Like most of the kids that come over to the States from overseas, there is usually an agency and a trial involved. I knew a couple of guys from my school that had made the grade here and I used the same agency.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived for training was the level of professionalism here with trainers tending to your injuries – the same injuries back home you were told to brush off and that would be made better with a quick rubdown using the ‘magic’ sponge.
There is a weights room for those bulking up and a separate gym for those more interested in cardio. The most important issue for the student-athletes here is the fact that there is everything you need to be conditioned to your maximum potential. This is a massive difference between amateur sports teams in the UK and the college teams; especially due to the high emphasis on strength and conditioning over in the States.
When you start playing in competitive matches, especially against the higher ranked teams, you notice the amount of British players in particular; as well as the Europeans and South Americans on each team.
These tend to be the better players, and although they bring the level of play to a higher standard, I would consider upper-tier amateur club football (normally played on a Saturday) in the UK a higher standard; even if the lack of a binge drinking culture in the States compared to the UK allows the American college game to have superior fitness.
One of the major factors for the higher standard in the UK, Europe, and South America is players and those associated with them have grown up with football, or soccer in their blood.
In the USA, they grow up with ‘football’, a name that is still something I have difficulty grasping, due to the fact most of the play involves passing with your hands, running, and getting tackled. The second major sport is of course, basketball. Without soccer being in the culture, it’s difficult to develop a passion for the game amongst the nation with so many other favored sports that take priority.
One of the stories I had heard before joining Urbana was of a coach asking one of the American players to name the African strikers who played for Chelsea. No one knew. This would be unheard of if you asked any soccer fan in the UK.
Nonetheless I’ve still thoroughly enjoyed my first season here. This may be because I scored 17 goals and was ranked 4th highest scorer across the nation. I enjoyed the competitiveness – everyone is an athlete and no one gives you an inch; the games were often fast and furious.
One of the huge differences that I needed to grasp quickly was how quickly the games came. The season is late August/early September, and ends in late October/early November – there are 17/18 games to be played. We ended up playing 5 games in 11 days at one point. Talk about burn out! I would rather have a mid season break in the winter months, when it can snow heavily, and carry on in March/April; having games once or twice a week.
One of the major debates is which system is best suited to develop professional players: the US college system or the European academy system. Both have their positives, where the college system chooses the best players from high school and develops their education further. The academy system professionally develops the skills of players from an early age, but at the same time if something goes wrong in their development they have nothing to land on in terms of qualifications.
A combination of the two would be more ideal, but could you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson being happy if a younger Wayne Rooney had had to have missed a season because his Grade Point Average (GPA) wasn’t good enough?
In general though, the players graduating through the college system aren’t good enough to play Premier League football. Although I hear that many primary and elementary school students play soccer, there just aren’t enough Americans going on to play soccer at an older age, because of the other major sports.
I would definitely recommend the move to young players in the UK. If you are good enough, but not quite good enough to be professional, you could have a high percentage of your university fees paid for. At the same time you will be playing some pretty competitive soccer AND the girls LOVE the accent!