Friday 22 July 2022, 14:00

Revolution the name of the game for USA

  • U.S. Soccer Federation rolling out a new and ambitious technical plan

  • FIFA Forward Programme vital to its implementation

  • “We’ve built a new style of play from scratch”

As everyone knows, the Covid-19 virus spread around the world after being discovered in Wuhan, China. In a bid to stop its devastating advance, everything shut down, including football. In the weeks that followed, the world grew used to a new normal. When football eventually restarted, matches were played behind closed doors, with health measures being introduced to prevent the spread of the disease. In the football world at least, not everyone recovered at the same pace. Take the USA, where the country’s youngsters were out of action for fully 575 days. To bring about that much-needed recovery, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) turned to the FIFA Forward Programme for funding, advice and technological resources.

The national association had an ambitious plan in mind: to hold 19 boys’ and girls’ training camps in Chula Vista, California, and Bradenton, Florida, in implementing its new technical plan for the country’s national teams and introducing a new vision for talent development. In total, 334 players, 60 coaching staff members, 15 sports scientists and 15 performance analysts have taken part in these camps.

Making up for lost time

The 2020 shutdown gave the USSF the opportunity to peruse the results of the member association football ecosystem survey FIFA conducted that year. In assessing responses to the survey, FIFA’s high-performance experts deemed that the coaching staff of youth and senior national teams had a tendency to be individualistic in their approach, setting out their own style and vision rather than working as one with the people around them. “Working with FIFA, a lot of us had that opportunity to collaborate, understand what others were doing in the international space and how we could take those best practices and translate them down to our members’ reality,” said USSF Director of Sport Development Dan Russell.

The U.S. U-20 Women's National Team plays against the Costa Rican U-20 Women's National Team

Reacting to FIFA’s expert assessment, the USSF got down to work. “We’ve really, from scratch, built the style of play and the principles and sub-principles of how we wanted our teams to look,” explained Tracey Kevins, head coach of the USA U-20 women’s team. “As youth national team coaches we had a huge input in that. “It took almost 14, 15 months for us to build the technical plan,” she added. “I forget how many Zoom calls we had – probably close to a hundred – and now we have a product and a document that is ‘version one’. I think we’ll continue to evolve.” The USSF’s technical plan looks beyond talent development on the pitch and strives to create an integrated approach in which player mindset is also taken into account. “We try to look for the way the player is making decisions in the game. We look for game understanding,” said USSF Director of Technical Development Barry Pauwels. “We also look for technical execution and physical execution. But above that, we also look for a winning mentality, a growth mindset, and also the way a player takes ownership of her own development. And, additionally, looking at how a player is learning in a specific environment, so learning ability.”

Work to be done

One of the aforementioned 19 youth camps was held in the last few weeks at Chula Vista, with the USA’s U-20 women’s national team meeting up to continue their preparations for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022. “It’s a great honour for FIFA to be supporting the training and development of the USSF’s national youth teams in 2022 through the Forward Programme,” commented Jair Bertoni, FIFA Director of Member Associations Americas. “We’re giving football in the USA a boost by allowing the USSF to reopen its training camps and providing it with the technological resources it needs to keep monitoring its young players closely.” He added: “This means we can support the development of future generations of players, both male and female, creating opportunities for these talented elite players to continue on their training pathways in the United States, which will only benefit the national teams. This initiative is the best possible demonstration of what our flagship development programme is truly all about.”

The U.S. U-20 Women's National Team plays against the Costa Rican U-20 Women's National Team

The new vision was rolled out during a week of training sessions and friendly matches against Costa Rica, which also provided an opportunity to trial some new technology that will play a big part in shaping the USA’s promising football future. “We try and collect as much data as we can,” said USSF Director of Sporting Analytics Frank Wijbenga. “A big part of that is physical data. We will use GPS technology. We don’t train consistently at the same location, so we cannot use local positioning systems. “Leveraging technology cleverly is fundamental to measuring the success of our technical plan. It’s not about measuring the outcome or the number of players; it’s about measuring the quality.”

The FIFA Forward Programme has given US youth football fresh impetus and exciting new goals to pursue, much to the delight of the nation’s young female players. “The idea of being chosen to represent your country to compete in a FIFA World Cup – that’s every athlete’s dream,” said Annie Karich, a midfielder with the USA U-20 team. “It’s something I never would have imagined was possible years ago. And, although I’ve always been pushing towards it, I never would have thought I’d actually be here. It’s just incredible.”