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updated: 5/16/2012 1:46 PM

It may be time for a U.S. Soccer Summit

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  • With few young stars to take the place of established veterans such as Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan, left, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and U.S. National Team supporters have a big challenge ahead in developing some homegrown talent.

      With few young stars to take the place of established veterans such as Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan, left, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and U.S. National Team supporters have a big challenge ahead in developing some homegrown talent.
    Associated Press

  • Is it time for Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber to call for a summit meeting to get all parties working toward a stronger developmental system for soccer in the United States? Our soccer expert, Orrin Schwarz, believes it's long overdue.

       Is it time for Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber to call for a summit meeting to get all parties working toward a stronger developmental system for soccer in the United States? Our soccer expert, Orrin Schwarz, believes it's long overdue.
    BOB CHWEDYK | Staff Photographer/File

 
 

Nearly 20 years ago U.S. Soccer hosted a "Soccer Summit," gathering all its constituents to develop ideas for how to develop soccer in this country.

A professional moderator, brought in from the University of Michigan, took control by taking politics out of the process, and 250 participants representing all constituencies tried to figure out a way to improve the American game.

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"It worked really well," said Hank Steinbrecher, the secretary-general of U.S. Soccer from 1990-2000. "To me it was the turning point for soccer in the modern era."

It's time for another summit, this one focusing on the youth game and turning the focus to technical development from systems and formations and tactics.

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, the ball is in your court. Your league has the most to gain, though you should get plenty of help from U.S. Soccer, too.

Back then, the United States was two years from hosting a men's World Cup. Hosting meant an automatic berth, which was a good thing, because the United States qualifying wasn't a sure thing.

Today, qualifying for the men's World Cup is expected every four years, but getting to the Round of 16 is celebrated. The U.S. team's best performance came in 2002, when it made a stirring run to the quarterfinals.

Now the team seems to be foundering, unsure of its direction, its best players nearing age 30 with nobody in sight with the talent to build on what has been accomplished. The best American prospects were developed in other countries but can claim American citizenship, usually through a father who served in the military overseas.

How does the United States go from being ranked No. 29 by FIFA, as it is now, to being No. 1?

Even the American women seem to have plateaued.

Want to know why Japan has improved so much, including winning last year's Women's World Cup and having so many youth national teams to watch?

"America has more kids playing soccer than most traditional countries which are strong," Tom Byer, an American living and teaching soccer in Japan, wrote in an email. "But they are just not good enough technically. And until they address this, I don't care how many Juergen Klinsmanns they bring into the top national team, you won't see much of a change."

This is a criticism of our youth development system, not Klinsmann.

The key is not only figuring out how to develop world-class players but how to improve the coaching and refereeing at all levels, especially the younger levels.

Who should be invited to this summit? Pro players past and present, pro coaches, college coaches, high school coaches, club coaches, referees, MLS officials, sponsors, club supporters' group leaders, even the media.

Now, you can see the need for a strong moderator.

If the summit moderator needs a place to start the discussion, here is one.

Over the weekend I watched a U-13 girls game. The teenage referee quickly lost control, and the game grew more and more physical. It became impossible for any player to work on developing her dribbling or passing skills, and eventually one of the girls suffered a broken arm.

This game might be the extreme, but it still happens far too often, and it shows why American soccer, as it now exists, can't develop skilled players like they do in Europe or South America.

A month from now few of those girls will remember who won, and it really won't matter. Not one of the girls could have improved her soccer skills, and that game couldn't have been any fun to play in, just as it was no fun to watch.

Here's hoping that girl's arm heals quickly, and here's hoping those in charge of the game at all levels can heal what ails American soccer.

Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @orrinsoccer.

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