College Soccer at the World Cup

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usa national soccer team

USA exited the FIFA World cup this week after pushing a tournament favourite, Belgium, to 120 gruelling minutes of end-to-end soccer, but fell short in extra time losing 2-1. After progressing through the ‘group of death’ by beating Ghana 2-1, holding Ronaldo and Portugal to a 2-2 draw and narrowly losing 1-0 to FIFA's second best ranked team Germany - the USA have established themselves as a top team in the highest ranks of world soccer. What makes USA's campaign even more commendable is the amount of US based players and products of their esteemed college pathway.

In 2007 the Development Academy was introduced to the U.S. youth soccer system allowing all the current MLS teams to create their own academy side to compete in a league which features 79 of the top clubs in the country. Meaning that youth players could skip the college route and go straight to the pros. This is very similar to the system employed by the majority of the top footballing nations in the world. Leading many people to see college soccer as a dying form of development, but that couldn't be further from the truth as the majority of the U.S top players side with the collegiate route.

Ten players from this year's USA World Cup roster have played for an NCAA side prior to their professional careers and of the 11 starters against Belgium six played college soccer and five currently play in the MLS, with the others all playing high level soccer in Europe and South America. The 2006 USA squad had 17 players that at some point played college soccer for an NCAA program, including nine out of the eleven starters.  Eight years after the creation of the development academy, college soccer is still going strong and is proving to be a key provide of U.S international players.

Let’s take a closer look at the ten players from this year's USA World Cup roster who have played for an NCAA side prior to their professional careers

Clint Dempsey (Furman)

Arguably the best player on this year's U.S. World Cup roster and the best player the U.S. had ever produced. Dempsey was another three year player in college.  The Texas born native recorded 53 points as a Paladin while earning Second Team All-America honors.  Dempsey led Furman to a pair of Southern Conference titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances The midfielder netted 17 goals and added 19 assists during his three years at Furman while earning All-SoCon honors three times and garnering NSCAA All-South Region accolades in 2001 and 2002.In 2004 he was drafted eighth overall by the New England Revolution where he would stay for three seasons.  Since 2004, Dempsey has been one of the key players for the national team.  Brazil 2014 is Dempsey's third World Cup, and against Ghana he became the first American to score in three consecutive World Cups.

Graham Zusi (Maryland)

Zusi played college soccer at the University of Maryland. Whilst at college the box-to-box midfielder played in 89 games, scoring 28 goals and providing 20 assists, and helped Maryland win the National Championship in 2005 and 2008, scoring the game-winning goal in the 2008 National Semi-Final and Championship Games. In 2009, Zusi was drafted 23rd overall by Sporting Kansas City.

 

Omar Gonzalez (Maryland)

Gonzalez, a 6' 5" center back has continued his rise to stardom since leaving the University of Maryland.  The former U.S. youth international excelled under Coach Cirovski at Maryland winning nearly ever award possible including being named a First Team All-American.  He was also in the same team as Graham Zusi that won the 2008 College Championship and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2007. After three successful years at Maryland, the towering defender was selected 3rd in the MLS SuperDraft by the LA Galaxy and has been a consistent starter ever since.

Alejandro Bedoya (Fairleigh Dickinson/Boston College)

Bedoya, a quick winger recorded 34 points in two years at Fairleigh Dickinson before transferring to Boston College.  While at Boston, Bedoya was a two-time College Soccer News All-American and a Hermann Trophy semifinalist. Once finishing college the New Jersey native took the international route and attempted to make it overseas, signing for  Örebro SK in Sweden, then Scottish team Rangers FC before moving back to Sweden withHelsingborgs IF.

Nick Rimando (UCLA)

The 5' 11" goalkepper played three years at UCLA. As a freshman in 1997, he tended goal as the Bruins won the College Cup; after his sophomore year, he signed a Project-40 contract with the MLS. Rimando was selected 35th in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft by the Miami Fusion, and, to the surprise of many, quickly took the starting position from Jeff Cassar.

Matt Besler (Notre Dame)

Besler played college soccer at the University of Notre Dame, playing in 90 games and scoring 5 goals during his college career. He received All-American and Academic All-American honors as a senior, was named the NSCAA 2008 Senior College Men's Scholar All-America Player of the Year, and was named to the All Big East Team 3 times. He helped Notre Dame gain 4 straight wins in the NCAA championship, including the program's first 2 trips to the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2007. He was drapfted 8th overall in the 2009 MLs SuperDarft by Sporting Kansas City and since winning 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, Besler has arguably been the best defender in the national team pool.

Chris Wondolowski (Chico State)

Wondolowski was a track star in high school and received many offers for track, but only one for soccer, a small Division II school named, Chico State.  While at Chico State, the forward notched 39 goals in his four years.  He went on to be drafted 41st overall in the 2004 SuperDraft by the San Jose Earthquakes.  Nearly ten years later, the "track star" has 84 MLS goals to his name and has a share of the record for most goals scored in a season (27). 

DeAndre Yedlin (Akron)

Yedlin, the most recent college player on the roster, was playing college soccer just two years ago. The midfielder was ranked by College Soccer News as the number 12 recruit in the country back in 2011.  Yedlin, a two-time First Team All-MAC member would've been a top five pick in the MLS SuperDraft if not for signing a homegrown contract with the Seattle Sounders, having played for the club at U23 level.

Geoff Cameron (West Virginia/Rhode Island)

After earning nine points in 38 appearances at West Virginia, Cameron transferred to the University of Rhode Island for his last two years of eligibility.  After two impressive seasons with the Rams, including being named the the Atlantic-10 Midfielder of the Year in his senior campaign, Cameron was drafted by the Houston Dynamo, 42nd overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft.  Cameron currently plays for Stoke City in the English Premier League. 

Brad Guzan (South Carolina)

Guzan, a 6' 4" goalkeeper who was exceptional at South Carolina.  The U.S. youth national teamer was a starter as a freshman for South Carolina and was a College Soccer News All-Freshman Team selection. As a sophomore Guzan was named team captain and at the conclusion of the season was honored as a Second Team All-American.  Guzan was picked 2nd overall in the draft by Chivas USA.  In 2008 Aston Villa signed Guzan for $1 million and he is now a regular goalkeeper in the English Premier League.

The success of the college players in the U.S national team is testate to the quality of the U.S college soccer system and shows that this is still a very viable route into professional soccer. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the team have answered the all too familiar question 'Is the US becoming a reputable league in world soccer?. The answer is Yes.

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