Former US Youth National Team Coach on The Progress We Have Made
U.S. U16 and U17 Boys’ National Team former head coach Shaun Tsakiris is now the proud Technical Director of Los Gatos United in Northern California.
One of the most respected youth soccer coaches in America, Shaun Tsakiris left his role with U.S. Soccer as U17 / U16 National Team head coach in December 2018. Editor Diane Scavuzzo caught up with Shaun Tsakiris for a series of one-on-one interviews with the former U.S. Soccer Youth National Team Coach and two-time Coach of the Year.
Pledging to continue to make a difference in American youth soccer, Tsakiris has turned his attention to the Saratoga youth soccer landscape. After years of
Experienced and intelligent, Tsakiris is one of the leaders in American soccer who has always been highly revered.
A man genuinely dedicated to growing the game of soccer in America, the UCLA graduate who has been developing America’s young soccer players is optimistic about the future of the beautiful game in our country.
Youth soccer in America faces several critical issues today, and perhaps the most important one is recognizing who is doing a good job developing elite players and why we, as a country, should forge our own pathway. Our country is diverse and we should use this as a benefit. With a unique mixture of many cultures, we should pull from all these diverse experiences to create our own identity.
We interviewed Shaun Tsakiris on this and on the issue of college soccer as well as the ever-evolving pathway to becoming a professional in Part I and on raising the standards at youth soccer clubs in Part II.
SoccerToday Interview with Shaun Tsakiris
Diane Scavuzzo: If you could reimagine youth soccer in America, what would it look like?
Shaun Tsakiris: Does soccer in America need a structural change? This is who we are, this is the hand that we have been dealt, and we want to use it to our advantage. Everyone can agree we are taking steps in the right direction. We may be starting later than others, but do we really want to be like others?
Our country is unique — our demographics and geography are so different —we can’t model after other countries. We can’t compare to anyone else nor should we.
The MLS clubs and their owners are really putting resources into soccer and this is something they were not doing six years ago.
This is a huge step in the right direction.
We offer fantastic opportunities
It has taken other countries years to adopt their style and we are just generations behind.
Diane Scavuzzo: When will we catch up?
Shaun Tsakiris: When we can dictate our style of play in every match on any opponent, and on any stage — whether it is a game in the Gold Cup, the World Cup or an international friendly.
We will have arrived when we do not change our identity, our style of play, regardless of who we are playing.
We are reactionary still, but we are forging ahead. I like the direction of U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach Greg Berhalter. He is forming an identity and a style of play — and this fits our country’s DNA.
When I was a young player, I would often hear people with our National team say, “In 20 years …” It is 2019 now and we still need to do a better job with the 18-year-olds to 24-year-olds. We need all of our young pros playing in a competitive environment consistently to maximize our standards.
There are too many 22-year-old players who are not quite at the MLS level who get lost.
So many top players end up not playing or gaining the experience they need — maybe they are not finished developing yet, maybe they get lost in our unclear pathways, or simply overlooked.
Diane Scavuzzo: Isn’t that the role of the USL?
Shaun Tsakiris: Yes, but it needs some work. The USL is new and is certainly making strides to bridge the gap to become a significant league for our young players.
Is it polished? No, but is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely.
The objective of an MLS’ USL team is to develop young players for the first team. That is the model everywhere else in the world. USL teams must provide the 18-year-olds to 24-year-olds with minutes on the field.
Players need matches to play and develop.
Some USL teams are not in the same market as their MLS sides which makes it hard to create the environment needed to develop young professionals.
We need second and third divisions where we can continue to develop the player who is not quite at the MLS level.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you describe a real leader in our soccer world? Who is doing it right?
Shaun Tsakiris: A real leader has a plan — You can only lead if you have a true conviction and know where you want to go.
We hear a lot about developing our young players — but how many are really doing that?
Diane Scavuzzo: Who do you think is a good leader
Shaun Tsakiris: There are many leaders in American soccer — for example, I have a lot of respect for FC Dallas‘ Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez, and the club’s Assistant Coach Mikey Varas.
Luchi Gonzalez is the former FC Dallas Academy Director and was the head coach of the U-16/18 Academy teams.
I have not always agreed with the style that FC Dallas has played, but I have immense respect for them implementing their plan — FC Dallas has a true identity and clearly part of their plan was to promote players from their Academy system.
It is irrelevant if I agree or disagree with a plan. It is their plan. I feel FC Dallas has been successful.
It takes years of consistency and a vision to accomplish what they have done in the last ten years. They have successfully created an identity and are giving young players important key minutes on the field, and a lot of them.
FC Dallas has signed 15 Homegrown players coached by Gonzalez.
Diane Scavuzzo: As the former Youth National Team Coach, what is one thing you miss the most?
Shaun Tsakiris: Shaping players — having an impact on young players on and off the field. As much as I loved and am proud of my time with U.S. Soccer, once the Residency Program went away, I felt I was no longer able to make the same impact.
Without the residency program, I spent more monitoring and evaluating players instead of developing them — and I didn’t get into this sport to watch players but to shape them.
I didn’t feel like I had an impact on young players because I was not with them consistently.
I was not with them enough time.
I enjoyed every minute of working with this program.
This was a big reason why I chose to step away from the national youth teams.
After 18 years as the symbol of U.S. Soccer’s dedication to player development, the U17 Residency program in Bradenton, Florida closed in the spring of 2017. Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley are just a few of the 33 players who advanced from Residency to the National team.
LOS GATOS UNITED will be offering Summer Soccer Camps for players of all levels starting in June. For more information, please visit Los Gatos United
Read Shaun Tsakiris on Los Gatos … “There’s something special about this town and the pride it has for soccer.”