Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Value of a College Education

One of the most remarkable facets of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team that headed down to Brazil is the diversity of the squad.  When Alejandro Bedoya gets a pass across the box to a streaking Fabian Johnson, who controls and centers for an easy tap in to Jozy Altidore, there are a heck of a lot of loose threads being tied together.

This squad reflects a lot of what I love about the country.  But more than just the superficial diversity of different ethnic and geographical roots, there is another important aspect of American diversity that is exemplified by the team.  And that would be the many, many, many different vehicles available to exceptionally talented individuals to harness their talents.

Four members of the USMNT squad were part of the IMG Academy:  Jozy Altidore; Kyle Beckerman; DaMarcus Beasley; and Michael Bradley.

Another eight members of the squad honed their games in the academies and youth squads of professional clubs.  Five of those nine did so in Germany:  Jermaine Jones and Timothy Chandler were part of Eintracht Frankfurt; John Brooks came up with Hertha BSC; Julian Green with Bayern Munich; and Fabian Johnson with TSV 1860 Munchen.  Aaron Johannsson came up with Fjolnir in Reykjavik;  Mikkel Diskerud in the Oslo suburbs with Stabaek; and Tim Howard with the MLS's MetroStars (Red Bulls).

But nearly half of the roster played D-I collegiate soccer.  Some of those eleven were part of elite college soccer programs -- Omar Gonzalez spent 3 years and Graham Zusi spent 4 years at the University of Maryland; DeAndre Yedlin was a student at the University of Akron for 2 years; Matt Besler was enrolled at Notre Dame University for 4 years; Nick Rimando was at UCLA for 2 years; Brad Davis was at St. Louis University for 2 years; and Brad Guzan spent 2 years at the University of South Carolina.  The remaining four, however, went to schools that were far less heralded for their soccer programs.  Before Alejandro Bedoya went to Boston College for his junior and senior seasons, he played 2 years at Farleigh Dickinson.  Geoff Cameron left West Virginia University after 2 years to finish his college career at the University of Rhode Island.  Chris Wondolowski attended Chico State University for 4 years.  And the team's captain went to Furman University for 3 years.

One of the new goals of U.S. soccer is to streamline the process for identifying and developing youth talent through academy programs.  But talent identification in a country as large and diverse as the United States is not terribly accurate or efficient.  What would the U.S. look like had Tim Mulqueen not run across a young Tim Howard during a soccer camp?  Would Howard have been given the same shot with the MetroStars but for that connection?  How is it that Deuce and Wondo spent so many years at Furman and Chico State, respectively?

Collegiate soccer is not an ideal way to develop world class players.  But it remains a useful tool in the toolkit and ignoring the opportunities offered through partnerships with college programs would not be in the best interests of U.S. soccer.

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