by Jason Davis

Congratulations are in order for Caleb Porter and the University of Akron men's soccer team, your 2010 NCAA champions.  The Zips took out the Louisville Cardinals in Santa Barbara yesterday 1-0, winning a title nearly every informed observer of college soccer thought they deserved on the balance of the season.  College soccer is a large hole in my soccer experience, so I defer to those in the know.

What I witnessed of Akron's semifinal win over Michigan and championship game defeat of Louisville certainly did nothing to make me disagree.  Akron won because they scored more goals than their competition - apologies for the obvious statement - but garnered praise because of the way they played.  The kept the ball on the ground, moved it around the field quickly and with purpose, and generally out-styled everyone they faced.  Because our perceptions are so often dictated by how a team plays as much as, or more than, how many they score/concede, Akron has the look of a champion.  Now that they actually are champions, much is right in the world of college soccer.

The impact of the college game on MLS is a topic of debate at the moment; while MLS clubs expand their academy reach and the League opens avenues for young players to become professionals without the need make their names at college programs, the word "waning" comes to mind.  As Kyle McCarthy laid out at this morning*, the SuperDraft's talent pool will suffer should MLS clubs exercise their option to sign college players attached to their systems.  The role of colleges in providing MLS with it's better young talent is  changing rapidly, and with the training wheels off, players who in the past might have been Generation Adidas signings and high draft picks will be signed directly by the teams that invested in their development.

But college soccer won't lose its luster as a place to see quality players play in the near term.  There's still the small issue of this being a large country, with thousands of players who are outside of the academy footprint, come to the US/are recruited from abroad, or simply don't develop early enough to catch the eye of a professional club.  The US has traditionally bred players who matured later than their counterparts from around the world; generally, this was because college soccer was our only real feeder system, and didn't allow players to start their pro careers until 21 or 22.  Now that college isn't a necessary step, the best of the lot will come into MLS as much as three, four, or five years younger than before.  From most perspectives, that's a good thing.

College soccer's purpose, from the MLS perspective, may be to allow later developing players a place to play and grow, without losing them altogether.  The American late bloomer syndrome forced upon players who might have contributed, and been better for it, at a much younger age will morph into the unstigmatized American late bloomer, a player who needed a few more years and physical growth to come into his own.  MLS won't be so flush with domestic talent at any point in the near future that there won't be a place for this type of player, so there should always be room for the college game's best.  They may not enter with as much fanfare or have as immediate an impact, but they'll enter nonetheless (though in smaller numbers).  In lieu of a glut of clubs to provide academy homes for every moderately talented player, ala England, we have college soccer and the benefit of its geographical reach.

The cards are being shuffled, so to speak.  MLS will draw less often, and with much less anticipation, from the college deck than they did in the past.  That doesn't mean that there won' be an occasional ace to be found.

* is not working for me at the moment, so I'll provide a link to Kyle's piece shortly. - FIXED
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