When Jurgen Klinsmann was the men’s national team coach, he urged talented teens to skip college and go directly to the pros.
Then he sent his son to college. Jonathan Klinsmann spent two years at the University of California, and had a standout sophomore year. He then moved on to Hertha Berlin.
So, the Klinsmann family has come down firmly on both sides of the debate on whether young American players are better off developing in college or the pros. The debate has only grown louder since the US was eliminated from the World Cup and a reexamination of the American development system has picked up.
Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell has seen both sides of the debate.
Caldwell played one season in the Revolution academy before taking his talents to University of Akron, a top-tier program. After graduating, he became a Revolution homegrown, playing regularly for the club.
He said going pro early is not for everyone. Some players are just not physically or mentally ready to compete against older, stronger competition.
“It all depends on the individual,” he said after a recent Revs game.
Also, some MLS teams don’t have a U-23 team, so it is difficult for a young player to get game time.
“You have to get game experience. That’s how you improve,” he said.
He didn’t mention any names, but teammate Zachary Herivaux is an example.
Herivaux turned down a scholarship to Providence College to sign professionally with the Revs after four years in its academy.
But, he has barely seen the pitch since. He was loaned out briefly to San Antonio FC of USL this spring, but MLS minutes have been hard to come by. Herivaux is now 21 and has gone for long stretches of his formative years without the benefit of games.
In the interview, Caldwell pushed back against the common complaint that colleges have such a condensed schedule players don’t get enough training time and touches on the ball to develop fully. He said Akron practiced about three times a week and there were plenty of time on the ball. Attending college did not set him back, he said.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of European players are leaving their pro academies to play for American colleges, raising the quality of play.
One example: Julian Gressel spent some time in German academies before coming to the States to play at Providence College. He is now considered a top contender for MLS rookie of the year after a standout first season with Atlanta United.
Jack Harrison of NYCFC is another one. He spent seven years in the Manchester United system before leaving for the Berkshire School and Wake Forest.
Americans on the Revs roster are a mix of those who spent at least some time in college and those who went pro early.
Andrew Ferrell and Kelyn Rowe both played a few years in college. But, Juan Agudelo signed with the Red Bulls and Diego Fagundez with the Revs as teenagers.
Who’s to say their careers are more advanced because of the early pro experience.
Of course, Klinsmann would argue they should have signed with European team like his son - after he went to college.