|Derby County's Conor Doyle|
As foreign clubs cast their scouting nets over the American soccer landscape, more and more young American kids are landing in surprising places. In some cases, these kids have cultural connections or passports that make their moves easy; in others, they've been lucky enough to find themselves playing in front of the right scouts at exactly the right time. After going on trial, these players have managed to catch on with clubs and entered the professional environment earlier than anyone thought they would.
Three cases of particular interest have popped up in the last few months, with the players in question now playing in far flung locales.
Evgeni (Eugene) Starikov
Club: Zenit St. Petersburg (on loan to Tom Tomsk)
The Ukrainian-born Starikov was a college sophmore at Stetson University in Florida when opportunity struck. Through his father's connections in Russia, the 21 year-old left school to join Zenit St. Petersburg. Currently on loan to another Russian Superleague club, Tom Tomsk, Starikov is a squad regular and has made several late substitute appearances since returning from an ankle injury suffered early in the season. Starikov has made it clear he would play for the United States if approached.
Club: Derby County
You've probably heard of Doyle by now, the Creighton University player who caught on with Derby County after a trial at the Championship club. Not only did Doyle earn himself a contract in England, he has played significant minutes in the early days of Derby's season; an Irish passport holder in addition to being American, Doyle's international status is already a subject of debate among the more ardent US soccer wonks. According to Doyle, he hasn't been approached by either federation, but is keeping his mind open to playing for either country.
Age: 17 or 18 (?)
Club: Estudiantes (Academy)
This is perhaps the oddest story of the three, if only because American kids don't generally end up in Argentina. According to Yahoo's Prep Rally blog, May landed at Estudiantes after a dalliance with Queens Park Rangers fell through. Whether May has a real shot of breaking into the first team at Estudiantes, or if his moving there means Argentinian clubs are actively scouting American players, we can't be sure. But it is intriguing that May, who says he spoke high school Spanish when he arrived, is in an academy setup in South America without having any obvious connection to the country or culture.
More than a run down of real prospects we can expect to pop up in the National Team setup at any point in the near future, this list is an illustration of just how widely the American soccer diaspora is spreading. Perhaps none of these players will ever be more than average or mediocre players. Maybe none is worth much attention until they start scoring (in the case of Starikov and Doyle) or break into the first team (May). For now, however, they are simply three young Yanks playing abroad in three very different environments, proving once again that there isn't a singular path for the young American player to fulfill his dream of a career in professional soccer.
And, depending on your viewpoint, the fact that none of the three have any US youth international experience or contact with US Soccer is either proof that the federation is failing to find the talent that is here, or that the resources available and the size of the United States makes it impossible to find and properly identify every talented player.