Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Google Reader is the reason for 99% of my posts

Terrific article from the NYT magazine showed up in my Google Reader inbox today. A must-reed for soccer fans on the Ajax youth training center, which has exported guys like Sneijder and Van der Vaart to rich European clubs.

The article rightly notes that formerly storied teams like Ajax now simply content themselves (or are forced to) sell their best players to richer clubs (But even if a team has tons of cash, if it sells all of its players and thus doesn't win much, then what's the point?). The author calls this phenomenon a result of globalization, which I think is a bit too easy and simplistic, but it definitely shows the sad state of World club soccer, which resembles the MLB much more than more financially egalitarian leagues like the NFL.

The most interesting aspect of the article is what it shows about how youth are groomed. The heartless training system rewards only the cream of the crop (who will go on to riches later on in life), while those who are not good enough to make it all the way to the top are jettisoned along the way.

In an article that draws a bit on differences between Dutch and American soccer development systems, I'm going to take the liberty to use my experiences in French school to draw some comparisons between how kids grow up in Europe and in the U.S.

The fact that a talented young Dutch soccer player will basically stop seriously trying in school to pursue a soccer career when he could eventually not be good enough to earn even a liveable wage in semi-pro leagues is a depressing reality. But it's not just like that in soccer.

Spare my generalizations, but European education forces teenagers (and even pre-teens) to decide what type of career they are going to have early on by what kind of subjects they concentrate on, and even what kind of school they go to (Regular high school for the smartest, and various trade and professional schools for those who are not cut for academics).

Besides the fact that this places a lot of pressure on kids from a young age and rewards those who develop intellectually from a young age, it also means that if a kid eventually realizes they don't like, aren't cut out for, or aren't good enough for what they are doing, they are basically fucked.

And without a good education, what is a former soccer prodigy going to do in life?

My friends in France were always surprised that I didn't have a major in high school (or even up until my junior year) as if going on in general studies was a waste. But I see it more as a way to keep opportunities open instead of on one subject.

Granted the European way of being essentially trained to be a plumber early on might make it easier to get a job, but the American system is much more forgiving, and in the sports arena, it does provide elite athletes with an education they would not receive in Europe (Although people familiar with competitive collegiate athletics might disagree with that).

So here is the question both in soccer and in life: Is it better to have kids focus on a certain career from a young age in the hopes that this gives them a better chance of eventual success, or is it better to leave their options open, as is done, in principle, both on and off the field in U.S.

The NYT article suggests that college educations for top soccer players in the U.S. will inevitably restrict the competitiveness of U.S. soccer teams and players. Instead, maybe a Dutch system is necessary for the U.S. to compete on the global soccer state (Although the author does a good job at criticizing the ruthless soccer factory at Ajax).

But at what cost?



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The National

To complete my journalism/soccer/music power trio, let me talk a bit about The National, a band a lot of you have probably heard of. Instead of logically talking about their new release, I'll revert back to their previous album, Boxer, since I haven't listened to the new one, High Violet, and listened to pitchfork, I did think their review of Boxer was definitely right in certain respects. Specifically, I think Boxer is an album that you need to ease your way into, more than other albums. It doesn't come out and hit you after one listen, and even the standout opening track, Fake Empire, takes a few listens before the epic build-up really gets you.

Contrary to the end of Fake Empire, Boxer is a lot about key emotional moments in each song (2:30 in Slow Show and before the choruses in Green Gloves). The fact that the rest of the somber album (that someone on pitchfork described as one that demands a person in a dark room sipping whiskey while regretting lost love) is so quietly subtle only heightens these moments. Because Boxer is an album with a distinct mood, haunting melodies that stay in your head - possibly because they don't occur as often as you might hope.

Boxer is great in that it is not overly-ambitious. The National are not over-bearing in what they do. They come off as regular guys writing - God how can I say this? - indie music with a distinctly working-class ethos. This is not music for Brooklyn hipster dandies, but music for the tough yet sensitive day laborer somewhere in Virginia.

There aren't the stand-out tracks that will jump out at you, but as I all too often find myself saying, give this album a few listens and it will grow on you.

If I were a lyrics guy, I would take the time to look them up and read them, and this would help support (hopefully not refute) my thoughts on the album. But I am stubbornly anti-lyrics, so this will have to suffice.

More M.I.A. drama!

Call me prophetic, but without knowing that much about Lynn Hirschberg, the author of the NYT magazine profile on M.I.A., but it turns out the author didn't neutrally paint a portrait of M.I.A., she seems to have altered quotes - and in my opinion the worst thing she did - she fixed things in a way as to help support her point of M.I.A. being a string of contradictions between a rudeboy political rebel and a materialistic artist living a life of luxury. I'm specifically referring to the Truffle-covered French fry incident. This is pretty shitty if M.I.A. is telling the truth (which it seems like she is), so although some of the contradictions in Hirschbergy's article do strike me as worthy, her - and her piece's - credibility are forever tarnished. Too bad for what might have been a decent article...

U.S. - Turkey

A little late on this, but just wanted to get my thoughts out on the U.S. team's latest 2-1 friendly victory over Turkey. I'm starting to think more and more that friendly results heading into the World Cup aren't that reliable, as a lot of teams have had mixed results (A part of this thinking might be a way to protect some of my sleeper teams like South Korea and Mexico, who have had their fair share of losses recently), but there is no doubt that the U.S. had a solid win against a team that is probably stronger than both Slovenia and Algeria.

The thing that impressed me about the U.S.'s win was that they really didn't look good during the first 20 minutes of the game. They were getting outplayed by a more aggressive, confident, and quicker Turkish team that has its fair share of players at strong European teams, but managed to bounce back for a great result.

It's been a few days so not everything is fresh in my memory, but I remember the game as being more about key moments than about spurts of dominant play by either side. Turkey capitalized on a gap in the U.S. defense, showing just how quickly good teams can capitalize on a mistake.

The U.S. defense held up despite looking shaky, and allowed a resurgent U.S. squad to dominate in the second half. New additions to U.S. soccer Edson Buddle and Jose Torres were very impressive, and provided a spark for the team throughout. Landon Donovan was involved in both goals, reaffirming that he'll need to repeat his strong showing in 2002 if the U.S. is going to succeed. Dempsey showed what a solid goalscorer he has been all season, and U.S.A. showed just how much potential offensive power it has by capitalizing on two key moments. It's great to have a come-from-behind win and show a lot of fight in them. They showed that they don't even need to necessarily dominate an entire game to get the result - they just need a few key moments to key in on.

I think one of the the important things to take out of this match is that although the U.S. roster is certainly replete with guys who play for pretty legit teams in Europe (I'll include MLS loan to Everton Donovan on that list), guys like Buddle show that MLS players (at least some of them) are not pushovers in international competition. It no longer seems to be the case the only Americans playing abroad can compete highly at the international level. This is good news for the MLS, although I still don't think the MLS quality of play is high enough to warrant serious interest.

I still like the U.S. to advance, and see Denmark, South Korea, and Mexico as bubble teams that will make it pretty far. I also, against my better judgment, like Ivory Coast maybe beating out portugal. We'll see about that, more serious predictions later...