U.S. Soccer hit a low point during the Gold Cup tournament. Playing a tepid, uninspired style, Bob Bradley and his side looked as if they had hit a virtual wall. The development, the creativity, the inspiration to perform just wasn’t there any more. After a thorough 4-2 drubbing at the hands of arch rival Mexico, on American soil no less, it had become fairly clear that something had to change.
With an ugly June behind them, a quiet month of July nearly snuck out the back door when the big news was announced; US Soccer decided to terminate their relationship with Bob Bradley. Days later, Jurgen Klinsmann took the mantle as the new boss of the national program. This sparked a month of positive news and developments that will have a carry over effect for years to come.
JURGEN KLINSMANN’S YOUTH MOVEMENT
Klinsmann’s debut draw against Mexico painted the picture of transition for U.S. Soccer, in living color. Starting the match with a few young, inexperienced faces amongst the teams more time tested core, the results were mixed. Youthful exuberance challenged the set ways of the veterans in a concoction that appeared to lack the cohesion needed to move forward as one side. Save for the play of an explosive Landon Donovan and an always reliable Tim Howard, many of the former coaches favorite fixtures seemed about as lost as the debutantes on defense.
The second half, however, displayed the first taste of what a Klinsmann run U.S. National side would look like. Two major development’s occurred in that have that could define American soccer for years to come.
First and foremost, the emphasis on youth was palpable. Klinsmann dropped his chocker and let the the youth loose in an exciting half of soccer that surprisingly pushed back a strong Mexican side en route to the equalizer. Young stars like Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo roamed freely, being allowed to press and be creative without threat of repercussion. Robbie Rodger’s game came to life as well, thoroughly enjoying the freedom he had on the flank en route to is game tying goal.
This was in stark contrast to the rigidity of the Bob Bradley system, which really only allowed limited freedom in the forward lines. Fresh faces and a fresh outlook spelled out a positive return on Klinsmann’s early efforts to nurture the next generation of American stars.
The second important development of the half?
AN EMPHASIS ON MLS
Let’s face it; without the integration and cultivation of a strong domestic league into a National program, any kind of growth effort will be stunted. The strong inclusion of Major League Soccer stars on Klinsmann’s first day is an encouraging sign for the league and the path of U.S. Soccer. Of course, with the international football calender kicking off worldwide, Klinsmann had little choice but to look domestically. Still, the depth of his knowledge when picking pieces from the MLS ranks shows just how deeply he follows, and respects, the nation’s premier soccer league.
Kyle Beckerman, one of the best defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer today, was chosen to man the middle despite poor showings in previous international looks. After an unsteady first half, he settled in and became a distributive force throughout the night.
Robbie Rodgers and Juan Agudelo were used to spark the offense in the second half, and did their job in frustrating Mexico’s backline. The story of the night, though, came from Brek Shea, who nearly stole the show when he came on as a substitution for Jermaine Jones. The youngster played big as he mowed through the Mexican defense in his short minutes, earning an impressive assist in the games tying notch.
Away from the pitch, Klinsmann’s emphasis on MLS is just as prevalent. Don’t believe me? Just ask Freddy Adu, who returned to MLS after speaking to Klinsmann about what he would need to do to earn regular USMNT minutes.
Speaking of Major League Soccer, you can’t talk growth without mentioning the leagues new television deal. Beginning January 2, 2012, NBC will begin broadcasting Major League Soccer games on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and NBC affiliate stations. The move widens MLS’s potential gross audience from 40 to 80 million as they leave behind the narrow confines of the Fox Soccer Channel.
NBC will have 45 total games in 2012. There will be two regular season MLS games, two playoff games and two national team games on the major broadcast network. 38 regular season games, three playoff games and two U.S. Men’s National Team games will be featured on NBC Sports Network. This, along with their existing ESPN deal, casts a wider net on the potential audience American soccer needs to make the sport relevant and accepted.
NEW DP RULES
The Designated Player initiative by Major League Soccer began in 2007, allowing MLS clubs to sign a single multimillion dollar talent without crushing the confines of the salary cap structure. This was done in anticipation of the Galaxy’s acquisition of World superstar, David Beckham.
Since then, MLS has grown to allow up to three DP players per club through various salary cap bending methods. Though the initiative has been successful in attracting international stars to this budding American league, it has rarely catered to the young talent that helps make the beautiful game so attractive.
Now there is an incentive for MLS sides to look a bit younger. The new rules make it possible for youth players under 23 to count for less of a hit against the cap. If players are 20 years or younger, they will count $150,000 against the salary cap. Players 21 through 23 years of age will count for $200,000.
This new wrinkle in the DP rule may also help address one of the biggest complaints against MLS over the past few years; a lack of domestic development. Let’s face it; young talent needs to know they can make money at home before they explore international options. This will not only allow MLS to attract young foreign talent, but retain talent developed right here at home.
FC DALLAS VICTORY ON MEXICO’S SOIL
And in the news that can only be labeled as “the cherry on top,” FC Dallas broke a 24 game winless streak for MLS sides on Mexican soil when they beat Pumas 1-0 in the first game of the Group C CONCACAF Champions League. Though Pumas did not feature a single starter from their Mexican Primera side, Dallas made history with their win, further padding the accomplishments attained by Real Salt Lake in their thrilling series against Monterrey earlier this season.