powerful striker. Wish the guy wasn’t at Flamengo.

      However, his worth ethic may leave a lot to be desired.


  10. Lando’s a pretty obvious omission here…. I’m going to think about this one for a bit.


  11. OK. Here’s my opinion on a good Donovan mentor – Thierry Henry.

    While yes, Henry technically plays as a true winger with Barca while Landon is a more traditional outside mid Henry has a playstyle that I think would translate well to Donovan. Both were once strikers but have now been forced to take a more supporting attacking role out on the wings. Both are known for their ability to track back and contribute on defense. Henry (once) had Lando’s pace and willingness to break down defenders 1-1.

    Henry could provide advice on breaking down premiership defenses, including when to use speed and when to use skill to break down a defender. Furthermore, Henry could enhance Donovan’s already excellent ability to create space on the wing in order to lace pinpoint crosses to larger strikers (Ibrah & Jozy). Furthermore, Henry could teach Donovan how to carry himself an an elite player – and the benefits that has on referee’s both in the EPL and internationally.

    I was going to end this post with a [Insert hanball joke below]. However, with Maradona being alive, you might as well go to the guy with the Ph.D in this sort of thing.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 10:32 AM

      “Both were once strikers but have now been forced to take a more supporting attacking role out on the wings”

      When Henry was at Monaco with a certain Wenger as manager, he was a winger. Wenger converted Henry in to more of a central striker ar Arsenal.

      But as a mentor to Donovan, bloody good shout! Henry has won everything there is to win in the game.


    • Posted by B-Mac on 2010/02/09 at 8:17 PM

      I’ve been thinking very hard about this all day, who I would most want Donovan to learn from. I like Henry, but he doesn’t really have the skills in distribution that I would want to impart on Donovan. Therefore, I have decided on a personal favorite of mine, the one and only Francesco Totti. Now they have different roles, with Totti as more of a trequartista (AKA second striker, I just love the term) while Donovan plays wider. However, I would just love Donovan to learn from Totti’s close control and superb passing ability. It would be a bonus at this point if Donovan could pick up some of Totti’s clinical finishing.


  12. Posted by Swa on 2010/02/09 at 10:37 AM

    Yaya Toure for Edu/Rico. Although he hasn’t gotten a great deal of burn this season, one of the things I love about him from watching Barca’s perfection last season was what happened during the infrequent times that they actually lost possession. In my viewings Yaya was almost always there to make a bone-jarring tackle and ensure that every single opposing possession did not automatically result in a scoring chance. This is definitely a quality that’s lacking in recent years for the Yanks and that these two middies in particular should ideally be providing. Not only that but Yaya deputized admirably at center back towards the end of the CL last year due to injuries and suspensions, something Edu has a little experience with and would definitely make him more of an asset depending on Gooch’s predicament/Marshall’s fitness.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 10:52 AM

      I cannot believe I over looked the Old Water Carrier that is Didier Deschamps. Then there is Claude Makele. I don’t think I need to explain why…


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 12:28 PM

        I like Yaya Toure a lot — he’s not a great just yet in my book and sometimes he’s a little bit too raw…but he’s going to be awfully good when all is said and done.

        Agree on the tackling — Rico is certainly a little more “crushing” in that respect.

        As for Edu, I’d love to see what he can do on the back line with his fitness and physicality — I always am unsure he’ll ever develop the offensive game necessary to play at the highest levels….


  13. I like this article as an exercise in “what if?” But what my mind keeps coming back to is that it reinforces an idea that as Americans our football is somehow inferior and we have to be shown how to play football by footballers from other countries. You could make an argument that there is no true American style of football. Is it the possession/short passing game that comes from the cultures of tropical climates, or is it the kick & run/tackle hard style of Northern Europe? Is it a hybrid of the two? All of the footballers that you mentioned that play for the United States should develop their own unique style of play. Rather than reading the exploits of other footballing nations, we should be writing our own.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 4:42 PM

      At the moment, football in America IS inferior to some countries’. The MLS is light years behind the leagues in Italy, Spain, Germany and England. Note that I am talking about the league rather than the individual players.


  14. Why not American mentors like Kasey Keller or Brian McBride?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 3:07 PM


      On your first comment, I don’t seethis as an exercise in inferiority if you will. I saw it as a good story angle.

      The column itself is completely fantastical and I’m trying to associate players with similar players regardless of nationality.


      • I understand the nature of the associations you are making, based solely on the playing styles of the American players in question. It is not my place nor my wish to deconstruct the content your article which is by any standards a fine one.

        Having said that, the focus of TSG seems to be reporting on footballers that represent America, and things American within the greater sphere of world football.

        Could Stuart Holden benefit from the experience and tutelage of David Beckham – of course. But in a sub-textual vein, doesn’t that sort of imply that the FA will always have something to teach the USSF?

        Football is seen as an extension of culture by the rest of the world. Here it sometimes seems the general feeling is that it’s a game people play. If there is any national culture players and spectators identify with, it’s usually not American (I realize that you could make an argument that this is uniquely American). With the populace of America including people derived from (or literally emigrated from) hundreds of countries it is difficult to create (arguably impossible) a culture of football uniquely our own.

        The shape of our national football culture to date is stretched extremely thin and is based on (outside of the last 20 years in CONCACAF) a handful of narrow victories and a series of hard-fought draws.

        Many Americans venerate the technical ability within the football cultures of Brazil, Spain, England, Argentina, Italy, Germany. We seem at times fascinated by football cultures that aren’t necessarily better than ours, just older. Perhaps it is time to de-emphasize this and to topple pedestals rather than creating grander and more towering ones.

        It is a question of identity. A national football identity that we constantly dilute when we wish our players were more like some of the true greats from other football cultures.

        Maybe I’m dead wrong with all of this. Perhaps the true point is that thinking in any one way stifles creativity, hinders innovation. I just don’t like that no one makes comparisons based on players from past American teams. Almost like they don’t exist or were never relevant.

        I’m tired of feeling like other nations infantilize our football. I sometimes feel like it’s the rest of the world’s entertainment to watch baby America struggle and take unwieldy toddler steps in the game that has been dominated by Europe and South America for an eon.

        Couldn’t Holden learn the same sort of lessons from Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos? There’s nothing wrong with saying that Altidore could learn some amazing things from Drogba. But isn’t there any big center forward/striker type in the annals of our American game that could teach the same lessons given the same fantastical opportunity?


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 4:36 PM

          Wow, Charles, don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem a little paranoid and perhaps have a football inferiority complex. I feel that people chose mentors for this fun and enjoyable exercise based on their ability not their nationality. As such, when the US produces a player of the quality of Maldini or Bergkamp, then they would be chosen. This is not an anti-American thing. I am not saying that Maldini or Bergkamp would be better mentors becasue they’re European, but because they’re better players. It’s as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less.

          And David James could take a tutorial from Brad Freidel…


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/09 at 4:51 PM


          While I don’t…hmm…accept your arguments let’s say within the context of this discussion, they bring to light probably a notion or thought that we may need to do a column on.

          How good is American soccer and its players and how do they reach elite status? or What are the many or proper paths to showing the world all about American soccer?

          Both good subjects…..I’m going to answer your philosophical thought here with another one.

          Arsenal: No Brits in their starting squad. Chelsea: 3 Brits in their starting squad Manchester United: 2 Brits in their starting squad (I’ve got Johnny Evans in the middle on this one)

          It is a common theme in Britiain these days (and I think Soccernomics may have written on this accord) to be xenophobic as a means of the home soceity having more opportunity and developing more footballers.

          But I think as survival of the fittest (in the phrase’s broadest measure) teaches is that intense competition is a rising tide that lifts all ships.

          Arsenal/Man U don’t employ Brits *unless they are the best in the business.

          Now here’s the parallel. The U.S. Soccer game is not one of elegant passing a la Argentina or Spain. It’s not one of precision crosses like Germany. American soccer for it’s most part has been built on stout defense and a mindset of invincibility (which the States has certainly not earned yet).

          If the U.S.–like added above with my Ruud-Crouch-Cooper analagy–can gain experience and skills across the board it will only make them stronger and it will only make the game stronger as those skills are transferred.

          So in essense, I take the opposite side of your debate. I would rather Americans learn from non-Americans because chances are the “American” way has been transferred to them already.


        • I have this argument about once a year with my father. Since you pretty much summarized his end of it, I’ll give you (and others) the other side.

          It comes down to a few questions. In my opinion the answer to each question encourages more Americans to play and learn overseas.

          1) Was there (or even IS there) a unique “American” soccer culture/style?

          I say no. We are, for the most part, a nation of immigrants when it comes to who plays and coaches soccer. I have, since I started playing, been coached by a German, an Englishman, a Belizeian(?), and a Czech. Most of my other coaches either learned the game from their immigrant fathers, or it was in their family due to the cultural connections it had to where they came from. Heck, most of our National team right now is either first or second generation immigrants. The thing is, I think this is a future strength of American soccer. There isn’t a universal “understanding” of how or how not to play the game. We don’t overly idolize playmakers, favor physicality over skill, or favor defense over offense. We don’t turn people away from the game just because they “don’t fit our style”. We just play with the best we think we’ve got. And while sometimes that means sacrificing superior talent on the alter of temporary tactics (sorry JFT!), in the end I think we will develop a more comprehensive player pool because of it.

          2) Is a unique national style consistent with the emerging trends of the international game of football.

          Again I say no. Remember, football was spread via British sailors in a time when there was no globalization. After reaching Brazil, for example, football was left to develop in isolation free from the influence of the “Western European Nucleus.” This led to a very distinct style. It also, initially, was not very effective internationally. It took coaches, implementing European ideas, or learning from trips to Europe, to really make Brazil the world power it was today. Nowadays, there is very little tactical variation in football. Everyone presses. Formations are, for the most part, similar. Success turns on the individual skills of the player, *players’ experience*, teamwork, and their coaches ability to implement their vision. To get that experience, American players need to learn from the best, which (for now!) means European coaches, and European players.

          3) Would it even be desirable for the US to have a national style?

          Partly for reasons mentioned above, I say no. Some random, further, thoughts. A national style stifles tactical creativity and flexibility because it encourages coaches and countries to wedge square blocks (players) into round holes (the style). It’s one of the reasons I think England has been dreadful internationally despite having some of the better players throughout the years. For the longest time (and still now, honestly) the English press and style has demanded teams that quickly move the ball up the pitch and take as many chances on possible on goal. Hell the idea of possession football took root in England far later than in other countries because their national style resisted such a playstyle that demanded patient breaking down of a defensive side. Better to smash the ball to a center forward and let him try to outrun and outmuscle the opponents. Argentina’s obsession with the playmaker is another example. All you have to do is mark the guy tight and you stifle the creativity of the entire offense. It is no wonder guys like Messi who are used to the entire team being a creative element get frustrated when they return to play international ball.

          I realize now that this is rather long and rambling so I’ll try to sum up my points quickly.

          (1) America currently has a receptive soccer culture, open to new ideas and tactics. (2) In order to maximize this receptiveness, American players need to learn from the best coaches and players which are currently in western Europe. (3) Having a national style would hinder, not help the development of the sport.


        • Sorry about that wall of text there – but I think Matthew made some excellent points while I was composing that response.

          Especially in regards to fair competition creating the best players. It’s very similar to the concept of capitalism. You give everyone a fair shot and only the best remain. Being protectionist economically deprives your economy of possibly cheaper or better goods. Similarly, being jingoist (there has GOT to be a less loaded word than that, sorry) and keeping your best football players from learning from the best overseas, you deprive your nation of knowledge and experience that would translate to international soccer.


        • My eyes hurt from reading all of this, and my comment will most likely get lost in the ether, but a reverse tutelage that I’m guessing most English people (at least those in South West London) would like to see is Brian McBride tutoring Peter Crouch. While Crouch has gotten better as the years go on, he’s never truly been the aerial-dominant/target/hold-up striker that McBride was. His height is an asset that has been utilized on a few occasions but for the most part he comes up short. Adding Bake’s skills to his repetoire would probably get him a lot more pitch time with Capello’s National side.


        • I just wanted to generate a debate about why do we seem to always look outside first when we discuss great players.

          You are sensible and right to say that this is a fun and enjoyable exercise. Thanks GC for making me realize that this isn’t the right forum for an idea this expansive. You’re a good geezer.

          I never thought this piece was “anti-American” per se (Obviously Matt would never malign the USA in any way), but perhaps that it’s subconscious propaganda. Subconscious propaganda that we perpetuate. I take it a bit too seriously because I believe that this is an admission that our players just aren’t very good.

          I should hope that any USA team players that might read this say something like “No one is schooling me, I will take them to school.” I just don’t like when the American team’s identity is blotted out. I have no football inferiority complex. I feel the United States is among the top ten nations in world football (regardless of the FIFA rankings). What amazes me is how little respect we seem to have earned for the things the USA team does achieve.

          We defeat Spain, and push Brazil to the brink in a major FIFA competition. Traditionalists say fluke results for the USA, buckle up for continued mediocrity.

          I’m not paranoid, just disappointed. It’s fine to admire players like Maldini and Drogba. And Baresi and Shilton for that matter. I admire them all. I’m just tired of the constant veneration of them. As if it’s being implied “surely no American player could ever hope to eclipse their magnificent achievements.” Honestly I don’t believe the gap in skill is as big as it is perceived to be. I think that the shortfall comes in the mental game of our American players. Probably our players have a feeling of subconscious inferiority because they are always reading and hearing about how fantastic Drogba, Beckham, van Nistelrooy, etc. ad nauseam are, and because American players are, or at least were constantly being passed over for selection on matchday for perhaps players that weren’t even their betters.

          Must Maldini be considered better than Onyewu? Do you truly believe that Onyewu is kept out of the team in Milan because he’s not good enough to play in the first team?

          You say James could take a tutorial from Freidel. Friedel was sent down from Anfield in favor of David James and some Dutch goalkeeper. It wasn’t van der Saar, I can’t remember his name. Were Villa and Blackburn right and Freidel is a first team ‘keeper? Or were Liverpool right that he was expendable? How many other American players overseas might this situation be a true reflection of? Will Leverkusen have the final say on the quality of Donovan as a player. He seems to be doing just fine at Goodison Park. When Frankie Hejduk was at Leverkusen the fans used to chant “USA, USA, USA!” It didn’t earn Hejduk extra appearances in the first team. Will Galliani and AC Milan have the final say on Gooch? The opinions of Europe’s club football hierarchy are given entirely too much weight regarding the relative quality of American players.

          Many of the players selected as potential mentors are foreign. These players are their own publicity juggernauts. They are on the television all the time. They need no further
          aggrandizement. I’m just sick of hearing how fantastic they all are. When Jozy hit that goal against Citeh on Saturday, I felt like that was one small step in the USA’s grinding towards vindication as a nation that produces good footballers.

          I know that Freidel and McBride were mentioned in the article as potential mentors and I think that is a good thing. At the very least it’s a beginning.

          I apologize for waffling on Matt. This wasn’t the right forum for this idea of mine, and I should’ve posted it on BS&C or sent it to you as a submission. I plead temporary impassioned nationalism, and a general feeling that our players overseas aren’t truly given any real chance to impress, and are then discarded like so much spare machinery.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 5:41 PM

        “We seem at times fascinated by football cultures that aren’t necessarily better than ours, just older”

        I have only been to NE Revolution and NY RedBulls live. But have watched many MLS games on TV. I don’t care what anybody says, but that doesn’t even come close to being at St. James’ Park, Anfield or Highbury. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

        Then there’s the issue of basic awareness that the US is playing a game. Unless you’re an avid football fan, you’d never know. Then there is the lack of column inches in the paper – and most of the articles are on the European leagues. It is hard being a football fan in the US when football is a minority sport. So to even compare it to Italy, Spain, England et al, is *almost* insulting.

        There are some really knowledge fans here in the US, but there are also fans who are fans becasue it’s somewhat “counter-culture”…


        • That response is typical from someone who comes from an already established football culture. I submit that American players overseas are just as good as their teammates in most instances.

          Perhaps it is Europe and Europeans who are not ready for us to be considered good. Not so much a case of what is actual…but what is ready to be perceived and/or accepted.

          I wonder what the state of the Italian, English, Spanish leagues were in their 14th year.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/02/09 at 6:24 PM

          I believe Freidel had work permit issues as he wasn’t the USA’s first choice keeper back then – the employment rules have changed. The Dutch keeper was Sander Westerveld.

          The result against Spain was great – but even a neutral would have to admit that you rode your luck and Howard was amazing that day. But my issue is ‘which USA team is going to turn up?’ The team that Italy and Brazil beat comfortably in the group stage, or the one that beat Egypt very well, and beat Spain? A lot of people across the pond don’t take too much notice of American or CONECAF football, as there are so many domestic competitions that take up their time, plus they don’t get too much coverage as most of it is concentrated on the UEFA qualifying zone.

          You are the one comparing the football cultures, and making statements. I don’t expect the MLS to compete with Italy, Spain, England et al “at the moment”. But the MLS is gathering momentum – patiences Charles! Rome wasn’t built in a day.

          When I left school and went to Uni, the lecturers were better, the faciilties were also better, and the brains of my fellow students were sharper. Being in that environment everyday helped me learn a lot more…


        • You are a formidable debator sir. I respect both you and your opinion.

          It was work permit issues that kept Brad Freidel from a place at Newcastle, not Liverpool.

          “Liverpool decided to purchase his contract from the Crew for $1.7 million in 1997 after being impressed by his performances. On December 23, 1997, Liverpool gained a work permit for Friedel on appeal after the first request was denied.[4] He made his debut against Aston Villa on February 28, 1998. While Friedel had some initial success with the Reds, he soon had a difficult time, managing just over thirty games in almost three years, including two appearances in the UEFA Cup, as he sat behind starter Sander Westerveld.”


  15. Posted by Mark T on 2010/02/09 at 5:38 PM

    Nearing the end of the day and seeing a debate like this makes me long for the days when I worked at home, circa 2009. The new office job has limited my ability to contribute to the conversation in real time. So I will do my best when I get home.


  16. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 5:47 PM

    Ok I’m a bit confused. Are we relating our A-teamers to established players that we want them to emulate/become(young and old)? Or are we thinking of more experienced and aged world class players(retired or not) to take our men under their wing?


  17. Thanks to George, Matt, and Mark. You guys are wicked awesome. I appreciate that no one shouted me down. I respect you all, and in retrospect feel a bit impulsive and silly.

    I badly want respect and common recognition for players from the early era USA teams, including the team from 1930 that finished 3rd in the inaugural World Cup Finals.


  18. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/02/09 at 8:13 PM

    CAN WE GET AN AMERICANS ABROAD MINI PREVIEW FOR TOMORROW! sheesh. There’s a very good chance Jozy will NOT SCORE(look at my train of thought here) tomorrow. And Lando vs Ashley Cole will be exciting. both games at lunch time. Both games I will miss.


  19. Posted by Kevin on 2010/02/09 at 10:32 PM

    I don’t know if I like one of our future stars learning from a cheater, but all… opinions aside, Becks is the best choice. I know I mentioned this months ago but I still don’t think stu disappeared from any playoff game.


  20. […] • Stu Holden cites David Beckham’s contributions to the beautiful game in the States. Funny, we just selected Beckham to tutor Holden in our mentor piece. […]


  21. […] in Houston, the CAMish role. Obviously for the nationals, Stu plays wing. We made a note in this piece a few weeks ago that we wanted David Beckham to provide just a little tutoring for Stu. It sure […]


  22. […] and it got TSG into a column we’ve been meaning to pen for a while. We’ve already looked at the best mentors (Look for Part II in the next month) for some of the USMNTers, but how about the best team to play […]


  23. […] choose Ronaldo as a hypothetical mentor for Davies in a column back in […]


  24. […] for the offense. As we mentioned on Twitter, we once labeled the prolific Dennis Berkgamp as being a great possible mentor for Mr. Nacodelicious and the Deuce is starting to play more and more like him each […]


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