While there are now a growing number of young players being recruited directly to MLS training academies and foregoing a college education, college soccer remains a viable option for aspiring young players to become professionals.
With this in mind, we’re taking a look at seven of the most influential players (past and present) that have emerged from the college soccer system.
Anyone doubting the potential for intercollegiate soccer to produce quality players need to look no further than Clint Dempsey, who attended Furman University from 2001 to 2003 as a health and exercise major. Now playing for the Seattle Sounders, Dempsey enjoyed a hugely successful career in Europe, playing seven seasons in the English Premier League, first with Fulham and then with Tottenham Hotspur.
Since making his debut under Jurgen Klinsmann in 2013, Matt Besler has been a central figure in the U.S. national team. Currently playing for MLS team Sporting Kansas City, Besler played college soccer at the University of Notre Dame between 2005 and 2008 and credits much of his success to his time in college. "I believe in the college system and I think that a lot of kids should play college soccer," Besler says. "The experience you get in college of coming in as a freshman and competing against older players, I figured a lot of things out off the field and about soccer."
Besler’s Sporting Kansas teammate Graham Zusi is another product of the college soccer system. Zusi played college soccer at the University of Maryland-College Park before graduating with a degree in criminology in 2008. Zusi was later drafted by Kansas in the 2009 MLS Draft and though he has yet to make an appearance at a World Cup, he will likely play an important role this time around if the U.S. are to have any hopes of progressing from the so-called Group of Death.
Former captain of the U.S. team and current director of football operations for New York City FC, Claudio Reyna attended the University of Virginia from 1991–1993, winning the NCAA championship in each of his three seasons.
Reyna went on to play for a number of clubs in Europe before returning to play for the New York Red Bulls in 2007, and recently spoke about the importance of the college game at a Student-Athlete Symposium held in New York. “The role of college is critical in the development of a player," says Reyna, noting the extremely small percentage of youth players who ultimately make it professional.
Now playing for French club Nantes, Alejandro Bedoya played two seasons (2005 and 2006) at Fairleigh Dickinson University, before transferring to Boston College for the 2007 spring semester. Following a successful collegiate soccer career, Bedoya opted to join Swedish side Örebro in 2009, making 65 appearances and scoring eight goals for the club.
Critics of the college soccer system often bemoan that it fails to adequately prepare players for the rigours of the professional game, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann has obviously seen enough in 20-year old DeAndre Yedlin to select him in his World Cup squad. Yedlin played at the University of Akron until 2012 and although he has made just four appearances for the senior side, he is a prime example that college soccer continues to produce professional-ready players.
Now an analyst with ESPN and ABC Sports, Alexis Lalas amassed almost 100 caps over his 8-year international career, appearing in two World Cups. Lalas attended Rutgers University from 1988 to 1991 before leaving to focus on the U.S. national team and later played in Italy and the U.S. Although Lalas left Rutgers without graduating, he did eventually return to complete a degree in English with a minor in music, 26 years after first setting foot on campus. “I’m proud that not only I’m graduating, but I’m graduating from Rutgers," Lalas says, while also warning current and future students that returning to college was the hardest thing he ever did.
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Alexi Lalas returns to Rutgers for 'unfinished business:' His college degree (Politi). (2014, May 15). NJ.com. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from NJ.com