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Friday, April 4, 2008

Youth Soccer Takes a Nasty Turn

An almost mystical story of Bobo Stoikov, one of the world’s greatest soccer players, who escapes death in communist Bulgaria to find the American Dream. Due to severe injury during Bobo’s escape, he is unable to play once he arrives in America. Though he finds peace and happiness in simply coaching soccer to youth travel teams, his eccentric ways of teaching and his success lead to a hate-filled rivalry, and eventually, his death.

This is a current event that ties into St John of the Midfield.


I recall a few winters back, while driving down I-94 west near the Romulus airport, that I had the misfortune of driving through a white-out. Having lost my sense of direction and distance in the blinding whiteness, my only means of survival was to follow the dim redness of a snow-caked rear light of a flat-bed trailer. Had the driver of the truck pulling the trailer fallen off the side of a cliff, I certainly would have followed. As it was, fate served me well that day and the two of us made it through. Unfortunately, sixty four cars behind us didn’t, as one after another smashed into each other in one of the nastiest massive pile-ups the Michigan free-ways have ever seen.

Obviously, those drivers in the accident took a different turn. Casting aside an easy metaphor, that’s what I see happening with the new decision by the National soccer team in regard to their new agenda on how to identify and create great soccer players. It seems they have decided that great players can be created or manufactured only by the National team coaches, so they have bucked the state organizations in favor of a top down methodology on developing youth soccer talent.

Hmmmm. Let’s think about his. Where has a restriction of trade and competition benefited a
culture, economy, organization, or group of people? Outside of the communist Kremlin, I can’t think of anything. In my limited knowledge of history, I do recall Nixon fixing gas prices back in the 70’s, which of course restricted competition and caused all those wonderful lines at the pump, and of course, there was this guy named Hoover, who decided to place tariffs on products which of course resulted in a minor calamity called the DEPRESSION. Again, wasn’t that just another instance of restricting trade of reducing competition, which a free-economy is built around?

Perhaps you believe I’ve stretched a bit far here, but consider that an elite group of soccer clubs around the nation were chosen by the National staff members and Nike, the sponsor, to fly to the Nike headquarters to sit at a conference table and be awarded prestigious franchises to house and train the nation’s soccer elite. At that table, where I picture club owners frothing at the mouth like the godfathers did in Godfather III as they received their casino checks from Michael Corleone, it was decided the country would be carved up by regions and only certain clubs would be able to teach the best players in the country. For instance, a player in Michigan, who was trained from the time he was five in the reputable WAZA soccer club, would now have to transfer at a certain age to either the Michigan Wolves/Hawks or the Vardar Soccer Club. It doesn’t matter that the boy developed as a great soccer player in the WAZA club. The National team staff has determined that only the Michigan Wolves or the Vardar Club can take that boy to the next level.

As you can imagine, the crazed soccer moms and dads who have talented children have quickly packed up their loyalties to the clubs who have served them well and taken residence inside the new established elite clubs. That occurred within a New York minute. Therefore, the clubs who lost all their shining stars are now forced to become second rate clubs, or, as many of us predicted, will end up closing shop all together.

Without even discussing the huge surge in costs for the parents in these new established elite clubs, as a means of practicality, let’s for a second consider how the other top sports in America work. Did Michael Jordan learn the game of basketball in the playground or was he handpicked at an early age by a scout who knew instantly he would become the greatest player of his time? What about Tiger Woods? I thought I read it was Woods’ father who introduced the game and the two of them played together for fun in the early years of Tiger’s development. In my reading, I don’t remember a talent scout scooping Tiger up at five and manufacturing him into the greatest golfer of all time.

The Brazilians, who are arguably the greatest players in the world, learn soccer on the street, in
their villages, playing often with rolled up socks or newspapers as a ball. They play for the fun of the game, then have their skills refined as they get older in competitive clubs, clubs which have a vested interest in finding and developing talent.

I believe this latest power play by Bob Bradley and his national staff tyrants will end up causing a disaster in the youth soccer programs inside America. Like the cars that piled up in the whiteout I averted, those that follow Bradley will end up with a mess to clean up. Without allowing the game to flourish on the streets, in the school yards, in the clubs of the player’s choice, look for the interest in the game to wane, falling dramatically more behind the traditional major sports in America. The state organizations, which were blind sided by the move, need to fight back for the sake of survival. If they don’t, the game and their organizations won’t be able to revive themselves.

I can hear the sirens now.


In the early 80's,Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up and coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, "Crate and Fly," and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.

Though Maccagnone was asked and toyed with running for the United States Senate that year, the burden of such a race would have been too much of a strain on his young family. Instead of getting involved in politics, Maccagnone chose to start his writing and youth soccer coaching career. During that time, he wrote the children's book, "The Suburban Dragon," and his collection of short stories and poetry entitled, "The Affliction of Dreams." He also took his new found love for soccer so seriously he created a youth club and built an indoor soccer training facility.

It was during the year of 1996 that Maccagnone met the former Bulgarian national player Jordan Mitkov. It was in the time Maccagnone spent under Mitkov's tutelage that the idea for St. John of the Midfield was incubated. Ten years later, Maccagnone resurrected a writing career when the story finally burned out of him.

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