That's the question that Jason Davis of US Soccer Players Newsletter asks about the best way to find talent for the US National team, referencing the emergence of US internationals Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.
Agudelo comes out of the US Soccer Development Academy from the New York Red Bulls, where Bunbury comes out of the college soccer factory at Akron University.
Prudently pushing that aside, it’s worth noting that each of the pair is a respectively the product of a much talked about development path bringing about the next generation of Major League Soccer player.
In Bunbury’s case, it was Caleb Porter’s college soccer factory at the University of Akron that prepped him for MLS and the US National Team. The path represents a bit of the “old” ways of MLS, as Bunbury entered the League through the draft with all of its quirky American-ness.
It’s a system that hasn’t yet outlived it’s usefulness - despite talk that its influence is waning - thanks in part to the type of success Porter is having at Akron. The Zips just won their first national championship in 2010 and show no signs of slowing down as the new power of collegiate soccer. As long as Porter sticks around, the school should continue to churn out stars.
Before Bunbury, Akron produced speedy Sounders winger Steve Zakuani. This year, the Zips supplied five of the first eight players selected at the 2011 edition of the SuperDraft. An Akron wave is in full swing, with Bunbury at its forefront.
Porter has proven that he has an eye for talent and a knack for developing it. MLS will reap the benefits as long as he can keep it going. Bunbury, now a National Team prospect and seemingly on the verge of a breakout year with Sporting Kansas City, is the natural poster boy for the continued relevance of college soccer in general terms. He's also the standard bearer for the influx of Akron talent in more specific ones.
For the younger Agudelo, it was Major League Soccer’s burgeoning academy initiative, and specifically the New York Red Bulls program, that allowed him to go straight from schoolboy soccer player to professional and now the National Team. A long time in coming, the push for MLS teams to develop talent in-house with the goal of producing players more prepared to be pros at an earlier age is hitting its stride.
We hardly go a day without another home grown signing being announced, proving that clubs are putting an emphasis on academies even while they continue learn how to best use them, run them, and integrate the players coming out of them into their teams. Academy signings aren’t generally expected to contribute right away, part of the reason Agudelo’s profile is so high so soon. Though he’s certainly not the first academy product to show star potential, he is the first to make any impact for the US National Team. That bestows upon him the de facto status of leading academy light.
Both Agudelo’s career and the MLS academy movement are in their infancy. Despite that, Agudelo’s early success gives reason to hope that MLS academies will provide an influx of talented players for the National Team. Agudelo’s story is unique among players with National Team caps. For now anyway.
The promise of Agudelo and Bunbury as a pair is something of a quirk of fate. It just so happened that Bob Bradley called them in together, gave them simultaneous debuts, and repeated the process a few months later in matches that allowed for trying out the new and untested. But for better or worse, the two players are now tied together. They may yet take different paths as internationals, and the difference in their ages will dictate some of their future contributions.
With them playing side-by-side in US shirts, their roads to the National Team tell an interesting story. Competitors for the title of hottest current source of new American talent, with distinct paths on how they got to their breakout opportunity.
College or academy? How about both.