Pretty different from when I played, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

Some of the best goals in the world are now scored with the reverse-stick sweep – others off body spins that weren’t even allowed a generation ago.

All in all a much more exciting game now – better rules, more athletic players.

Watch & marvel.

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TFC academy

MLS owners are upset with US National Team manager Jurgen Klinsman these days for advising the best young American soccer talent to seek opportunities overseas. And rightly so. MLS owners are investing millions in their shiny new academies only to see their very best products spurning their contract offers to go abroad and play at the highest level possible.

As a long-time coach who understands the importance of maximizing everything, I find it hard to argue with Klinsmann’s current viewpoint that Europe sets a higher bar for player development than MLS. If I were national team manager I’d want my players pushing themselves to the highest possible standard and want them to be in top, top form – and that would currently mean Europe for as many of my players as possible.

However, I detect a sea change occurring. As @jeffreycarlisle points out in his ESPNFC piece and in keeping with Klinsmann’s own belief that every player’s path is different, players are eventually going to see the merits of staying home.

To his credit, Klinsmann says:

“You have to look at every situation individually and help the player to determine what is best for himself. There are a lot of parts to the picture, things like the player’s ability, what his support structure is like, his past experiences, and his mentality and goals. Some kids would benefit from the environment in Europe, while others are best suited to continue their growth in MLS. There’s no one right answer that applies to all players, and each player’s circumstances change over time.”

It is hard to argue with that logic. Unfortunately for MLS owners that currently means that the best of the best players are angling to take what they’ve learned at MLS academies and try their luck at the next level.

But I’m with Carlisle when looking at the long-term:

“…the decision to head overseas remains complicated. There is a significant cultural — and in some cases linguistic — assimilation process that has to take place, hurdles are often avoided if a player decides to sign with an MLS club. There is also a widely held belief that academies are improving while the prospect of first team minutes is also greater at MLS clubs.”

I think playing time is a big factor. If you’re not playing in, or genuinely pushing for a first team spot in Europe, how much of a difference will the training there make versus the training in the MLS? I think the MLS needs to close that training gap and as is mentioned in the article sell its players – and even Klinsmann – on the quality of MLS training. It may not make up for competing daily against some of the best players in the world but if the training is top notch then perhaps it won’t add up for a player to go abroad.

And this where I think MLS should change tack and instead of investing millions in old stars from overseas (I do understand their marketing value though), they should be trying to buy the best coaches from abroad and fill their academies with them. That would be a great start and if the coaching was top notch, players and their handlers and their national team manager may not think the grass is so much greener overseas.

Increasing the quality of coaching in a broad, deep way – the way Spain did prior to their recent and lengthy period of International domination – would normalize the player development situation significantly. Then – once this normalization has occurred and players are optimally developed at home and prove themselves to be the stars of their own domestic league – players could start to contemplate that dream transfer abroad.

That way – the player gets something and MLS gets something – in a “normal” way. MLS hasn’t been shy to make money on player transfers and so I think that players should understand that the European dream does not die if they stay home. And eventually if enough of the best players stay home – and get the best coaching in the world – there will be such a critical mass of high performance that even the national team manager of the future will stop talking about going abroad and set his gaze upon his own horizon.

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What are they feeding kids these days? Or should we say how are they training them? Quality training like we see in this video is the type of food every aspiring player needs to grow up properly. And Dino Bontis is certainly growing up very nicely as a goalkeeper.

The kid moves like a pro already and if you know football you can see he’s got a future. Great attention to detail with footwork, hands, diving.

I really like the determination in the kid too. If he sticks with it from this early competency, Dino Bontis is going to be one heck of a keeper.

Keep it going Dino. And – don’t be afraid to dream.

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An unusual showdown: one of Canada’s best writers gets bested by one of Canada’s top athletes – in the national newspaper.

 

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Cathal Kelly: Canada’s top sportswriter

In a piece published by his employer, The Globe & Mail’s effervescent sports columnist Cathal Kelly wrote last week on the sad saga of baseball’s disgraced Alex Rodriguez – “a great athlete and a person of low character,” as Kelly puts it. Kelly outlines how A-Rod cheated by doing performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), got caught, then lied about it, tarnishing his reputation and his legacy forever.

And then Kelly says that he would do exactly the same thing.

And then – saying he doesn’t care much one way or the other – he claims that “the vast majority of professional athletes have done banned substances at some point in their careers.” Kelly cheerfully admits he makes this assumption with no evidence.

As the Globe’s comments section shows, Kelly’s article struck a chord with sports fans (as all good writing should). Most commenters were put off by what they saw as the cynicism of Kelly’s position – that most serious athletes would (and do) cheat to win, and that most regular folks would do the same if given the same choice.

Kelly’s article (though more controversial than most of his typically sound fare) and its associated comments might have sunk quickly beneath the inexorable tide of journalism du jour, were it not for a swift, sound rebuttal from an unlikely source: Canadian Olympic kayak star Adam van Koeverden.

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Canada’s Olympic flag bearer Adam van Koeverden

Van Koeverden eloquently takes on Kelly in a followup article, also run by the Globe. The four-time Olympic medallist challenges the columnist on his “hollow attempt to justify performance-enhancing drug use in sport.” To Kelly’s stated interest in “hearing from those (athletes) who faced the choice,” van Koeverden responds simply that he has never used PEDs to further his own career, and takes issue with Kelly’s assertion that athletes are entertainers – arguing instead that they are competitors, and that viewing them as entertainers is dangerous for many reasons.

Van Koeverden then takes the cheating analogy outside sports, applying it to other vocations. “How far would a journalist go to achieve their goals?” he demands. “Is it okay to plagiarize for a Pulitzer Prize? Lie for a front page? Misquote someone for a racy exposé?”

Point taken. Though Best Player is undeniably a Kelly fan, here we’re siding with van Koeverden. Cheating is cheating; and it’s no good in the boardroom, in the classroom, or in the stadium. To argue otherwise is to undercut cynically whatever moral code we try to hold ourselves to, or to expect from our leaders and heroes, or to do our best to teach our children. To accept that cheating is endemic, even expected, is to take the low view of human nature. Maybe we’re naive, but we prefer to believe that most people – and most athletes – would do as van Koeverden has done, and take the high road.

In his A-Rod article, Cathal Kelly has once again done his job masterfully: he has galvanized the community of fans and athletes around a sports issue that transcends the mere scoreline. He has spurred a necessary debate. Nobody writing in Canada today consistently elevates the discussion above the playing field as often or as thoughtfully as he does.

And in crafting his response, Adam van Koeverden has again distinguished himself as not just one of the country’s top athletes (hey, he’s been doing that for 15 years), but also – again – as one of our most eloquent spokesmen for the ideals behind why we compete in the first place, why we value honesty, and why we should look for the same qualities in our heroes as we should strive to find in ourselves.

 

 

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