Bill Urban Finishes My Post

As much as I liked my earlier post on the reasonable, even considerable, progress the U.S. Men's program has made over the past decade, I want to flag Bill Urban's piece for as a(n accidentally) timely asterisk. The overall thrust of his piece is that the structure of Major League Soccer (MLS) - the glut of, effectively, meaningless mid-summer games in particular - possibly hinders the development of the American player. I say "possibly" because such things can't be quantified. But there's something in the gut that turns in agreement when Urban writes:

"Should [U.S. defender Drew] Moor find himself on the end of a corner against DC United in mid-July, with FC Dallas behind by a goal, and his header flies into Troy Perkins’ arms rather than the back of the RFK net, the adverse effect on FC Dallas’ play-off chances will be virtually nil. Disappointment for certain, even a derisive catcall from the Barra Brava to be endured perhaps, but a competition with too many teams qualifying for the play-offs does not put players into enough high-pressure situations where the consequences of failure are immediate."

Even if I don't buy into his construction of "need" versus "want," I buy Urban's general point wholesale. The example of a player like Taylor Twellman, who can find openings with the best of them only to repeatedly, maddeningly screw up the shot to follow, powerfully points to nerves as the culprit. His record in MLS tells us he can score - over 75 times now, in fact. But the number of times Twellman has successfully coped with pressure at the national level? I'm counting five (scroll down; you'll see it next to Twellman's name) and most of those came against one team.

MLS does a lot of good things for U.S. Soccer. But it tests players ability to beat the 'keeper while controlling their jitters only in the post-season - i.e. about five games out of 30. OK, and maybe the last five games at the end of the season...though that applies only to teams competing for spots...maybe it's not so surprising that Colorado Rapids tend to do well in the first round of the playoffs, while FC Dallas sucks.

On a related note, Twellman's record for composure even in MLS's version of pressure situations ain't all that hot either....paging Pat Noonan?



Laurie said...

This is only marginally related, but I was reading an interview with Landon Donovan today where he pushes for huge win bonuses, even at the expense of player salaries. His point being that each win becomes relevant when it puts money in your pocket.

It's not THE answer, but it could be a piece in the bigger puzzle. (As long as money wasn't taken from the minimum wage players to make it happen.)

The Manly Ferry said...

A very good, very bright friend of mine has promoted the same idea...and I've certainly heard worse ones. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing win bonuses and either fewer regular season games or fewer teams making the playoffs. And nice addendum on not pinching the few pennies the developmental players get...unconscionable, I tell you.

Bill Urban said...

A timely asterisk with a problem differentiating between needs and wants...

Meh, I've been called worse.

Bornstein must remain with the Nats, if only to provide Pablo Ramirez with the opportunity constantly to mention "Booooornstein..."

Did do quite the job against Lionel Messi as well.