Comparisons are a vital part of sports. We can't set our eyes on a new talent without immediately pointing to who that player reminds us of, like the Leonardo Di Caprio meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I do it too, so I wish I had an answer for why we can't escape the jaws of a player-comp,...
College Soccer and Youth Development
Couple weeks ago we gave some insight into the world of college soccer for prospective college athletes and outsiders, this week is a more positive analysis of what college soccer could be.
The United States men's soccer team has suffered many setbacks over the last decade and college soccer has been the focus of most of the finger pointing. In what college football and basketball do well in producing athletes for their respective leagues, college soccer falls well short.
Take the 2016 MLS draft, of the 76 players drafted, only 8 are currently on an MLS roster. For comparison, 30 of the 60 NBA players drafted in 2016 are currently on an NBA roster. This disparity is despite roughly 728 roster spots in the MLS and only 450 in the NBA.
This is the current state of college soccer but it could be and should be much better. College soccer offers a great opportunity for development if done properly. Ideally, college soccer would operate as essentially a U23 league, offering players the opportunity to develop into professional athletes or earn a valuable college degree. In that aspect, it could be argued that an ideal College soccer system is more beneficial to its counterparts found around the world that provide no educational benefits.
For example, the English Premier League has a Premier League 2, which is a league for Under 23 players. This was created in 2016, in recognition by the English FA that England needed to find new avenues for player development. The league has been great for development but it could be argued that it still falls short in that it provides no educational benefits for players who are not good enough to become professionals.
With college soccer, a professional career is no longer the end all be all, but that does not mean it can not be used as a developmental league. It is not acceptable that the MLS draft has become nothing more than a reminder of the country's failures in youth development. Ideally, the MLS draft would serve as an avenue for the country's best U23 players to sharpen their skill set.
I keep using the word "ideal", but the reality is college soccer as currently established is far from ideal and more and more players recognize that as they opt to play and develop in other countries.
The United States Soccer Federation takes pride in a growing number of its best youth players opting to play in other countries, which is a backwards view of what is growing into a drastic situation.
A system where a country sends its best players away from the country to develop is not a system to be proud of.
Take this summer's U20 World Cup, the United States had just 10 players on domestic club teams, less than half of the 21-man roster and by far the fewest of the 24 teams that qualified. For comparison, the final was played between a victorious Ukraine team with 18 of 21 players on Ukrainian club teams, and a South Korean team with 17 of 21 playing in South Korea. If a country cannot take care of producing and managing its best players then it will never grow into the team it otherwise could be.
Youth development is not something that should be outsourced, it is something that should be carefully and meticulously managed to develop the type of players that can go on to achieve great success.
Some, but very very few players will be ready by 18 and for the others, college soccer should be an avenue to develop while they prepare to make an impact at the club and national team levels. But for now college soccer is a long way off.
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