well, if bringing in the old and unwanted of other leagues was never going to increase the competitiveness of the mls, instructing the youth coaches in the dark arts of clairefontaine just might. established by the french football federation in 1988 to instruct promising youth, clairefontaine has produced, or rather assisted the careers, of some of the best footballers in the world. now, the mls has partnered with the fff in order to increase the effectiveness of its own developing academy system.
clairefontaine is just one of several academies in france dedicated to instructing regional youth talent. similar to the usmnt system, it takes promising youth from their parent clubs and runs them through a regimented physical and academic course structure with the hope of improving the talent for national team selection. it seems to have worked and to have worked much better than the usmnt academy process. the list of players to have graduated from the academy is exceptional–thierry henry, william gallas, le sulk, abou diaby, hatem ben arfa, blaise matuidi, mohamed diame…it goes one, but does not include nikolas sarkozy.
clairefontaine places emphasis on instruction beyond the fundamentals of the game. it may seem obvious that players should be able to use both feet, form a tactical awareness, be able to link play quicker and more efficiently, and it is, but the instruction at clairefontaine purportedly enhances those abilities. so the mls is now sending youth academy coaches to learn the secrets of coaching the secrets. this is a great. both mags and i have written quite often on the importance of an academy to a team and the timbers in particular–soon, if we are lucky enough, the team youth academies will phase out the already obsolete 3 month, draft process. a team that is able to identify its own youth prospects and then produce home-grown talent is a team that is going to prosper in this league hamstrung by a miriad of constraints to the roster development.
the timbers have sent academy co-director, mike smith, to participate in the program. during the 8 week course, he will not only enmesh himself in the course work necessary to obtain further coaching badges, but he will also take part in a 2 week observation period at paris saint-germain. but do not expect the results to show quickly, the proposed date for integration of the programs into the mls academy system is july 2014. as it is, growing a truly competitive league is a long process and, i guess, one we should show some patience towards.
while the future does hold some hope for player development, the present has a stark reality. the financial and personnel constraints placed on squad roster movement are about to hit town. we will see the finalized results of those constraints come march 2, when the timbers and every other mls team is required to have culled their squad numbers to 30. currently, the squad looks to be sitting around 33 in number. the likely and obvious candidate to be cut outright is franck songo’o. but that only reduces the numbers to 32. yep, i spent time studying math. some discussion has been out there that given the long-term injuries to both bright dike and brent richards. while both players will sit out a minimum of 6 league games, which means their roster spots can be filled by other players, the fact remains neither have a season ending injury and will eventually return. where are you going with this, sunshine? well, that means the difficulty of player cull will remain when either or both richards and dike return. and that also means 2 more players will need to be removed from the active roster. injuries happen, but you cannot plan roster moves around injuries.
i assume more players than just songo’o will be asked to leave. politely, of course. speculation as to who the other players might be is pretty rife at the moment, but one player whom many of us agree may not see out the week is futty danso. i would hope the team is looking to trade, but for what i have no idea. futty is not getting any younger (he turns 30 in april), and though centerbacks do tend to get better with age, soccernomics instructs us that purchasing players over 30 is a bad move. however, futty does have strengths that might fit a different style of play–he is powerful, strong in the air, he leads, he has scored one or two rather important goals in his career, and he is a dapper danso. let’s face it, the man looks good in a three-piece. aside from his age, the only other problem is his association with the 2012 defense. but even that was not enough to dissuade the new york red bulls, houston, or real salt lake from taking on some of our more notable flops in the back four. but still, that back four! well, if the facepalmer mike chabala can attract attention from two notable managers, i cannot for the life of me think why futty would be unable to garner some. but with the addition of kyle altman at the club as a trialist, one thing is made crystal clear–porter does not trust the residual corp of centerbacks.
as for the other players sitting on the fence, i think one who should be concerned is danny mwanga. not even in the plans for the final pre-season game, mwanga saw his role from the bench usurped by a 34-year old, french international journeyman, who is only on trial at the club. whether frederick piquionne actually makes it onto the roster come march 2 is one thing, but his presence on the pitch on february 23rd was telling.
finally, i think a player who should not receive a place in the squad, regardless of his “international experience,” is the rod wall. yeah, porter gave him the armband last wednesday, but with that honor the rod wall was exposed not as a the “athletic” specimen we were told we should expect when he arrived 2 years ago, but as a machine designed to reduce the amount of effort necessary for the opposition to produce a turn-over. he was as awful as a i remember him being, suggesting that the costa rican football federation has little to no use for the techniques distributed at clairefontaine.
have a great day.