Friday, June 13, 2008

The Young Americans

SI.Com's Greg Lalas has a piece that I just saw regarding young American soccer players who could make a mark on the U.S. International level.

To be sure, one of the biggest problems the U.S. faces is up top. While Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey (when he is in form) can provide sparks up top, the fact is that when they are in the game, they will be targets for defense, making it easy to shut down the U.S. team's attack. Despite early promise, Eddie Johnson just isn't cutting the mustard--and while my patience is running thin, I am not ready to write him completely off yet since he is young. Brian Ching is not in the line-up regularly enough to have made a mark and Bob Bradley seems reluctant to call up MLS players who are making a mark this season, such as Kenny Cooper (7 Goals in MLS) and the resurgent Edson Buddle (8 Goals in the MLS). Although Buddle might a risk given his past problems, there is no reason why Cooper is not in the player pool for Bradley.

But what is promising is not just some of those players and guys like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, who are clearly two on the Young Americans who will take the American game to the next level assuming they stay healthy. But Lalas talked about four players to watch back in April. But of the four Lalas highlighted, none are true strikers in the mold of Brian McBride--a player who really was a true striker able to play with his back to the goal.

The closest Lalas comes is Colorado's Colin Clark, who has played well on the Rapids wing this year and could prove to be an asset to a future U.S. Team. Clark has been a fixture for the Rapids, playing in all 12 games and starting 11 of them. What Clark is going to benefit from is the playmaking skills of Christian Gomez and the age and experience of Terry Cook. Can Clark make the jump to the senior national team soon? Perhaps, but I think he will need to do so something special with the Olympic team this summer, of course, for that to happen he has to get on U23 Coach Peter Novak's radar and he hasn't really been there.

But here is the real problem for the U.S. development going forward--the American College Soccer program.

I like college soccer, I like it a great deal--it can be a real entertaining game to watch. However, if you have a teenager who plays soccer well, the worst thing in the world for him to do is go to college to play soccer. The coaching at the college level is spotty at best and can actually destroy talent in some cases. A truly gifted teenager should play for an MLS side if nothing else and preferably go to Europe and develop over there.

The fact is that in America people believe you cannot be successful at anything unless you go to the college system, and this is true for big time sports as well. When the NBA changed the rules recently to deny teams the ability to draft players right out of high school, they actually set the NBA game back a little bit.

I do believe that players of any sport should not be turning pro unless they have completed high school and have a diploma. I think the basic education is important. But for elite athletes in the states, outside of maybe American football where physical development is important, it is unnecessary to go to college to develop as a player.

So if I were coaching a 18 year old kid who showed promise as a soccer player, my advice will be to go to Europe, get into the league system and train, train, train. If the talent is there, a European coach will find it and develop it. A college education can be deferred and may actually benefit the student. There is also nothing stopping the player from pursuing remotely either.

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