A Look Into the id2 National Selection International Tour
US Club Soccer is well known for their id2 National Identification and Development youth program which is focused on providing amazing opportunities for elite players. Kicked off more than a decade ago in 2004, the id2 program provides an opportunity for elite youth soccer players to be identified, developed, and even scouted by U.S. Soccer. Unlike many other programs, there is no cost to players for trying out or participating in the id2 Program.
The id2 National Selection International Tour is the final programming element of the id2 Program cycle targeting boys born in 2002. This trip is organized through strong support from Nike, as well as LaLiga and Premier International Tours.
The 2016 id2 National Selection International Tour traveled to Spain, Feb. 20 to March 2 with a group of 18 boys – from 18 different youth soccer clubs around the country.
SoccerToday spoke with Gerry McKeown the id2 National Selection head coach and id2 Boys Program Director, to learn more about the Spain 2016 trip and his perspective on youth soccer today.
Diane Scavuzzo: People often say, America lacks a soccer culture, from the international soccer exploration perspective, what is the goal of the id2 program?
Gerry McKeown: The id² Program itself was started to provide cost-free opportunities to make our US National team. It challenged the existing system, which was costly for youth players. The more success you had as a player progressing from club to state and regional levels, the more it became prohibitively expensive.
The goal of the id² National Selection International Tour is two-fold: 1) To provide an outcome for the four id² Training Camps. 2) To challenge our better players against the world’s best within their own age group.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many trips have you led and which locations are your favorites?
Gerry McKeown: Because of Nike’s support, I have had the good fortune to lead all of the international trips; so far we have ventured to Holland/Germany, Scotland/England, Italy, Argentina and several times to Spain. These trips have all been enjoyable for various reasons. Naturally, I loved each trip to Spain for the beauty of the football that is on display. The last five years have possibly produced the best era of club football that the world has ever witnessed. Partly due to the increased television exposure, but one cannot deny the aesthetic beauty of Barcelona’s game. I also enjoyed my interactions in the UK and Argentina, because of the willingness of the clubs to share information and indulge in our educational pursuits.
Diane Scavuzzo: In comparison to the USA, what is youth soccer like in Spain?
Gerry McKeown: Spain is different in that we cannot reproduce their obsession with soccer.
Our country has a wonderful sporting culture, but it is multi-faceted.
LaLiga could arguably be the most important asset that the country has. Based on the number of tourists attending the match at Camp Nou, it certainly has a significant economic impact. Each region of Spain has its own soccer identity, whether it is Andalucia, the Basque country or Catalonia. Similar to the US in that each region has player profiles and traits influenced by climate, socioeconomic status, geography and soccer culture. For us, we can note differences between players from northern and southern California and players from the East Coast, Midwest and the South.
In terms of youth players, we are slightly behind in speed of play, decision making, technical excellence and are naïve in the subtle nuances of the game, like timely use of the body to disrupt an opponent’s balance, as well as general game management.
Youth Spanish players have the ability to watch their first team on a weekly basis and players to emulate and study. Unfortunately, despite the size of our country, we have only 18 markets where this is even possible.
Diane Scavuzzo: When selecting players for this experience, what were the standout traits that mattered to you and your coaching staff?
Gerry McKeown: Our selection is based on: Technical Ability, Personality, Tactical Awareness and Athleticism.
Diane Scavuzzo: How tough is the youth soccer competition? On the average – are youth soccer players better in Spain? Why?
Gerry McKeown: Yes. They were better technically, but also better with decision making, quicker, more supple feet, and punitive in the final third. Our better players tend to solve problems individually and become complicated with the ball or want to solve problems with pace.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did your team perform?
Gerry McKeown: After a difficult start in our first two games against Valencia (1-2) and Villareal (0-4), we actually performed exceptionally in our difficult two final matches against Espanyol (2-3) and Barcelona (2-3).
We started off as a frightened group of 18 talented individuals and left as a team that was playing together and as a group fighting for each other.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your coaching philosophy?
Gerry McKeown: Player-centric. My coaching philosophy is to play attractive, possession style soccer with purpose to attack. I love building from the back, but I get concerned that there are a lot of teams confusing possession in the back as loitering with the ball between the center backs. I encourage players to always look forward first, then possess if penetration is not an option.
I think as coaches we need to remain flexible and adjust to the age group, talent level, purpose of the game/session.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does it take to become a pro? How many players have you coached who have become professionals? Or who you believe could become a professional soccer player?
Gerry McKeown: There are significantly more opportunities for young players today than in the past. The players that ultimately make it are the individuals that are driven and have a stronger mentality than their peers. I have had the good fortune of being involved with a lot of youth players who have become professional players although I would never take credit for their success.
Some of the players that I have coached at the club level that went on to play professionally would include Tony Meola, John Harkes, Bryan Meredith, Dilly Duka, Billy Schuler, Raphael Diaz, Danny Barbir and Brandon Allen.
Players from id² that have become professionals include: Christian Pulisic, Benny Swanson, Matt Olusunde, Tommy Reading and Tyler Adams. We hope that there will be many more in the years to come. We would like to believe that introducing them to the world’s greatest clubs at a young age played some role in making them driven to succeed in the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the biggest challenge facing youth soccer in America?
Gerry McKeown: Wealth. The Federation is on a mission to create “world-class players.” To meet that goal, we need to increase the demographic scope.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think U.S. Soccer needs to do to help soccer be more successful in the USA?
Gerry McKeown: I think the Federation has done a great job raising the standards for club soccer. To further increase the success we would need to involve the under-served communities.
Most of the participants in the Academy league are middle-class players, and we need to reach all socioeconomic classes to achieve true diversity.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does US Club help improve youth soccer in America?
Gerry McKeown: US Club Soccer helps the game by being proactive and introducing programming (id²) and initiatives (club card to allow players to play up, Players First) that make it better for the players.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your favorite soccer team? Who do you root for behind closed doors?
Gerry McKeown: My favorite team is Celtic FC, a professional football club based in Glasgow, Scotland, that plays in the Scottish Premiership. Behind closed doors I root for the NHL’s New York Rangers.
Related Article: id2 Youth Soccer In Spain