Thierry Henry is right to criticise college soccer

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Football News

Sitting next to Thierry Henry in Monday's Major League Soccer All-Star press conference, Clint Dempsey and Matt Besler were two shining examples of American soccer success stories.

Leaving for the Premier League in 2007, Dempsey returned to the MLS on a Designated Player contract with Seattle Sounders FC last year, amid much fanfare. Now the skipper of the Stars and Stripes, he has undoubtedly enjoyed an excellent career. Besler took a different path, shaking off talk of a move to England after an outstanding World Cup, he too has recently penned a lucrative new deal.

Besler Behind

While these two show that the country can produce some fine footballers, Besler's fortunes also exhibit some of the issues that young players face in the current structure of United States' soccer.

Despite heaps of college accolades, including All-American honours and NCAA's 2008 Player of the Year award, the Kansan didn't make his international debut until 2013. By this point, he was an All-Star, a US Open Cup winner, and the MLS Defender of the Year. Yet, at the age of 25, he had played just four years as a professional.

At the same age in Europe, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Jerome Boateng can boast 44, 36, 62 and 46 caps, respectively, having made their bows aged 16, 17, 20 and 21. American youngsters are losing valuable years.

Losing Experience

This is something that New York Red Bulls captain Henry has picked up on, explaining: "How you improve and how you progress is through hours of repetition and work.

"It's difficult for the kids sometimes, because if you step out of your university at 22, 23 or 24, a kid in Europe will have been training every day since he's 13 years old. The amount of time you're losing is huge."

Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter also weighed in, agreeing with the former France international: "The biggest things that going into developing players are the environment and time.

"The sooner you can get kids in a high-level environment, that's as close to being professional as possible, the more time you get in that environment, the more you develop players."

Proposed Transformation

Porter also encouraged a change in the way that college soccer works, and concurred with some ideas that have been put forward.

"We need to move in a direction where the kids that do go to college have longer seasons, more training opportunities and more games. I know that they are looking at that currently."

He added: "For kids coming in to join the pros at 22, it's tough. For a lot of guys, it's the first time they haven't played, or that they've been tested or suffered. We need to start earlier and develop better environments."

That's not to say the college route doesn't have its merits.

Tesho Akindele has fired three goals in his last four games for FC Dallas, having been picked sixth overall in the SuperDraft in pre-season. However, his early selection came as a shock as the Canadian had graduated from the Colorado School of Mines, in NCAA's second division.

This was the highest any Division II player had ever been drafted, and would suggest that the free-scoring forward may not have made it in an academy - robbing him of a promising career.

While it is crucial that the SuperDraft continues to function, the Generation adidas programme will become increasingly more important. This sees students in their freshman or sophomore years boosted into the draft earlier - essentially granting college athletes the extra years that others miss.

The progression is there for all to see, and with players like Besler produced in the traditional system, the MLS could become a force to be reckoned with if they can tinker with their methods to the benefit of their up-and-coming stars.

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Thierry Henry
Clint Dempsey
Thierry Henry
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