Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How the run for 2006 started in 1997

There can be no doubt that the existence of the MLS has helped the US national team, however, there is one part of that venture that has had a huge impact on the game in America, but is often over looked.

In 1997, MLS started a program called Nike Project-40. The idea behind Project-40 was to identify the best young soccer athletes and provide training opportunities to make them into world caliber players.

This was not a unique idea as European and South American clubs have been doing some form of it for years, however it's very existence cannot be over looked in America.

Prior to 1997, if a player wanted to continue playing the game outside of high school, there best option was college. However, due to the setup of the college game, the amount of training was limited. This limit is due in large part to the very short schedule allowed by the NCAA. A typical college schedule is 20 or so games over a three-month period. Looking past the point that so many games in such a short time drastically increases the odds of injury, it also allows a very short window for a kid to develop his skills.

When you compare that will someone in the youth development of a team like Manchester United (who sees dozens of competitive games over the course of 6-9 months as well as year round training), it is easy to see how a US player could fall behind.

However, even with the lack of proper training forced on colleges, players still wanted to attend in order to get an education.

Realizing the need to increase the quality of training for players, yet also understanding their desire to get a college degree, MLS came up with the Project-40 initiative. This allowed young players to train and play with MLS teams while also attending college as the package covers their tuition.

It's not easy to play a professional sport while also getting a college education, but for those who are willing to do the work and are accepted into the program, it really can be the best of both words.

That brings us to 2006 and yesterday's roster announcement. It is very impressive how many of those named took part in Project-40.

Midfielders Bobby Convery, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, forwards Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff, defender Carlos Bocanegra and goalkeeper Tim Howard are all Project-40 products.

Any program that can brag about 8 alums making a World Cup roster is a good program. Would these players have made it without this initiative? Maybe, but do you really think they would be the players they are today if they are only received a third of the training and playing time they did?

The program recently changed names to Generation Adidas, however its purpose is still the same, make young American players some the best in the world.

Until the NCAA changes the rules and allows for spring play, and other such training improvements, Generation Adidas will probably continue to be the best way for a youth to find their full talent.


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