The Everton Way

Soccer enthusiasts should check out this article [Insider subscription required] in the Aug. 24 issue of ESPN The Magazine. It’s about “The Everton Way,” which is a term used to describe the training method used by EPL team Everton, a club that doesn’t have money to poach the best players from other teams, so they have to cultivate it. Think of Everton as the Milwaukee Brewers of the EPL.

Tony Farrell (a.k.a. “Tosh”) is touring the U.S. holding clinics on the subject. More and more U.S. soccer associations are signing up and are starting to teach their kids the system, which focuses less on wins and losses and more about coaching and technique.

The Everton Way is many things, but at its center is this maxim: Great footballers are made, not born. Like every British team, Everton is permitted to sign kids as young as 9 years old to its youth academy. But, per the rules of the Football Association, which governs the EPL, no club may recruit any player who lives more than an hour’s drive from its training complex. The mandate was instituted long ago to keep the battle for young talent from turning ugly. The problem for Everton is that one-quarter of its scouting region is in the Irish Sea. So, over the past 20 years, the team has perfected a teaching strategy that, in truth, is more nuanced worldview than coaching dictum. There are no secret mantras or exotic drills in the Everton Way; most of the training techniques are identical to those used at other major soccer academies around the world. The difference is in the details, or more precisely in the club’s commitment to paying close attention to them. To the extent that the Everton Way has major tenets, they are as follows: 1) The best coaches should teach the youngest players, because lifelong habits are formed early; 2) all instructors should coach according to their expertise, which means you will never see an Under-16s coach holding forth on the potential of an Under-10s player; 3) winning doesn’t matter until kids are about 16; what does matter is technique and development; and 4) every year, at least one player who signed as a 9-year-old will debut with the pro club.

Could this be what finally makes U.S. soccer a constant on the international stage?

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Friendlies can only help the MLS

Rose Bowl

When a crowd of 93,137 filled the Rose Bowl yesterday to see the Los Angeles Galaxy take on FC Barcelona, it was obvious that this is what the MLS needs more of.

These fans, part of the largest crowd to see a soccer game in the U.S. since the 1994 World Cup, didn’t need to be told to clap or to scream loud enough to ratchet up a phony noise meter.

They appreciated the jaw-dropping passing of Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez, the speed and skill of a game played with fervor and at a high level, and they showed it at every turn. They also showed their passion by booing Beckham for the nearly 87 minutes he played, still scornful that he’s an MLS drop-in.

Beckham, fined $1,000 last month for attempting to combat a heckler during the Galaxy’s friendly against AC Milan, silenced the jeers when he powered a free kick through the defensive wall for the Galaxy’s goal in the 45th minute.

There is an audience for soccer, for the big occasions when remarkable club teams such as Barcelona visit. Yet, Saturday’s crowd was about six times bigger than the average MLS crowd, which was about 15,515 through mid-July.

It’s funny to think that more than 70,000 people would rather watch an MLS team take on a European squad rather than one from their own league. This shows us that American soccer fans follow, or are at least more interested, in foreign teams. Of course, these teams have been around decades longer than those from the MLS, amassing diehard fans whether or not they are from the team’s country.

Fact is, these friendlies are extremely helpful for the MLS. This ideal situation is one where a big-market team like the Galaxy actually beats the stronger foreign opponent. There’s nothing European and South American soccer fans hate more than losing to a team from the United States.

The goal here is to generate more interest from both American fans and those abroad. Like the U.S. national team beating Spain in the Confederations Cup, if an MLS team can grab a victory against a club like FC Barcelona, ratings and attendance will gradually increase. It didn’t happen on Saturday, but hopefully it will in the future.

Instant Replay. Is Soccer Next?

Instant ReplayWhen Major League Baseball decided to adopt instant replay earlier this year, it seemed as if the technology now had a presence in every major American sport. However, Major League Soccer has avoided its use, primarily because it’s never been called upon…until now. It’s well known that professional soccer is far more popular in the rest of the world than in the States, so leave it the enormously influential English Premier League to advocate the technology. Jorge Moran of FoxSoccer.com examines the possible repercussions of this decision:

A seldom discussed yet more worrying aspect of the possible introduction of video evidence is that it would splinter the sport into two factions: the football practiced by those clubs and countries that can afford to have the technology installed and maintained, and the football of those that can’t.

HawkEye, the camera-based goal-line technology that the Premier League tested but was unable to receive FIFA approval to use, would cost a reported $438,000 to install per stadium. Only a very small handful of national federations and leagues would be able to afford that, and perhaps only at the top flight level.

Who’s to say that a country’s lower leagues aren’t worthy enough to receive the same sort of sporting justice that video evidence would bring to the upper tier? Teams from the lower divisions may be less profitable, but they are just as important to their supporters.

Moran makes an interesting case. What binds soccer on a global level is that the game’s simplistic rules are relatively the same in every league. While a third world country may not be able to afford the cameras, implementing instant replay in a wealthier nation tilts this equilibrium. Hopefully a more cost-conscious system will arise.

If some leagues do side with the technology, I hope it’s used on a smaller scale, as with MLB. Many people were upset when the ATP and WTA started using instant replay during tennis matches. However, players are given a limited number of “disputes” per game. Like tennis, soccer is popular on a global level. If instant replay creeps its way into the game, I hope it’s used both sparingly and wisely.

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