Off-The-Cuff Scratch Work: National Team Coaching Ideas…

Feels good to just chuck up “a post” with a little less production work…almost like an email…

My coaching or “direction” experience is extremely limited. Captained a few teams growing up, coached and captained a few ultimate frisbee teams (if you want to talk about a sport that’s just scratching the service of tactical nous, well that’s it) and recently captain our men’s league team.

Yet, when I take a look out there I want to suggest–not mandate–some things that could improve the way teams manage their players, staff, etc.

Note these suggestions have probably:  (1) already been considered and ruled out or (2) there’s a good reason (or FiFA regulation) why it’s not occurring already.

Upstairs guys...whether you're playing or not.

(1) All subs sit upstairs until they’re called upon

Yes, I get it. Keeping a sub down on the field level keeps their head in the game, keeps them rooting for their fellow countrymen in this case, and has them immediately close to be called upon when needed.

But, first, there are only three subs a game in most matches, so that means four players won’t get in and one will likely be the keeper (we’ll get back to that.)

Put them up in a skybox area with a coach.

First, they’ll get a better understanding of what the coach’s strategy is and whether their compatriots are executing it.

Secondly, they’ll learn what precisely they’re supposed, how they’re supposed to do whatever if they go in.

Beyond the match day, they’ll be able to share things with their teammates in practice that they’ve learned–specifically the keeper–and it will be an overall educational experience.

If you’re like us at TSG, looking at X’s and O’s on a graphic or looking at Tuesday’s photos from Turkey, tell a much better story of what’s occurring.

(2) Play friendlies in a climate or environment similar to the opponent’s home environment.

While it may not go down, I love the idea of the US playing in Egypt against Egypt. Mental toughness to focus on the game when the elements, human and non-human are not with you.

This past Fall’s Colombia game–I would have put that in Florida if at all possible.

Let the other team be as comfortable as possible, not as uncomfortable.

I do understand–and we wrote about it–that there are many challenges to playing a friendly. But games in the opponent’s environment– what about Trinidad & Tobago in Florida as well or Sweden in Boston–increase the opponent’s comfort level which should make them better.

(3) The national team coach sets the formation and player positioning throughout the organization–with some disclaimers.

Now this prescription might come for a USMNT technical director.

But is it odd that Brek Shea played forward on the U-20’s and now plays winger on the USMNT in his trials thus far.

I’m sure Bob Bradley meeting with Thomas Rongen and Wilmer Cabrera (great coach) all the time, but it should be a top down farm-system approach rather than a win at each step in the system plan, in my mind.

Yes, some well-roundedness might suffer, but take Spain for example…where Pique and Puyol have been playing on the backline since they were running around in Butragueño underoos.

McBride, mentor...

(4) Bring veterans into camp

One of things I loved about Piotr Nowak’s Olympic team in 2008 was his calling in of Brian McBrdie. You don’t conjure up that type of leadership or calmness, especially with a group of youngsters.

One thing I never understand is why a veteran–ideally one who has tens of caps, competed on the world’s biggest stage and has just grown a smidgen to old for international duty–isn’t called in to camp to show the younger players the way, educate them on the game and provide an example.

Sticking the McBride metaphor, wouldn’t Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo or Robbie Findley have benefited if he were to take the trip with them to South Africa. More specifically to Bunbury or Agudelo, are they really going to learn more in camp from a veteran in Robbie or one in Brian McBride.

What about Tony Sanneh or Eddie Lewis teaching the leftbacks, Gregg Berhalter, the centerbacks or Pablo Mastroeni educating …someone.

You can’t replace experience, but you can learn from it.

(5) Get an app, social network for that… 

Seriously why not? Especially for a national team.

One of the biggest issues for the national team is the lack of reps together as a team.

Why not have personalized application–mobile or otherwise–that allows Bob Bradley and crew to share training notes before a player gets into camp.  Or allows players to ask questions in an open forum.

Or throw in video and scouting reports on opponents ahead of time–might have been help for say Tim Ream against Panama’s Blas Perez.


Anyway, just some scratch work ideas here. Add yours.

30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2011/07/05 at 9:36 PM

    I’m sure I can come up with actual positive ideas later, but I did have these quibbles of yours:

    Idea 1): I’m not exactly sure what you mean–do you mean keeping three players on-field (your intended subs) and four up in the skybox? That presents a few different problems: if your intended subs aren’t pre-set, for one. (e.g. against Mexico, Bradley might have brought in Edu had the US held its lead into the 60th minute); the other problem, of course, is that you’re signaling to the opposing coach whom you intend to sub. Hard to do a tricky sub in that instance.

    Idea 3): Ah, a variation of the Bill Parcellsian “If you expect me to cook the meal, why can’t I buy the groceries?” Well, the problem in this instance is if you have a bad cook, he might go and buy bad groceries. And if you fire your bad cook and replace him with a four-star chef, suddenly he’s stuck with bad groceries. That’s the first problem.

    The second problem is that it expects our cook/grocery buyer to anticipate the cooking needs of someone years in the future. Even if it’s the same person, that same person might have changed tastes, or fashions might be different (Latin food out, Asian fusion in, say…), and so those groceries you bought three years ago are useless! The analogy kind of falls apart here, so I’ll just keep it concrete: you want to raise players such that they’re skilled and smart and can thereby adapt to any formation or position, within reason. Spain both nationally and for their clubs primarily play 4-2-3-1, but they shift when necessary, and they’re able to do that because they’re so intelligent and skilled. The goal of youth soccer should be to encourage that through whatever means necessary (for example, I suspect 4-3-3 is the very best youth soccer formation…whereas you’d have to be an agnostic at the senior level.)


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/05 at 9:37 PM

      btw Rongen used to do that all the time–had Tab Ramos, Jaime Moreno, Dave van den Bergh, etc., in his u-20 camps/tourneys pretty much constantly.


      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/07/06 at 8:35 AM

        i think back to a couple years ago and maybe it was the u20s or the u17s, but we were playing italy and italy had zola as an assistant, the usa had josh gros.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/07/05 at 9:49 PM

      Just once DTH, just once, try not to play the contrarian. :>


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/07/05 at 9:51 PM

      On your first point, you keep all of the subs up in the box. Only 3 have to go down anyway.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/06 at 11:38 AM

        It should be compulsory for youth team players to attend first team games. But have each player have a mentor to watch the game with and comment throughout. For example, when Cherundolo retires, have him sit with all the RBs in the youth set-up to analyse the current RB’s performance, and general defensive awareness issues. It is likely that the first teamer would have been well briefed by the denfensive coach, and watching DVDs etc, but I think it is great to tap into his vast knowledge and experience.

        The USSF must also strong encourage senior / retired pros to take their coaching badges too.


  2. on # 1
    I know Agudelo is fast….but how fast could Agudelo have gotten out of his cush seat in the press box, run down the hall, press an elevator button, nervously wait in said elevator and then run to the sidelines and come in for an injured Jozy Altidore? If they follow him with a video camera like a heavyweight fighter coming to the ring…then what an entrance, otherwise not sure.

    Do you play with 10 for a few minutes, in a crucial situation, if the ref forces a player onto the sidelines? What about a situation where a player should be rested if minorly injured (ala Heather O’Reilly last match)?

    on # 2: all for that, when reasonable. Future matchups:
    Russia = Alaska
    Switzerland = Colorado or Utah
    Japan = Seattle
    Australia = So Cal
    Any Saharan country = Vegas Baby!
    Germany = Wisconsin (even if we lose by 5 at least we have cheese and beer to drown our sorrows)

    #3 hard to say there isn’t some evolution to player’s positioning as they age, but understand where you are coming from. Ultimately youth coaches getting the best talent out there even in different positions may help individual players get noticed, make a good club as well as gain experience.

    #4: Yes

    #5: “Hey Stuart. Me and some of the boys are going down to the pub. You in mate?” “Sorry can’t I have homework from our national team coach.”

    Actually like the idea a lot, maybe they already are doing it?
    This is an intriguing idea as long as Bob Bradley doesn’t get the idea to do fundamentals 101 podcasts. No player will honestly watch as he repeats “we have to do it in a smart way” or “its all about keeping him from getting behind you.” However, would love to see the podcast “How to really say nothing of substance while answering media questions.”
    Also have to make sure that Bornstein watches the tactical videos like 6 times.


  3. Posted by Josh on 2011/07/05 at 11:37 PM

    1. Develop a philosophy. Teach it up and down the system. Ingrain it into the football culture. Make it so little kids demand to play “American” style soccer. Spain, brazil, England, Mexico all have a style, something that helps acclimate players who won’t get that many reps together.

    2. More friendlies. Play the b team against any body who wants it. Jamaica wants a shot at the usmnt? We’re going to Jamaica! Let the youngsters cap, let the marginal players get some face time. From an organizational stand point keeping the soccer drum beating in the us is a good goal.

    3. Put a premium on mls players. Dempsey? He gets a pass, but everybody else gets a second look if they play domestically. Raising the quality of play in the us league will provide tremendous long term benefits for usmnt. It’ll hurt but in the long run it’ll be worth it.


  4. Posted by Braden Lang on 2011/07/05 at 11:51 PM

    Congrats, you’re now a marked man in Catalonia. Piqué and Puyol idolizing the consumate Madridista in their youths? That’s kind of like suggesting Yad Vashem add pork brats in the museum cafeteria. :p


    • Posted by Braden Lang on 2011/07/05 at 11:53 PM

      Btw, loved the article. Completely agree with all points but especially like the idea of keeping veterens with the team. If you have no need to play them, couldn’t you also just have them on as short term coaches/training partners?


  5. Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/06 at 2:11 AM

    How about having a base formation and playing it at every level? I understand the need to adjust tactically from game to game but it seems to me that at the senior level the US has started a game in 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1, 4-2-2-2, 4-6-0. At the youth level it appears that the US plays 4-3-3 (not even listed above). Even within one formation it plays wildly differently based on who the personnel is (Spector at RB versus Dolo for example) or who the opponent is (bunker 4-2-2-2 versus Argentina in comparison to a more aggressive 4-4-2 versus Paraguay). As it is the USMNT doesn’t get a ton of time together so it might be nice to know that this is the role a CDM and this is where you can expect a F to be on a counter (not to be predictable but to build up some sort of ability to anticipate and heaven forbid move the ball quickly).


  6. 1) It’s a good idea, but wouldn’t you rather hear what a player on the pitch is doing right or wrong from the head coach not an assistant?

    2) It’s a good idea, but will probably sacrifice winning.

    3) This is a great idea, I think it needs to even be pushed to the MLS teams. If they’re not playing in the top quality leagues, being experts in the system will help them transition better, like a veteran in any sport that maybe has lost a step but always knows where to be. Loo at the Dutch domestic league, all those teams play 4-3-3 because thats what the national team plays.

    4) Also a good idea, and I’m pretty sure it is already done, just not publicized.

    5) Not sure what can be done as far as this; the US team seems to change their formation to matchup with other teams, instead of forcing other teams to change to matchup with them. Perhaps if bradley stuck to a system (going back to point #3), players would fit in better. I know the conditioning coach pretty much keeps track of every step the national team guys take during a world cup cycle and each player has a personal fitness plan that is constantly changing.


  7. Posted by EFG on 2011/07/06 at 5:56 AM

    Doesn’t USSF already schedule friendlies around opponent’s comfort zone? Poland in Chicago, Mexico in Texas/California, Japan/China in San Francisco, etc.?


    • Posted by mike on 2011/07/06 at 1:57 PM

      No that’s because there are tons of people from those countries in the cities you mentioned. The article is talking more about a weather perspective, though fan “help” can’t be underestimated either.


  8. Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/07/06 at 7:09 AM

    If I were national team coach I would be emailing players every day with highlights of games that I liked how particular players moved or teams played together.

    Better yet, I would have a blog that players all could track and I would be posting to show players how we are planning for upcoming events. Letting players comment on everything. Also updating on a week’s top plays by players in the pool. That kinda let’s everyone see how everyone else is playing and keeps people modivated. The big thing would be enhanced communication.

    One example would be to post a video of Adu in turkey playing really well with some commentary on what I liked about it. Also have a section for player comments and questions. That way they can encourage him or ask about anything else I saw and liked.


    • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/07/06 at 11:14 AM

      Also, the national team could offer free medical/training camps during the off season to whoever is in the player pool. Some of the younger players or mls players may not have access to top notch training facilities during the offseason or between contracts. The national team could make sure everyone stays in peak fitness and gets treatment for any injuries. Also this would be a great opportunity to for coaches to observe players one on one. It could be similar to what is going on now with the youth acadmies but for all ages. Example would be when a player gets dropped by a team and is searching for a new place to play they would have somewhere to come workout, but the National Team would also get to interact with them and coach a bit too.


  9. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/07/06 at 7:38 AM

    i never liked mcbride going to china. that slot could haver gone to a player that was twenty something and in need of a good run. that forward spot would have been perfect for eddie johnson and it might have given him a boost of confidence. mcbride brought such leadership that one of our young players made a stupid play against nigeria. of course nigerias over aged player was one peter odemwinge.


  10. Other suggestion:

    When selecting assistant coaches the head coach should try to avoid picking “his guys”. He/she should pursue the most tactically sound other coaches out there (who will accept the job) and the most experienced ex-players at various positions that have good teaching acumen. Familiarity and camaraderie are nice, but not at the expense of high quality coaches. Not an indictment any any current or past choices just seems to happen in all sports commonly. Obviously easier to go with who you know. This is similar to the bringing veterans in above.


    • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/07/06 at 11:06 AM

      This is a good idea. Similar to the NFL when a head coach brings in top assistants from other jobs. A good head coach can control big time assistants and make the team better. Not sure how much it directly translates to soccer, but could help.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/07/06 at 2:29 PM

      Great point here and I think one that some coaches pursue but most do not. (In any sport.)


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/07/06 at 2:42 PM

      Wasn’t this something that Klinsmann was pushing for as part of the control he wanted over the team only to be rebuffed when he actually wanted what he was verbally promised put in writing? I don’t think US Soccer was even willing to allow him this option. Not sure that Bob has the pull to get a lot of top level assistants at this point. The last guy that would qualify for that would be Nowak who clearly was responsible for the US ability to focus in the first 15 minutes of a game.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/07/06 at 4:20 PM

        I’m not sure that was a point of discussion.

        In Klinsmann’s case, though, he’s a pure “his guy” hirer for assistant coach positions. Sometimes it works (Jogi Loew) and sometimes it doesn’t (Martin Vazquez.)


        • Posted by Jared on 2011/07/06 at 5:37 PM

          My point was just that we are a long way from getting to the point where the US would allow coaches to bring in top notch assistants. Also, I think there is a big difference between Jogi Low, Martin Vazquez and Jesse Marsch. Marsch wasn’t a coach at any level before being named to Bob’s staff.


          • Posted by dth on 2011/07/06 at 6:36 PM

            Define top-level? For me, Nowak was a very high-level choice as assistant in Bob Term I–how many national teams have a coach who’s won a domestic league (with one of the better teams ever in that league) on staff? Can’t be too many.

            Bob Term II doesn’t have a similarly high-level coach, and I think a staff shuffle would have been warranted post-World Cup to get some fresh perspective.


  11. Posted by Dune Man on 2011/07/06 at 12:43 PM

    The team needs more time together to gel, get seen by coaches, learn on their own, and learn about the other players. Its hard to get the full A team together around clubs and as spread out as we are and maybe you dont always want some of the A team guys getting pulled into USMNT practices or “lesser” games.

    What if we could get say an U-24 team or more of a youthful B team. You could have one in the US and one in Europe for example. This would allow you some flexibility to play around local league play and cut down on travel (except for maybe the coaching staff of course). So, doing some MLS breaks or season you could call in those people in the US and Mexico who dont always have much USMNT playing time. You could have more established players like LD, ex-players, or more established players come into camp if they like, but maybe more as player coaches helping those in similar positions to learn and grow. The focus is on guys trying to show they deserve a spot on the A team. They get sometime to just be with the other players and learn in classroom and drill and end with maybe a game against an MLS reserve, NASAL, college, etc (or even head down to Mexico or Brazil and play some club there). Yes this would not be some top level FIFA match….but the goal is more about the camp and training time with a game setting at the end for our B/C guys to be seen in a truer team setting.

    You take the same approach in Europe. We are not Spain where our guys have grown up in tight development programs for a club or play on a few clubs in that country or in a short distance from each other….so we can get some time for the overseas folks as well without needing to make them come back to the US for their chance. You bring in the guys all doing well in Germany teams right now and spread out in Norway, etc and get them into camp together. You dont need Jones to play in this approach. You could have MB and Chandler come into camp to play and train even if you dont put them in the end of camp game or have Dolo and Duece show up for the player-coach role. Again, its about getting the newer guys time together, learning from each other, getting seen and again end with a match against a Europe based team, reserve team, etc.

    The goal is less about just finding time in a big FIFA match and more about finding ways to get the team together in a development and learning environment first and game situation second. You know you cant always get your A-team together (cost, club issues, energy levels, injury risk , pay (not sure how that factors in)…and you dont need to. We do what we do with big FIFA dates (but can maybe focus now more on winning those then always using them just as player tests since we would have more time trying out players in these 2 camps)…but this is just about focusing more on finding our next A-team class and growing our depth some.


  12. In the end though, our biggest problem right now is individual skill is not high enough. How many times do we mis-strike a ball in the box, or our first touch continues to let a player down, or an inability to dribble at opponents. More than anything else it would be nice to see every level of youth soccer, especially below the U-14 level, constantly work on basic ballhandling skills and soccer techniques. Until that happens any tactical knowledge a player has or ideas a coach has for a formation aren’t going to be successful beyond a certain point. Tactics don’t matter if players don’t have the skill to play soccer


    • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/06 at 7:31 PM

      Unfortunately this is something that I am not sure can happen without time. At the earliest levels soccer teams are too often coached by parents who never played soccer. As more and more 6 year olds learn soccer from people that played in high school and college become the coach those kids will learn skills earlier which will give them the ability to increase their individual skill.

      I will ignore the whole need to get away from the whole pay for play ultra competitive travel teams and more into a team academy as that has been covered ad nausem.


  13. I’m too lazy to develop my own innovations right now so I’ll just comment on the author’s:
    Point 1) As someone mentioned above, getting down to the pitch may take too long in key moments. I also think it’s important to be near the action to get a feel for the speed of play and game intensity. I think they should copy the NFL though and have an assistant in a sky box taking tactical photos to share with the bench players, maybe via iPad or something similar. Not sure if FIFA allows this but it could be implemented in friendlies.
    Point 3) I don’t think it’s vital that a player take the same spot in U20 as they do for the men’s team but I do think it’s important that the same system is played. Sometimes lining up in different spots benefits the player, giving them new perspective on the game, system and other roles. I agree that the USMNT needs to develop an attractive style of play and drill it into the youth system.
    Point 4) Good idea but those that have retired altogether or from international play have done so largely because they don’t want to (or can’t) continue with the travel. I doubt Cherundolo would enjoy using vacation time to mentor Lichaj rather than hanging with his family. It may be easier with a fully retired veteran to travel and mentor but that’s the role of the coaching staff, no? I’ve always wondered if camp invites were an arbitrary number. I’d like to see more the the typical 23 brought in. I thought we should have had about 30 in the most recent camp.
    Point 5) I believe that Bradley sends tactical DVDs to players. I seem to remember that Jones, Chandler or Holden once mentioned receiving and viewing one. Good idea, regardless.


    • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/10 at 7:59 AM

      “Point 3) I don’t think it’s vital that a player take the same spot in U20 as they do for the men’s team but I do think it’s important that the same system is played. Sometimes lining up in different spots benefits the player, giving them new perspective on the game, system and other roles. I agree that the USMNT needs to develop an attractive style of play and drill it into the youth system.”

      Good point. I heard a Dutch coach say what is most important with young players is to get them to have a lot of fun playing the game and get them interested in wanting to better their skills with the ball and in things like beating a man. Once that was done you can get them to worry about he niceties of positioning and tactics.

      What you want to develop are skills and knowledge so that young players can play anywhere on the field, which is one of he concepts behind total football. Pele, George, Best, Wayne Rooney, Cruyff could probably have played any position on the field as well or better than the incumbent. Rooney and Pele love/loved to play keeper.


  14. Posted by Martin on 2011/07/10 at 7:48 AM

    “Or throw in video and scouting reports on opponents ahead of time–might have been help for say Tim Ream against Panama’s Blas Perez.”

    I find it hard to believe the USMNT didn’t already know more about Perez and Panama than any of us did.

    After all, they did dig up that Starikov kid who plays for Tom Hanks and they did find Bedoya at Orebro. I’m, pretty sure the vast majority of you had never heard of Orebro before Bedoya came to light. And they did keep up enough on Adu to take a very big chance on him coming good. You were all ready to crucify him even more than standard issue had Freddy not turned out so good. I was surprised but I figured a guy like Bradley wouldn’t take a crazy chance like that without a good reason.

    The point is you would not be posting your suggestions if their focus were the Dallas Mavericks, the Green Bay Packers or the Yankees.


    All pro sports teams (and lots of the Ohio States of the world, though one could argue they are a pro franchise) like to keep how they do business more or less secret but there is so much interest in the aforementioned teams that we can, if we wish, all have a pretty good idea of what is going on with them. But media interest in the USMNT is low and intermittent.

    Do we even have any full-time reporters who do soccer exclusively year round like Peter Gammons does baseball, for example?

    The other thing is those teams do well and when you do well most people do not care how you got there.

    The USMNT has the double whammy of underachieving (at least as far as most of you seem to be concerned, I view them as overachievers) and having a non–charismatic manager.

    Whether the lack of substantive information on the whys and wherefores of the USMNT decision-making is a Bradley thing or a general company policy of the USSSF, I don’t know. I do know that Bradley rarely, if ever explains anything other than in coach speak.

    That usually results in people developing explanations of their own, some sensible, others not so much.

    I’ve followed UK football even longer than I have the USMNT and the commonly accepted explanation, so common that is has been gospel is that Scholes retired from the England team because he was played out of position and was disenchanted with the management.

    Since this article quotes Scholes directly I have to believe the common wisdom turns out to be a lot of wishful thinking. And it points out that maybe Hoddle,Sven and even Capello were not the buffoons and idiots the media and the England fans seem to think they are. And that maybe the (some) England players are the jerks everyone thought they were.

    So maybe, while he may not like to wear suits (an enormous sore point with US “fans”, maybe he’s actually proud to wear a something with “US” on it, or maybe he’s just a casual guy) or explain his actions, Bradley actually knows how to cross a street without killing himself.

    Bradley would be a lot better off explaining his actions, even at the risk of hurting Landon’s feelings (oh well, already did that), in a more substantive way. Wouldn’t you like to hear him say:

    “ Ask Marcus Hanhnemann (his teammate at Reading) about what a clubhouse cancer Convey is”
    “ If Davies wasn’t such a talent I’d never let that self absorbed, immature jerk near any of my teams again.”
    “ You wish you could wear track suits to work”


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