Prep4Pro are offering European players the opportunity of a new career in US college football.
As a player who first came to America on a scholarship after being released by Ayr United in 1992 he knows only too well what it is like to be cast adrift in a foreign context and left to fend for himself.
“The reason I came over here 20 plus years ago now is because my manager at Celtic (where I had played for the U16’s) knew people over here. At that time, before this era of multi-million pound preseason friendlies, Celtic regularly played exhibition games where it was the young boys that went across to create the goodwill and energise the American market. And through that manager I got my chance to come over here, do a scholarship and complete my education.”
But as a player who’d uprooted continents to chase his dream, John Roach experienced the limitations of the US system first hand. He says: “At the end of four years of college that was it. There was nothing for me. I actually went back to Scotland and tried to play for Partick Thistle for a while under Murdo McLeod and then decided to come back over here and try and play again.”
“There was nobody bridging the various gaps for me here. No-one to catch me when I was in college. No-one to walk me through it and no-one to help me when the Scholarship finished.”
He says: “Now I was fortunate that I had a former US National coach as my coach in college so I got some advice and guidance but not everyone will be lucky enough to access that.”
John Roach attended Robert Morris University on a football (soccer) scholarship. “They actually had a guy fly over from Wake Forest University to look at me but again I didn’t know America and I chose a different school. My college was a private Business School in Pittsburgh and again, if I’d had my choice of colleges or I’d known better, I’d have picked somewhere more conducive for my football career.”
The introduction to America couldn’t have been a greater culture shock: three flights, 17 hours in a suit and tie, no-one there to greet a player who’d been waited on hand and foot at Celtic. Training fields set upon a baseball diamond.
By the time John Roach graduated Robert Morris University were an impressive 17th in the nation but it was still a daunting progression, even down to the fact that far from home, Roach was on his own and had money for just one phone-call a week.
Though this is no longer a typical picture of college scholarship life there’s a support network that’s needed for those players that are coming over to help them settle, help them translate the market here relative to what they’re used to in Europe and of course introduce them to people that can help them make their life here in football, should they choose to do so when the four years are up.
Things have certainly improved for those on college scholarships from overseas. There’s an understanding of football as no longer a second class sport in America and paid opportunities to supplement their income through coaching part time. And as there have been trailblazers before now there are people that can help from their own experience, local knowledge, bits and pieces from finding out where the local supermarkets are to using public transport or helping you get a car.
“So where everything was piecemeal 20 years ago it is now starting to look more coherent for Scholarship students. They can understand their studies more, the game is more international now so they can coach in a way that’s universal. The main thing that’s incomplete here is the pathway to a professional contract and that’s where Prep4Pro can help.”
Aside from the glamour of the Champions League, the US’ six month season, the likelihood of a role at an off season camp to make ends meet, and a generally nomadic lifestyle as a home-based player, explains the additional lure of a career in Europe.
When John Roach’s college coach got the Tampa Bay Mutiny managers job, with players such as Carlos Valderrama, that was John’s invitation to return to the States. He signed a pay for play contract with Richmond Kickers, and then tried playing indoor soccer with Harrisburg Heat and Washington Warthogs. “I became a nomad, following it around trying to balance making money and following my dream. At 23 I decided to use my four year degree and start coaching.
I realised I’d be better off with a proper job and playing for fun at the weekend. There isn’t that part-time structure that you’ve got in Britain’s lower leagues here either.”
This is the piece of the picture that Prep4Pro are hoping to fill in for European players coming to The States by providing them with the support and back-up needed to make their way in a foreign game on a completely new continent.
The first phase is for American-based players to go to Europe. That includes developing players from college helping them get to where they need to be within the United States or in Europe, dependent on their ability.
The second phase is bringing players from Europe and helping them navigate the American system.
“There’s a lot of people doing the programs where they’ll help players that have been released get to college. But that’s where it stops. We want to do soup to nuts so we’ll help you get to America, and then after you graduate we’ll help you get to that professional level if that’s where you want to be. So we’ll see you through the college years, continue your development and get you moved into the right direction afterwards.
“It is the same function that a head hunter or a big company might fulfil developing and supporting undergraduate student talent at an earlier stage of development all the way through to a full career.”