USSoccerPlayers: You also said in South Africa that you regretted the lack of a truly world class US outfield player so far. What do you think needs to fundamentally change in US soccer to produce not just one, but several such players?
Gazidis: I’ve been spending some time sitting on US Soccer’s working group on player development, and I think we’ve identified some of the issues. There seems to be a general consensus [that]…the challenge is how do you practically influence what’s being done at the grass roots level.
Now there’s a tremendous emphasis with our young kids on the number of games that they play, on winning those games, and collecting trophies, and not enough emphasis on individual, technical development and training. There’s a widespread consensus as to those issues. And that’s not unique to the United States — in South Africa I was speaking with people from around the world, and they have exactly the same issues.
Young kids these days, particularly in relatively affluent societies like the US, have a lot of different options. You don’t really see kids down in the local park practicing their skills on their own. They’re only playing soccer, for the most part, where there’s a referee and goals and coaches and everything’s set up for them.
These different factors are inhibiting the technical development and the imaginative development of young American players. As a result, what we’re seeing as an end product is professional, but nothing really extraordinary is coming out of the system
We have so many kids playing the game across the United States that if we’re really going to take a step forward as a nation, and as a league, we need to start developing significant numbers of players whose imagination and skill excite fans, and truly rise to a world class level.
In order to do that, we’ve got to look down to the grass roots and look at how we can change the emphasis that we have so that there’s much more emphasis on technical development, imaginative skills, and experimentation amongst young kids, rather than having ten-year-olds like mine playing in a tactical system, which I think is limited.
This is something we discussed not long ago, and it’s good to hear from an MLS bigwig. Gazidis also says we can expect more South Americans to join MLS (good) and points out that the influence of designated players goes beyond their individual input and can transform an entire team (having watched Blanco sprinkle magic dust on the players around him in the second half of the season for the Fire, I’d have to agree — excepting those in a walking coma like Wanchope). Read the rest of what he has to say, and let me know what you think below.