The player development path and latest notes on Cap’n Mo

With a quiet note of pride Coach Brendan Burke mentioned something about the Bethlehem Steel’s recent 0-1 road loss two weeks ago away on Aug. 27 to Louisville City FC.

He had started two 16 year-olds against the second best team in the league on their field, and his team had met the older, stronger side equally. The Steel came to play, not bunker. In an aside he noted that starting 16 year-olds was not how New York Red Bulls II were achieving their success this season. Red Bulls II, he said, were playing more college graduates.

Developmental ladders: Union v Red Bulls

Coach Burke’s comments suggest comparing the Philadelphia Union’s player development “ladder” to that of the Red Bulls. Currently there is a subtle difference.

New York’s ladder reflects the traditional pattern of developing professional level athletes in the United States. It includes collegiate athletics in its four steps. New York Red Bulls II are in many ways a post-graduate collegiate side, a few teenage players aside, playing a professional schedule, using professional instruction and training methods, focused solely on soccer without the distraction of academics.

Philadelphia’s ladder also has four steps but does not integrate collegiate athletics to the same degree. It bypasses them. Bethlehem Steel has a roughly even mix of professional veterans, college graduates and teen agers on their USL-contract roster.

Bypassing the collegians reflects European influence, or it may be just be the difference in the longevity of the two programs. Less directly, it also may be that greater New York produces more and better players, and that Red Bulls’ more conventional scouting department might be bigger, better, and more wide-ranging.

Earnie Stewart has said in so many words that if you want to be a professional soccer player “you cannot go to Harvard.” He has further stated that college-age soccer players need many more minutes of practice and games than NCAA student-athlete programs allow, reinforcing the bypass concept. He has further said of Union scouting that there are currently (as of June 30) only three, that the key scouting act is to watch a player practice not play in a game, and that they are continuing to refine the “metrics” of their analytical techniques even as they are using them.

In concrete detail, a difference between the New York and Philadelphia projects lies in the use of their U-23 teams. Each organization has one.

New York Red Bulls U-23 roster has 12 of its 25 players asterisked as “Red Bull academy products.” Their U-23 level seems a well-used intermediary step between their academy and their professional USL side. The NYRB Academy existence, as well as the U-23 side, precedes Ali Curtis, the current organization general manager, by some years, so the pattern probably precedes him as well. It will be interesting to see if the proportion of college men in their USL program continues as Curtis’s vision has more time to take hold.

Red Bull U-23s plays in the same USL division, the PDL, as Reading United, the Union independent affiliate that is its de facto U-23 side.

On the informationally sparse 44-name Reading 2016 roster at the PDL website, there was only one name I recognized as having played in the Union player development structures that preceded the Union’s Academy, but my memory is poor and I have not paid attention. Philly’s Academy has graduated only two classes, so its products are college freshmen or sophomores. Former Reading coach Burke has assured me many more Union-developed players have used Reading during their college summers, Keegan Rosenberry among them. But USL side Bethlehem Steel has no obvious Reading veterans on its roster, in contrast to Red Bulls II.

Burke has further said that the developmental issue posed by the PDL is the short length of its season, a point that harmonizes with Stewart’s comments about minutes. Hence, the Academy developmental game minute opportunities in 2016 have jumped directly from the U-18 or U-16 levels to the Steel professionals of USL, the previously mentioned bypass.

Focus on practice. Recall that in mid-season Burke said that over forty Academy boys had practiced with him and the Steel by that point. Academy-to-Steel developmental practice minutes sound as actively used as the game minutes. If you are a teenager, and are good enough, you can play with adult professional soccer players before you are college-age. That matches the pattern in Europe. And I would think it must also be an attractive recruiting tool.

Reading United’s purpose seems more to maintain contact with — and perhaps establish homegrown claims to — late bloomers rather than primarily player development. Of course any coach worth his salt — and by all reports Burke’s assistant and Reading’s Head Coach Steven Hogan is worth his — will always be teaching and developing whenever his players are in his classroom, aka on his pitch. “Instruct, Reinforce, Remediate” is the mantra not only of the academic classroom but also the athletic field.

The key difference between the New York and Philly projects may be that New York Red Bulls’ developmental academy has existed at least five years longer than that of the Union. The Red Bulls program reflects earlier customary and institutionalized reliance on the NCAA college path. Philadelphia’s younger, newer system does not.

Maurice Edu: Bethlehem Steel at Charleston Battery, Sept. 10, 2016

Some observations on how Maurice Edu did in Bethlehem Steel’s 2-1 road loss to Charleston Battery:

  1. Most obvious, most important, and most newsworthy, Maurice Edu played all ninety four minutes Saturday night. The game was played at USL pace, not MLS. And the captain should buy rookie Derrick Jones a nice dinner of the rookie’s choice, because Jones was tracking back to the No. 6 role to cover Edu’s extremely slow recoveries in the last ten to twenty minutes.
  2. Edu played the No. 6 in the same fashion he always has. He was usually present where he was expected to be, but once the game was a fight back — and given the Steel’s position in the table the offensive forays were appropriate — he would range forward into the attack expending energy there. Recovering to defend became slower and slower as the game minute rose and Edu’s tank emptied. As the match progressed, he did not “haul ass” when behind the ball and out of the play, not a good habit in front of either the Steel’s backline improvisations or the Union’s defensive inexperience.
  3. A question for the future is how well he and Alejandro Bedoya will read and cover each other. Probably at times they will leave the back four exposed the way he and Vincent Nogueira did, which to me argues that Josh Yaro has to play as speed can cover some — but not all — situations of back line exposure.
  4. Edu delivered the pass from which Corey Burke won the penalty kick that Derrick Jones hit so hard it roofed off the Charleston keeper’s hands into the top of the net. His offensive distribution was better than last week against Red Bulls II. It did not remind me of a certain departed Frenchman, yet.
  5. The game was a much different style than the previous one: It was end to end, back and forth almost from the beginning. Only once was Edu forced to shield and pass negatively. Charleston does not high press like the Red Bullocks.
  6. Edu delivered some blows and received some as well. The physical aggression passed without any apparent injury related incidents. He tackled hard and he tackled well. He bounced back up when tackled.
  7. He did earn his second yellow card in as many USL games.

Edu going a full ninety strongly suggests a high degree of confidence that there will be no physical setbacks as a result of pushing hard — and fast — for game minutes. It may mark a shift from the conservative to the radical.

The Union website reports Edu “looked sharp” training with the first team on Tuesday. After a double training session on Wednesday, the team will depart for Portland on Thursday. The question is whether Edu will travel with the first team to Portland or remain here to train with Bethlehem for Sunday’s home game against Pittsburgh.

USL games will not create 90-minute match fitness at the MLS level. Edu might do more 90 minute games with the Steel, but Jim Curtin will have to decide how he best gets MLS game minutes for both Edu and Brian Carroll while solidifying the team’s chances to get points from those games. (Carroll also trained in full with the Union on Tuesday.) Of the next three difficult Union games away, Portland is not a “six pointer.” The two after Portland feature even more difficult opponents in Toronto and NYRB, and are “six point games.” Portland might be a bad choice for getting the two recovering No. 6s their first post-injury MLS game minutes, but the following two are more challenging with stronger teams and more at stake.

Was prepping for Portland why the organization risked letting the captain play the full “90 + stoppage” last Saturday night in Charleston? We shall soon see.


  1. Good update, but not what I wanted to hear. I want to hear Edu stayed in the 6 role and “hauled ass” back. Sounds to me like typical Edu and that it will once again cost the team if they play him in the middle of the pitch. Structure of the team needs to be kept even in the final push in the game. Does sound like Derrick Jones gets it so that is good.

    • Seems like a stretch personally. Dude has been out injured for like 8 months. You can’t expect anyone in that position to be hauling ass back in the 85th minute.

      • Also, Edu playing for BSFC is like him playing for Union teams before this season – he likely feels like he alone needs to “make something happen”.
        It is actually a good thing if he is all over the pitch too because all that running will help him get into game shape. That’s what he is there for.

      • Game shape is one thing, but we also want him thinking as if he is playing with the Union and making good decisions while not wandering into bad areas of the pitch. Personally I’d feel more positive if he went 45 minutes with a strong defensive effort distributing from the back to push the offense, while he solidifies the back 4, and having a captain’s presence in organizing the players on the field. Hearing that would be the best news I think to me.

  2. If there is a question as to the ability of EDU and BC to play 90, why not let them split the 6 at 45 each, with Bedoya at the 8? That seems better than any alternative.

  3. 2016 Reading United players with Union Academy/YSC ties:
    Brett Campbell
    Zach Zandi
    Kevin Carvahlo
    Billy McConnell
    Will Campbell
    Doyle Tuvesson
    Austin Maloney
    Mo Conde
    Others of note:
    Charlie Reymann – Columbus Crew Academy
    Pierre Reedy – NYRB Academy

    • Many thanks, Sean Doyle. I have copied your good information. I seem to recall your name in some connection or other to Reading, maybe last year, or the year before?

  4. Crazy that no reporter asked about Blake during the presser a few minutes ago. Gives me a bad feeling, like the Union front office asked them not to…
    Still have yet to see anything on Twitter or really anywhere about his status for this weekend. No mention of him missing from training but also no mention or images of him at training either.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Positive thoughts: Maybe nothing is really wrong with him? I know he took a hard fall but maybe he’s fine?

    • The lack of news and or questions worries me even more. Sounding more and more like he could be out for an extended period of time and they just don’t want fans giving up hope.

  5. “Academy-to-Steel developmental practice minutes sound as actively used as the game minutes. If you are a teenager, and are good enough, you can play with adult professional soccer players before you are college-age. That matches the pattern in Europe. And I would think it must also be an attractive recruiting tool.”
    you had me at the letter A
    Barring injury Edu damn well ought (tricky ethical word there) be on the plane for Portland. It is a small field. Portland will be a bit fatigued… NO reason whatsoever Edu can’t play 45 minutes. Make the plan coach and see to it… even if it costs three points.

    • They will need to develop some chemistry I don’t give a damn if Edu plays 45 minutes the next three games at MLS pace…. get him on the field if he is playing 90+ minutes for the affiliate. Make your plan and make it happen skipper.

    • That’s logical, and it’s what makes sense to me as well as you from the information available to outside observers.
      But so far my guesses about what they are going to do with him have been significantly flawed.
      I was amused to learn that Edu was supposed to come off after 60, max 75, in Charleston. He got Coach Burke to allow him to disregard the instructions.

  6. If you don’t play your DP when he’s healthy, . . why?

    • Partly because you cannot drop points while reconditioning your DP.
      Remember Curtin’s point a few days ago about the MLS being a real, statistically valid actual home field advantage league? Fourth place to him is a sine qua non. [without this, none.]

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