Oh how those young European soccer players are missing out on the American college soccer experience and the life of a student athlete. Oh how they must want to go to study halls, play drinking games with sorority girls, fall asleep in lectures, spend all day on Facebook, enjoy three classes per day and then just wait for soccer practice to start.
Oh how those soccer games against State University and City College USA are so much fun, packed to the brim, the stadium rocking, all 475 fans on their feet. Who needs the lure of a sold out Camp Nou 90,000 fans or the 70,000 at Old Trafford?
And while it might be true that the college game provides a distinctive opportunity to build community engagement and a love for the game, it is not the environment for developing a professional soccer player. Rather, the small collegiate setting can work as a vehicle to build soccer fans but not professional soccer players (This even more true if you look at the story of Christian Pulisic).
What if the Brazilians instituted a college soccer program? I’m sure they’d win a lot more World Cups and develop more Neymar like players. Don’t think so. And over in England, they should scrap those youth academies and reserve teams. That’s why England failed so miserably in the 2010 World Cup, they lacked the college system. England have problems sure, but college soccer programs aren’t the answer.
In La Liga, if only Barcelona didn’t waste so much money trying to develop young talent at La Masia. If they had a college soccer system in Spain they’d surely have won the World Cup prior to 2010. Seems like a joke. Ask any Spaniard 30 years ago how many World Cups Spain would have won in that time frame: they’d surely say more than one, but even Spain couldn’t win more. But college soccer isn’t the answer. It’s was tiki taka football that enabled Spain to win the World Cup.
The fantastic soccer blog, That’s On Point, tipped me on to this silly idea with his comment about Gareth Bale and his ‘shame he never played NCAA soccer player of the week‘:
“Goes to 21-year-old Gareth Bale. Pity the young Spurs’ Welshman has been trained under a youth teams and academies for over a decade. Those 20+ games per year at an American college would have made all the difference.”
That quote really says it all. How can a American soccer player go from the college soccer game to the pros or the national team if they’re only playing 20 games a year. Yeah, the best soccer players play for the national team so they get more games, but how do you build a professional program and a national team around a college system?
The best way to learn how to be a pro is to play with pros and be coached by pros. If each professional team has a youth system and a reserve team, young players get the chance to play with and against the best players. Maybe not everyday, but enough that they can see what it takes and what it’s like at the top level – the pace of the game and the level of desire to get better on a daily basis. College life is too cushy. It’s too easy. It’s fun, but if you want to be a pro you better leave early, say for maybe two years like they do in the NBA. If there’s one short cut to becoming a better soccer player it’s playing with better older players.
Sure, as a freshman you can learn from those seniors , but what if you’re 16 and you could learn from someone like Ryan Giggs or Pep Guardiola or Landon Donovan. I’m sure Gareth Bale would have learned how to cross the ball correctly if he played NCAA soccer. Just think of these players and what they could have done if they played college soccer in the United States:
- Gibson, Cleverly and Welbeck all could have played for Duke.
- Fabregas, Messi, and Pique could have all played for Santa Clara.
- Canales, Di Maria and Hiquain all could have red shirted for UCLA.
- Gerrard could have been a star at North Carolina.
- Wayne Rooney would have stared at UNLV.
Chelsea is trying to tempt Santos starlet Neymar with £55,000-a-week salary ($86,000 per week). Pele and Robinho and others are urging him to stay in Brazil, he’s too young they say and needs to put on weight. I’m sure he could do that in college. The old freshman fifteen would help Neymar. Brazilian soccer experts say that the groundwork is not done yet for Neymar. He’s not ready for the big time and there’s no need to rush. Is Neymar college bound in the Fall?
Yeah, they want Neymar to learn English first and get an education before he moves on to Europe. Yeah, they want him to gain some life experience on one of the sprawling United States campuses. Yeah right. This is like some bad inception dream implanted by Leonardo Di Caprio: Get him to play college soccer in the United States.
Think about how much money colleges could make with all of these soccer stars coming over to their schools. Even if they come for just one quarter, like many American football players do before they go pro, they could rake in a ton of money.
This past World Cup there was a lot of talk about how tired the top players were, as they have to play in so many games and they don’t get any break. If they spent a few years playing college soccer they wouldn’t be so worn out, and when the World Cup comes around they’d be fresh and ready to play for their country.
But just think, England and Chelsea star Frank Lampard could have been all conference or even maybe have won the Herman trophy award at Virginia and helped them win a national title or two.
NBA star and most hated man in all of Cleveland, Lebron James (that was before he returned to Cleveland and won them a title), once said he wished he could have played just in the NCCA basketball tournament. Well, I’m guessing soccer stars in Europe feel the same about college soccer in the United States. They might have wished to have the college life for a while but once they retire I’m sure spending time on the beach will make up for it. Only these are bad dreams that they thankfully wake up from.
Again, if you want to play top level soccer you need to play games. And that’s big games, as in front of large crowds and when you’re under pressure. Right now, that’s just now how college soccer is setup. Sure, going to college for a few years might work out for many, but to reach the elite level of soccer you’ll need to go pro.
Don’t get me wrong though, playing college soccer isn’t anything to laugh at all. Programs like UCLA are great at developing very good soccer players. It’s just to reach the very top, you need more games. And not just more game but more intense games with older player who are more experienced and better. Plus, you want to test yourself by playing in front of big crowds where there’s more pressure. Really, only the pro game gives you that.