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Young Americans who attend college struggling for playing time

Unfortunately, many players who went to college don’t see the field as often as their Homegrown and International counterparts.

Colorado Rapids v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Finals - Leg 1
Cristian Roldan is one of the few young Americans to see considerable playing time in the pros after a college stint.
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

In a recent article over at Hudson River Blue, I wrote about if MLS teams still rely on older players. As part of that research, I looked into different age categories and playing time. One category that stood out was the 19-22 age range because of the variety of players who all had very interesting, unique backgrounds. Frequently in U.S. Soccer circles people discuss this age group because it is so critical for youth development. Usually, in this time period, players are put on a track to what type of professional they will be. I decided to examine which type players in this age group are playing at the MLS level and made some interesting discoveries.

To begin, I broke the players into two categories: players who went to college and those who didn’t. The vast majority of players who went to college are American, while those who didn’t attend are mostly international players, with some Homegrown Players too. There is a pretty stark contrast between the players in these two groups. However, it is important to keep in mind that many players in this category are still in college, but if they were good enough and lucky enough to be in an MLS academy, they would be playing professionally. Overall, there are 75 players who didn’t attend college and 70 players who did attend college on MLS rosters in this age range as of the May 1st roster freeze. These samples can give us an inclination of some trends that may be prevalent in American Soccer.

College vs Non-College

The minutes for young players more than double the amount of minutes played by players who attended college. It isn’t that surprising to see young players receiving more minutes because they have more professional experience. But, it is surprising to see how big this gap is. This trend is concerning because many of the players in the college category are Americans. Ideally, we would like to see as many Americans as possible playing in MLS, so that they can push for national team slots. In addition, this unequal split might encourage more players to skip college, which can be good and bad. College doesn’t necessarily prepare players the best possible way because of the short season, but it does provide them with an education, which is good.

FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders rely on college players the most, including some potential national team players like Reggie Cannon and Cristian Roldan. Several teams have similar number of minutes after the aforementioned top two teams. They rely on Homegrown players and draft picks who went to college, like Cam Lindley and Ken Krolicki.

Real Salt Lake play the most non-college players, relying on a mix of Homegrown players and young internationals, like Justen Glad and Jefferson Savarino. In contrast, the team that played non-college players the second most, the Columbus Crew, solely relies on international players, like new young DP Milton Valenzuela. New York City FC, the third highest team, also rely on international players, but in this case these players are taking up minutes, some minutes deservedly albeit, of potential future USMNT players James Sands and Jonathan Lewis.

Minutes Played by Nationality

At first glance, this graph seems promising for the USMNT. Their minutes dwarf the minutes of the other countries. But, the United States has significantly more players in this age range than every other country, 76 players to be exact. There are only 69 players who represent all the other countries. And of the 76 American players, as of May 1st, only 38 have received playing time, and only 21 have played more than 100 minutes. Granted many are playing on loan in USL, which is good for their development, but ideally they would be pushing for first team places. That way when the 2022 World Cup rolls around they will be ready to help the United States successfully qualify for that tournament. Overall, this trend is concerning because many players aren’t seeing the field, but simultaneously could be beneficial for those players because they are playing in USL.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of young talent in MLS, but not all of them are getting playing time. Especially if they didn’t attend college, they probably won’t be getting minutes, as most of the minutes played by age 19-22 players didn’t attend college. Also, many young American players that make it on to MLS rosters aren’t receiving playing time, so that is something to monitor. Hopefully some of the young talent mentioned in the article will break out and help the United States qualify for the 2022 World Cup.