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College Soccer Remains Important to American Soccer

While academies have overshadowed it, the college game still plays a key role in the U.S.

NCAA Soccer: DI Mem’s College Cup-Virginia vs Wake Forest Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the University of Cincinnati announced that it will no longer sponsor the men’s soccer program. This announcement was a long time coming for the school as it’s had financial problems for years. However, the coronavirus pandemic might cause other schools to make similar decisions due to a lack of revenue. This has led to increased discussion about whether America needs college soccer anymore.

This discussion is not a new one. In recent years, professional clubs began investing greatly in their development academies. Today, the best players are more likely to sign professional contracts and play for second teams within the club they belong to than attend college. This has led many to speculate that college soccer, which once was the primary source of young American players, is redundant and useless. But this is not the case. In fact, the college soccer system still plays an important role and is a reflection of one of the greatest attributes of the country.

All around the world, soccer is a reflection of society. Many aspects of the sport within a country often represent the country’s culture. This was displayed when Jurgen Klinsmann took over as head coach of the United States Men’s National Team. He stated that it was his goal to have the national side represent the nation. This reflection is also displayed in the development of young players and is especially the case in the United States, which features a unique system of education and development.

In many countries around the world, your future is decided at a young age. By the time you’re 16, your future career path is decided and there’s little deviating from it. In this country, you can always change your path. No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, you can re-enroll in school and work your way up to being a doctor, lawyer, or anything else you might wish to do.

The primary years of development for most soccer players occur during their teenage years. Around the world, thousands of teenage hopefuls find their dreams dashed at 17 or 18 years old when they get released from an academy. Sometimes, they’re not able to find another place to play. Many of them end up at American colleges for a second chance.

Not every player develops at the same pace. One player might develop more as a teenager than others, while another might develop greatly in their early 20s. Sometimes, the latter player ends up being better in the end.

There’s no question that professional academies are the way forward for American soccer. Most clubs will want their players in a professional environment that focuses on development first. That’s something you don’t get in high school or college soccer, which is why clubs don’t want their players playing for schools. School teams focus on winning rather than the development of players and the coaching is often worse, especially at the high school level. However, as players get older, there are fewer spots for them in academies or second teams, so college gives them another option to continue developing.

With the current Homegrown Player rule in Major League Soccer, a club retains the rights to a player who comes from an academy and decides to attend college. A player might leave for two, three, or four years before returning to his home club to play for the first team. While not the preferred way to reach the first team for most players, this provides the necessary time for those who might be late developers to reach their ultimate goal.

The cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament and the possible implication of the pandemic on college football means that some schools may soon lack in revenue. These sports help fund the non-revenue sports like soccer, which could cause some more schools to drop those sports. Rather than ignoring this situation, fans of the game should be concerned about this possibility as college soccer provides a pathway to professionalism and displays one of the greatest aspects of American society.