Tactics Tuesday: The Dallas Cup and the State of Gringo Youth Soccer

There are some perks to FFG’s home base being in the Dallas Metroplex (aside from copious amounts of delectable Mexican food on demand). For one, we have first hand access to the goings on of Western Conference Champions FC Dallas and MLS 2010 Coach of the Year Schellas Hyndman. And Pizza Hut Park may not be Old Trafford in scope or legend, but it’s a top notch facility and a nice venue to enjoy the beautiful game.

Yet another benefit is that Dallas host’s the world’s most illustrious annual youth tournament, the Dallas Cup, now in its 32nd manifestation. Dallas Cup alumni include a high profile bunch–Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to name just a familiar few. From FFG’s point of view, however, the nicest thing about this international tournament is that each year it gives us a glimpse of the status of US youth soccer–let’s take a quick pulse, if you will, on the health of the game stateside. Since it draws the best youth clubs from across the globe (this year’s contenders included both Barcelona and Arsenal academy teams in the Super Group), it’s a perfect litmus test on the state of the best US youth teams and clubs and how they compete against the world’s best of the same age.

Dallas Cup 32 concluded just this past Sunday in a stormy final (literally, stormy–the game was called before full time due to rain, lightning and tornado-spewing fronts) between Tigres of Mexico and Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany. FC Dallas U18 Academy were the gringos who made the most noble run at glory in this world class bracket, defeating FC Barcelona 3-1 in an opening shocker. They were served a steaming Texas-sized portion of humble pie in the semi-final however, getting schooled by a quick, creative and quality Tigres side 5-0. Ouch.

Aside from the high profile and much-hyped Super Group, how did gringo teams fare? Here’s a breakdown by age bracket.

Super Group

Champion: “Co-Champions” – Tigres (Mexico) / Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)

Best Gringo Showing: FC Dallas U18 Academy – Semifinalist

U19

Champion: Knowsley Youth (England)

Finalist: Ajax Gunners (Canada)

Best Gringo Showing: Solar Chelsea U17/U18 Academy and CZ-Elite – Semifinalists

U17

Champion: Tigres (Mexico)

Finalist: Santa Clara Sporting (USA)

Best Gringo Showing: Santa Clara Sporting – Finalist

U16

Champion: Estudiantes Tecos (Mexico)

Finalist: CD Guadalajara Chivas (Mexico)

Best Gringo Showing: Various – Quarterfinalists

U15

Champion: FC Dallas Premier (USA)

Finalist: Solar SC (USA)

Best Gringo Showing: FC Dallas Premier – Champion

U14

Champion: Fullerton Rangers (USA)

Finalist: FC Dallas Premier (USA)

Best Gringo Showing: Fullerton Rangers – Champion

U13

Champion: Nomads Academy (USA)

Finalist: Houstonians FC Red (USA)

Best Gringo Showing: Nomads Academy – Champion

Conclusions

Lacking that World Class Touch?

The higher you climb towards the most elite levels and age groups, the less successful gringo clubs were. It behooves US youth coaches to ask themselves what types of experiences are giving our European and Latin American youth counterparts the confidence, touch and swagger to perform in high pressure environments that demand infallible focus and quality. FC Dallas had an emphatic, impressive start with their defeat of Barcelona, but their 5-0 routing by Tigres in the semifinal revealed a squad still prone to pedestrian defensive errors and lack of grit.

Brilliance is Wasted on the Young?

Let’s hope not. To the contrary, let’s take the obvious success of US teams in the lower age groups and nurture it into world class quality. The lower age groups are only slightly less populated with international teams than the older divisions, so be careful explaining it away like that…

Make a Run for the Border!

No, not Taco Bell. Let’s not be too arrogant to respect the overwhelming success of our neighbors to the south and learn from their prolific and deep youth systems. Mexican teams clearly put their stamp of dominance on the tournament. It’s true they are more represented than other Latin American countries, but their results merit notice.

Have an opinion about what the US youth system needs to do to compete at the most elite levels internationally? Now is your chance to share it!

13 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    Fascinating stuff, Ben. How odd that US squads ‘get worse’ as the age groups get older.

    I wonder if that has something to do with a US focus on winning games (particularly helpful at a young age) vs. a focus on producing quality players (liable to create a gap as the players get older).

    • bensten says:

      Yes, that’s a great point. I think we are seeing a shift here to more of a European academy philosophy of developing players towards a peak at the point they are ready to play professional rather than put up great stats at a young age. It will take a few years, though, for it to impact.

    • dth says:

      Are the U.S. teams getting worse or is the competition getting better? For example it seems that the foreign component of the Super Group is the highest percentage, and that it steadily decreases the lower age group it gets…

    • Sgc says:

      The orthodox explanation is that the younger you go, the more soccer is about athleticism, and we win at that age level because we use better athletes and earlier physically-developed players to beat kids who will probably eventually become better footballers.

      When you’re 11 or 12, if you’re in the top 2% in athletic ability and you are even remotely competent on the ball, you’ll score goals in buckets, because 11 to 12 year olds just aren’t sophisticated enough to stop you.

      The U12 level is a particular bete noire for early physical development because it’s the age group where a few kids have clearly started their growth spurt and many others have not yet. A lot of times you’ll see U12 teams fielding a couple kids that look 15, and are more muscular and taller than everyone else, almost like men among boys.

      These trends are to be filed under the many reasons why they keep telling us we shouldn’t be caring whether we win or lose games at these age levels.

  2. victor says:

    “defeating FC Barcelona 3-1 in an opening shocker” no shocker at all this was Barcelona’s u17/u16 including several players who can still compete in the Super Group 3 or 4 more times. FC Dallas went on to beat a weak Costa Rican Side, Followed by a 10 men Japan team(red card in the 4th min), when finally being tested, yes they got torn to pieces.
    “Objective: The Development Academy’s primary focus is player development. Academy players are provided with the best opportunity to achieve their potential as elite soccer players.” lol Player development should come at an early age such as u6 to u14.
    Anyhow let’s see how the developmental teams did against non-developmental teams
    Lonestar Pre USSF 0-2 Central California Blues
    Charlotte SA USSF U15/16 Academy 1-1 TFC
    Santa Clara Sporting 3-0 Dallas Texans USSF
    West Side Metro Premier 1-0 FC Dallas USSF
    Shattuck-St. Mary’s 0-0 Andromeda USSF Sockers FC Chicago USSF 0-1 Dallas Texans (non ussf)
    Roadrunners 3-2 Andromeda USSF U17/18 Academy
    Lewisham College 1-2 Solar Chelsea USSF

    • bensten says:

      Victor–great clarification…yes, Barca brought a very young squad, but a 17 year old developed at La Masia should be expected to compete with the best 19 year olds elswhere (my opinion).

      And thank you for including those other scores. In a way it reinforces the idea that academy programs are less interested in immediate results and more focused on player development. Your point is taken, though–that development could start younger and by that age “elite” players should be winning and dominating.

  3. dth says:

    There’s one variable you need to consider, though: Tigres had a number of American players. Both Orozcos–Moises and Emilio–plus Victor Garza were American u-20 players for the u-19 Tigres team, and for the u-17 team, Uvaldo Luna is an American u-18 international. I didn’t see the Tigres u-17 team at all, but to my eye Moises Orozco and Victor Garza were the Tigres u-19 team’s best two players as well as their creative cogs.

    • bensten says:

      Excellent point! The fact that many individual players on those Mexican squads are Americans should be a ray of sunshine for Bradley and USMNT fans. The fact remains, though, that they are being developed to be that good in Mexico and not here. We need an environment here that could produce the same…

      • dth says:

        Of course! But, still, I think this shows that the problem isn’t the Americans per se but the system that teaches them.

        (An interesting footnote: Tigres’s academy director was the former Chivas USA academy director.)

      • dth says:

        I should also add that I’m quite certain some of the MLS academy squads were depleted for various reasons–D.C. United’s squad in the u-19 group (not the Super Group) was missing some of its best players (because of the US u-18 camp and United’s then-upcoming trip to Amsterdam for the AEGON futures cup).

        • Blake Owen says:

          Thanks for the extra info, dth. I didn’t get an opportunity to attend any games this year, so every little tidbit intrigues me.

        • Sgc says:

          And another reason not to care about results is that if a youth club like FC Dallas or DC United has more than three players on a given youth team that will become strong professionals, they already have an embarrassment of riches.

          A lot of times winning soccer games is about how your 6th, 8th, 10th best players play their tactical roles. But this isn’t something development academies should be caring about. They are ideally more concerned with developing every player in such a manner that he tries to expand his game as much as possible, even if it’s something at which he’s currently not very good, on the (on average, statistically improbable) chance that he can become a pro.

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