Saturday, April 7, 2007

D1 Soccer is Bad

I went in to speak with a philosophy professor recently and we ended up talking more about soccer than Aesthetics. She said her son, a Junior in high school, was just coming back from a serious injury and totally set on playing at a D1 school. She said that she wasn't sure that was the best option because he is really small and though technically sound, from what they heard from coaches she felt it would be hard for him to find a program that would help him achieve his goals. I agreed--in fact, I agreed so emphatically that I told her I'd send her son an email. The cool thing is that last week after class the professor told me that her son has stopped pursuing D1 so wholeheartedly and is looking more seriously at other options. Here is the email:

I see this less of a creepy random email to a kid I've never met before (or a bogus intrusion into your family’s private business) than an opportunity to help American soccer. The way I see it, the more talented players avoid the D1 college soccer vacuum the better. I want you to see—based on my own experiences, my friends' experiences, and simple observations of the state of American soccer—that D1 soccer is basically an over inflated promise that is rarely fulfilled. (I know this isn’t a formal paper or anything, but it progresses like a logical argument with two main aspects, your play and your aspirations).

First of all, consider your development as a player. From what your mom has told me, you play like a Carlos Valderrama or a Cesc Fabregas—you're a distributor, able to find the forwards, but less likely to win the big tackles in midfield. Further, your mom said you value the beautiful game. Now take the kind of player you are, the fact that you admire beautiful soccer, and your size, and think about how D1 soccer would help you become a better player.

Think about the style of play in D1 soccer—basically some twisted version of English soccer: a ridiculous dependence on speed and power and a focus on efficiency (so that you can get one shot on goal the whole game, but if you score and win 1-0 it counts as a great game). Think about how D1 soccer rarely goes through midfield, choosing instead to bypass the midfield and get up to the forwards as quick as possible. (At my high school, my Haitian coaches used to call that crap "Boom Ball" and if we were losing at half time to one of these teams we would get chewed out because they hated losing to teams that played crappy soccer.)

Every D1 team plays Boom Ball.

The result is that the best D1 players are less soccer players than track stars or weightlifters, picked because they can outrun everyone else or win balls in the air.

If you can picture yourself (or even Cesc) spending practice running and doing shooting drills instead of small sided games, skill/technique stuff, and tactics, then maybe I'm wrong and you should go D1.

A coach once told me that because he was teaching us to play real soccer, we would be great players forever because you never lose your skill. If you agree, and think that the best way to develop players is through teaching the beautiful game, then you’d have to pass most D1 schools and either play D3 or find a club in a different country.

Ok, now consider the development of your soccer goals: I assume you want to play somewhere professionally. I guess the argument goes that in order to go pro, you have to go D1, get lots of exposure, and then get drafted into the MLS or spotted by a foreign scout.

Is that really how it goes, though? First of all, you definitely do not have to play D1 to get recognized, that part is as simple as being a good player. I won't say "If you're good enough you'll get found," because that's a passive approach—it's better to be persistent and chase your goals (especially in the politically controlled realm of American soccer)—but it's also not true that playing for Indiana will automatically get you a contract somewhere. Dempsey and others on the USNT played for mediocre colleges that played real soccer and helped develop them. (The best players I grew up playing with are playing with PDL teams now, working their way through the system and using all their possible connections to get tryouts for small teams in France, Germany, Italy, and England.)

Also, I was watching the US-Ecuador game today and saw Bob Bradley’s son get some playing time. He’s my age and straight up skipped college to play in Holland. It seems to me, then, that taking a year off isn’t such a bad idea. If you go to Bolivia with that camp you can get up to top shape. If you go to Europe you can take classes somewhere or work to get by and play with local teams (like Demerit did).

Basically all I’m trying to say is that there are a million ways to get a professional soccer contract and only a few of them involve playing D1 soccer. It’s like saying the only people who get good jobs have Ivy League degrees.

I’m not going to even touch the fact that many D3 schools could beat most D1 programs (have you seen Hopkins play?) because soccer is a qualitative sport, unlike like swimming or track. Nor will I go into the obvious argument that you’ll get more playing time away from D1, where some schools take as many players as their football team. And I don’t expect you to take this advice as a message from god. I expect that you’ll take a long serious look at your current status and desired status and the best ways for you to improve the one and achieve the other.

If you think, after reviewing all these things, that D1 soccer is still that much of a necessary goal, then go for it. But hopefully, years from now, you’ll look back and remember how this email helped you avoid the horror stories that so many D1 players have told me and you’ll remember how a change in mind contributed to your success in whatever soccer goal you’ll be pursuing at the time.