Thursday, September 27, 2007

Obviously, Ryan Must Go

Dear Tony,

I have never done this before. I didn't do it when Bora refused to work on youth development or coaching education. I didn't do it when Sampson fell in love with his own importance and devised the silly 3-6-1 formation then embarrassed us in France. I didn't do it when April had a meltdown in Australia and her team continuously under-performed. I didn't do it when you didn't produce in Sweden in '95.

But I'll do it now. Greg Ryan needs to go. If we can pull it off before the third-place game, that would be nice. But I understand we may need to wait until he gets back from China.

He's a nice guy, but he has ruined the U.S. women's national team -- their confidence, their reputation, and their popularity. Our place atop the world is gone. Of course, everyone knew it was coming some day. Brazil, Germany, Norway ... they were all right there. And we knew as early as 1998 that if Brazil got more of their population involved in women's soccer, it would be very bad news for us. The fact is that our place was gone about a year ago. It just hadn't been proven yet.

I've seen it before. The pressure of playing in a World Cup or an Olympics gets to coaches. They over-react to it and do something that can't be fixed. Replacing Solo was an over-reaction if you look at it in the rear-view mirror or through a clear windshield. It told the players he was desperate to change the team in order to play another team. This came from a guy who had little or no confidence in the roster he selected, rarely using his bench through the first four matches. Then all of a sudden, he goes to his bench for a new goalkeeper? By the way, he embarrassed Bri, a player who has done as much as anyone for women's soccer in this country. He put her in a situation she was not prepared for, and set her up to fail.

His management of the Brazil match was, as Foudy said, "mind-boggling." Using two subs on defenders when you are down three goals with 10 players? That's hard to justify. What that told me is that he needed more people to thump long balls to Abby, which is the style of play that got him in this mess to begin with.

The style is what bugs me most. That set us back as a country 10 years. Is that how our youth and college teams are supposed to play? If our national team is a model for the rest of our system, then, yes, that is what we are supposed to be doing. Won't catch me playing that way, though.

All of that tells me two things. First, he wasn't prepared to coach at the World Cup. Second, he didn't do a good job picking his staff. Was there no one sitting near him to suggest that he was killing the team by replacing Solo? Did no one suggest that he might need to put an attacking player in the game when he was down by three? Or did he refuse to listen?

So, who do we get to replace him? I have one choice.

Brandi Chastain. Not only does Brandi have a solid background in the women's game, but she is also a student of soccer with a very high-level understanding of tactics. She is well-respected, says and does the right things (later in her life, not necessarily earlier in her career), and she would help mend the team’s image which took a horrible hit this month.

I'm sure you remember. After you won in 1999, you went to the Federation AGM and got grilled and ridiculed for the way you won. China was better, they said. We didn't have enough combination play, they whined. Well, if the Fed wasn't satisfied then, what will they say now? I don't have a very good track record trying to understand the moves the USSF leadership makes, so here's my prediction. A new four-year contract for Greg Ryan.

When I think of more, I'll write.
You know who


Anonymous said...

Ryan must take the blame......Replacing Solo was a deflating move to the team, and they came out flat because of it. A coach has to know if his team is upset with a move, he's a coach not a dictator. How could he be so far out of touch with his team? Ryan made the decision, and he needs to squarely takes the heat for the loss ENTIRELY on his shoulders...maybe it's time for him to go...he did a very poor job managing the game too.

Old Soccer Guy said...

I agree, but it's more than just today. His reliance on thumping balls forward and trying to win games off set pieces goes against everything the WNT has accomplished in the past.

Anonymous said...

The Old soccer guy is right and I hope that all of america can see it. It's time we take the current system of so called "youth development" and do a complete overhaul. It was clear in 99 and the 2000 Olympics that other teams, namely Brazil, were already ahead of the US in terms of technical ability. (Julie Foudy said herself this morning that the US team got lucky to beat Brazil in the Olympics). What have we done about it? How teams perform in a World Cup shines a bright spotlight on the country's system of development and again I ask what have we done about it? (since 1999!)

Until this country understands that sucess in soccer BEGINS with technique we will never produce the players with the style, creativity, and skill necessary to dominate internationally. The question is what will you do?

Anonymous said...

Great comments, they are somewhat cleansing. The long pass to the big talented big girl was wearing on me since against a good team it was going to generate too many offensive chances for them and too few chances for the US. Where did all the skill go from the US women's soccer program?

The play cried for new leadership before the coach put himself in the coaching ego/choke hall of fame.

Let's hope for the start of a new direction for US soccer.

ToddM said...

A lot of good things raised here. I couldn't agree with you more!

I would caution that one must be careful what they mean when they say "technical ability." I've often heard Director's of Coaching in the US refer to "technical ability" and "ball control", when they mean 1- and 2-touch passing. This is clearly in contrast to what might be called individual ball mastery or comfort with the ball (which the Brazilian teams seem to have in abundance). There's no question that both are important, but it is the individual ball mastery that appears to be missing from the US game at all levels.

You say that the style of play is one of the things that bothers you most about the US game, and I couldn't agree with you more. But I've seen this style of play at every level in the US. It starts at early youth levels, when team selections aren't based on willingness to keep the ball and comfort with the ball and creativity, but are instead based on individual athleticism, aggressiveness and size and speed. Then the focus on winning at early youth levels leads to reliance on size and speed and aggressiveness, and not on individual skill, creativity, and combination play. Even at top clubs in the country, soccer is about athleticism, direct play and aggressiveness. It's not at all the beautiful game that is often seen in other countries.

The US youth soccer program seems to be aware of this, and are starting to take steps to try to change things at the youth level, but there is still a long long way to go. Youth academies for young ages, for example, are attempts at taking the competitive aspect out of the youngest ages so as to focus on skill development and individual ball mastery. There is no question that this is not working as planned, with most clubs continuing to put competition and winning first (under the influence of their parents, who are paying the bills), even when participating in the Academy program.

But is this really a surprise? The vast majority of youth soccer coaches are untrained, and have absolutely no clue about how to work with children. They run drill after drill, boring kids to death while they wait in line or receive a lecture on technical points beyond their understanding. And if their attention wanders (whos wouldn't?), it's laps and sprints, or push-ups and situps. We're lucky to have 25% of kids stick with soccer at later ages.

Ah well, I guess that I should stop my rant. :-) There are so many things wrong with youth soccer in the United States that it's little wonder that our National teams are where they are. I see the US Women's team as more a product of our poor youth program, and perhaps thereby unable to be held up as an example for it. And until we find youth coaches who not only understand soccer but also understand kids and teaching, and until we make a strong stand against the focus on winning at early ages at the expense of development, we'll make little progress in changing things.

Old Soccer Guy said...

I couldn't agree with you more. And as for youth development, I am trying to change my little corner of the world. We play to feet, we work on ball mastery, we work on first touch and we work on having the courage to go 1v1.

It's not easy, but well worth it.