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Friday, January 14, 2011
Soccer's elegant development solution

By Henry Abbott

The world's finest young athletes in most sports -- those with pro prospects -- make money from their valuable work.

But not in basketball and football, oddly.

For some reason (these sports are among the blackest, it's hard to dismiss race as a factor) the best in those sports are deemed needy of enforced time at some college or university. We've written about this a million times, but the oversimplified version of the story is that those people still drive tons of value, even if they're officially, and artificially, amateur. Is it any wonder so many of them are paid under the table? Markets have ways of finding value, and agents, schools and shoe companies can derive value from being affiliated with the finest young athletes.

So, you have these entities dying to give these young people money. And you have young people doing all this work to be competitive. And for decades we've been mystified. What good system could we possibly have to get those things together?

How about pay the kids not to go to college, and to work on their games? Seems totally radical, given how we normally talk about NBA players, but it's happening right now in soccer and -- get this -- even NCAA coaches who lose tons of top players to the program say they are thrilled with it.

Michael Grange of the Globe and Mail explains:
Yesterday the Vancouver Whitecaps, partly owned by NBA star Steve Nash, used the first overall draft pick in the 2011 Super Draft was a 17-year-old, Omar Salgado, who has been playing professionally since he was 15.

Scandal? No scandal. As a matter of fact, Salgado is one the members of Generation Adidas, a joint venture between the sports apparel giant the MLS where the very best college underclassman and high school age-prospects are paid six-figure contracts to join the MLS where member clubs draft them with the benefit that the salaries aren’t paid by them, but by Adidas.

This just kills me, in the sense that a story about a shoe company launching a multi-million marketing campaign to keep talented athletes out of school – were they basketball or football players --- would get treated like a massive scandal.

In soccer, everyone thinks this is the greatest thing, and will be a big factor in the growth of the MLS and overall development of US soccer in general.