For many years now, it’s been apparent that the top American soccer players have been turning professional out of high school instead of playing college soccer. This has been especially true ever since the creation of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2007. Every MLS team, except Toronto FC, fields youth academy teams in this league at several different age groups.
I was curious how many recent United States Men’s National Team players attended college for at least one full soccer season before turning professional. I was also interested to see which programs produced the most USMNT players. Would it be blue-blood college programs like the UCLA Bruins, or were lesser known soccer programs producing lots of USMNT players?
For players who transferred, I listed their college as the one at which they played the majority of their NCAA soccer careers. I limited this list to players who have earned at least 10 caps since 2008. I didn’t think it made sense to credit a college with producing a USMNT player if that player has only appeared in a couple of friendlies.
For players who spent an equal number of years at two colleges, I credited both colleges with producing the player. Here’s a look at the top colleges producing recent USMNT players.
Didn’t Attend College (34): Kellyn Acosta, Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Ventura Alvarado, Paul Arriola, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Terrence Boyd, Michael Bradley, John Brooks, Edgar Castillo, Timothy Chandler, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Landon Donovan, Greg Garza, Herculez Gomez, Julian Green, Tim Howard, Aron Jóhannsson, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Matt Miazga, Alfredo Morales, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Christian Pulisic, Brek Shea, Jonathan Spector, Jose Francisco Torres, Jorge Villafana, Danny Williams, Bobby Wood
Unsurprisingly, 34 of the 72 players who met the criteria for this list did not attend college before signing a professional contract. If I had included the entire roster called in for the USMNT’s last friendly (most of those players didn’t meet the 10 cap threshold), this number would have increased greatly. What’s far more surprising than the fact that such a large group didn’t play college soccer, is that only five of these players spent any time with an MLS youth academy.
However, this statistic is skewed by the fact that many of the older players youth careers took place before MLS academy infrastructure was well developed. Many players, such as Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, and DaMarcus Beasley instead trained with the now defunct U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team Residency Program at IMG Academy. Several others played their youth soccer in Germany or Mexico.
*Alejandro Bedoya (played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Fairleigh Dickinson University before transferring to BC for his junior and senior seasons).
*Geoff Cameron spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at WVU before transferring to URI for his junior and senior seasons)
Thirty eight players out of the seventy two recent USMNT players attended college. Only 3 colleges have produced more than 3 USMNT players with 10 or more caps since 2008.
While it wasn’t surprising to see the Maryland Terrapins leading the way with 5 players, I was shocked by the absence of traditional powers like the Virginia Cavaliers and the Indiana Hoosiers from this list. This seems to indicate that top college soccer programs don’t necessarily produce the best professional players, particularly in the past decade.
College soccer was once a key part of the development of American players. However, with a domestic league that as strong as ever and increased (but still insufficient) investment in youth development, it clearly is no longer the best route for America’s most talented young male players.
What remains to be seen is will it ever completely lose relevancy? In ten years will any USMNT regulars have played college soccer?