Washington Diplimats Coach Gordon Bradley, who has worked hard to develop American soccer since first arriving in the U.S. 12 years ago, expressed frustration this week with the progress the game is making nationally and in the Washington area.
"I think Canadian soccer is way ahead of American soccer right now," Bradley said. "The american children who are trying to learn the game will not make the kind of progress they should because of bad fields and bad coaching."
Bradley, whose son plays for Braddock school in Northern Virginia, said he was appalled by what he saw when he attended youth games and high school games.
"The fields are so small they can barely play the game," he said. "At one game, I counted 173 throw-ins in an 80-minute game. Can you believe that? As for the coaching, well it's diabolical.
"What kind of soccer are we exposing these kids to? The condition of the fields is ridiculous. I saw one field where the grass was 18 inches long. You couldn't even see the ball."
There are more than 35,000 youngsters playing soccer in Northern Virginia. Everett Germaine, president of the Annandale Boys Club, one of the area's top soccer organizations, says he understands Bradley's frustrations.
"I think Gordon is being properly idealistic when he talks about what he would like to see for soccer in this area," Germaine said. "But we have problems. We play soccer in the fall and the spring and to try and get the grass to grow back naturally between seasons is impossible. There's no way. So we need to reseed the fields right after the spring season and then water all summer. But that takes time and personnel."
As for the size of the fields, Germaine said, "You work with what you have. We would love to have fields that are 70 yards wide like the Diplomats do. But we don't. I would rather have the kids playing on small dirt and gravel fields than not playing at all."
And on coaching: " we have the best youth soccer coaches in this country in our area. But they still leave something to be desired. It would be nice to have 20 Gordon Bradleys, or even one more Gordon Bradley. He (Bradley) has done a great job with his coaches' clinics, but we still have a long way to go."
Bradley concluded, "There's a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. But the people who care about soccer in this area have to get to work on changing things right away. Today, not tomorrow."
Rumors are flying around the NASL about the fate of the Portland Timbers. Portland was one of the league's original boom towns, arriving in 1975 amidst much fanfare with a team that went to the Soccer Bowl and regularly drew more than 20,000 fans for home games.
But the team - and the city's romance with it - fizzled. Attendance began dropping in 1977 and did not recover last year (11,803 a game) in spite of the fact that the team rebounded to a 20-10 record and made the playoff semifinals.
This year, with the team 8-14 and in last place in the National Conference West, attendance is plummeting toward the 1,200 mark. Last week three front-office employes, including publicity director John Hahn, were fired.
This prompted Commissioner Phil Woosnam to call a meeting with team President Don Pollock. "He made suggestions," was all Pollock would say of the meeting.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate about the team being sold and Coach Don Megson being fired. Reportedly, Portland Trail Blazer owner Harry Glickman and a Phoenix group are negotiating to purchase the team.