David Villa and the State of MLS

David Villa, a La Liga, World Cup and Champions League title holder has found his way to the MLS expansion team New York City FC. A three year, no fee contract is being kept hush hush, but if he is not the highest paid player in the MLS next season, then something went horribly wrong. What an honor it will be to have the temporary opportunity to watch his talent wasted among players who are not patient enough to allow an overlapping run to develop. I can see it now, David Villa looking up to pass in a lane and no one making the run, or they are hiding behind a defender. Have you seen an MLS game lately? Still crap.

I remember seeing Pele play for NY Cosmos as a child, and perhaps that was when and where the phrase, “It’s difficult to play good against (or with) a bad team,” came from. The US is still where players come to spend the sunset years of their careers. It’s no secret that frustration, humility and jaw dropping disappointment are in David Villa’s near future. He’ll be looking to play to Costa, Iniesta, Messi, and there won’t even be a shadow of them on the pitch.

For a money hungry nation like the USA, it’s amazing that they don’t get it. They keep trying to put a diamond on a donkey. Let me help explain it to my intellectually challenged nation in time for them to rescue their NBA corporate sponsorship deals. You see fine country of mine, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Eredivisie, they don’t attract top players with contracts and they don’t put fans in the seats with the likes of a David Villa on each team either. It’s no secret, it’s corporate dollars!

The big names of companies (and in some cases countries) across the front of football jerseys, that Americans are screaming bloody murder about should it happen to their beloved basketball teams, are companies paying huge duckets to be there. But that’s not where it stays. You see American football fan, those football clubs take that corporate money and build academies. In some cases multiple academies. Then the club’s scouts (payrolled by corporations) go around their country, and sometimes around the world to find 5,6,7,8 year old players that display the athleticism, bone structure, posture, intelligence and disposition of successful footballers that have trained in the past. Scientific research, data analysis, medical profiling, and pattern predictions are all put to work and paid for by….you guessed it, corporate money in order to narrow down the large pool of potential child players.

These children and their families then relocate to be near the established academy (using corporate money). They go to school with their teammates, get taken out of school to train on the school’s brand new fields or state of the art gym, eat a specialized nutritional lunch with their mates, go back to class, then they are bussed to the fields for afternoon training on pristine fields (built with corporate money) five days a week. The professional clubs have relationships with local schools that allow them to treat these student athletes special, and all it took was a donation of some of their corporate money. Sounds like a symbiotic relationship between football club and local school to me.

As the kids age, some 10, 11, 12 year olds are asked to leave and others are invited to the academy. By the time they are 14,15,16 it is apparent to the club if the academy player will be in line for a contract. The player is now a commodity of the club and continues training with their U19, U21 U23, or even their first team. If not, the player can be sold for…get this America…money! The club and it’s corporate sponsor gets a return on their investment and the player who has eaten, breathed and slept football for fifteen years in an academy environment, getting their hair tousled by the pros, is potentially and hopefully a Champions League caliber player, their family set for life with a six or seven digit contract.

Basketball, baseball, American football, we invented the leagues and structures and thus the culture that depend on local youth clubs to develop college caliber players who will then go on to compete for placement on professional teams. The USA has the best basketball, baseball and American football athletes, because most other nations don’t even have youth, college, or semi-professional divisions to develop athletes in those sports. Unfortunately we attempt to develop our soccer players in the same way; in youth clubs, to college and then they’re limited to the MLS or South America. Why? Because they are not good enough to compete against super stars like David Villa – and players raised in the European football academies produced with corporate dollars. Sorry America, but our players will never compete consistently against clubs whose focus is to develop Champions League quality players using corporate sponsored academies. These clubs fill their stadiums with supporters raised to love their team since birth. Yes, there will be an anomaly now and then, a Dempsey, a Joshua Pynadath (who came from the club I coached for), but nothing consistent until US soccer culture grows irresistible to bigger corporate sponsorship money.

What timing, I just got an email inviting my teams to a “soccer academy.” Apparently our idea of an academy is a four day summer stint at the nearby NCAA division II college, run by their players. I think that’s still called a “soccer camp” America.

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