In the last few years a great deal of ink has been spent in the American football press about how young aspiring American soccer players must go to Academies and then skip college for MLS or a trip to Europe in order to properly develop. I’ve never subscribed entirely to this view as culturally our athletes tend to bloom at a later age, and playing college soccer in the US often hardens character of players and the good work of the PDL and NPSL with amateur players give footballers more than just the college season to develop their skills.
Last week, Anton Peterlin currently in the PDL and previously a four year college soccer letter man was signed by Everton, a perennial top half club in the world’s best football league. This week saw Mo Edu, a former three year college soccer player at Maryland play a full 90 minutes in the Old Firm match and contribute a key role as Rangers soared to the top of the Scottish Premier League table. Edu’s key role in Rangers has been confirmed by Walter Smith, one of the few British managers to consistently give American players a shot to show their stuff in England or Scotland. (Smith brought Joe Max Moore and Brian McBride to Everton as well as DaMarcus Beasley to Rangers before signing Edu in August 2008).
Edu has been the beneficiary of the circus surrounding the Scottish National Team with the banning of Barry Ferguson and his subsequent suspension with Rangers. Ferguson, whose key role in the Scottish and Rangers setup was unquestioned is now persona non grata in Glasgow thanks to his childish behavior during the last international break. Thus Edu, fell into a key role as the holding midfielder for one of the best supported clubs in the English speaking world. Scoring two goals in his first few games after replacing Ferguson, Edu has become an indispensable part of Rangers title chase and the attempts of the club to re-establish itself as a player in European football.
Edu is all the more amazing when you consider his story. Freddy Adu and Santino Quaranta were called into the US team at 16. Landon Donovan and Bobby Convey at 17. All of the previously mentioned players featured for a US Youth National Team before the age of 16. Maurice Edu’s first ever appearance for any US team was at the age of 21, in a full international against Switzerland. Edu is one of the few key US players to have been capped for the senior team for the first time after the age of 20 who had never played for any US Youth team at the time.
Mo Johnston, John Carver and Toronto FC also deserve credit for drafting Edu with the first pick of the 2007 MLS Superdraft and then honing his skills for a year and a half. It’s possible that if Edu had been drafted into a less professional and European oriented setup in MLS, he would not have developed as quickly. Edu’s development rapid caught the eye of Bob Bradley who capped Edu as mentioned above before he had cleared any of the typical US Soccer Youth National Team hurdles.
While it can be strongly argued that the Scottish Premier League isn’t of a high standard, cracking the lineup of either of the Old Firm sides isn’t an easy task. I have an English friend who reminds me that he rates the SPL below MLS and feels most USL-1 sides would be in the top half of the SPL table, and even believes some SPL sides would struggle in USL-2.
But the perceived quality of the SPL is not very important in this discussion. The point is Rangers are a massive club, and Edu without taking the preferred development path advocated in US Soccer circles has become a regular for a prominent European club and for the US National Team. As we hone the US Development system in the upcoming years, let the lessons of Mo Edu’s emergence on the stage remind us that a one size fits all system isn’t the best idea for the United States.
Listen to my interview with Mo Edu from just after he signed with Rangers: