Kyle Martino is a top broadcast analyst for Fox Soccer, a former MLS Rookie of the Year and has been capped multiple times for the US of A.
Juan Agudelo for the United States............ (Photo: Credit: Matt Mathai)
Coming off the Chile-USA friendly, with national teams trialing fresh-faced youngsters for upcoming tournaments, it seems that now is a good time to talk about the crucial metamorphosis of a young talent becoming a professional success.
There isn’t a current professional soccer player who, if asked, couldn’t immediately produce at least a handful of examples of players who were “The Man” when they were younger but currently reside in the “Where Are They Now” category.
I’m not talking about the youth ranks, when that freak kid who was bigger and faster dominated the game because he was born at the beginning of the year and had sick athletes for parents. I’m talking about those teenagers on the cusp of breaking starting lineups in the pros, or landing themselves on National Team rosters.
These are the players who made their pond grow in to an ocean as they climbed the ladder from High School, to College to Pros, but still were able to maintain their “Big Fish” status.
When I was growing up, young talented soccer players in America had a metric called the Olympic Development Program to help them improve as players and measure their progress along the way. Although considered very political–mostly by players that never made the teams–this was a very good way for coaches to identify talent, as well as light the path to the ultimate goal: Putting on a U.S. jersey and representing their country.
Putting yourself on the proverbial map....
The first stage of the program was at the State level, continuing through to a Regional level (dividing the country in to 4 regions), and culminating at the National level, with a Youth U.S. team.
Since we don’t have storied youth academies as they do overseas, like Ajax and Barcelona who pump out world-class players year after year, “ODP” was America’s answer to how we would identify and develop our next stars.
To compare, Ajax gave Holland players like Wesley Sneijder, Bergkamp, and Van Basten, and Region IV gave the U.S. Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis and Carlos Bocanegra.
This multi-tiered system was the filtration process that would take millions of youth players in at the State level, and eventually end up with 20 or so standing at the end. I could write a War And Peace-sized novel on how desperately fanatical I was about playing for my country; the hours of practice and obsession with the game that actually lead me to force my parents to send me to Bollitieri (now IMG) in high school so I could continue to get better.