The draft: it's an American sporting tradition that causes nothing but untold excitement and anticipation amongst fans.
Once a year their team gets the chance to pick up the next generation of athletes and superstars. But it is this very tradition that will hinder the progress of soccer in America.
The soccer bug is catching on in the States. It's the biggest sport in the world and Americans want a piece of the action. Their national league, the MLS, is expanding to and their national women's team victory at the women's World Cup in Canada captured the nation's attention in a way that soccer hasn't achieved before.
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But having a draft in soccer will undermine all of this progress. Not only does it fail to encourage competition but it will also affect the quality of American players in the professional game.
For the NFL, MLB and the NBA, the draft works, America is the only country where American Football, Baseball and Basketball is played at an elite level whereas soccer is a global phenomenon. By sticking with the draft system aspiring American soccer players are years behind their international counterparts.
Countries that use an academy system such as England, Germany and Spain recruit players as young as five-years-old and bring them into a professional set up. In America, the earliest that most promising players will be introduced to a serious and organised long term program is in college when they're 18.
There are several national programs aimed at raising the standard of soccer such as Project 40 and Generation Adidas, however they do not have the scope that individual academies offer.
Academies not only allow for elite coaching at a young age but they also offer a high standard of competition. They play in their own leagues, pitting promising players against other prospects. Without an academy system, talented young Americans face years strolling through high school football programs facing no real test as they compete against other schools.
It isn't just the competition that youngsters are missing out on, but also too the culture. At youth academies, players are mentored and prepared for life as a professional both on and off the pitch. They receive advice on aspects such as financial management and how to handle living in the media spotlight.
Americans have to tip toe around strict NCAA regulations and do their utmost to maintain their amateur status. So while an aspiring Yank is becoming used to the idea that he or she is an amateur footballer, others are gearing up for life as professionals.
Whilst the MLS and soccer is taking steps in the right direction, a professional based youth coaching system is necessary to improve the overall standard and quality of professional soccer in North America.
With improved homegrown players, teams will not have to rely on handing over vast amounts of cash to mega stars in the twilight of their careers in order to generate interest from sponsors and the public alike.
The perfect argument for the academy system is the notorious Project 40 graduate Freddy Adu, a 14-year-old once billed as the great hope for American soccer. After signing a professional contract at 14 with DC United he has since slipped by the wayside becoming a football journeyman. Many critics state he was thrown into the professional game too young and was never allowed to develop.
Had there been an established academy system that allowed Adu to develop properly, he could have become the poster boy of soccer and one of the greats of his generation. Instead, he is now seen by many people involved in the game as a washed up 26-year-old currently plying his trade in the second division of American soccer.
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