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Top soccer prospect trains in Sweden, reignites pro vs. NCAA debate

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

During the U-17 World Cup in July, Prep Rally wrote about the exploits of Alfred Koroma, an immigrant from Sierra Leone who has starred at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High and for the U.S. junior national team while attending U.S. Soccer's residency program in Bradenton, Fla.

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U.S. U-17 striker Alfred Koroma

U.S. U-17 striker Alfred Koroma

Now Koroma, pictured above, is taking yet another step toward an eventual bright future abroad, with the striker joining Swedish power AIK Solna as a training trialist without a window to a permanent move; Koroma is not eligible to move to Europe until after he turns 18 next year. He will spend August 9-22 training with AIK.

While Koroma's long term professional future is still too far in the future to discern clearly, the Swedish trial is a promising sign for a 17-year-old who holds boundless potential and still a relatively marginal amount of organized soccer experience.

The trial also points to an increasing concern for American college soccer programs, as more and more top young American soccer players bypass the NCAA system for MLS' academies and overseas opportunities. While Koroma opens his training period just outside of Stockholm, another top soccer prospect -- fellow U.S. junior national team program member and D.C. United Academy member Jalen Robinson (pictured below) -- has stoked criticism for his commitment to Wake Forest as opposed to a future in the MLS or abroad.

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U.S. U-20 soccer player Jalen Robinson

U.S. U-20 soccer player Jalen Robinson

As one might expect, the debate between collegiate and pro soccer development is a heated one that incorporates far more considerations than just a player's talent. While many analysts point out the inefficiencies and general inadequacies of the collegiate game, those critiques fail to consider the additional, educational benefits of a NCAA career.

One of the men siding with professional development is Robinson's national team coach, Thomas Rongen, who has led the U.S. under-20 program for three consecutive World Cup cycles.

"From a developmental standpoint, college and high school, those are not the right places for players to get a lot better," Rongen told the Washington Post. "I don't mean for 95 percentage of [players], I'm talking about the group of really elite players that Jalen Robinson fits into right now. They need to give themselves the best places to get better. . . . and that's not for two- or three-month [seasons] in college."
Whether the correct path is the one taken by Robinson, or the one Koroma seems likely to embark on a year from now, will remain a heated topic of debate in soccer circles for some time to come. The only thing that is undebatable is the passion it engenders in advocates of both sides of the debate.

For his part, Robinson sounds convinced that he's making the right move for he and his family.

"Right now for me, my mom said you're definitely going to college," said Robinson, whose mother is an office manager for a doctor and whose father is a Baltimore City firefighter. "Since I'm part of the D.C. Academy I'll be part of homegrown system and at my age I'd get less money than someone who played for [another youth club]. My mom wants me to go to college, and if something happened I'd always have a degree to fall back on."

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