Soccer Coaching Corner
Jim Jorgensen on the Development of Soccer in the United States
By Jeff Kassouf
Wisdom. It’s something that we all search for, and we all try to define. In the soccer world, there seems to be an infinite amount of people that take claim to such a trait, but few can match what Jim Jorgensen brings to the table.
In 1976, Jorgensen began his coaching career as the Modified soccer coach in the Union Springs school district, about forty miles southwest of Syracuse, NY. From there he moved to the Hudson Valley in 1980, where he coached with former Olympian soccer player Dario Brose at Wappingers Junior High School.
Choosing to focus on club soccer, he began coaching Newburgh United in 1984, which became Hudson Valley United, the club where he presently coaches high school age girls. He is also presently on the Region 1 Girl’s ODP staff, and the coach of the Women’s Premier Soccer Leagues’ New York Athletic Club, where he coaches a wide variety of women who are doctors, lawyers and teachers off the pitch.
“It’s amazing when I sit down and I have a few teachers and then I have a few kids that are in college,” said Jorgensen. “They have lives. They have jobs. They are quite successful off of the soccer field.”
With experience at the Division I and Division III levels through Manhattan College, SUNY New Paltz, and Army preceding his current position, Jorgensen has dealt with all types of players. From young to old and from junior high school to post-graduate, Jorgensen said there are different ways to approach coaching each level. A lot of male coaches have trouble identifying the particular differences in coaching men and women, he said.
“If you’ve coached men, the game is quicker, it’s faster, it’s stronger,” said Jorgensen. “On the men’s side you’re worried about a 60 yard service. On the women’s side, you’re not worried about a 60 yard service. Coaching-wise the difference is that you find with women, I think you can get really into tactics with them. With men, they are going to use other means to get this done. They are going to get more physical.”
Additionally, Jorgensen feels the differences in the men’s and women’s games go well beyond the coaching disparities. He said that while the men’s game in the United States continues to progress, the women’s game is not going in the right direction.
Jorgensen noted that the women’s game was a “beautiful game” in the 1990’s, but it has since digressed. He feels that women are trying too hard to replicate the physicality found in the men’s game, which is actually taking away from the appeal of their creativity. Men in the United States are developing into more technical players, while women have shifted to a mentality too focused on winning, added Jorgensen.
“The focus on the women’s programs in college became about winning, and that’s what’s wrong with our development,” he said. “That’s what’s wrong with our club system, and that’s what’s wrong with everything. Everything is focused on winning, and you can’t develop good soccer players when they are focused on winning.”
Jorgensen said that some of the problems with the mentality of the United States revolve around the basis of the English game. He said that “the worst thing that ever happened” was that the United States made the uncreative possession style of England’s play their standard. If the United States was a Portuguese speaking country, he added, it would be a world soccer power thanks to Brazilian influence.
While Jorgensen said that the men’s game has recovered from that a bit with their progressive style, the women’s game is now being hurt by it. As evidenced by the last two Women’s World Cups, Jorgensen said that the rest of the world is catching up, with the athleticism of American players being the only thing giving them the current edge. This athleticism is something that will continue to progress in other countries, and leave the United States in the rear view mirror, he added.
Women’s Professional Soccer, the new league set to begin in the spring of 2009, will offer international players even more of an opportunity to foster their skills and catch up to the level of American play. Jorgensen said that with only eight teams in the league, the pool of available positions would not increase that much.
He believes that most of the better American players would still be playing in the Women’s Premier Soccer League and the USL’s W-League, both of which are certified as amateur (players are only compensated for expenses). In this way, the two leagues would be left to “fight it out” to see who ranks as the second highest division of women’s soccer.
As for the problem that he says is facing women’s soccer, Jorgensen stated that the best way to develop these players is by doing exactly that: developing. There are too many youth clubs simply looking to sell the fact that they can win and can get a player noticed by colleges, clubs which he calls “excellent marketers.”
Too many times, Jorgensen has seen clubs in the Hudson Valley area charge excessive amounts of money for player fees, but not offer a true medium through which to develop the player. At Hudson Valley United, the emphasis is not on money or scholarships.
“What we do is we coach and we teach,” he said. “If the players want to come and get better then they will.”
Jorgensen said that the best way to achieve this progression in development is by establishing a truly professional system, where professional clubs have youth academies that are free of charge and based on those who can play the best. He said that thanks to good leadership, Major League Soccer is “on the right track.” Recently, MLS mandated that all clubs make their academies free of charge.
Locally, he has been part of a group that attempted to bring a USL Second Division team to Newburgh, NY. The deal, he said, was close to being done when the principal investor backed out due to some increasing costs. The team, who he would have been involved with, would have played in downtown Newburgh on the city-owned soccer field, where there is already a strong soccer community.
Though the USL deal fell through, there is no reason to think that the possibility is completely dead given the soccer-rich communities in the Hudson Valley. Meanwhile, Jorgensen continues to note that some coaches don’t always agree with his methods, but they certainly have truth. As the men’s game in the United States continues to improve, the women’s game is digressing from its status as world superpower with a creative style of play.
In the future, innovative figures such as Jim Jorgensen may prove necessary to the development of soccer in the United States, and could prove to be critical in simultaneously bringing world-quality soccer to both the men’s and women’s games.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: email@example.com