SAN JOSE – The way to the NCAA may not be the best way for Canada Soccer’s up and coming footballers. It’s been a question up for discussion for some time: Does the NCAA offer the best opportunity for the next generation to progress, or is Europe a better option?
John Herdman was put on the spot earlier this week, and he didn’t shy away in sharing his thoughts on his players playing abroad and why he feels that’s really the only option.
“I’m not frightened to say it, I’m really looking a pro-first pathway,” Herdman said. “I think that’s the one thing that hurts us. It really does hurt us that players go into the NCAA and they play three months of the year. Some of the work that’s done in those colleges just isn’t supporting national standards.”
UCLA’s Jessie Fleming is quickly becoming a wizard in the middle of the pitch for Canada. She’s been described admirably as the next Christine Sinclair. Fleming’s decided the NCAA route and getting an education is paramount for her. While Europe offers more of competitive and tactical playing style, it’s just not for Fleming right now.
“I definitely agree in saying that it’s more competitive,” Fleming said. “It’s definitely something I want to do down the line. I guess for me right now, engineering is pretty important to me. I’m happy where I’m at. I feel like I’m still developing, progressing, and enjoying myself.”
Jessie Fleming is next level
— Rachel Daly (@RachelDaly3) November 10, 2017
Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan were both courted by multiple European teams, but in the end, they decided that Feminine Division 1 would be the past place for their development. Lawrence signed with Paris Saint-Germain while fellow Canada and West Virginia teammate Buchanan signed with Olympique Lyonnais. When they are back in the Canada Soccer environment, how quick are they about getting in Fleming’s ear to share all the wonders of living and playing in Europe?
“I definitely know they’re enjoying themselves,” Fleming admitted. “Like I said, it’s something that I aspire to do down the road. It’s exciting to see how the leagues are growing over there. Hopefully we’ll see how things fall into place two years down the road.”
If Europe is on the back burner for the 19 year-old Fleming, what about the NWSL?
A pre-emptive prayer: pls @ god let Jessie Fleming come to NWSL instead of going to Europe when the time comes. Love, me.
— thrace (@thrace) November 10, 2017
“Yeah, maybe, but I do like to travel,” Fleming said. “I like the idea of going to Europe and experiencing different cultures. I love the type of player that you find over in Europe, like the technicians and the French players. I have so much respect for all of them. I definitely think I want to give that a try.”
You’d have to think that if Vancouver ever got an NWSL team, that would sway Canadian players’ opinions about playing in Europe. The NWSL doesn’t offer the same wages that a European club can and arguments can be made that the level of football isn’t as high. Additionally, exploring the streets of Europe sounds a lot more enticing than exploring some NWSL markets.
“I’m hoping to see more pro clubs in Canada, where players can balance an education with a professional playing pathway,” Herdman said. “I’m not saying that I don’t want players to get an education. I think that’s critical to their overall development as a human being, but…when you’re playing at the highest level and you’re going to rock up against the U.S.A. and you’re coming out of a college environment, it’s pretty tough. Fingers crossed we’ll start bridging that gap in time.”
Fleming wants to play at the highest level, to improve, and to become a better footballer. Her unique creativity would make her the ideal athlete to play in Europe. She’s quick on the ball, agile, and able to make a lot out of nothing. Booting the ball up the pitch is one way to go about things, but how does that help a player’s development?
— Assange's fake blue diamond (@ashcech) November 10, 2017
“The highest level definitely brings out the best in you,” Fleming reiterated. “It forces you to play that much faster. It definitely helps me develop as a player, especially as a midfielder, having to play on one, two touches against bigger, (more) physical, faster players. It’s definitely the best thing for me. It makes me make decisions faster.”
Europe isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Jessie Fleming. She’s got her head on her shoulders and wants to graduate from UCLA. When the time does come and Europe starts calling her name, Fleming will have her passport by her side.