The soccer body type

singaporesoxfan

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So a common refrain throughout the World Cup was that the US men's national team can't be great, because the best athletes in the US play American football or baseball or other more lucrative sports.
 
Here's a naive set of questions in response: how fungible are athletes really in terms of body types? It strikes me that looking at the 5' 7" Messi and the 5' 8" Xavi that these aren't people who would have excelled in American sports even if they had been born in the USA. Two of the all-time greats - Pele and Maradona - were also not very tall. Maybe these people might have become Pedroia-like baseball players, but Pedroia seems much more an outlier in height among baseball players than Messi is among soccer ones. The Danny Woodheads of the NFL also seem ridiculously wee in a way that doesn't apply to soccer. Might a low center of gravity benefit soccer players? What happens to short but athletic types in America growing up?
 
 

soxfan121

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singaporesoxfan said:
What happens to short but athletic types in America growing up?
 
The USA would never ever lose another international basketball tournament if there was a height limit of 5'11". There are some seriously talented and athletic dudes who never got a look in the NBA because they can't Spud Webb dunk and they aren't tall enough to ride a rollercoaster.
 

Cellar-Door

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singaporesoxfan said:
So a common refrain throughout the World Cup was that the US men's national team can't be great, because the best athletes in the US play American football or baseball or other more lucrative sports.
 
Here's a naive set of questions in response: how fungible are athletes really in terms of body types? It strikes me that looking at the 5' 7" Messi and the 5' 8" Xavi that these aren't people who would have excelled in American sports even if they had been born in the USA. Two of the all-time greats - Pele and Maradona - were also not very tall. Maybe these people might have become Pedroia-like baseball players, but Pedroia seems much more an outlier in height among baseball players than Messi is among soccer ones. The Danny Woodheads of the NFL also seem ridiculously wee in a way that doesn't apply to soccer. Might a low center of gravity benefit soccer players? What happens to short but athletic types in America growing up?
 
 
Usually one of 3 things:
1. They play football or basketball or baseball at a high enough level to get a college scholarship, then get a "real job"
2. They don't have the grades for college eligibility and live the normal life of a high school graduate.
3. They play soccer, go to college and end up in MLS or abroad as part of the USMNT setup.
 
Edit- the Woodhead types in the NFL look small because of the other players Woodhead outweighs Xavi by 50lbs at the same height because the NFL rewards big muscle building  over the leaner endurance type of body an elite soccer player has. The number of soccer players over 200lbs (Woodhead's weight) is small, even somone like Pique who is 6'4" is 190lbs.
 

Infield Infidel

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There really is no one soccer body type. Per Mertesacker is 6'6" 198. I can't remember his name but there was a guy on Toronto FC who was 5'3"
 
I don't think it's necessarily about getting the best athletes. It's about enlarging the pool of potential soccer players. The more people playing the more athletes are in play (no pun intended), the more people with transferable traits like vision, awareness, stamina, etc, get into the sport. 
 
Unfortunately, in America, soccer has a perception as a sport with a high level of economic entry, whereas it isn't in other countries. It's much the same way that a promising student from a poor background doesn't apply to "expensive" universities because he sees the sticker price, not knowing that 90% of people don't pay the sticker price. There has to be more grassroots outreach, kids need to know that there are opportunities out there for soccer players, that there are probably hundreds of thousands of people paid to play soccer. 
 
I'd put having more athletes after technical ability and tactical sense in the areas that need growth, probably 40/40/20
 

Titans Bastard

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Infield Infidel said:
There really is no one soccer body type. Per Mertesacker is 6'6" 198. I can't remember his name but there was a guy on Toronto FC who was 5'3"
 
I don't think it's necessarily about getting the best athletes. It's about enlarging the pool of potential soccer players. The more people playing the more athletes are in play (no pun intended), the more people with transferable traits like vision, awareness, stamina, etc, get into the sport. 
 
Unfortunately, in America, soccer has a perception as a sport with a high level of economic entry, whereas it isn't in other countries. It's much the same way that a promising student from a poor background doesn't apply to "expensive" schools because he sees the sticker price, not knowing that 90% of people don't pay the sticker price. 
 
I'd put having more athletes after technical ability and tactical sense in the areas that need growth, probably 40/40/20
 

 
You are thinking of Joao Plata, who plays for Salt Lake now.
 
 
The common refrain that the US soccer can't be good because it doesn't have good athletes is complete horseshit, although there's nothing wrong with enlarging the pool.  We have plenty of good enough athletes as it is, if only our youth coaching were better but that's another story.
 
The original poster's question is still an interesting one.  I agree with his suggestion that a low center of gravity is important.  Quickness and lateral mobility are extremely important in this sport and the taller you get the less likely you are to have those attributes.  There will always be big lumbering 6'6" types, but they are limited to central defender, target forward, and the occasional GK.
 
I think there are enough roles on the soccer field that the sport accommodates a pretty wide variety of body types though.
 

IdiotKicker

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The reason that e US isn't good at soccer isn't because of our athletes. We routinely put out some of the best goalies in the world who excel because of their athleticism. American soccer is also known internationally for being incredibly athletic and more physically-oriented than other countries. Where we falter is in our teaching of the game, in that we place a priority on training the best athletes, rather than players with great skill and creativity. An ideal team is a balance of these, and we need coaches to beef up the focus on the two missing elements.
 

Kliq

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Building on what Cellar-Door said, I think it needs to start at a much younger level. There are plenty of athletes like Danny Woodhead, but they just never got their chance to shine on a professional level. Plenty of talented under-sized guys have the ability to play soccer, but they are so committed to football and other sports that they don't really care about soccer. It's not like you have a 5'6", 200lb D2 RB who has a great career, then once the NFL doesn't knock on the door, they can suddenly just go "Well, time to start my soccer career at age 23." Because of the youth that is involved in soccer, the only way things are going to change is that soccer is popular with younger kids, and hopefully that creates an interest. If the public becomes more enthralled with soccer, than the chances increase because kids will understand that they can get just as famous playing soccer as they can by playing football or basketball.
 
We still have a long way to go. I graduated from Waltham High School in 2012. The best athlete in our class was a kid named Nathan. Nathan got a lot of publicity because he won the New England Regional 200 meters and went onto to Nationals were I believe he finished 14th. I talked to a lot of adults about this, and how impressive he was. What most people asked me was if he played football? I said no, that he played soccer instead (he was an immigrant from Haiti, which might explain why he chose soccer). Most peoples reacted with a frown and asked what he was doing playing soccer instead of football for Waltham. It didn't matter that Nathan was one of the best sweepers in the state, most people felt like it was kind of a waste to have such a good athlete playing soccer instead of football or some other more tangible sport. Waltham isn't necessarily a football powerhouse, but I think it might be indicative of how most people view soccer right now.
 

phrenile

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Titans Bastard said:
The original poster's question is still an interesting one.  I agree with his suggestion that a low center of gravity is important.  Quickness and lateral mobility are extremely important in this sport and the taller you get the less likely you are to have those attributes.  There will always be big lumbering 6'6" types, but they are limited to central defender, target forward, and the occasional GK.
Quickness and lateral mobility are important, but so is simple long-distance endurance. The average player covers more than a quarter marathon each match. It's little wonder he's built more like a marathon runner (where extra height and mass are an encumbrance) than like the guys doing basketball, swimming, or rowing.
 

Dummy Hoy

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I always thought Iverson could have been an amazing soccer player if that has been his focus- super fast, very agile, great reflexes, pretty good athletic intelligence.
 

DannyDarwinism

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Dummy Hoy said:
I always thought Iverson could have been an amazing soccer player if that has been his focus- super fast, very agile, great reflexes, pretty good athletic intelligence.
 
Same here.  Body-wise, he reminds me of a bigger, stronger, faster Neymar.
 

Infield Infidel

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This got me thinking. Iverson played football in high school. So another thing to think about is, in the US, multi-sport athletes are common all the way into college, and very common in high school. Fairly often, someone will switch from baseball or basketball in college to football and get drafted by the NFL. Every now and then a guy with zero football experience will pick up the sport in college, play a year or two, and then get drafted. Guys like Chris Weinke, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Crawford, Tony Gonzalez, etc. all had multi-sport backgrounds or picked up their sport in their late teens, or switched in college.
 
People overseas don't really play multiple sports so late in life, and this just about never happens in soccer. An athlete has to focus on it very early. Rafael Nadal was a promising soccer player, and quit the sport at 12 to focus full-time on tennis. So a lot of it is getting parents to get their kids to focus on the soccer at the youth level, and abandon all those other sports. It would make sense chronologically, since those other sports are easier to pick up later in life. But can you imagine the looks a parent of a 9-year old in the US would get if they said, "my kid is focusing on soccer, and if it doesn't work out he can play baseball/football later?"
 

Zososoxfan

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Titans Bastard said:
The common refrain that the US soccer can't be good because it doesn't have good athletes is complete horseshit, although there's nothing wrong with enlarging the pool.  We have plenty of good enough athletes as it is, if only our youth coaching were better but that's another story.
 
At this point, I would argue that US soccer IS good. The dominance of the CONCACAF qualifiers and the performance at the WC show, IMHO, that the US is firmly a top 20 soccer country. However, I think it's silly to think that the US wouldn't be better if soccer attracted the best athletes. I agree that systemic changes improving coaching, especially at the youth levels, is as important (perhaps moreso), but raw talent also plays a huge role in success at the highest levels. Put another way, once the US has its first true international soccer star on the level of a Messi, Ronaldo, Robben, etc., it will likely be due in large part to raw talent AND world class coaching.   
 

Titans Bastard

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Zososoxfan said:
 
At this point, I would argue that US soccer IS good. The dominance of the CONCACAF qualifiers and the performance at the WC show, IMHO, that the US is firmly a top 20 soccer country. However, I think it's silly to think that the US wouldn't be better if soccer attracted the best athletes. I agree that systemic changes improving coaching, especially at the youth levels, is as important (perhaps moreso), but raw talent also plays a huge role in success at the highest levels. Put another way, once the US has its first true international soccer star on the level of a Messi, Ronaldo, Robben, etc., it will likely be due in large part to raw talent AND world class coaching.   
 
Sure, if the pool of players is bigger, that's better for US soccer -- no question.  However, countries with far smaller pools of soccer players have done a lot more with their talent than we have.
 
Here are the issues facing US soccer in terms of better youth development:
 
1. Coaching
2. Coaching
3. Coaching
4. Better/smoother pathway to the pros
5. Coaching
6. Coaching
7. Coaching
8. Coaching
9. Coaching
10. Enlarging the player pool
 

singaporesoxfan

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I just wonder whether there are people in the US who might be athletically talented in ways that don't translate to success in the traditional American sports - people who are short, and/or good with their feet (since dribbling and kicking aren't really a big part of American sports) - and so enlarging the talent pool wouldn't even necessarily mean taking people away from American football or baseball.

I agree with TB that coaching is a problem, but is that also because (as Chuck Z wrote) the coaching resources are overly focused on the people who fit a certain mental model of what a good soccer player should be like (i.e. filtering for athletes, rather than for talent)?
 

Zososoxfan

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singaporesoxfan said:
I just wonder whether there are people in the US who might be athletically talented in ways that don't translate to success in the traditional American sports - people who are short, and/or good with their feet (since dribbling and kicking aren't really a big part of American sports) - and so enlarging the talent pool wouldn't even necessarily mean taking people away from American football or baseball.

I agree with TB that coaching is a problem, but is that also because (as Chuck Z wrote) the coaching resources are overly focused on the people who fit a certain mental model of what a good soccer player should be like (i.e. filtering for athletes, rather than for talent)?
 
That's a good point. As with mature sports in the US, good organizations (whether they be college programs, pro franchises, olympic programs, etc.) have both good coaching AND talent evaluators. This is probably most stark in college sports, where a team may get great talent, but underperform expectations or in the alternative, have poor recruiting and outperform their expectations. While the US does seem to be following the English model of emphasizing physical and athletic prowess at potentially the expense of skill and other skills which are hard to quantify (and in likelihood are more subjective and dependent on circumstances), this might make sense for US soccer at this time. I don't necessarily ascribe to that position, but when a team like the 2014 WC USMNT outworks it's opponents like they did, it does make me think twice. On reflection, I think the floor of the system has been raised over time, but taking the next progressive steps may be more difficult. TB can definitely speak to this better than me. Additionally, I'm curious as to what changes Jurgen has made and intends to make going forward and whether this reflects our discussion.    
 

Titans Bastard

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singaporesoxfan said:
I just wonder whether there are people in the US who might be athletically talented in ways that don't translate to success in the traditional American sports - people who are short, and/or good with their feet (since dribbling and kicking aren't really a big part of American sports) - and so enlarging the talent pool wouldn't even necessarily mean taking people away from American football or baseball.
 
Sure, soccer could always benefit from expanding the pool.  The whole "What if Kobe Bryant played soccer" line of reasoning is ridiculous because (a) he's likely too tall to be very good and (b) elite NFL/NBA types almost certainly made the right choice for themselves by picking football/basketball, considering how good they are at what they already do.
 
Are there undersized football players who never progress past D2 NCAA football who might have been very good soccer players in an alternate universe?  Almost certainly.  It would be great to have them in the pool.  However, enlarging the player pool in this manner is really, truly secondary to more pressing problems.
 
 
singaporesoxfan said:
I agree with TB that coaching is a problem, but is that also because (as Chuck Z wrote) the coaching resources are overly focused on the people who fit a certain mental model of what a good soccer player should be like (i.e. filtering for athletes, rather than for talent)?
 
This is one of several problems.
 
For a variety of reasons, youth coaches have historically been strongly incentivized to win.  It's easier to win when you take the best 15 year old athletes, even though they aren't necessarily the best soccer players, nor will they necessarily be the best athletes when the rest of the prepubescent players in their age cohort catch up to them in physical development.
 
As Voros McCracken always said, US youth soccer is extremely good at what it sets out to do, which is making money.  The way the US system has historically been set up, it's easier to make money by winning the wrong way than it is to really focus on development.
 
Really, I'd divide it into three problems.
 
1. Actual coaching knowledge/ability
2. Incentive structure of youth clubs/coaches
3. Establishing a coherent pathway to the pros
 

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Infield Infidel said:
 
 
Unfortunately, in America, soccer has a perception as a sport with a high level of economic entry, whereas it isn't in other countries
 
I've heard, but haven't see anything official, that any academies that want to be tied into the official US Soccer organization, are going to have to do it without raking the parent's over the coals for thousands and thousands of dollars in yearly fees. What I was told was that this is one thing that Klinsmann thought was important--that if we're charging ridiculous fees than you are missing out on so many kids that don't have the financial resources to participate.
 
The way it is now, you get 2 groups of kids--those that are good and can pay, and those that are are not potential top of the line players, but their parents can foot the bill. That hurts everyone involved.
 

Titans Bastard

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I've heard, but haven't see anything official, that any academies that want to be tied into the official US Soccer organization, are going to have to do it without raking the parent's over the coals for thousands and thousands of dollars in yearly fees. What I was told was that this is one thing that Klinsmann thought was important--that if we're charging ridiculous fees than you are missing out on so many kids that don't have the financial resources to participate.
 
The way it is now, you get 2 groups of kids--those that are good and can pay, and those that are are not potential top of the line players, but their parents can foot the bill. That hurts everyone involved.
 
MLS is helping to step in the gap here by offering fully-funded or highly subsidized academies.  It's an outstanding opportunity for kids who can't afford fancy youth clubs and it shames other non-MLS organizations into lowering rates or offering scholarships.
 
The USSF also grades the ~80 top youth clubs in the country, which compete in the Development Academy on an annual basis on a variety of things like cost, style of play, player development (credit for YNT and pro players), facilities, etc.  I'm not sure how much of an effect these evaluations are having on parents and such, but any sort of accountability is important.  They've also booted some of the shittier clubs out of the DA, mainly for poor style of play.  The DA has quickly become the pre-eminent youth club scene.  It's good to consolidate talent and raise the level of competition for top youth players, but the DA still has issues and areas that need improvement.
 

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Titans Bastard said:
 
As Voros McCracken always said, US youth soccer is extremely good at what it sets out to do, which is making money.  The way the US system has historically been set up, it's easier to make money by winning the wrong way than it is to really focus on development.
 
Really, I'd divide it into three problems.
 
1. Actual coaching knowledge/ability
2. Incentive structure of youth clubs/coaches
3. Establishing a coherent pathway to the pros
I would add:
1a. Identifying talent at a young enough age that good coaching can have a real impact.

In my experience, absent a parent with soccer experience, 'good' coaches focus at the Junior High and above age groups, where they can focus on tactics which emphasize winning, rather than development. By that time, the kids (and their parents) have self-selected into DD's two groups.

Generational soccer talent is almost always identified younger than that, and the child has a chance to play against challenging opponents, rather than wreaking havoc amongst the other pre-teens.

I think Michael Bradley is the pinnacle of a 'good' talent with a lifetime of great coaching (I hope that doesn't come across as an insult). Imagine a Clint Dempsey if the elite coaching had started four years earlier.
 

Infield Infidel

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I don't think the pool is near big enough. Sure the US is a big country, and there are a lot of youngsters playing the game in a time-filling capacity, but there are several limiting factors, including some self-limiting factors. Of course, popularity of other sports impacts the pool of players, but there is little anyone in US Soccer can do to to change that except trying to build the sport and make it more popular. They are doing that, and we are seeing it and will see more it in the future. 
 
But the self-limiting effects of moneyed interests, poor outreach, and poor scouting/coaching are things they can really improve on. One Leg touches on it, but the players who make it to the USMNT are disproportionatly in groups that are pre-disposed to soccer instead of brought into it. Let's look at the WC roster. (I'm just going to list outfield players, because good lord we are good at developing keepers)
 
Immigrants or sons of immigrants - 3
Gonzalez, Altidore, Bedoya
 
Born or raised overseas - 7
Jones, Green, Chandler, Johnson, Brooks, Johannson, Diskerud
 
Sons of coaches - 1
Bradley
 
US-developed - 9
Beasley, Beckerman, Davis, Wondo, Cameron, Besler, Yedlin, Dempsey, Zusi
 
Could you imagine if half of the Olympic basketball or hockey or WBC baseball teams was either immigrants or overseas based? Where they only played the sport if their parents played or coached it?
 
For 11 guys on the team, there was nothing other than soccer from a young age. Other sports were not an option. But the overseas players might not always be a consistent pipeline. Who knows how many foreigners will be available in future cycles? And if it's more, then do American-born players view that as a detriment? 
 
But for others they are. Zusi played a lot of sports, Beckerman wrestled in secondary school, I'm sure the others dabbled, except for Dempsey and Yedlin. 
 
In other countries, not only do they have better coaching/scouting, but every kid views soccer as the #1 sport to get into. Soccer gets every kid's best shot.
 
It's analogous to Russian women's tennis; 15 years ago there were few Russian tennis players, they'd never had a Grand Slam winner, but then it hit an "a-ha" moment, once it got more exposure, better coaching (especially outside of Russia), and now it's gotten to the point where there are around a dozen women's tennis players in top 100. Every young athletic girl in Russia sees tennis as an opportunity.
 
I don't think US Soccer has hit that "a-ha" moment when a critical mass of kids are playing it in a quality developmental atmosphere from a young age. It's a bit of a catch-22 though: If you don't have enough talented players, you don't get the coaches, but if you don't have the coaches, you don't develop the talent.