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Quote Sheet: U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna

U.S. Soccer President SUNIL GULATI

“When we started this process of creating a player development task force, we identified three primary areas or broke our primary development plans into three zones, essentially by age. And player development continues to be the core of what we do. By its very nature it’s a long-term process, so it might not be as sexy as announcing a national team game or a coach or winning a game, but it’s actually probably the most important thing we do. We focused very early on the national team, then on the middle part when we introduced the Development Academy, and today’s announcement really addresses, even within that, probably the most important aspect which is long-term player development of young players. How do we give more of our millions of kids playing a better experience and a better path to becoming better players? And as that pool grows, no doubt we get better players out the other end, whether it’s after playing in our club system, professionally or whatever it may be. So it’s really a unique situation for us that we have one of our own in Claudio Reyna, who knows the American set up who very well but has also experienced the European setup, as well as the South American setup, not by playing in South America but by his very growth process and language abilities and so on. So we have a unique opportunity w here he finished his playing career and for the last couple years has been involved in coaching and the educational side of the game in player development. All those things came together and allows us to ask him to serve as our Youth Technical Director. He’ll be focusing early on, on synthesizing and developing a curriculum that would be the equivalent of a national education policy. It is really fitting a lot of what he has learned abroad and what we’ve learned abroad into what we do in the U.S. system and giving people kind of a roadmap, especially coaches. It’s as much a coaching development plan as it is a player development plan. We think those two are linked. We are really very pleased to have Claudio join the group.”

On how the research process that will be undertaken by Reyna will be different from the process that helped introduce the U.S. Soccer Development Academy:
“Two things, one is that we spent a lot of time looking at development programs internationally and synthesizing some of that into our thinking but that was only on part of the age group, that middle group where we now essentially have 3,000 or so elite players. This part of it is broader. It’s looking at the millions of kids playing in what we call Zone 1 in that terminology. A lot of the work that was done before Claudio joined the player development task force is still in place. Independently of that, he’s been doing that himself in the last couple of years, spending a lot of times at clubs around the world. So, a lot of that work is already in place.”

On the response from people involved at the grassroots level:
“From my end, the push-back depends on what it is you’re talking about doing and how you’re talking about implementing it. We’re talking about grassroots stuff which is for the most part the younger age groups and I think coaches in that age group in particular are absolutely hungry for information, better ways to do things, the technology to support those things, so I think the message will be relatively straightforward to get to them and then implementation is a little trickier. I don’t think we’re going to get the push-back that we would get, for example, if we were going into the elite level and jumping in and saying, ‘Listen, I think everybody in MLS or the youth academy teams should be playing a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 or whatever.’ I think we’re going to give people tools and information, and frankly, tools and information coming from a very credible source. It’s pretty hard, when Claudio walks into a room sending the message, to say, ‘Well, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’

On how Reyna’s developing a curriculum:
“The first part of the goal is to have a curriculum that raises the average level, it’s not to take 10-11 year olds and put them into some special place like Bradenton or something like that. It’s to raise the average level across the country, improve the experience and the developmental process so all of those kids get better. As they get better and we identify them, naturally, across the country they’re going to move around to different clubs, but the goal right now isn’t to identify the best 10 year olds and put them into the training environment. That is a process that has to happen at a local level in a country of our size.”

On whether there is a self-imposed deadline to the project:
“I’m not going to judge the entire development plan that we’ve had in place only by the success of the team this summer, but I think we’ve made a lot of strides. Player development is a long-term process and at its heart, Project 2010 was a development plan, and we’ve come a long way in those last 12 years I think. “

On how Reyna’s position might affect the Development Academy and the U-17 Men’s National Team Residency Program:
“It’s not directly what Claudio is going to be focusing on. We’re going to continue with the Residency Program as is for now and reevaluate that every few years. Down the road, it’s something we would perhaps do in a different way, but short term we don’t see Residency changing. In terms of the Development Academy, we’ve seen some small expansion in each of the past few years and at this point we don’t see a much wider expansion either in age groups or in the number of teams. That’s also something we look at and study every year.”

On how he plans to improve the technical aspects of the American game:
“The technical side of the game is extremely important and I think with some of the changes we’ve made we can get people to hopefully take that into account. It’s not the only part of the game, and we’re sensitive to it and have done some things to try to adapt. Frankly, I don’t lose too much sleep about specific cases where this player is missed because that happens everywhere.”

U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director CLAUDIO REYNA

“I really look forward to this new role with U.S. Soccer. Being a player that was born here, in the U.S., went through many different parts of our development system years back, playing abroad and then coming back to the U.S. and now being involved in the youth game, I’ve just been able to get a real experience that has allowed me to view where our game is and assess it throughout the country. So, with all that, as Sunil mentioned, I will be essentially trying to put together a plan and a structure to help better the soccer environment in our country. I think it’s just very clear that we always need to review and assess what we’re doing and that’s happening at the moment as far as also finalizing our curriculum. Mainly, the intention always is focusing on how we improve the game on the coaching side, on the player side and overall covering a large base of kids. It’s from Under-20 to Under-6 so the main focus is definitely going to be on the early years but then we have to develop and analyze what they do there and what they move on to after that. Everything falls into it. The development of players is important and to do that best you need to also have all of our coaches on board and be a part of this and want to continue their education and really start moving some ideas into a direction. I really look forward to this opportunity to start.”

On how the research process that he will undertake will be different from the process that helped introduce the U.S. Soccer Development Academy:
“I think by that all the intentions are to make everything better back here in the U.S., to improve everything domestically and by doing that I think there are some great models of structures out there, there are individual coaches to get feedback from and places to go observe and things to go here, and with all of that it’s really to sort of use that European level and benchmark. That is what we’re trying to bring back here, and South America as well. It’s ‘abroad,’ it’s global, the game is spread out everywhere. What you see is that at the best places you have some great teachers, which are the coaches. That’s an element that’s very important. You have to look at it a few different ways. How are they structured? What do they provide the kids? Outside of just coaching itself, because that’s a key element, but what are the other things they do? And in the research and different studies, I’ve already sat down with U.S. Soccer and looked through all that and there are a lot of things that we’re clear are already there and some of the research and data that we got. It’s all with this idea of bringing all of these ideas, that in many places are similar, might have a slightly different way of doing it, and really with our setup in our country, the U.S., we’re going to have a little bit as this evolves, our own way of doing it. It’s really taking a lot of different ideas and bringing it all back and how it can best fit in to the U.S.”

On the most important aspects of his development in the U.S. and the importance of having a father who was passionate about the sport:
“With my experience, it kind of touches on where we want to help the kids out there and the coaches who don’t have maybe the experience or the basic knowledge, sort of like my dad did, as well as the player who doesn’t have that initial 3, 4, 5, 6-year-old environment where they’re watching it and the dad’s throwing a ball, which you get in some cases in this country more with the immigrant dad. My experience was that I learned a lot of different things that helped me in a lot of ways moving forward to become a professional player, but the whole idea is to provide every player, at the elite level and at the lower level, all the tools to make them a better player, to get them ready for the next level and in some cases, the highest level. So what we want to do is we want to support the kids that just want to play as well as make that environment better. Maybe they aren’t so serious as having a goal to make it to college or MLS or over to Europe, but at the same time we are very aware that we have to try to create a standard of excellence. I think through my experience, I had a great background and when I went over to Europe I still had a lot to learn, which is fine. I’m trying to make as much available to kids, to prepare them so if they go to the highest level, be it MLS or the U.S. National Team, that they’re just better prepared for that next step. I was fortunate with the path that I had, I was exposed to two of our national team coaches at a youth age, with Bob (Bradley) and Bruce (Arena), I had some coaches that were very strict with me, I think that helped me out personally. In many ways, my sort of path in New Jersey, I also had a little bit of luck and we want to try to eliminate that, I guess, and make it more clear for players and prepare them for whatever their level is that they want to aspire to.”

On finishing the curriculum:
"We have short term goals and the main one is to really finish up the curriculum. It's important to finalize [the curriculum] and the next step is obviously getting it out there to coaches. We're still talking about how we're going to do that, where we're going to do that and again there's a lot of information with a team of people we have within U.S. Soccer. We're looking for the best way to get it out there at the right time. We want to make sure it's right and we want to make it available to everyone at every level. We're still ironing out how we do that but the goal is to get the curriculum out there and provide it to everybody."

On improving every age group:
“Part of the job focuses on how we improve every age group. Every age is important and we want to be able to help all of them. This also means helping the coaches: How do they find out information? How can they improve things? We will focus on these things when we meet them in the weeks and months ahead.”

On improving all qualities of young players:
“You want to make everything better. Technically we want to have our players better but the whole package and the whole experience allows players to play at a high level. You can't have technical players who don't understand the game. You need disciplined players who are psychologically strong as well. We want to provide all the different parts of the game to make our youth players better.”

On whether a structured system is best:
“I think if you look now at the best players in the world, whether it’s Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka or whoever, they all have gone through a good club system and have had good coaching and they have learned the game. Messi’s style is part of Barcelona. Individually, he is extremely gifted and that is the trend if you look at the players that Barcelona is producing. They come to the club at 12 or 13 and hone that talent and then fit it into a system. They aren’t just players playing on their own until they’re 16 or 17 and then discovered. I recently traveled to many different academies where the best players are brought into club systems at different ages, but most of the ones who end up being the most successful have been in that structured environment for many years.”

On how Reyna’s findings will help identify elite players:
“I think at the local level it’s important that the kids, at their age, aren’t traveling too much. It’s part of making everything better. It’s important to really work at that young age group and make that part of it better. At the next level, the 13-18 zone, however these players are developed, when they make the step to better teams that environment needs to be significantly better for that player to carry on. At every level we’re trying to improve so the kids are raising the standards of the quality of coaching at any age.”

On what part his South American heritage has played in his career:
“The South Americans offer a lot of different strengths, as they do in Europe and we want to pick some of the things they do well. Some things, for obvious reasons, our country is socioeconomically a little different from countries there. Our focus is implementing something that fits into the structure that exists now, and not just trying to move something from somewhere else over to the U.S. because that’s not possible. The focus is to make our coaches, our players and our environment in the U.S. better.”