Storytellers: The Power of Mentorship

Submitted by Mike Herman

President, Compton United Soccer Club

I was standing in my garage amazed. Just three hours ago this place had been a disorganized mess – bins teeming over with used cleats, boxes of t-shirts and donated uniforms cluttering the floor, dust and soccer balls wedged in between it all. But now, after just a few hours of steady work, the place had been transformed into a tidy, organized, workable space. And Luis’ beaming smile testified that he had done it all himself.

I was smiling too, and not just because of my newly tidied garage. In the few years I had come to know Luis, I was seeing changes in him. His life was slowly being “reorganized” and put into place. We were seeing him become the kind of “space” where God could work as well.

When I first met Luis, he was struggling – at school, with his family, and with himself. He was a talented soccer player, often leading his Compton United team in scoring. But CU is as much about excelling OFF the field as on – and Luis was not doing that.

Like many teens, Luis’ most obvious problem was his attitude. He was a likeable kid, as long as things were going well. But when his teammates played below his expectations, he yelled. When the refs made calls he didn’t like, he argued. When teachers made decisions he didn’t agree with, he rebelled.

When Luis joined the club, he had the opportunity to spend time with men who were willing to invest in his character as well as his playing ability. His coaches and I put in a lot of time with Luis – hanging out, talking about life an soccer, digging into topics like anger and attitude – and yes, even cleaning out garages. Changes were slow but Luis was growing. It was clear that he was full of leadership potential.

In 2009, Luis was chosen as one of 4 guys to be a part of our most intense leadership development program – the Crash Elite. These 4 students, chosen because of their outstanding leadership potential, were placed in mentoring relationships with the pro players that volunteer with Compton United. (One of my main objectives for my chaplain work with the professional LA teams, Chivas USA and the Galaxy, was the recruit Christian players to work alongside our guys. The Crash Elite is the program that we created as a result!) Throughout the MLS season, the Crash Elite players meet weekly with the players (currently Justin Braun and Micheal Lahoud) for a private soccer training sessions. After those sessions end, the players take the boys out for dinner, where the mentoring really happens. Over a sandwich they discuss life, faith, school, relationships, future plans, college, girls, soccer, and anything else that comes up!

It has been during this period of time we have seen the most growth in Luis. His grades have shot up, his attitude at home has changed. He builds up his teammates and controls himself from yelling at the refs. He has become a very positive role model.

Several years ago, college was never on Luis’ radar. Now he actively participates in our College Advisory Group and is making plans to apply for college after he graduates high school.

As Luis wrote about his time in Crash Elite, “As each day passes and I am learning new stuff from Michael and Justin, I see them not just like professionals or friends – I see them like family. I know that if I ever need good advice about school, house problems, or family problems, Michael is the perfect guy. Now if I need advice about girls, soccer, or forward skills, Justin is the perfect guy. Being with them has changed my life. They taught me how to respect women, everything takes time, don’t hurry thru things, and always listen to my parents and take care of my family.”

It is evident to all of us that a new Luis is emerging. His grades have shot up, his attitude at home has changed (as noted by his parents!), and he’s active in our College Advisory Group as he makes plans for his future. He has become a leader among his teammates, building them up on the field and controlling himself with the refs. He has become a very positive role model for all of Compton United.

*Please support Compton United Soccer Club and Mike Herman's tireless efforts to improve the soccer and life experiences of youth in his community!

Storytellers: Eating Fries with People From All Over

Story by: Aaron Young

Years ago, there use to be a pub on a college campus (which for the sake of anonymity will remain anonymous) that we use to drink at. It was a small, cramped place. But it was ours. The pub was the hub for all the soccer players, fans, and aficionados on campus. From undergrads to masters and PhDs, we all came together to share stories. Some came from Barcelona, others from Liverpool. We spanned the globe, with Argentinians, New Zealanders, Chinese and many others. But what brought us together wasn't the beer or the questionable food, but soccer....

The stories of our father's teaching us the game, and mother's consoling us after loss were prevalent in almost any conversation. What made these experiences unique and colorful were how different we all dealt with the same issues and that at the end of the day, playing or being a part of a community that embraced us for who we are was all that we needed.

I'll always remember a friend from Barcelona telling me to stop eating fries because it was bad for me, and a Liverpudlians and a Münchner then stuffing their face with the fries and telling the Catalonian...."This is how you eat fries!" The bond we share is based on soccer, the memories we have are based on coming together, as one global soccer community. It's what binds us...

Estadio Azteca

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Mexico City's Estadio Azteca- host of tonight's important USMNT World  Cup qualifier vs. Mexico- was built in the 1960s to host Club América  and the 1970 World Cup.  It has outlasted many American stadiums built  in the same decade; in Major League Baseball, only Dodger Stadium and  Oakland Alameda County Coliseum are still in service from the 60s  (notwithstanding, of course, Fenway and Wrigley.)  But Azteca is much  more on the scale of large college stadia, such as Michigan's Big House  (capacity: 109k) and Ohio State's Horseshoe (102k).  With American  reporters on the ground reporting that seat renovations seem to have  reduced Azteca's capacity, it is still listed as a 104,000 seat stadium,  putting it in the good company of 6 U.S. college stadia (Michigan, Penn  State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas) that seat over 100k.

It may be tough to find as many US Nike kits in the stands tonight, but FCearth still optimistically projects:

US 2, Mexico 1

Leadership & Assimilation

Soccer coaches at all levels value a few key factors when choosing their lineups and rosters: past and projected performance (of course), but also match fitness, chemistry, experience. 

As my high school coach once said- it's not just the XI Best players you want (he was talking hoops, so he said Best XII.)  But it's the Best XI- the best group of players that compliment each other.

Coaches of national teams get to take it a few steps further: Recent playing time and performance for club teams, experience in pressure situations like World Cup qualifiers or tumultuous away game environments, and even extraneous factors like travel logistics or international work permit issues.

The question is: what's the best way to weigh a player's total experience vs. recent performance vs. the logistics of assimilating him into the team? 

It's not just a National Team issue.  Imagine a State ODP team where 6 of the kids are from the same town, and another kid is sloughing 3 hours across the state for practice (like Clint Dempsey did in Texas). There's travel issues on top of peer to peer considerations.

So it's not surprising that ahead of tonight's US Men's National Team qualifier against Costa Rica in Denver, a huge fervor broke out when Sporting News reported that there was dissent and second-guessing among the US Men's National Team pool players (among others) and a lack of support of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

We're in the camp that argues that all the attention is a great sign of the growing passion for our national team in the US.  And we won't deconstruct the incident, since it's been done so well by many others.

But the leadership issue is worth diving into. Even though it has been a focal point of the week, the exclusion of 7-year US captain Carlos Bocanegra still somehow doesn't seem to have had enough of the spotlight.

SI's Grant Wahl focused on Bocanegra immediately, and recapped Bocanegra's immense contributions to the national team:

Wearing the armband isn't easy, and Bocanegra had it for the 2010 World Cup (in which the U.S. won its group ahead of England), the '09 Confederations Cup (beating Spain and reaching the final), the '09 CONCACAF Hexagonal (winning the group) and the '07 Gold Cup final (a win vs. Mexico), among other occasions. Bocanegra has never been flashy, but he has been a consistent and terrific servant to U.S. Soccer over the years, and I can't help but feel that this transition could be handled better by Klinsmann.


And yet...the USMNT heads into to two critical games (home vs. Costa Rica, and in Mexico City on Tuesday night) without the clear-cut most consistent, most stable contributor and on-field leader of the last seven years- dating back to the 2006 World Cup.
The relevant questions to ask yourself:
What's the value of recent playing time vs. someone who's fit from training (if not matches), and has such a body of work?  Players can maintain peak fitness today without matches (as they do when they are in their club offseason.)
In other words, what value would a leader of Boca's caliber have in being on the roster and traveling squad, even if not a starter?
And at a deeper level: How long does it take to assemble 24 individuals in camp and assimilate each one back into the team culture? 
USMNT had roughly a four day camp this week ahead of tonight. That's not a long time to get over travel schedules and weekend match fatigue- let alone get back in the rhythm of playing together.  Granted, both teams face a similar timeline.  But the logistics of getting the team together and on the same page in time for kickoff is not to be underestimated.
(Soccernomics has a tremendous chapter on how even top flight European clubs, until recently, would often pay huge transfer fees for top players and basically drop them off in a new city, with new languages, new fans, new culture, and almost no help getting adjusted.  They finally got smart and realized it was worth the relatively tiny cost to basically offer relocation assistance.)
Bring it all back home:
Clearly the questions above are loaded toward our opinion that a player of Boca's leadership caliber SHOULD be in the mix.  Simply put, we think it's worth a spot on a 24-man camp roster for someone who has been through what Boca's been through and done it all with sheer focus and class. To inject that kind of continuity and poise when you're lacking other vets (Howard, Donovan, Cherundolo). If not to start, then to help a young backfield and overall inexperienced roster assimilate to the pressure cooker of the hexagonal...playing a critical game on Friday night in the snow and then flying to the unfriendly confines of Azteca for an impossible Tuesday task.
This is less about questioning the strategy, and more about calling attention to the impressive task of gathering up a team from all over the world and bringing them together for a tremendously important game- a task that requires leadership.
Regardless, we're forecasting, along with the snow, an unexpected explosion of offense from our blazing strikers, and a 3-1 home win that gets this campaign back on track.

 

 

The First Ball

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Since we have a near-obsession with soccer's objet d'art, let's cover the first modern soccer ball.  History has claimed pig bladders, cow hide leather, and even skulls as the first soccer balls, reflecting centuries of sports that sort of resembled soccer.  But the modern soccer ball is generally credited to hard-luck 19th century inventor Charles Goodyear, who used his technique for vulcanizing rubber to form the first footie in 1855. (Yes, he for whom the tire company was named when it launched near the turn of the century.)  The sphere evolved to be inflatable, then stitched, though the general size of Goodyear's was adopted by the English Football Association as the standard in 1872.

World Cup Origins

Today mark's the first of our daily attempts to give you an incredible, socially informative, culturally impactful fact about the game of soccer, each day from now until the launch of World Cup 2014 on June 12 in Brazil.

Have an awesome nugget of soccer culture to share?  Send it to jeff@fcearth.com  It can be about youth, college, club or national soccer...historic perspective, present-day players, coaches, lifestyle, languages or whatever.

 

From 1914-1928, FIFA regarded the Olympic soccer tournament as the world's amateur soccer championship.  But the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles would not feature soccer, so FIFA, under president Jules Rimet of France, decided to host the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, selected as reigning champions from the 1928 Summer Games.  With 13 European and North and South American nations convinced to foot the travel bill to Uruguay, the hosts defeating Argentina 4-2 on July 30, 1930 at Estadio Centenario in in Montevideo.

Sources: multiple.

Relaunch

Much has changed on the pitch since FCearth first attempted to capture soccer as a sporting reflection of global culture and passion, during our quiet launch in 2008.

Gobs of of quality books, blogs, pundits and programs have emerged to offer colorful, comprehensive, data-driven, or anecdotal (and cable-viewable, assuming an away-game) account of the game, at all levels, beyond the final score.

While Spain has achieved total domination at the club and national levels, a Portuguese has emerged as the Edison of international soccer - only to be trumped, usually, by a 25-year-old Argentinian Einstein of the pitch.

One former coach of the US National Team - a Serbian who has taken four other countries (Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria, China) to the World Cup- is an ambassador in Qatar, the tiny, loaded Middle Eastern nation that somehow won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.  The other former US coach is now leading Egypt...and participating in organized demonstrations for peace in that country. 

The next World Cup launches in the explosively-growing Latin American nation of Brazil in 450 days, promising to unite 736 players officially representing 32 nations- but actually born in far more.

In the US, Major League Soccer's attendance and social momentum- owing largely to regional fanatics such as those of you in the Northwest- has sort of come to symbolize soccer's growing influence, or at least stability, and place in the hierarchy of American sports- although you'd never know it by the continuously dim-witted comments of some leaders.

And more importantly, a generation of early adopters who grew up playing on the generous, increasingly well-organized youth soccer fields of America in the 70s and 80s have become commentators, coaches, clinical and youth directors, and parents. Their (our) players and kids consume the sport more vociferously than ever: indoor, at weeknight clinics or tournaments in Texas, clad in Messi replicas or expensive club kits, or simply with a battered ball on the playground or in a barren back alley.

It may be mostly intangible but it is undeniably happening.

--------

Yet in many ways, nothing has changed at all. Soccer still transcends languages, borders and cultures more totally than almost any human activity - at least any that inspires tears of anguish, swells of national/club/neighborhood pride.

Since millions of American youth- on top of hundreds of millions internationally- play and consume the sport, it continues to offer an unbelievable reflection on the confluence of world cultures.  Nowhere else - from the pitches of working class London neighborhoods to the splashy temporary stadia of South African World Cup venues, from the shuttered academies of suburban Cleveland to the thriving ones of Bradenton or Carson- do classes and languages and cultures and lifestyles clash not only to camp and train together, but to compete in the same jersey, whether for the short run of a tournament or the duration of a youth club..

Heavy stuff, especially if you've awoken at 6:30am to watch Premiership matches, now playing on ESPN2?  No problem; give it some time.  We're back to help tell the story of how soccer brings people together. With the World Cup set to launch in just 450 days, we've got plenty of stories to tell.  Stay tuned!

FCearth

Plat Soccer, Change the World.

On-field attitude & a country's culture

 

One of the better-written stories about new USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinnsman's deliberate effort to create an onfield identity for the US Men's National Team that somehow matches the culture of the United States of America, by Brian Straus of AOL Sporting News.

The money quote by Klinnsman:

“One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how a U.S. team should represent its country. What should be the style of play? Is it more proactive and aggressive, a forward-thinking style of play? Or is it more reacting style of play,” Klinsmann asked shortly after his appointment.


My initial thought: isn't it ambitious, or even wacky, to think you can change a national team's style of play to reflect the mentality of a country? Even if you have a year or so to do it, before the games start to (really, really) count again?

The answer: no.  Coaching a national team has some factors - time, friendlies, pools of players that occasionally get together for minicamps and a relatively small number of games per year - and one key mechanism that actually do make this possible.
That mechanism: player selection.  We need to remind ourselves that even in a top 10 global soccer national team, and even more so for a (for now) 2nd tier program like the USMNT, it is not abundantly clear who the XI best players - or even best XI players - are.  So the adage of playing the cards you're dealt is out the window.
With every little choice Klinnsman makes- from dusting off Jose Torres to where you position a Donovan or Dempsey to which U-20 athletes you begin to take chances with - you actually, deliberately forge an identity.  Straus reminds us of this in terms of the 2 best in the team:


The style born from the talents of Donovan and Dempsey indeed reflects a certain American mentality, which Klinsmann (a 13-year resident of Southern California) described as one that “never really waits and sees and leaves it up to other people to decide what is next.”

And with time to enact bigger-picture philosophies- like apparently emphasizing US-Mexican players or evangelizing soccer in, ahem, underrepresented parts of the country (like non-posh suburban locales), Klinnsman can set a tone from the top.
Here's hoping he's around more than one World Cup cycle to see some benefits of his new emphasis float to the top - while somehow NOT sacrificing what is currently the identity of the USMNT, the no-deficit-is-too-large, play-from-behind, scrappy, resilient persona the team took on during the road to South Africa 2010.

Silly Season

Guest Post: Aaron Young

With some of the biggest professional soccer leagues in the world finalizing their squads this week, it got me wondering about how this frentic marketplace effects the average fan and supporter. Let me explain, this is what many English pundits call "silly season." Unlike most American professional sports where trades and salary caps regulate a teams personnel, soccer is dominated by transfer markets, where clubs buy and sell the contracts of a player at what is deemed fair market value for the player's services. Often time the media and fan base can have a large influence on who goes where or the terms of the deal.

This brings me to my point: why do we care? Are we so invested in a sport and their stars that our sole focus throughout the "silly season" is on the market? Do we really become the Wall Street traders of soccer? Yes and no. Fans and supporters do keep a close eye on "commodity trading," but more so the everyday fan and supporter care about the club and the promise for something better. Each year we all believe our club will win it all. Few actually do. Barcelona FC has recently become the exception to the rule having won every title it competes in. The reality is that putting our faith and hopes into clubs is much like the ambition to have a better life we all strive for. And through our obession of following transfers we somehow feel more in control over our own situation. While Americans have the opportunity reflected by the pursuit of the American dream, the rest of the world can see it in their soccer club's push for success; and it's during the transfer season when this becomes most transparent to each of us.

Editor's Note: I believe there is a third-level answer to "Why do we care (about silly season)?" that, as Aaron suggests, goes beyond obsession with our favorite clubs, and fascination with the trading of players as commodities.  The most intrinsic factor that compels us to football transfers might be that there is no cultural parallel for it in any other sport, labor market or maybe even sociology.  The idea, for example, of a 30 year old Cameroonian being sold by a global powerhouse Italian club for a reported 28M Euros to an obscure Russian club that commutes by plane to its own home games from the safer confines of suburban Moscow...it's so culturally mind-boggling that it at least adds a layer of complexity to our annual obsession with the transfer window.

Storytellers: Breakout in Costa Rica

 

Author: Matthew Spitz, Founder & Editor, USFutblog

One of my favorite soccer memories came when I was living in a little Costa Rican town called La Paz. I was staying with a family down there and their 9 year old son wanted to have a soccer pass. So, we walked outside their shanty home to the dirt road street and started to mess around with the ball. Before I knew it our one on one pass turned into a 8 v. 8 street game. Kids just flocked toward the ball; it was really unbelievable. To witness first hand the impact soccer had in brining this miniscule community together was a crazy experience. I never realized the significance the sport could have until that moment. Pure bliss is the only way I can describe it, as time stood still. 

A brief editorial: Grant Wahl and the FIFA Presidency

(Rarely has FCearth made any editorial statements about our sport and its global leadership, but the statements below definitely reflect the views of our company on a day in which Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl officially bowed out of the FIFA presidency race.)


The saddest thing about Grant Wahl's candidacy for FIFA President- recapped here in a great Wahl story about his last 6 weeks of campaigning- isn't that he didn't secure an FA nomination.  Even if he had, he'll readily admit he likely wouldn't have won. 


And it's not that the USSF wouldn't nominate him- even though the United States might've had the best rationale.  I don't know what Sunil Gulati's relationship is with Blatter, but even if most large FAs fear political backlash in nominating an alternative candidate like Wahl, Gulati had the most legitimate basis for nominating Wahl; he could have said:

"He's a passionate American journalist who really has no chance to beat you, Mr. Blatter, so we can make a good faith gesture to a raucous US fan base that has supported Mr. Wahl- after all, we are the country that started this whole "Freedom of the Press" thing- and since you have nothing to hide in how you've manipulated, er, lead FIFA these last 8 years, then you'll actually look like a champ if you applaud USSF's hopeless nomination of its own journalist."

And the saddest thing isn't even the saddest and most conclusive sentence Wahl - after immersing himself in the merciless FIFA political muck for most of two months - wrote this: "...an outside candidate is doomed to fail in the world of FIFA politics, where the old men in the navy suits have all the power."  In other words, even our brilliant and independent scribe didn't find a glimmer of hope.

The saddest thing is UEFA's apparent bloc plan of continuing FIFA's status quo.  According to an unnamed "official from a World Cup-winning FA" that Wahl met with, UEFA President Michel Platini (of France) plans to run for FIFA president in 2015, when Blatter has said he won't seek yet another term.  In the meantime, all 53 European soccer nations- representing the most powerful, collectively wealthy, and best represented FIFA region and a full 25% of ALL FIFA nations- is apparently paralyzed in fear of supporting ANY opposition to Blatter.

Fear. Leaders of soccer nations are utterly afraid of...well, themselves, basically, and would sooner throw away FOUR years (a full World Cup cycle, 2 Gold Cup cycles, a collegiate career, an absolutely critical time period in the era of digital media and political transparency) than do what's right and open up FIFA, saving it from an, abysmal legacy of corruption and secrecy. They would rather bide their time for a chance to continue the tradition of secret ballots, locked documents, mysterious payments and ridiculous leadership than make a change, ensuring that soccer's most powerful and global governing body maintains a laughable disconnect with what actually happens when 22 men or women throw a ball onto a field and play. 

I wish I could convince my favorite college journalism professor Ted Gup, former Washington post investigative report and author of CIA bestseller The Book of Honor, to dive in and report the hell out of what goes on in the clouded world of FIFA.  But more importantly I hope that Grant Wahl doesn't give up and that he, or someone with equal care for the sport, steps up to defeat the long line of stuffy suits that hold this office. 

Organic Invented Fields

Arguably one of the reasons soccer has become the world's game, is it's accessibility. All you need is some space and something roundish, and the game's fluid nature can adapt to your local geography and architecture. We found a beautiful set of photos that.

O Campo is a photography series by Joachim Schmid, concerning irregular Brazilian football fields. These organic invented fields are resulting products of vacant/waste lands together with a rising demand for playgrounds. A pure example of contextual urbanism, where the built existing context is the one who fixes the rules.

As the photographer states: the desire for playing the game has clearly surpassed and ignored the limitations of natural topography and FIFA’s laws.

[all images> joachim schmid photographing brazilian football fields via multicipios brasil]

+ Via Deconcrete

 

Pitch:Africa. A Water Harvesting Initiative

The architects Jane Harrisson and David Turnbull, of New Jersey’s Atopia Research Inc., have found a new solution to Africa’s acute water shortage that also capitalizes on the continent’s latest sporting craze. Two years in the making, Pitch:Africa is a low-cost football (soccer to Americans) stadium that doubles as a rainwater harvesting and distribution system.  A cheery blue, semi-permeable polymer playing field allows rainwater to seep through and pool in cisterns. Considering that parts of Africa receive between three and six feet of rain in one season, this can add up to over a million liters of water a year. The water can then be passed through a ceramic filtration system, to be used for a variety of purposes.Read more....

Will Altitude Be Factor at World Cup?

Brazilian football team Flamengo are playing a South American cup match in Bolivia. Their opponents, Real Potosi, are based in the high Andes and the stadium is nearly 4000 metres above sea level. In lashing rain, Flamengo fall 2-0 behind. Many of their players need bottled oxygen to alleviate the effects of altitude. Though they eventually fight back for a 2-2 draw, Flamengo announce after the game that they will no longer play matches at altitude.

So began football's "high altitude controversy". Flamengo's case was taken up by the Brazilian Football Confederation, which complained to the world governing body FIFA that venues in the high Andes were not suitable for football. In May 2007, FIFA ruled that "in the interests of player health", international matches could no longer be played above 2500 metres.

If Brazil thought that meant victory, they were not reckoning on a comeback by Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, who complained to FIFA that this would put a stop to international matches in their national stadiums. In response, FIFA suspended the ban pending further studies.

Fast-forward to June 2010 and altitude is again an issue in football. The World Cup in South Africa will be the first for 24 years to stage games at venues significantly above sea level. The main stadium, Soccer City in Johannesburg, is at 1701 metres. That's not quite the high Andes, but it is still high enough to have an effect. Six other venues are at altitude (see map). Will it have a bearing on the tournament?

Read more at New Scientist.........

The World Cup, Apps for that

Technology is set to meet soccer at a smartphone intersection when the World Cup begins June 11. This is a leap forward in technology with a clutch of iPhone apps that will enable fans to track games, watch highlights and glean information on players and teams.

Apple’s United States App Store offers a collection of World Cup and soccer-related programs. Nearly all of the apps (some of which also run on the iPad, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Palm, Android and other devices) provide team-by-team analysis, match schedules, background on the stadiums being used for the tournament and a promise to provide real-time scoring updates once the tournament begins.....Read more here