Kyle Martino and the next steps for the U.S. Soccer “change” movement

(This week’s podcast has been snowed out.)

A historical reminder here: Four years after Richard Nixon just demolished George McGovern 520-17 in the electoral vote, the USA elected a Democrat named Jimmy Carter.

 

Granted, the situation had a few unique factors. Nixon threw it all away with Watergate. Carter was a Southern Baptist, making him a little more palatable to conservatives than more modern Democrats. But he had solid progressive credentials and eventually left his denomination for that reason. And the causes of the 60s radicals were certainly not dead.

The point for soccer people? Giving up after the election of Carlos Cordeiro is simply ridiculous.

The Chattanooga summit showed a healthy willingness to innovate, though I still have doubts about the lack of experienced people working with them. Why were so few traditional USASA clubs represented, for one thing?

And now we finally have some extended thoughts — once you battle your way through SI’s obnoxious autoplay video and pop-up ads — from a presidential candidate. Unsurprisingly, it’s Kyle Martino, the “change” candidate who showed more potential than most in bridging the gap between the conservative old guard and the “hey, I just discovered soccer two years ago, and now I know everything — America doesn’t have pro/rel because it’s stupid” contingent.

Martino gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how things went down, including a surprise change of opinion in the youth soccer establishment. But he isn’t griping. He understands why voters broke toward Cordeiro and sees potential in the new president.

And Martino puts the focus back where it really needs to be — youth soccer. He’s jumping into that arena himself, working with Street Soccer USA, where initiatives such as putting futsal goals on basketball courts are a natural fit.

Make no mistake — that’s where the rot lies in U.S. Soccer. It’s astounding to see exponential growth in the amount of soccer on TV and the level of fan interest while the participation level is stagnant or worse. We’re losing recreational players before they can become elite players. And we’re giving elite players a muddled pathway, with the Development Academy and the ECNL playing a giant game of Risk across North America.

U.S. Soccer took a laissez-faire attitude for decades. Then they stepped in with the Development Academy, competing with rather than bolstering programs that had been in place (and developed some damn good players), and a ridiculous birth-year age-group mandate that any veteran of youth soccer could’ve told them was a really bad idea. As Martino points out, these moves alienated and marginalized people who may not have been perfect but had valuable expertise and experience.

Seems like there’s a lesson in all that for the “change” movement as it focuses on the other aspects of change, from promotion/relegation to … promotion/relegation. Yeah, there’s not much else.

Bring the new ideas. Have good honest discussion about them. But don’t marginalize the people who have built things that work. Even the people who’ve built things that didn’t work have experience worth sharing. You learn more from failure than success.

Opportunities are still there. But an “us vs. them” mentality isn’t going to help. Gotta build some bridges if you want to get across the river.

 

 

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