My memories of the summers during my college years play in my mind to the background of "Glory Days." Amongst my accomplishments were consistently sleeping past noon, a four-day streak of not stepping outside for a single second, and playing every inning of every game for an entire baseball season on PlayStation in under a week.
Amazing isn't it, how a real-life woman once looked at me and said, "Yep, it doesn't get any better than him"?
While I hold those memories in high esteem, it doesn't quite compare to what the boys from the U-20 team were able to accomplish this summer at the Youth World Cup. You and I can only imagine what it must be like to compete on a grand stage and slay your rival. To get spine-tingling support in a country that would love to watch the USA get throttled and be a part of a team that will long be remembered as the winners of the "Group of Death."
Makes my summers as a lifeguard twirling a whistle seem pretty lame.
The talented group of Americans helped to prove that there are many different ways to develop talent, and that the varying ways can still come together to form a good team that can compete internationally. The roster had players who have taken all kinds of routes in their soccer careers - either going pro before college, playing a bit of college and then going pro, or are still in college.
The college boys, who arguably outplayed the pros at the WYC, scored a point for the college soccer experience. Not that going pro is a bad thing, of course. Paychecks are nice. (Now ex-UCLA Bruin) Benny Feilhaber parleyed his play into a pro contract in Hamburg. That's like spending a week as an intern at Mircosoft and then being told, "You know what, we've seen enough. You're ready to work here full-time. See you Monday."
No word yet from Mr. Feilhaber on how German women compare with those in Southern Cal. Come October, he won't be missing the midterms, but he may miss the "70 and sunny" days out on Dickson Plaza.
For Feilhaber, moving on to the pros was the right step for him and his career. For others, like Bruin teammates Marvell Wynne and Patrick Ianni who also heard overtures from professional teams, remaining at UCLA is the correct decision at this time.
"I think going back to college is the right move for me to improve because I am comfortable there," says Wynne, who despite returning to UCLA for 2005 is still probably close to a pro career. "I am playing with the best players in collegiate soccer and I have a coach who I am close with who also knows my strengths and weaknesses. When I go out there I will be more comfortable in trying different things and playing to my own weaknesses until they get better. But at UCLA, I will be more comfortable in playing to my own weaknesses and becoming a better all-around player."
It's easy to see the benefits of international play in a college career, but there are also elements from college competition that a player can apply to his international preparation.
"UCLA is a big name and whenever we play against teams they are always looking to play tough because of the name," Wynne says. "Internationally, we're the U.S., and they don't want to lose to the Americans. On both levels, there is a certain amount of dedication and determination in other teams to beat my side."
For Ianni, a return to the Bruins gives him the opportunity to enhance his leadership skills.
"Instead of starting all over on the bottom rung somewhere, as an upperclassmen this year I will be in a leadership role that will help me throughout my entire playing career," the rising junior says. "I'm also fortunate to have great coaches and I won't ever outgrow the knowledge that they have and can pass along to me."
It all comes down to what is right for the individual and his long-term plans, and the outstanding play of the U-20 collegians helped reinforce that college was/is the correct step in their playing journey, or at the very least did not impede that journey.
No matter how they got there, the U-20s put together a run in the Netherlands that will live vividly in their memories like a high-definition plasma. I'm not sure where if it would rank above or below my PlayStation baseball exploits, but it would probably be in the same ballpark.
Adam Zundell works for the University of Maryland. He can be reached at email@example.com.