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Stanford sophomore Jordan Morris getting a call-up to the US Men’s National Team received more notoriety than the whole of the opening weekend of the men’s college soccer season. With college football kicking off the same weekend the use of the phrase “after thought” is too great of praise for the attention NCAA soccer received.
As Major League Soccer clubs better utilize the homegrown rules and build up their academies, the assumption is that the league will be less reliant on college soccer for labor. This is true for top-end talent and players that develop early, but the sheer size of the United States and the small foot print that MLS covers will always guarantee that college soccer will be a platform for talented players in locales without multiple academies. College also becomes an avenue for individuals from families without the financial resources to pay for top-level non-MLS affiliated clubs.
So college soccer fills in the cracks, but what about the top talents? Why is Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders academy player and talented forward earning a trip to the Czech Republic, in college?
The one thing Seattle does not lack is attacking players. For all of Morris’ ability, he would struggle to find playing time along Kenny Cooper (25 goals over the last 3 years), Lamar Neagle (13 goals 2013 and ‘14), and Chad Barrett (7 goals in 2014). Instead, Morris as a freshman played in one of the best conferences in the country and earned “meaningful” minutes. That is the key, training with a MLS club first team is beneficial, however, facing quality competition with something at stake for four months is just as important, if not more. That is correct for schools in the power conferences such as the ACC and Big Ten, as well as conferences in the second tier like the MAC, MAAC, American Atlantic, Big East, or Big West.
Academy players going into college has worked on a one-and-done scale, the most successful example being Seattle’s, and soon to be Tottenham, rightback DeAndre Yedlin. Harrison Shipp, a frontrunner for MLS rookie of the year, is proof of the other extreme as the Chicago Fire sign him to a homegrown contract after spending four years at Notre Dame. Shipp and fellow 4-year college player Chris Ritter from Northwestern, have played a combine 23 games in 2014. Chicago’s two previous homegrowns signed before college; Victor Pineda has finally gotten first team minutes (40) in 2014 after signing in 2010 and Kellen Gulley signed as a 17-year-old was waived this preseason and is now with the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL.
Neither Seattle nor Chicago are considered in the top-tier of MLS academies. The big three programs are LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, and New York Red Bulls. Each club has found success by signing players before they attended college and in the midst of their collegiate careers.
The Galaxy teenagers Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal got matches last season, and Gyasi Zardes, who played at Cal State Bakersfield, is currently the top scoring American player.
FC Dallas is at a bit of a disadvantage due to the lack of Division I men’s college soccer programs in Texas. The Big 12 Conference does not sponsor men’s soccer and the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Baylor, and Texas Tech do not have men’s soccer programs. Danny Garcia is the only homegrown currently on Dallas’ roster with any college experience. Several FC Dallas academy alumni are currently in college such as Mikey Ambrose (Maryland) and Boyd Okwuonu (North Carolina), but neither have signed homegrown contracts
The New York Red Bulls have signed nine homegrown players with varying degrees of success. Juan Agudelo is currently the most promising of the homegrown signings. Of course the mishandling of Agudelo by the short-sighted front office will be felt for years. Recently the integration of homegrowns have been better with Matt Miazga (signed at 17) receiving minutes this season. Connor Lade played at St. John’s before signing a homegrown contract, he earned 20 caps as a rookie, but failed to get a footing in Coach Mike Petke’s squad. In addition, four RBNY academy alumni are on Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Top 100 College watch list including Hermann Award preseason finalists Brandon Allen (Georgetown) and Dan Metzger (Maryland).
There are issues with the college game compared to the club youth systems established outside of the United States and Canada. MLS has been better embracing the well-entrenched college game into their development programs. Perhaps, it’s time for fans to recognize the benefit of college as well.