En Route: The value of PDL for college players

Future MLS talent finds a home with PDL squads across the country during off-season
Eight of the first ten picks from the 2011 MLS SuperDraft had one thing in common – they all had experience in the Premier Development League. In its 16th year of existence, PDL has developed into a staple for collegiate players hoping to stay fit during the off-season and increase their draft stock.

Emerging stars such as Teal Bunbury, Darlington Nagbe, and Eric Lichaj all spent their summers with PDL teams before moving onto professional careers. More established players such as Jay Demerit, Brad Guzan, and Sacha Kljestan have also graced PDL fields before enjoying success at the international level.

PDL is described on the USL website as the top U-23 league in North America with 64 teams in four conferences. The league explicitly points out that one of the benefits is providing an opportunity for top college talent to maintain collegiate eligibility, but still enjoy competitive games.

With much complaint about NCAA’s irregular schedule, PDL is an additional avenue to help the elite players move towards a year-round schedule in preparation for a professional environment.
“It helps fitness wise – getting games in and getting my touch in,” UCLA forward Reed Williams told Goal.com after a PDL game last week. “It also helps to play with older guys. It is really professional, everyone wants to go to the next level here.”

Williams plays for the Ventura County Fusion in the PDL, which currently sits atop the Southwest Conference with 16 points in six games. 

“You want to keep the intensity up during the summer, you don’t want to just take a break and start from scratch,” the 19-year-old said. “It helps keep the edge.”

Williams is off to a fast start this season with three goals and one assist in his first four games. He is joined by a few other college teammates on the squad, as PDL rules permit up to five players from one university on a team.

“These guys really want to help us develop and get us ready for the college season,” UCLA midfielder Andy Rose told Goal.com about playing in PDL. “They are committed to giving us the best training.”

Rose, who will be a senior next season, is playing for the Fusion for the second year. He dons the captain’s armband for the PDL club and UCLA. His leadership on the field has left an impression on many that he hopes that will help him reach the next level.

“It has been my passion ever since I was a little kid growing up in England. It was all I’d dream about,” the 21-year-old said about his professional ambitions. “[Fusion coaches and front office] have great contacts to help get you to the next level.”

Fusion has been responsible for a number of MLS draft picks over the years including 2008 #1 overall selection Chance Myers and 2009 first round pick Jean Alexandre.

But they are not the only team to enjoy success in employing future professional players; their competition on the night, Orange County Blue Stars, has been a stopping ground for many future MLS regulars like Robbie Rogers, Brad Evans, and Dan Kennedy.

“It is great to get games in over the summer,” current OC Blue Stars leading scorer Chandler Hoffman told Goal.com. “It will definitely help us be sharp heading into the [college] pre-season.”

The 20-year-old forward recognized how competitive it was at UCLA for forwards to get playing time and felt like PDL offered an opportunity to stay sharp in the off-season in order to return to Westwood in peak form.

“I think I am on top of the points lead right now,” Hoffman said with laugh when asked if there was a friendly rivalry among Bruins forwards for who had more goals in PDL. As of the end of May, the Alabama native enjoys a goal lead over college teammate, Williams.

Defenders Joe Sofia and Patrick Matchett complete the UCLA trio on the Blue Stars roster. The rest of the squad is made up of other college players from all over the country including Patrick McClain [Cal Poly], Blake Wise [Indiana], and Trevor Hubbard [South Carolina].

The combination of talented, motivated collegiate players creates a different blend of soccer from most universities, which the players appear to enjoy.

 “It is a great experience, everybody knows how to play so that is a good challenge with good competition,” UCSB midfielder Luis Silva told Goal.com.

The 22-year-old added that he felt the Blue Stars did a good job of preparing him to take that next step in his soccer journey.

As a seniors in the fall, Silva and Rose will be among those MLS teams are looking at as the next player to use PDL experience in propelling themselves to successful professional careers.

J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. If you have a comment or an idea for a story, you can email him at jr.eskilson [@]gmail.com. Or follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer

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