Reserve League Blues

Like every other red-blooded, gun-toting, crescent-wrench-wielding American male too drunk to get up and change the channel, I'm sure you did your patriotic duty and watched yourself a heapin' helpin' of NCAA Football over the New Years weekend.

If you didn't, please don't say say anything, lest fans of American footie call you "parochial" for refusing to enjoy the entirety of sport:

"You know, the reason you don't like football is because you don't understand it. I mean, have you ever even watched a whole game or are you just...." well, you know the rest.

In any case, if you were able to focus your eyes at some point during the Rose Bowl, then you surely caught one of the references to the fact that one of Ohio States' placekickers was Devin Barclay, late of Major League Soccer.

Leaving aside the fact that Barclay scored more points in a total of about two minutes on the Rose Bowl gridiron than he did in five complete seasons in MLS, here at Archers' House O'Blogging we live by the motto that no publicity is bad publicity (although Tiger Woods has certainly taken that old saw out for some serious laps lately) and hearing MLS mentioned in the middle of an orgy of College Football was indeed heartwarming.

And of course, as reliably as England screwing up a PK Shootout, our dear friend Andrea Canales HAULED OUT HER WELL WORN SOAPBOX and let us all know that poor Devin has been forced to don the scarlet and gray of Ohio State and kick pointed balls because MLS didn't provide him with a Reserve League in which to hone his boundless soccer skills.

Now make no mistake: I take a back seat to no one in my fervent belief that MLS has simply got to find some place for young players who can't break into the first eleven to hone their skills and prove themselves.

In fact, I was hoping that, if a true reserve league (not the fraudulent joke of 2005-2007) isn't financially feasible then they could find a way to put together four or five second division clubs out of 16 team benches and give these kids some PT.

(Note to Sunil Gulati: want to get your ass off that very hot seat you're on right now with this whole USL/NASL kerfuffle? Ring up your pal Don and have him put together four sides, coached by Rongen, Soehn, Williams and Hamlett, find 5000 seat stadiums in Detroit, Ottawa, Memphis and Oklahoma City, divide the parent teams up geographically and put two teams each in USL and NASL, thereby giving both leagues at least 8 viable clubs.

Presto: problem solved, everybody wins and they start cutting a bust of you for the lobby of the new US Soccer Hall of Fame museum in Seattle. No charge, buddy. What I'm here for.)

However, as much as I agree in principle with Miss Canales, I'm afraid that she's missed the base in this particular case. Consider:

Devin Barkley was a 2001 Nike Pro 40 signing who was drafted by the late, lamented Tampa Bay Mutiny, where he was coached by Alfonso Mondelo and then Perry van der Beck.

When the Mutes were broken up, he went to San Jose in the dispersal, where his coach was Frank Yallop. In 2003 he was traded to DC where he worked for Ray Hudson. In 2004 he was traded again, this time to Columbus where he played for two years under Greg Andrulis and then Robert Warzycha (after Zippy got the sack).

Not coincidentally, he was released on November 15 2005, the same day his Pro 40 contract expired. When he wasn't a roster freebie any more, when suddenly someone was going to have to pay him actual money that counted against their salary cap, nobody wanted him.

Even more interestingly, the Columbus Crew had hired Sigi Schmid on October 20. It was Schmid, who's absolutely in love with talented young players, who pulled the plug on Barclays' career.

During his FIVE YEARS in MLS, Barclay appeared in 42 regular season games, starting 16 and logging 1849 minutes. That's not wasting away, it's a pretty decent career.

In short, this isn't a tale of a kid who never got a shot. He played on four different MLS teams and under some of the best coaches in league history. In fact, just two of them - Yallop and Schmid - between them have four MLS Cups, three MLS Coach of the Year awards and more combined wins than any other two coaches in league history.

These are guys who can smell talent from ten blocks away. In the Bronx. During a garbage strike.

They didn't give up on him because he didn't play reserve league soccer. They gave up on him because he just didn't cut the mustard. It happens. There's no shame in it.

Hell, the NFL drafts 10 "can't miss" kids every year, guys who have been scouted, timed, measured, taped, folded, spindled and mutilated by scouts, coaches, GM's and badly-coiffed ESPN douchebags from here to China who just don't pan out. Despite what sports fans - and I include myself - all tell themselves, you'd probably do about as well picking names out of a hat.

Andrea mentions Nick Besagno, Memo Gonzales, David Arvizu, Jason Thompson, Christian Jimenez and Jordan Stone as other highly touted young players whose MLS careers never took off, and most of us could name as many more off the top of our heads.

She puts much of the blame on the lack of an MLS Reserve League, and to be sure there may be some merit in her argument. it's unarguable that something needs to happen along those lines.

But the bottom line is that a whole bunch of kids the world over who everybody once thought were sure fire future superstars just don't pan out.

We need to be careful about tossing rocks at MLS every time one kid or another doesn't make the grade. "Development" is a complicated topic and a Reserve League isn't going to turn every rough stone into a jewel.

That's simply not how it works.

Speaking of NCAA Football and ESPN ("Every Stinking Pitch Network" as Preston MacMurray used to say) far be it from me to pour cold water on the lynch party they're holding over there for Doctor Mengele - excuse me, ex-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach - for sending a kid with a concussion-based light sensitivity to sit in the shade, munch on ice chips and nap, the player in questions' father, Craig James, offered up an early candidate for "2010 Demonstration of Sportscaster Cluelessness" award over the weekend.

During a discussion of the fact that Nebraska lineman Ndamukong Suhs' father was a professional soccer player and that Suh himself had grown up playing footie rather than pointyball and had, as a youngster, dreamed of playing soccer in Europe, James said:

"It's a good thing he decided to stay here; they don't give out seven-figure contracts in Europe".