MMCB: On the college game, and why it’s still so important

CollegeCupCelebrationUVA (ISIphotos.com)

No, there were no goals scored in regulation of Sunday's NCAA College Cup Final (won by Virginia over Akron in penalty kicks), and yes, there were only a combined three goals scored in the three College Cup games this past weekend, but this weekend's NCAA matches were still a success. Why? The matches helped provide a glimpse of a college game that is still producing good professional prospects and still serving as a useful stand-in for a proper pro player development system in the United States.

In an ideal world, the task of developing pro prospects would fall to Major League Soccer, but the league has only recently begun making any real progress in establishing the infrastructure for such a role. In the interim, and for decades now, college soccer has helped fill that role by giving young soccer players in this country an avenue to pursue the game and grow as players.

There are some who still don't realize just how invaluable the college game is to player development in this country, which is disappointing because without college soccer the current pool of American talent would be much more shallow and the pro game in this country wouldn't have made as many strides as it has enjoyed over the course of the past decade.

Even as MLS continues to grow, and the academy programs slowly but surely being put in place start to increase their role in developing talent, the college game will still be important in developing players. Why? Because the United States is just too large a country for 15 teams to cover with academies and even as some colleges cut their men's soccer programs, there are still plenty that are flourishing a doing an excellent job of helping young talents hone their game.

This was clear this past weekend as we caught a glimpse of the considerable amount of talent on display this past weekend. From Virginia's Tony Tchani to Akron's Teal Bunbury, to Wake Forest's Ike Opara and Corben, down to younger prospects such as Akron's Kofi Sarkodie, Virginia's Will Bates and Florida's Billy Schuler, the four teams competing in the College Cup showed us that a healthy number of quality pro prospects are continuing to be produced by the pro game.

We probably should have already figured that out considering what we saw from the 2009 MLS Rookie Class, which was one of the strongest in league history. When you also consider that European-based pros Marcus Tracy, Alejandro Bedoya and Mike Grella were also produced last year by the college game, you realize that, if anything, colleges are producing even more pro-ready talent than ever before.

The 2010 MLS Draft class will be hard-pressed to match last year's success, but the pool of talent is a strong one for a second straight year, especially if standout underclassmen Opara, Bone, Tchani and Bunbury leave school early.

Yes, the weekend's matches could have been better, and more attractive, but championship games can often be struggles between strong teams. What we still were able to see were good tactics, sharp passing, impressive defending and some individual talent that surely had MLS scouts excited about the prospects for another deep draft.

There may come a day when the college game is officially relegated to second-fiddle status in the professional player production business, but until that day comes, and until MLS teams have things in place to really produce players, American soccer fans should probably realize just how important college soccer is to the continued growth of the sport in this country.

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106 Responses to MMCB: On the college game, and why it’s still so important

  1. fubar says:

    Were we watching the same games? Just terrible.

    (SBI-The games weren’t beautiful as a whole, but there was plenty of good soccer within each of the games. I was personally very impressed with the way Wake Forest played, and Akron showed plenty of signs of good soccer.)

  2. Lorenzo says:

    I think Ives is saying that you pluck 10-15 of the best players in the college game, put them individually into a professional club with better players, coaches, training, and it can only take a matter of months before they are able to contribute at a decent pro level (MLS, Mid-low England, Nordic Leagues, etc).

    These top players won’t look the same in the pro environment with pro players surrounding them as they will with good college ball kids around them.

    He is right.

  3. Joe from El Paso says:

    These guys were a joke. I could not watch them. If this is the future of American Soccer, I weep for the future. Very sloppy play. Even the penalty shootout looked childish.

  4. fubar says:

    And tactics? What tactics? You mean, “let’s play the long ball and see of Bunbury or Tchani can run on to it and outrace the defender to the goal?” What is this, England in the 70’s?

    Mos of the players had no sense of ehre they were on the field. The passing seemed heavy-handed causing players to “accept” passes that then bounced all over the place.

    Certainly a lack of technical expertise and really no finishing awareness that I could see. On the through ball through the box late in the match, the Akron Player (#11) didn’t even make a half-hearted effort to re-direct it on goal. In fact, he never even made an attempt as the ball harmlessly rolled across the six yard box.

    This was a conglomeration of everything that is wrong with soccer in the US today. Too much reliance on altheticism. Players trying to outmuscle one another for balls (with the apparent blessing of the match official)and relying on speed and power rather than on guile, mis-direction, quick changes in field, etc.

    Three goals over the weekend. No wonder…

  5. WK says:

    i watched part of akron-UNC and akron-VA- both were better than i expected. neither team had the req’d class needed to finish some good buildup, but akron played well, and UNC was stout in defense, especially after the red card.

  6. Dave Clark says:

    Why can’t colleges develop soccer playeres but they do incredibly well developing football, basketball and baseball players?

  7. fubar says:

    Maybe I am being a bit harsh and you may be right in that only a fraction of these players will end up in the pros BUT I cannot wait for the day when every MLS team has an academy and we are seeing 100+ players in each and every system throughout age groups U12 and up.

    Only then, will we see a quantum leap in the quality of the game in a professional level.

    What will it take to get there?

  8. Murphy says:

    money

  9. Smacking says:

    As someone that never watches college soccer I have to admit I was disappointed in the two games I watched. Very few scoring chances created, poor ball collection, a lot of heavy tackles and players relying more on hustle than skill. I felt like I could directly see the correlations of the same issues to MLS. I’m now realizing the dire need for better home grown development. That said, I absolutely appreciate the importance of the college game in providing opportunities where they currently don’t exist. In addition, college provides grooming beyond soccer for players that wont make it through the system.

  10. Bobby says:

    Schuler plays for UNC, not Florida

  11. socmin says:

    Thank you, Ives, for putting proper perspective on this— unlike the amateur posters that populate this section.

  12. Mig22 says:

    I suppose that the college game is necessary in the US. Since MLS can’t develop players do to limited resources…and frankly will “never” be able to do so, NCAA soccer will be important for creating those MLS roster fillers. Sad, but true.

  13. Rory says:

    Interest from the public as a whole.

    How can you run academies and leagues when your biggest league has teams that get only 8,000 fans?

  14. adam says:

    put akron in the MLS and they will not finish in last place….far and away the best team in college soccer, despite lacking in the final third….

  15. MontgomeryW says:

    Because it is our sports. In football we have near zero competition from other countries so whatever way we develop players is the best way. In basketball we have small competion outside from other countries(atleast in comparison to soccer) and overall countries like Spain probably do a better job of teaching the fundmentals but we still beat them by a lot in terms of athletic ability. Even in baseball guys that were all americans in college a lot of times still need a lot of years in the minors. We don’t have the years and years of experience developing young players that the top countries do and the way we view player development here is totally different than what it is in other countries.

  16. Tony in Quakeland says:

    I have been a long standing critic of NCAA soccer. I once brought my son (he was eight at the time) to see Cal play UCLA because a friend’s brother was on UCLA. I spent have the game covering his eyes because it was so ugly – it was literally the backlines kicking long balls to each other.

    And while some of that was on display in the games over the past week, there was a LOT more possession, short passing and tactical build up. The evolution in the game is obvious if you compare it to even just a few years ago. Akron, for example, played almost no long balls against North Carolina, and against Virginia balls into the forwards were almost entirely from the mids or the flanks.

    College still needs to adopt FIFA rules regarding subs and time outs to take the next step in the evolution of its tactical approach. But it absolutely has a role in developing players, particularly because (a) scouting in this country is still inconsistent and incomplete, meaning many good players do not get on pro or US Soccer radars, and (b) not every top professional was a stud at 16. There are many ‘late bloomers’ and college is a great path for player development for many players. This will be true even when each MLS team has youth academies and reserve teams.

  17. Ethan says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but NCAA teams are allowed to have 8 full scholarships in total. They can divide these scholarships (Ex: give half tuition to two players) or they can give 8 full scholarships and have the rest walk-ons.

    Anyway, I point this out merely to state that there are a lot of players on these teams that are paying for college, and whom would not be playing for their schools (in most cases) if the schools had more scholarships available.

  18. JCO says:

    Hey Ives,
    I don’t mean to stray from the article but what do you think of Juergen Klinsmann becoming the new Red Bulls coach? There are no rumors out there but I read that he was coming back to America so I was thinking he might get involved in MLS somehow.

  19. Lorenzo says:

    Ha, well I guess i shouldn’t speak for Ives. He states above what he thought of the games.

    But i think you have to understand that different environments and surrounding support changes a player.

  20. Tony in Quakeland says:

    I’m sorry, but that is an absurd statement. Check back in four years and see how many of the players from their team this year are professionals. If it is as many as four or five I’d be stunned. Put them in MLS and they would be road kill.

  21. Rory says:

    Are Quarterbacks ready for the NFL straight out of college, generally, no.

    Are Wide Recievers? Nope, they almost always take 3 years to pan out.

    Why are you expecting MLS players from college to be all ready to go?

  22. timmy_u says:

    In response to Dave Clark (since reply isnt working for me) the only one of those analogies that really holds true is American football. The college game is the premier development opportunity for aspiring talent and it clearly serves its purpose. College basketball USED to do that but the trend lately of players who can make the jump is to spend one year in and declare or go straight from high school. AAU has really supplanted college ball as the development system. And baseball has an amazing farm system set up because college systems are not developing talent well enough.

    Ideally, yes, the academy system will overpower college soccer in the long run and many colleges will drop their teams – unfortunately it takes the death of one for the other to properly succeed. But there are programs turning out consistent pro talent – some say because they attract the best prospects – others say becasue of the environment fostered by the coach and the program. Its probably a mix of both, but there is a reason so many pros come from the Wake, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, and other established programs.

  23. Lorenzo says:

    I think the College game is extremely important for developing COACHES.

    Not only ones at the pro level but players who learned a lot form the college game and can turn around and pass on that knowledge to 5-20 year olds.

    Most coaches of our youth are parents who are fairly ignorant about the details of the game. A lot of our MNT players come from parents who were not ignorant (Micheal Bradley (dad coached), and Davies, Cooper, Reyna, Meola, Ramos, dad’s were all pros. Sure there is more if you dig them up).

  24. K Bone says:

    Dude, you can’t be serious. There are so many things wrong with this statement. First, if they were far and away the best team in college soccer, don’t you think they’d have handily won the championship, which they didn’t even do? They were in a weak conference, and it’s not like they blew through the tournament to get to the final. I highly doubt they’d have been undefeated if they were in the ACC. And second of all, it’s just silly to think they could compete with MLS. I mean really, it’s silly. What are you basing this one? This is a college team where the vast majority aren’t good enough to play in MLS (or at least get playing time), and you think they wouldn’t finish last in MLS against players 10 years older than them and years of experience and designated players? It’s mind-boggling…

  25. afc says:

    Euan Holden (Stuart’s brother) is headed to England. Not sure which club though.

  26. Dave says:

    I was talking w/ an agent friend of mine in the Boston area a few days ago about this college cup and one of the themes of our discussion was just how rigid and thoughtless (almost robotic) so many american players in college are and that it’s really mostly the foreign-based players that do anything of note on the pitch-this was on full display this weekend. I grew up watching the University of Rhode Island in the 90’s and one of the best collegiate players of ALL TIME-Andy Williams of Jamaica and newly crowned MLS champs RSL. His skill level and creativity were simply at a level SO far above the players around him, as was the case w/ many other foreign-born URI players over the years, many of whom have played in the MLS and abroad-so why is this? I highly doubt the infrastructure in Jamaica is any better for player development than it is here.

    I was just SCREAMING for some creativity this weekend-TAKE a player on, make the extra pass to open up some pass, try the killer diagonal ball, JUST DO SOMETHING creative-look at what happened when Villanueva made that cut in the box in the semi, or Bunburry megged that VA defender in OT-CHANCES or Bone tip-toed down the endline. These college teams are just so DAMN conservative-that this is what we get as a result-bunker down,good enough defending that will never translate at the next level.

    Wake were BY FAR the most impressive team-why? Da Luz and Bone and the guy w/ the Russian name. Free-flowing, creative, passing and moving. These are players that have potential at the next level, the difference is the philosophy, the skill level and ability of these players will never translate into growth and development w/out an impetus on playing creative, attacking soccer. Right now the modus operandi is automatism, and it’s so obvious-it’s rigid, it’s ugly and the result is 0 goals in 3 matches.

  27. Erik says:

    Holland is a country that produces a ton of talent and about 2/3rds of the teams there draw crowds that are not bigger that 10,000. Most of those clubs have great academies. So yes it is possible to combine both. The problem dutch clubs have now is that the big EPL teams now scout those academies for young talent and snatch them up before the even make it to the senior team. I actually think it is great for young players to play for a college and study at the same time, since many won’t make it as a pro but can still fall back on their studies.

  28. jig says:

    because there are 17 and 18 year olds in other countries that are “all ready to go”, and yesterday we saw a bunch of kids that were 21 and 22 running around kicking each other. and to think, we blame bob bradley for our national team’s shortcomings.

  29. jig says:

    I thought the level was higher in this final than it has been in years past, but it still wasnt that great.

    For me, Tchani is not worth the hype. Yeah, he’s big, strong and moves well, but his skills on the ball were severely disappointing for a player touted so highly by so many. If the hope for him is to eventually become a centerback or someone who breaks up play in the midfield, i can see a future for him. Anyone who thinks he will be useful as an attacker at the next level is kidding themselves

  30. OmarVizquel says:

    And consider the fact that if these young men can’t find pro success, most of them will have gotten a top-flight (and FREE) college education.

    (The cringeworthy Twitter grammar of Jozy and Adu come immediately to mind…)

  31. Daniel says:

    Some of the commentary makes me laugh… Akron plays the game like it should be played… they treat the ball well, the move, they combine with one another… very attractive… unfortunately, as is the case when the stakes are higher in a semi or a final, the emphasis is on winning the game and those games can get bogged down… but even with the pressure of semi and a final and pouring rain, they still tried to play the game the right way… Blair Gavin pulled the strings so very well… Ben Zemanski was everywhere winning the ball back… Zarek Valentin controls the defense and his distribution out of the back is first rate… i never much cared for Teal Bunbury’s game but he is a handful to deal with for 90 minutes… Darlington Nagbe is spectacular with the ball… Kofi Sarkodie was non-stop up and back… and they played without the services of the TWO (2) lynchpins of the attack (Nanchoff & Ampai)… i wish the country would have had an opportunity to see this team at full strength this weekend…

    The University of Akron should be commended for the way they’ve played the game in 2009… while they may not have had everything working for them this weekend when a bunch of you got your first chance to see them play, they still played the most attractive soccer of any team in the Final Four… they have taken college soccer to a new level…

  32. JCO says:

    I agree. I guess it comes down to the coaches developing the players to play that kind of style.

  33. otergod says:

    i suspect they could give SJ and NJRB a run for their money :D

  34. nestor says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t we be bashing the college system itself that probably lacks the resources to dedicate itself to the game? While most schools focus fully on its football programs, is soccer that way behind in coaches, structure and training? I don’t fault the players who probably are like you and I, born loving this game and wanting to participate in an organized and “professional-like” environment?

    I, personally, have not seen too much college footy but have seen tons of high school matches and came away impressed with several individual talents. The collective play wasn’t exactly out of this world (granted, they’re in their teens) but you can tell who has the skills to build on…

  35. DC Josh says:

    It’s ubsurd to narrow the problem of US soccer to one developmental level. There isn’t one level that is more important than the other, rather all of them working as a cohesive unit, that truly develops a player at a steady pace and prepares him for the pros.

    Unfortunately, by the time a player turns pro, he has missed so many hours of crucial technical development that he is light years behind other nation’s youth players around the same age. College has and will be the stepping stone for youngsters into the pros, but until youngsters receive the proper coaching at an early age, we will still fall short in global competitions.

    Just like Lorenzo said, without proper coaching, we can’t expect young players to develop from soccer dads.

  36. D says:

    That might just be part of our culture. In this country a lot of kids get started on soccer because parents like the fact that in youth soccer no player stands out and because every kid gets to play. The creativity in american sports is usually found in basketball.

  37. Chicago Mike says:

    If you you need real prospective, watch a college football game on a Saturday and then an NFL game on Sunday. Then realize that some of those college players could be playing the next year. But that some is only the elite.

  38. jake says:

    fubar, you must have been watching some other games too. They weren’t playing long balls to Tchani or Bunbury. Bates/Ownby were the target forwards for UVA and Bunbury mostly got passes to his feet with his back to goal.

    Also, Ives, don’t forget about the whole UVA back line. Any of those four plus the goalie could leave early and make an MLS roster if they decide to.

  39. green says:

    Because it’s what we’ve got, really is why it’s still so important.

    However, it’s also why we still get put in our place when we go up against the big boys in youth tournaments (international).

  40. otergod says:

    haha, certainly you arent referring to a web version of text msg’ing as a base line to claim they are not articulate or uneducated??

  41. DC Josh says:

    And I hope Garber brings back the reserve league. Without it, too much pressure is put on income-thin systems like the new NASL, USL-1, and college soccer. He needs to worry less about his wallet, and more about American soccer.

  42. A.S. says:

    Like it or not, college is still an important stop for a good number of the US national team players. Gooch, Dempsey, Boca, Guzan, Bornstein, Davies, Edu, Feilhaber, Clark and Holden (to name some) all played college soccer.

    Doesn’t mean I am going to watch the games, though.

  43. MontgomeryW says:

    Yeah in this country we don’t think our elite athletes can handle going to school while having a heavy workload in their sport. Like in basketball Brandon Jennings has gotten of to great start to his career partially because in Italy he was praticing to two times a day instead of maybe 2 hours a day at a University.

  44. otergod says:

    too true…

    MLS is growing, but its going to take time to see their academy programs in full swing. Until that time College is not a bad option. Keeps our player pool playing the game. However i cant wait for the day when MLS have their Academy programs running full swing, a Reserves league set up allowing for transitional period between youth and pro, and DII and DIII leagues (NASL and USL?)… Eventually the College program might end up being a failsafe for most players who cant manage a spot on a pro system

  45. Andolini says:

    I agree with Tony in Quakeland. The college game gets better and better every year. If you compare the college cup with EPL games, it stinks, but if you watch u-20 World Cup games, even the best teams have trouble keeping possession for long stretches. The college game has its place in the US and helps develop players. I wonder how old some of you posters are — I compare the current state of soccer in this country to where it was prior to Italia ’90, and I am amazed at the progress. If you are under the age of 20, you have never watched a WC without the US. Your expectations are probably higher and you are probably a little harsher in your judgment. Let’s have a little perspective.

  46. Manny F says:

    It was a horrible game. On top of that, I still don’t understand how people support the college game. College game is one aspect of American Soccer that should really be restructured or completely should be rid of. All I saw was talent on the field, and I don’t know how much goes into actually developing as to just learning a system or play. When you season depends on winning, I don’t see that No10, No9, No7 or No8 really developing when your team is being taught to defend and hold pressure.

  47. Manny F says:

    Which is why the college game harms players. Developing players shouldn’t be put second to winning games.

    This is why the college game is outdated in this country now.

  48. Kyle says:

    I wish we would have gotten to see a Wake Forest – Akron match up. It would have been much more open, and there’s probably no one in the country that plays possession football as well as Wake does. Wake’s had a huge amount of talent taken off the past few years’ teams, and yet they’re still pumping out pro prospects.

    Jay Vidovich teaches off-ball movement better than anyone, in my opinion.

  49. OmarVizquel says:

    (sarcastic answer, by the way…)

  50. Hopper says:

    I would like to get on board with the college game, but the quality of play is so poor and sloppy, and I don’t see it getting any better. I don’t understand why the coaches at the college level don’t get their teams to play a more attractive game, as many of these coaches come from Europe.

    Here’s what I see at the college level: Very physical play, horrible first touches, poor control of the ball overall, and sloppy passing. I really wish that our college game could serve as a true feeder league for the professional game here, the way it does with practically every other sport, but it seems our college players are always step below the players who have gone to youth academies.

  51. blokhin says:

    I did not watch a minute of these games, however, the fact that Ives’ column immediately opens with defensive arguments about the college game only shows how putrid these games must have been- not really a shocker for anyone who watches MLS or college games…

    Until our youth system is serious about developing professionals from an early age, please spare the criticism of Bradley, or the next USMNT coach…. Unlike football, baseball and basketball, US is far from a dominant power internationally, therefore we cannot afford the luxury of having our promising 18-22 year olds toil away at college, while their South American and Europan counterparts are logging Chamions League minutes….

  52. Jacopo Belbo says:

    the answer to this is simple. in brazil and spain and even england kids who are 5 years old play pick up soccer all day every day and learn alot of instincts this way. at a young age it is important to A. always have a ball at your feet and B. do a lot of ‘learning’ organically … fostering an innate since of creativity and ‘soccer iq’

    until recently soccer in the us has either been A. a way to entertain 22 kids fairly easily, parents coaching kids running round and playing kick ball B. the ‘talented’ kids at ‘elite’ programmes that focused on winning before development … which means when they need to be learning to learn for themselves they are put into strict tactical programmes (often run by less than knowledgable people) in order to WIN youth tourneys etc. the same applies to college (tho at that age it is pretty clear a player should be learning tactics etc, and probably in a professional setting not with half a team of chumps).

  53. Tony in Ninerland says:

    I agree with you for agreeing with me! But seriously, you are exactly right. I would have made the points you did, but I didn’t want to sound like I was giving another “All you young whippersnappers don’t understand!” speech. Thanks for taking that hit!

  54. Cyrus says:

    This needed to be said. The college game is a huge part of our player development and I’m sick of people bashing on it. I think our best players should go pro before college, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for college soccer in America.

  55. Keith G. says:

    Im going to guess that people like you and Fubar never made it at the college soccer level. I played college soccer, and I thought it was great, and the players around me all had outstanding skills and a different style of play. Most tallent that the top colleges get are players that have been playing club soccer, so they are coming out of the system you want them to come out of. When it comes to the coaches in the college game I can tell you that 50% of the coaches in my league came from Europe, so I am pretty sure they know the game. Intsead of bashing the college game maybe you should watch it a little more, these are kids who are going out and playing for the love of the game and arent out there for the contracts. Yes alot know this could be there final stop, and may never play pro, so they are going to play even harder then those that are being looked at by the MLS or Europe. The college game is top notch, and I loved every minute of my time at the college level.

  56. Keith G. says:

    Im going to guess that the people that bash the college game never made it at the college soccer level. I played college soccer, and I thought it was great, and the players around me all had outstanding skills and a different style of play. Most tallent that the top colleges get are players that have been playing club soccer, so they are coming out of the system you want them to come out of. When it comes to the coaches in the college game I can tell you that 50% of the coaches in my league came from Europe, so I am pretty sure they know the game. Intsead of bashing the college game maybe you should watch it a little more, these are kids who are going out and playing for the love of the game and arent out there for the contracts. Yes alot know this could be there final stop, and may never play pro, so they are going to play even harder then those that are being looked at by the MLS or Europe. The college game is top notch, and I loved every minute of my time at the college level.

  57. Agree, Agree, and Agree. I was about to post something similar, except for the played college soccer part. I was dumb enough to play rugby.

  58. Here is the real problem: youth soccer is too *&^%$#@! expensive in this country. Hell, youth sports are too *&^%$#@! expensive. However, when you are talking soccer and every other country around the world develops young players for very little cost to the parent (or even free), as well as gives them world class training, how is the US supposed to compete? The entire structure needs to be torn down and I have my doubts it ever will be. College soccer can be great, but those games are few and far between. For the most part it is comprised of long balls over the top and raw athletic talent. I can watch that at the rec level.

  59. Ives,

    Is Teal Bunbury American or Canadian?

    I swore I heard JP & Kyle mention multiple times during the broadcast that his Dad was a Canadian International, and in their Hall of Fame. Straighten me out.

  60. JoeW says:

    Count me as one of those guys who concluded a decade ago that the college game would never be a major contributor to professional talent except for a sporadic player here or there. And I was completely wrong.

    Bash the game (collectively) all you want. Complain about the quality or tactical level of the College Cup games until Ives kills the thread. But there’s the real tests of the college game (in terms of talent):
    –increasingly, more and more college players (including attackers) come right into MLS and contribute.
    –increasingly, more and more college players get offers to go straight to Europe.

    You can criticize the quality of play, the technical sophistication (or lack thereof), the coaching, lack of games, whatever. But here is what I’ve discovered–college soccer as presently constituted is capable of producing players who can make it professionally.

    And no, not just guys not born in the US. There are a host of college players who have gotten offers to go overseas (some did, some didn’t).

    Now I still don’t believe you can produce a nation full of world class talent by relying on colleges for a soccer NT. And it still makes sense to me that if people get more games and better coaching using FIFA rules, you’ll produce better players.

    But what I’ve also come to realize is this: not everyone develops the same in the same model and same progress. Some folks mature later in life (physically or mentally). Some guys who are just not good enough at 16 or 17 or 18 suddenly get the right situation, get a life-lesson, get a growth spurt, acquire some confidence and suddenly at 20 or even 22, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Yes, I want the MLS academies to expand. Yes, I want us to get more talent via youth programs and reserves. But I’ve come to realize the hard way: that colleges are an incredibly useful tool for growing players.

    And here’s a thought for you folks who think I’m a heretic (b/c I once was one of you–critizicing colleges for holding our talent back): colleges could be our ace in the hole. Remember my point about how not everyone is ready at 15-16-17? We know that intuitively…some kids (not soccer players, just STUDENTS) graduate HS at 18 and flunk out of college–they aren’t ready yet. But at 20-22 they come back and excel. In 20 years, while the entire world (and I hope MLS) is relying on academies and reserves and youth programs, we’ll have something that they can’t grow: an additional source of talent for all those kids who got labeled as “not good enough” at 16 but somehow got better and proved in college that they deserve another look. And for a nation as big as our’s that means that if only 5% of the potential players out there aren’t good enough at 16 but turn a corner at 20, that would be immense.

  61. Xander Crews says:

    Agreed wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, watching the semifinal on Friday (especially after NC was down to 10 men), you saw the tactics so frequently used in American soccer in general: bunker down, put all 10 men behind the ball and hope for penalty kicks. Virginia did the same on Sunday outside of the first 10 minutes when they actually came out attacking.

    I was impressed with both Akron and Wake Forest’s play on the weekend. What a treat that would have been had those two teams met up in the final. Instead, we got a double-dose of bunker ball. For the casual fan flipping on that game on Sunday, seeing Virginia’s play would make them change the channel in a heartbeat.

  62. wilbur06 says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the conditions they were playing in. It was cold and disgusting and rainy and not all prime for a beautiful soccer game.

  63. einar says:

    yes college soccer is necessary right now but academies must be focused on being built and to improve talent. There r some players that are not playing in the ncaa and are better than most in the ncaa but r never discovered.

    p.s. the game were boring and i hcanged the channel afer 5 minutes

  64. Northzax says:

    Baseball already has this (well no academies) a strong highly structured scouting system down to a very young age, pro-style development programs for young players, a structured minor league reserve system and buckets of money to sign 17 year olds. And still 16 of the first 32 picks in the amateur draft were college kids. Since we will never have enough pro soccer teams in the country to match the pro baseball team coverage, and they miss 17-18 year olds, why do we think the soccer infrastructure will develop deep enough to catch them all? If you aren’t a professional player in much of Europe by 18 you never will be. In the US, you have another developmental route, the college game. And you get a fallback plan when you don’t make it (which most won’t)

    Look at it from this perspective: a four year college degree costs out of state at any of the College Cup final schools around a hundred thousand dollars. Until professional soccer in this country can make itself ab attractive enough financial proposition for enough players, you’re not going to get many who will give that up, or even a half ride up, for a pro deal (this is why GenAd’s greatest bribe is paying tuition for those that wash out) in other countries (England, Netherlands, Spain, Germany etc, there are either more opportunities for non-degreed people and/or much cheaper universities. A 16 year old in London who signs a deal with Arsenal reserves isn’t giving up his chance to become a teacher if he blows his knee out. The American basically is, unless he comes from money. You’re 17. The RedBulls offer you a $25k developmental contract (well in line with developmental deals in Europe for a marginal prospect) Duke offers you a ride. Which do you think you should take? Heck, there are baseball players drafted every year in high rounds and offered tens of thousands who turn it down fr college.

  65. Shmenge says:

    BlacknBlueKC,

    His Dad played for YOUR TEAM for two years.

    Alex Bunbury.

  66. Xander Crews says:

    Wake – Akron would have been a proper showcase for what college soccer at its best is… instead we get Virginia bunker-ball…

  67. Media Man says:

    The games were brutal to watch, but a lot of those kids will play different positions professionally, which will automatically improve their stock.

    Tony Tchani is a great example. He’s a box-to-box holding midfielder in MLS (like Joseph or Beckerman), not a creative midfielder.

    Austin da Luz did the most for his stock. With his skill on the ball and pace, he’s a starting left winger in MLS as a rookie.

    Ike Opara will get the most hype. He’s good, not great. The kid has great potential, but is far from a polished player. I’d frankly be surprised if he came close to the rookie seasons Omar Gonzalez and Darius Barnes had in 2009.

  68. otergod says:

    dont get me wrong, i know the current system is jacked and needs improving. Hence why i said i cant wait until college ball is (if ever) obsolete.

    i know MLS has very very very little incentive at the moment to draw youth players due to the cap and current rules.

    i dont foresee college ball becoming obsolete anytime soon. Simply cant wait for the day where it does

  69. otergod says:

    you come up with a structure for the system where money is still going into the youth clubs from another source and not from the parents’ pockets and i assure you the USSF (or whatever organization) will listen

    but until then, can we stop complaining about the $$ aspect??

    are you coaching for free?? we simply do not have the culture and sponsor interest to really fix what you are complaining about. Do i agree with you?? yes, i completely agree. It will take more people who know the sport whom are willing to go out and volunteer their time to start the change. Fact is if you want to play for a good team, the coach demands money for his services..

  70. adam says:

    im basing this on the fact that the majority of the players in MLS cannot pass and receive a ball under pressure like akron did…

  71. John says:

    Difference in skills between US and other soccer playing countries’ young players shows up very early, by U-17 it is clear. The US fails to develop strikers especially in numbers. It also does just average for defenders.

    All of these problems, to a large extent, are due to lack of adequate organization and coaching. Here is where more emphasis must be placed by, if necessary, importing foreign expertise. Not just one person but as many as necessary (20-25?).

    A team of scouts should be based in soccer playing hotbeds, N. Virginia-DC-Maryland, NJ, NY, Dallas etc.,. The US Soccer Federation and MLS (others) should jointly finance the early identification and training of young talent. Without some similar training program we are going to remain also-rans for the next several hundred years.

  72. Al17 says:

    I watched yesterday’s final and overall thought it was horrid (penalty kicks were a joke)when it’s supposed to highlight some of the best young talent we have in our country. The college game doesn’t do a good job of developing younger players for a number of reasons a few include:

    1. Difficult to develop a player when you have to play nearly 20 games in the span of a couple of 3 months- your pro leagues play that match in half a full season. Hell, I’m surprised the number of injuries isn’t much higher. The season is too short.

    2. Importance of winning trumps tactics that encourage the beautiful game. Very few players at the college level or for that matter at any level in U.S. youth soccer encourage creativity. I’m always shocked whenever I see a college player actually trying a move in a match.

    The difference between college soccer and the major college sports is in youth development. A number of your football, basketball and baseball players have actually played some form of street ball on a regular basis as a kid. Young soccer players in this country don’t do it nearly enough, if at all and that’s a HUGE problem in my opinion. Give the kids the ball and leave them the hell alone. As a good friend said to me, kids playing Soccer in America is the exact opposite of kids playing Basketball in America. Example, those of you living in a northern town, when was the last time you saw a few kids shovel snow to go out and play soccer versus a group of kids shovling snow to play Basketball?

    Hell, this should be a separate conversation topic.

  73. Al17 says:

    John,

    the scouts are out there. The problem is still with the culture of youth soccer development in this country. We’re still not getting our best young players due to the same ol B.S. politics. We need to have someone come in and restructure the entire program from top to bottom and actually implement it. Furthermore the soccer hot beds are a part of the problem I just mentioned.

  74. jig says:

    dude, come down off the soapbox. That’s cool that you had a great time playing in college, that doesn’t mean it’s not the most backward way to develop kids 18-22 possible.

    “Most tallent that the top colleges get are players that have been playing club soccer, so they are coming out of the system you want them to come out of.”

    Not really. Club soccer in the US is nearly as screwed up as college soccer. The vast majority of club coaches place as much of an emphasis on results as do their college counterparts. Unless your team plays in the Development Academy, you’re inevitably gonna pick up bad habits that cripple the development of young players.

    “Yes alot know this could be there final stop, and may never play pro, so they are going to play even harder then those that are being looked at by the MLS or Europe.”

    What an awfully-large generalization to make. A kid who’s not good is gonna play harder than someone looking to make this his full-time job? You’ve gotta be kidding me. Yeah, it’s so great they care so much and fight for the team. you know what isn’t so great? that when they feel a little bit of pressure they don’t have the ability to make a simple decision, and boot the ball 50 yards upfield for a throw in.

    you can back college soccer all you want, but to call it “top notch” is completely misguided.

  75. J mann says:

    Dad is Canadian.

    Mom is American.

    Born in Canada and moved to Minnesota I believe.

  76. K Bone says:

    Again, are you joking? I really can’t imagine anyone is going to agree with you at all. No offense, but do you really think college soccer is close to the skill level of MLS, because that is basically what you’re saying. Seriously, think about it…

  77. I don’t coach (and believe me, it’s a good thing) period. However, I have a friend who is a top notch skills development coach (the best I’ve ever encountered), and he does, in fact, coach for free. The model needs to start, like it does in Europe, with the club teams. Youth development isn’t a for-profit business, but an investment in the future of the team. In order to do that, MLS needs to change the way players are signed and retained. MLS can lead the way if they so choose.

    The way the system is now is flawed. The US isn’t ending up with the best players, they are ending up with the best players who can afford to pay for it. And, quite frankly, the quality of the coaching even at the PDL (youth PDL, not USL PDL) level is complete crap. Coaches at that level coach for results, not development. It sucks and, as a parent, I hate it.

  78. A.S. says:

    Cap him now! :)

  79. arsenal says:

    the biggest problem with college soccer is too many teams play negative soccer, put many numbers deep behind the ball, foul to disrupt other teams rythm and attack, try to score exclusively through long ball counters, long throws and restarts. College soccer would be much better for development and for fans if more teams play the way wake and akron plays. People should be critisizing the coaches of teams that play negative soccer

  80. Daniel says:

    A couple of other comments:

    1. We shouldn’t forget that the primary objective of Collegiate Teams (soccer or otherwise) is to WIN GAMES… they are NOT, in and of themselves, “developmental programs” (that is only a secondary objective or even a bi-product if you will)… the coaches and managers get paid to WIN GAMES and WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS (with the thought that said wins will ultimately bring more money to the university)… they do not get paid to develop players… there is little incentive for a coach making $100K a year to risk his job by playing an 18-year-old stud with major technical ability but little physique and next to no experience in place of a more physically mature but more technically limited 22-year-old who’s been there before… this does little to develop the 18-year-old and “showcases” a 22-year-old who will never play at the next level… this holds true in all collegiate sports…

    2. This is even more reason why a team like Akron should be commended… not only did they PLAY the game the right way, but they went after it with the best SOCCER PLAYERS regardless of age… two freshmen patrolling the center of the defense and a freshman goalkeeper??? Caleb Porter should be commended for putting together this team which not only won, but also helped develop these kids in a soccer environment that we should all be proud of as American soccer fans…

    Thank you.

  81. J mann says:

    Too bad more college teams aren’t coached like Akron and WF :(

    You have to start somewhere though :) GO ZIPS

    Here is to the future! And a World Cup trophy in our backyard one day!

    BTW I predict a finals appearance by 2038. Call me crazy if u will but don’t tell me it isn’t possible.

  82. frank says:

    Don’t forget the two freshman mids. It was great seeing 5′-8″ Ben Speas and little Scottie Caldwell going toe to toe with a physical beast of a player like 6′-4″ Tchani.
    I think they held their own against a physical Virginia team.

  83. a college coach says:

    Remember that the game is still very young in this country. We are not going to be a world power over night.

    We are not just developing players, we are also developing coaches and more importantly a soccer culture.

    Whether you want it to or not, the college system is and will continue to contribute to the growth of the game here.

  84. Charles says:

    The funny thing is the Euro-lovers, with their academies, are calling for developement leagues etc, while saying all along…

    The MLS is unwatchable

    The college game a joke

    Does anyone with half a brain think they are going to support an MLS development league ?

    Is the college game that great probably not, but it is a FAR superior way to find talent.

    Instead of picking who is worth it at age 8-16, let them all play and some of them might be late bloomers, or pick up some skills along the way.

    Watch an NFL game to see how many don’t come from the big schools, but were discovered by getting great in college.

  85. otergod says:

    while i agree that MLS needs to change certain aspects, i will note that even youth coaches abroad get paid to do what they do. The difference is, again, culture and sponsorship $$$.

    Youth development isnt a for-profit system, but an investment for the future?? i agree if we are talking about MLS/NASL/USL clubs. However, i dont see what investment clubs have outside of MLS/USL/NASL.

    i agree the system has to change, but there are cheaper alternatives. there are clubs all over Indy where you pay for only the club costs and league (~$250) however, again, you are getting for what you are paying. We dont have enough soccer knowledgeable parents coach rec. We dont have enough who are willing to volunteer their time until U14’s. We dont have the culture, plain and simple.

  86. Seriously? says:

    Ives, I don’t know if you’re still looking at this thread, but I’m curious, college soccer games don’t look so great when compared to the Premier League, La Liga, etc, (surprising, I know) but how do they look when compared to the oldest youth team and reserve team matches for clubs from the smaller leagues in Europe? If we’re considering college to be a feeder system, aren’t those the types of games we should be comparing them to?

    Also, would it be wrong to say that of all the players who join the youth set-ups for top division teams, very very few actually make it through to be consistent players in top leagues? I would tend to think the answer is yes, but what do I know?

  87. adam says:

    From my experience tracking college soccer over the last few years, the goals per game figure drops significantly in the conference and NCAA tournaments — I think there are a lot of teams that find success in the college game playing bunker ball, especially in suicide tournament scenarios. It sucks, but it’s how the game is being played right now.

    Not every coach does this, though; not every team does this, especially during the regular season. To base your opinion of college soccer off a set of three games (or six, if you watched the disgusting St. John’s/ridiculously tired College Cup last year) is totally absurd. To those of you fortunate enough to live in ACC country, go watch a regular season game between two of the powers of the conference, UNC, UVA, Wake, or Maryland, and you’ll see a very different game.

  88. Jeff M in Houston says:

    The comparison to basketball is 100% on target. Not only when looking at the differences here in the US, but also when looking at the rest of the world, esp. where hoops is well established, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, etc.

    I wonder how they run their youth squad, no matter the “owner” so to speak, i.e., w/ or w/out a pro club at the top, youth as the academy. Skills development v. winning will be the basic measure of whether the global b-ball guys “get it” when it comes to running a youth team. throw in “the street” angle and you wonder whether the globe will produce a clear “among the world’s best” for b-ball/NBA (the equivalent of EPL or La Liga, yes?) or whether we’ll do it w/ soccer? Ginobli, Sabonis, Petrovic (the Net,not the King) are/were all pretty well respected as among the NBA’s best for their period…Not so sure about US soccer players.

  89. zmoks92 says:

    My thoughts are that the college game is vital but only for now. Inorder for MLS to flourish and reach levels of maybe Portugal league or Dutch league, it will have to take over the torch. Having said that, we all have to thank and acknowledge college soccer for its benefits. Without it we probably wouldnt even be in the world cup as so many of our good players have developed intially through college.

  90. BFBS says:

    The problem with the college game is not that these kids aren’t professionals at 16. We don’t have an academy structure in basketball either, yet college game-prepared American basketball players are still better than their European academy-prepared counterparts. The problem with the college soccer game is that it is a different game, subject to different rules, which develops players who lack in some areas that the professional game demands.

  91. Jeff M in Houston says:

    Yes and no…re: different game and rules.

    The management of the game is different…but that is IMHO small when compared to differences like skill to break down a guy, one-touch/close control game of receiving and playing when harried…the equivalent in b-ball is movement off the ball, make your own shot, etc.

    Skills are independent of the game mgmt issues with the college game, IMHO.

    And, given that there is only ONE clear Best League in b-ball world, the NBA, the fact that any global players are here is a testament to them personally and the system they came thru’…Manu Ginobli, etc. have a hi quality game, period; if not, they play as lifers in Euro b-ball, which is the equivalent as Scandinavian countries. When we get a US player as league 11 for EPL or Liga, etc., then we can see some parity w/ global b-ball b/c they have had guys make all-NBA.

  92. John says:

    “I did not watch a minute of these games, “, so……SHADDUP!

  93. John says:

    “far and away the best team in college soccer’ Far and away the most riduculous statement on this board. The couldn’t score a single goal.

  94. Go back and read what I said. It wasn’t the smoothest sentence ever, but what I meant was that youth soccer in Europe isn’t a for-profit business. It’s an developmental expense. Here, in the US, it’s a hugely profitable and expensive enterprise, and we’re shooting ourselves in the foot because of it. You see it from the standpoint of “Tough. If you can’t afford it, don’t play.” I see it from the standpoint of “We’re continually retarding our growth potential as a national program because we focus on the wrong things.”

    What we need are more people willing to go out and start their own programs. Something I’m actually working on now, believe it or not. That’s how great my frustration is with this.

    Also, I would argue that frequently in these soccer programs you do NOT get what you pay for. From my experience (and I’ve been involved for a number of years), the utterly useless to just mediocre coaches far outnumber the good to great.

  95. John says:

    Excellent point! The vast majority of these players are there for an EDUCATION (which no “academy” can pretend to match, the soccer is a means to an end. It is not the NCAA’s job to develop players. Scholarship money or relaxed admissions standards allow these players get an education they might not otherwise qualify for. The same is true of all NCAA sports, barely 5% go on to a professional career in their sport. 100% are afforded the opportunity (don’t worry, I’m not naive enough to think that everyone goes to class-OPPORTUITY)to further their education and learn a career.

  96. Pappajohn says:

    I watched both semi-final matches, but not the final. I was impressed by many levels of the play. The defense, passing in the middle third, ball control, off ball movement, were all very good and very typical of American soccer. However, I didn’t see one hot, hungry striker. American college soccer is very disiplined and controlled. I couldn’t help but think that if there were a couple of 20 year old Central Americans, or Italians up front, there would be 3 or 4 goals per game. As someone said, even the penalty kicks were boring. Whether inside colleges or out, the USA needs to produce more players that can score goals, even with good defenders.

  97. Matt Johnston says:

    In the age of quality online universities (I am a fan of the University of Maryland University College), I think a player who graduates from high school and is ready to play professional soccer should not be forced to college. An education is important, but a professional playing career is short.

    (How are they being “forced to college”? If a player is good enough, he can and will sign straight out of high school (Altidore, Bradley, Spector all did just that), but the question is how many prospects are really so good that they’ll gain more from sitting on a bench for a pro team as a teenager than by playing with peers their age and getting experience? That college experience didn’t seem to harm the likes of Omar Gonzalez, Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston, Chris Pontius, Stefan Frei or Rodney Wallace to name a few.)

  98. MontgomeryW says:

    But exactly what did people expect to see. The majority of the players on the pitch were guys who will not play soccer for a living. If you always go to plays on Broadway you can’t expect the same quality when you go watch a play by students at Hofstra university.

  99. Ev9912 says:

    I agree; Akron is the way that college teams should be run. People don’t understand how amazing Akron’s season was. This is a team that lost their 2 leading scorers, keeper and center defenders from the year before. They started 3 freshman with 3 others getting major playing time. They only started 1 senior and played the end of the season without one their main playmakers; Nanchoff. Their only problem is that they try to score too perfectly at times and won’t pull the trigger. For me they can be compared to Arsenal on a college level. They have a flowing style with talented players that can hold possession all day but just can’t find the end product sometimes. But when they are on they are the best college team in the country to watch.

  100. By the way, I didn’t mean for that to sound snippy. I meant to say “go back and re-read what I said.” Again, I phrased it poorly, but my intent was to highlight the European approach to youth development. Of course, it also helps when you’ve got thousands of clubs with their own youth programs, rather than, well, none.

  101. rick says:

    Until we have kids playing street soccer we will never produce a Ronaldo or Mesi.

  102. SoccerDave says:

    As a former college player, I am in Ives’ corner on this. The college game is crucial in the development of players in this country, until something else takes it’s place.

    Were the games this past weekend spectacular? No, but how can anyone see three games and make a fair assessment?

    In my corner of the country, I get to see a tremendous number of D3 games, including those of the current national champion Messiah college. If you want to see the beautiful game, try watching a lower (division) level. The talent, man for man, is not as great as at the D1 level, but the soccer can be fantastic. And occasionally, some of this talent makes its way to the professional level.

    There are thousands of players playing college soccer in this country. If you compare some of the better sides to those of lower level professional leagues in Europe, I don’t believe you’ll see a great difference.

    As for some of the results oriented comments, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that the European game is all that beautiful every game. In fact, some of the most ugly, disappointing soccer I’ve seen in years has been in the Serie A as of late.

    Is the college game perfect? Certainly not. But without it, the game in this country would not be nearly as advanced as it is.

  103. Phil says:

    i will tune in for just about any soccer, and the college cup was practically unwatchable

  104. Tim B says:

    I disagree with your baseball comment. College baseball does produce outstanding talent that goes on to play in the major leagues, but it does it with a minor league system. (Roger Clemens was a Longhorn) Talented college players and players that go through the minor league system end up playing the major at similar ages anyway. 4-5 in minors or 2-3 years in the minors.

    I think US/MLS would do well to emulate this system of the minor leagues. The college game wouldn’t need to go away.

    If I was a MLS GM I would rather have a team of talented college graduates than a team of talented high school graduates.

  105. Johnny says:

    I agree with Daniel. The University of Akron fielded an excellent team. They were balanced,skillful and athletic at every position. Even players coming off the bench were just as good as the starters.

    I also think it is safe to say that many of the stars on other teams (all americans & regional selections etc.)probably would not even get a chance to play or would be coming off the bench had they been on the Akron roster.

    These kids showed how to play the game. They moved off the ball, had fluiditiy as a team, and communicated with each other etc. Unfortunately, they did not finish well over the 2 days; however,keep in mind that they had enormous pressure being on television, dealing with a large crowd etc, which many of them faced for the first time to this extent. In addition, the weather and field conditions were not the best.

    I would have loved to see Akron play these games over again in good weather conditions and with their full starting lineup.

    If you noticed, the team and coach did not even use their injuries as an excuse. That is because they know their replacement players are also great players who can contribute to their domination.

    Akron controlled the tempo of every game they played; regardless of what conference they were in. They also did not care who they played because they were confident in their own abilities.

    To the gentleman who made the comment that Akron would not have been undefeated had they been in the ACC conference, you may be right; however, I think it is more accurate to say that the ACC teams would have added another loss to their record instead. Remember, Akron also beat Wake Forest 3-0 in the spring without their new players.

    Anyway, not only did the Akron players show they can play at the next level, but so did many others throughout the college ranks.

    In closing, yes the Akron team could beat some of the pro teams in MLS, as well as many of the minor league professioal teams. I also believe Wake Forest and North Carolina can play with some pro teams.