Posted by Adam Zundell on Monday, October 19, 2009
Welcome (back) to Inside the 18. Keep your eye on the far post.
Let’s start with a comment from Julio from a couple of weeks back:
“College soccer is supposed to be the link to professional level as football and basketball. College soccer needs to increase league competition to all year around.”
First, I disagree that college soccer is supposed to be the link to the pros. Because of sports like football and basketball, we expect to see a natural progression of our college stars into our domestic professional league, but that’s not necessarily the case. Most of the marquee names in MLS are foreign players sprinkled in with a few prominent Americans. College soccer is one of the avenues for players to come up through the ranks, but shouldn’t be expected to be the only way as it is with other sports here in the U.S.
One of the reasons it shouldn’t be expected goes with Julio’s second point/suggestion: the college soccer season needs to be year-round. This is something that college coaches have been pushing for in recent years. Right now, teams play 20 or so games in the span of three months. That is a ton of soccer games in a short amount of time.
What is lost with a compact schedule, then, is some of the teaching and development aspect because you are always preparing for another game. (For example, the WVU men’s soccer team is currently in a stretch of playing four games in 10 days, which is not uncommon at all.) Also, because of NCAA rules, coaches are limited to the amount of time they can spend with players in the off-season. Not to sound callous, but the NCAA doesn’t really care much about the overall development of soccer players.
It is designed to serve as a governing body to help set up boundaries for schools and student-athletes, and that’s fine. The point is, though, that because of those limitations, Division I college soccer fits more in line with the traditional view of college sports: kids playing at a high level while pursuing an education. It’s not trying to be something it can’t be, and that’s a direct pipeline for professional players.
Who’s ready to be an “Ugly American?”
(Hand raised high in the air) Ooh ooh me! Me! Pick Me! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Well, get ready for World Cup 2010 in South Africa! The Yanks punched their ticket a week ago on the road at Honduras. The squad followed that up with a thrilling 2-2 draw for the United States at home against Costa Rica last Wednesday. The U.S. trailed 2-0 late in the game but got goals in the 72nd and 95th minute to settle for the tie. (Who says a draw can’t be exciting? A goal with just seconds left in stoppage time? Unreal!)
Sometimes when you tie, you win. The draw secured a first place finish for the Americans in the CONCACAF region.
The spirit and emotion the U.S. fought with in that game was perhaps the best thing to come out of it. There are still plenty of things to sort out before South Africa next summer, but if they put forth an effort like the final 50 or so minutes against Costa Rica, I think most American fans would be satisfied.
The overall consciousness of international soccer and the U.S. team, I think, is at an all-time high in this country. The highlights are on ESPN, their games are being discussed on radio and TV talk shows, the players are recognizable and identifiable by the general public. It will be interesting to see how the country gets behind the team next summer because we love our underdogs.
But, be prepared now for this discussion: “If the United States doesn’t get out of pool play/beat Prominent Team X, have we truly made any progress in the sport?” It’s not a logical or reasonable discussion, but, because the spotlight will be so big and bright and casual fans and commentators are going to be coming to the sport, it’s going to come up.
Of course, hearty “get wells” are issued to Charlie Davies, a former star at Boston College who was severely injured in a car accident, and Oguchi Onyewu, who injured his knee late on the slippery turf at RFK. The U.S. is a significantly better team with them, but their health and recovery trump all.