Hello American Soccer Players, Parents, want-to-be players:
Do all the letters in today’s title–MWL, GLA, USClub, ECNL, PaWest, USSF, USFF, USYS, USYF–sound like gibberish? Does is seem all too confusing? Do you just want to play soccer, learn soccer and grow up playing the game with your friends? Do you like taking seven hour car rides and spend every other weekend with at least one parent?
Apologies for all the questions and all the alphabet code but after spending my weekend switching between my coach and referee hats, I wanted to take moment to explain a little bit about the current state of youth soccer in the Estados Unidos. I realized after the world shutdown during Covid-19 that the local learning part of soccer was missing in the US. In our effort to make our kids the best, we’ve taken an approach to regional development at the price of creating quality local soccer opportunities. In 2021, I committed to making the game fun in Armstrong County, thanks to a referee friend. I tried to extend the reach to Clarion County, but that is finally taking root now in 2022, in East Brady. The last piece to me making the game local in 2022 will be back at where I started in Plum thanks to Aidan.
Friday Coaching- Futsal in East Brady
First this weekend: I spent my Friday night in East Brady at the Beabout Community Center Gym, guiding 6-9 year olds through the basic laws of the futsal game. It was really nice to just see the energy, joy and excitement at that age group. During the summer of 2021, I tried to get this off the ground but now that a Pennsylvania winter is here in Clarion County, I’ve finally gathered a group of twelve. I’ve committed to changing the game and creating a culture of football in a hotbed of American Football through the summer of 2022. I will be sharing the US Soccer Play,Practice,Play module during this process and try to develop a few parent coaches to continue building the game in the Allegheny River Valley. I also had a few messages from my middle school team and had to start explaining all of these soccer leagues which led to my idea for this blog post.
Saturday- Referee ECNL and USFF
Second this weekend: I put my referee hat on in two different ways–Outside and then Indoors–on Saturday. This is where the alphabet game starts.
Part- 1 the Outdoor version: While it may only be the end of February, outdoor soccer has begun for teams in the ECNL/GLA league. I had the pleasure of being on the referee team in a game between a team from Lexington, KY and the Pittsburgh Hotspurs–soon to be Bridge City United or something. Due to the development of regional leagues that I first experienced living in Wisconsin, we have prioritized creating special travel leagues with regional competition. In Wisconsin you would have regional teams from Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Des Moines, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Madison and Milwaukee come to town on weekends to play two games in one weekend. In Pittsburgh, we bring teams in from Columbus, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington and Indiana. What makes these games so much better? Do we have this same type of competition within PAWest without the travel? Why travel so far on a weekend for back to back days of playing? Does this follow the US Soccer guidelines for player development? I post this not to answer any questions, but instead to make sure parents of players are aware of all the leagues going on right now.
Part- 2 the Indoor version: I finished my Saturday night with league play in a United States Futsal Federation (USFF) affiliate. Growing up it was either futsal in local gyms or drive to Sewickley to play the dasherboard version of indoor soccer at SportTrak. Due to the growth of indoor full size field bubbles more and more competitive teams are skipping the indoor version and focusing on the specialization of the outdoor game. Futsal is a much quicker, more technical version of the game that focuses on movement off the ball, combination play and rapid decision making. My middle school team learned that was our go-to plan in case we didn’t have access to an outdoor field during the season. It can be played in any American gymnasium or outdoor tennis court. This game is also played in the favelas of Brazil. The game outlaws shoulder charging and limits the physical contact from the outdoor game. Recently US Soccer has embraced futsal for their development academy teams and the letter game began with a new United States Youth Futsal (USYF) organization competing for the USFF teams. Last weekend the USFF had a regional tournament in Atlantic City, NJ where teams could qualify for the National Championship this summer.
Sunday- Referee day two of ECNL
There is something a little special about a kickoff at 10 am with a temperature just above freezing less than 24 hours after playing their first game of the season, that made me apply my coaching brain to my referee game. Realizing that both teams were playing their 2nd game in less than a day and had to drive between 5-7 hours home, I reached out to both coaches to find the best way to ensure player safety. The ECNL uses limited substitutions. This means that each player is only able to be substituted once per half assuming the team has substitutes on the bench. Even in cold weather hydration is important. The rules of the league create a player safety conundrum the first week of the season- hydration, no rest day, cold weather and a long car ride- require a delicate balance between enforcing the laws of the game and finding the best practice for the teams involved.
My career before all these letters.
I grew up in a soccer community. There were three local organizations that played in their own in-house league. I played soccer in the playground at resource. I would spend my mornings before school working on my volleys in the gymnasium at the school where mom taught. I then was able to play on a PA West Travel team that formed from the three local in-house program. By high school I then joined the local PA West Classic team in Washington, PA only a 25 minute ride. We would train twice a week and play a league game on Saturdays. There were no tournaments, out of town weekend play or going to national Championships. We had Strikers, Penns Forest, STM, Victory, Beadling and some team out near Moon. There was no driving to Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana on weekends. High school soccer was fun because we would play under the lights and had the ability to compete against Sewickley Academy , Quaker Valley, East Allegheny, Steel Valley, South Park, Elizabeth Forward, Ringgold, Belle Vernon and Hampton when there were only two classifications.
Why the change?
The game in the US has been about paying more than playing. Ask one of the parents who spend time on the weekends driving why they do it and how much the pay and you too may want to join my movement to change the game by making it local so we can use the game to bring change to our communities.