In his latest entry for Goal.com, the Fulham and USA international midfielder discusses the U.S. youth academies and the success of youngsters like Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo.
My mom put me into every sport possible to help me develop people skills and to tire me and my siblings out so when we came home we’d be sleeping instead of tearing up the house. I was lucky there was a recreational league in Nacogdoches and that’s where it all started off for me.
I wasn’t in club soccer until the fifth grade, when I was about 10 years old. Somebody told my brother about club ball and how you could use club ball to get a college scholarship. Club teams were playing showcases that college coaches attended.
So that was the goal for me from that moment forward. My older brother started playing club ball a little later on, so he didn’t have as much time as others. Having that information at a young age put me in a good position to accomplish my goal of playing in college.
When I made my first club, I made the decision that I was going to play soccer exclusively. I had to because it was three hours to each training session and three hours to get home, and it cost a lot of money and time to do it. I had to put everything I had into it and see how far I could take it.
Things are a lot different now in how players develop in the USA with the academies.
The new system is good because when you’re playing in the best environment possible, around the best players week in week out, it’s always going to push you to be your best. By being in academies that MLS clubs are running, hopefully it’s helping players get better coaching without having to pay top dollar for it. It also helps them get looked at and to have a chance to make that jump to being a professional.
The more options you have, obviously, the more security you’ll have, and that’s always a good thing. But if you want to make it at the top you have to put everything you have into it to achieve that goal.
The good thing for American players in the new system is that more guys are coming into the professional system at a younger age. The younger you are when you go into the professional ranks, the more time you have to develop at that level.
Sometimes when you go to college and graduate and then decide to go pro, you get a late start and it kind of counts against you. In fact, my start was late, and it really could have been later.
If it wasn’t for tragic events of 9/11, which pushed the U-20 Championships back, I wouldn’t have made the U.S. U-20 team for the tournament in the UAE. I was a late addition to the roster even with the delayed start, but that gave me the chance to sign a Project 40 contract which would pay for me to finish my degree after I became professional.
I left college at 20 and turned 21 during my rookie year. Really, that’s a late start for professional soccer players.
If you look at the big clubs around the world young players are coming up through the system and playing at a younger age than I was when I turned pro. The earlier you start getting into matches at the professional level and playing regularly, the earlier it will be when you start getting looks with the national team. National team duty is another step up, and, just like with turning pro, the earlier you get in the more time you’ll have to make an impact.
That’s what we’re starting to see now in the USA with guys like Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea, who both got an early start to their professional careers and moved into the national team at a young age. We’ll see where they can take it and hopefully it will lead to big things for them and for the sport in America.
Take it easy. Peace!