Our Biggest Struggle

This is a MUST READ on the single biggest issue in youth player development in our country.

I’ve posted about this many times from different perspectives – for example here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I made some edits to the original post for brevity and highlighted key sentences in blue below.

The American struggle – why US Soccer can not consistently produce a #10

TheAwayEndFooty.com, @theawayendfooty – Jan 26, 2016

Why does the US fail to produce many true #10 attacking midfielders who excel at the highest levels of the game?

First let’s describe characteristics of a #10, a position described as the playmaker, the orchestrator, or the maestro of the team. The player on the pitch that holds the key to unlocking the opposing defense.

The player given this role usually roams behind the #9 striker, but is given freedom to play in the wide areas and in behind the opposing defense in search of the ball if necessary.

Sometimes, in the case of players like Modric, Xavi Alonso, or Mousa Dembele, these players are put deeper in the midfield as the #8, to maximize the attacking threat for teams with a wealth of attacking options.

Here are some famous #10s:

The job of the #10 is to score goals, assist, and orchestrate goal scoring opportunities for teammates, while helping as much as they can defensively in the midfield.

This role requires a high level of technical ability, incredible comfort with the ball in tight areas, a creative view of the game, a willingness to attack at a high pace, and the ability to distribute the ball with precision.

The role is usually given to the best ball player on the team, and is extremely important to the offensive success of any team playing any variation of 4-3-3.

The US was somewhat successful asking Clint Dempsey to fulfill this role for the national team. The former Tottenham front man was employed behind Jozy Altidore in the build up to the last World Cup and the Texas native excelled as the Yanks #10.

Dempsey has a tremendous ability on the ball, he is creative when he dribbles, is able to take players 1 v 1. In my opinion Dempsey was as close as we have come to having a true #10 for our national team.

Which brings up the question, why is it so tough to find players with these abilities, and what made Dempsey such a good option during his prime?

Dempsey grew up playing with Latinos in street matches in Texas, an influence you still see in his game to this day. Every time Deuce gets the ball he looks to humiliate the opposing defender, almost as if he is fighting for the attention of the neighborhood onlookers.

In these pickup games, where a goal may win you the match meaning you live to play again, it is not hard to see that Dempsey thrives to be the player who bags the winner for his group of friends. Sending whatever collection of villains on the other side of the dirt pitch to the sideline.

Dempsey brought the street foundation and view of the game to the college and professional level, and excelled, learning how to apply this attitude and craft in the professional setting.

So what characteristics are needed from a young player in order to transform into a #10?

The foundation of this position is developed at a very young age, and is a technical foundation of the game. A future #10 needs to excel at dribbling. Not only the action, but the concept, of dribbling the ball at defenders, humiliating and beating them with their individual skill.

Players should look to play in environments where dribbling, self expression, and creative ability on the ball is promoted before passing until they are around the age of 10-12 where they can start to be introduced to the team aspect of the game.

An aspiring #10 needs to then develop his ability to pass and play through defenses as defenders become more skilled and physical in the teenage years. In this stage of a player’s development success through passing should be demonstrated, but the player should still strive to increase his or her skill set on the ball.