JFA’s underdeveloped scouting network ー Tsubasa Endoh under the radar?

Featured Image from: Toronto FC News

Article: JFA to expand scouting network worldwide (in Japanese)

A list of Japanese-born players who have played and are currently playing in the MLS:

  1. Kosuke Kimura: the first Japanese-born player to play in the MLS after being drafted in the 2007 Supplemental Draft. Currently playing for Rayo OKC (NASL)
  2. Jun Marques Davidson: currently playing for Royal Thai Navy FC (Thailand)
  3. Terukazu Tanaka: unattached
  4. Kohei Yamada: currently playing for V-Varen Nagasaki (J2)
  5. Daigo Kobayashi: currently playing for the New England Revolution
  6. Tsubasa Endoh: currently playing for Toronto FC

*Note: Takayuki Suzuki (former National Team member) played for the Portland Timbers while they were in the USL First Division, which was the 2nd tier league behind MLS.

Earlier this month, Tsubasa Endoh was selected as the 9th overall pick by the Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. In the process, he became the 1st every Japanese player to be drafted in the 1st round.

In the article linked above, the Japan Football Association (JFA) mentions,

日本協会幹部は遠藤について「ノーマークだった。どこでブレークするか分からないし、五輪本大会でもチャンスはある」とした上で「グローバルな時代になってきているので、アンテナを張っていく必要がある」と、海外でのスカウティング・ネットワークを強化していく考えを示した。

English translation:

Regarding Endoh, JFA executives say, “[Endoh] was under the radar. We are unsure of when he will make a breakthrough [into the national team], but he does have a chance at the Olympic Games.” Moreover, “because of the current ‘global era’, it is necessary to keep an eye out [for potential talent].” In other words, the JFA is indicating that they need to strengthen their scouting network.

I have doubts regarding the JFA’s statement mentioning Endoh was under the radar. The reason for this is because Endoh was a member of the JFA’s residential development program ー JFA Academy Fukushima ー which is similar to the USSF’s Bradenton Academy. Not only this, but he was also part of the youth national team for practically every group level.

Q: How can a player who was part of an elite residential development program and also a member of youth national teams go unnoticed after he goes abroad?

My answer: Negligence on part of the JFA. The residency program Endoh participated in had a condition which stated players had to go abroad, as stated in this article Tsubasa Endoh’s Journey. I find it hard to understand why the JFA would require players to play abroad, but not keep close tabs on their development, especially when that player is playing on one of the best collegiate teams in the US.

Q: How can the JFA broaden their scouting network in the world?

My opinion: Let’s take a look at the US as an example. The number of Japanese-born players or players holding a Japanese passport playing in the US is limited; therefore, placing scouts to cover larger regions would be effective. US Youth Soccer is divided into 4 regions:

  1. Region I: North East (Connecticut, Delaware, Eastern New York, New York State West, Eastern Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania West, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia)
  2. Region II: Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio North, Ohio South, Wisconsin)
  3. Region III: South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Texas, South Texas,
  4. Region IV: West (Alaska, Arizona, Cal South, Cal North, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming)

However, it goes without saying that strategically positioning scouts is essential. For example, I assume that there are larger numbers of potential players in Region I and Region IV compared to Region II and Region III; therefore, allocated a few scouts in these regions would be suitable. Then again, there are also areas within regions which might have players who are under the radar, such as Illinois (Region II), Florida (Region III), etc.

If the JFA wants to also focus on collegiate soccer in the US, I believe this regional system is suitable because the structure of collegiate sports in the US might be complicated to outsiders. In the US, there are a few associations for collegiate sports (NCAA, NAIA, NCCAA, USCAA), and within these associations, there are many conferences and also multiple divisions. Even though the system may seem complex, conferences are usually divided geographically by regions, and the concept of divisions is self-explanatory.

Globalization & Dual nationality

In recent years, young American soccer players are now looking for opportunities abroad and there is also a pool of players born abroad who are eligable to play for the US because of dual-nationality. This is a fact that current US Manager Jürgen Klinsmann has been taking seriously to strengthen the US National Team.

This is also something of interest to Japan. The main reason behind the JFA wanting to develop their scouting network is globalization. In other words, the movement of Japanese nationals overseas and international marriage. However, those with dual nationality have to, by law, make a declaration of choice between the ages of 20-22. If a player declares for Japan, he or she will have to forfeit their other nationalities, and vice versa. Therefore, making contact with these players and breaking them into youth national team squads is imperative to the development of Japanese soccer.

In this post, I focused mainly on how the JFA can expand their connections in the US, but I think this method can be implemented in other countries as well, excluding the concept of scouting college soccer because club soccer is the main hotbed for development in the majority of countries. The key is to use a contact, perhaps a Japan national involved with soccer in the target country.

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