In watching the US U-17 National Team defeat the Czech Republic U-17 National Team 3-0 at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico, I found myself pondering what would become of these talented youngsters. Knowing that Howard, Friedel, Keller, and many, many others all played for the US at this young age and are now the faces of the USMNT.
I thought of the 19 year old Juan Agudelo coming through the Red Bulls youth academy and someone like Perry Kitchen, a DC United player taking the college route to the majors. Not looking at the separation of position and MLS experience, as well as talent, these players represent the two main division between the paths that modern-day youth players can take to get to the MLS and beyond.
The 'traditional institution', as I am dubbing it, can be the high school and college path, which is something that is unique in America while looking at the European leagues. It is for this reason that calling it the 'traditional' route is perhaps a little funny to the soccer follower.
The newer way of doing things as soccer continues to grow in the US is the youth academies that several MLS teams now have set up. Crest First wrote an article earlier about Philadelphia Union signing their first teenage academy graduate. As the MLS continues to look across the Atlantic for coaches, coaching techniques, and various other models (and DPs, but that's a topic for another day), I believe the academies of the MLS will grow to rival the colleges and high schools in developing young talent.
As a future educator, however, I hope that these three institutions coexist and that the best coaches coach where they can best assist young players, whether that be in the academies that (surely) one day, all MLS teams will have, or in the high schools or colleges around the country. It really all comes down to where funds go, how big the MLS gets, if budget cuts grow for universities and ultimately, whether Americans and young athletes value the "student athlete" or simply just the "athlete."