Monday Morning Centerback

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.

  • Tezcatzontecatl Beer God

    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.


  • SoccerDave

    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.


  • Tim B

    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.


  • Johnny

    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.


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