Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New Mexico, the next big thing in US Soccer

Somewhere between California and Texas there is a place called New Mexico and if the Albuquerque Tribune is to be believed, this area is producing some of the most talented yet overlooked soccer players in the country.

What proof do they use to justify such a claim? Well...

Thanks to the play of several native sons - most notably Jeff Rowland - The University of New Mexico men's soccer team advanced to the national championship game.

A local club team advanced to the United States Youth Soccer Association national finals for only the second time; the Classic FC Bandoleros finished third.

Sandia Prep's boys soccer team rolled to its fifth-straight state championship and was ranked as high as fourth nationally.

The most notable word of the aforementioned year: national.

It is interesting to look at the recent up tick in big wins by teams from the Albuquerque area, but it is also interesting to see how many national college coaches are not taking the time to visit.

"Do we go out of our way to comb New Mexico for players?" Cal State Northridge men's soccer coach Terry Davila said. "No."

Pretty much everyone can agree that the future of the US game is in the youth development system. If we are not working with players by their early teens, what hope do they really have of competing against the best in the world when they are 21?

Sadly, the case of Albuquerque highlights a different part of this problem. Here local coaches have given these kids good training early, but the next level is not fully there. College coaches from the area will take a look, but until colleges are willing to go the distance (ie pay the money) and look outside their state or region for talent, too many good players will fall through the cracks.

This geographical hurdle doesn't hinder top prospects. Competitive programs will mine the stars, wherever they lie.

It is the marginal prospects who suffer. Kids who could play at the next level don't get as many chances to let coaches see.

If we really want to make US soccer great, we need to give the 'marginal' players a chance as well. If you show good ball control and other such talents at 17, even if you are not perfect, it does not mean you cannot become a very solid player in 3-5 years and the more solid players we have, the better our leagues and national team will be.

Hopefully MLS will soon approve changes to their youth development rules, which would allow teams to sign young players they develop. If this happens, I expect LA, Chivas, Real, Colorado, FC Dallas and maybe a few others, would be willing to make the trip to see some of these kids play and increase the field of competition for their talent and provide the Land of Enchantment will much more exposure.


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