With former Saint Louis man Vedad Ibisevic facing off against the USMNT with Bosnia, here’s a look at some of America’s best foreign collegiate graduates.
Collegiate football is a crucial part of the American soccer pyramid. It is the entry point for nearly every American player into the game. It is their training and their experience. Whilst most players in Europe would have played for an academy and gained experience in the lower leagues by their 22nd birthday, US players have nothing to call upon but their college football.
Most people are quick to write off the system as inferior to European systems. But most people forget that these five world-class foreigners are all products of US universities. Credit where credit’s due!
1) Vedad Ibisevic – Bosnia Herzegovina
Ibisevic was clearly itching to square up against American opposition once again when Bosnia took on the USMNT in Sarajevo on Wednesday night, even grabbing a goal for himself.
A product of Saint Louis University, Ibisevic was for a brief period the most feared striker in the Bundesliga. The 29-year-old will forever be a lamented ‘what if’ story for most Hoffenheim fans: After rocketing up from the fifth tier of German football to the Bundesliga in just eight years, Ibisevic tallied a sensational 18 goals and seven assists in just 17 games, before destroying his anterior cruciate ligaments.
Still, 24 goals in 46 games for Vfb Stuttgart is a very respectable record for the one-time Chicago Fire reserve team player.
2) Ryan Nelsen – New Zealand
Currently managing Toronto FC, it’s easy to forget humble origins of one of New Zealand’s greatest ever players.
Nelsen juggled a US collegiate tenure with playing professional football back in New Zealand. Whilst attending North Carolina’s Greensborough College he took a sabbatical and returned to his homeland, where he managed almost 100 appearances before his 20th birthday.
Nelsen then returned to America to attend the prestigious Stanford University, he became Stanford Cardinal MVP in his final year and obtaining a spot on the NCAA All-American roster. Oh, and a degree and political science.
From there, Nelsen played for DC United, captained Blackburn Rovers, and led a New Zealand side undefeated through the 2010 World Cup group stages – the nation’s second ever appearance at the tournament.
3) Neven Subotic – Serbia
Subotic shot into the global spotlight following Borussia Dortmund’s sparkling performances in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League.
After starring in the Mainz backline at just 19 years of age, he was snapped up by fallen German giants Borussia Dortmund. Youth policy paid off, as five years and 226 appearances later, Subotic is one of the best centre-backs in world football. His dominating partnership with Mats Hummels was instrumental in Dortmund’s recent domestic and continental successes.
Whilst he may now be a German household name, what many may not know is that Subotic attended IMG Soccer Academy before moving on to University of South Florida.
Moving to Salt Lake City at the age of 8 also meant that Subotic was eligible to play his international football for the United States. After playing a dozen games at youth level he opted instead to play senior football for Serbia, the country of his birth, leaving American fans to dream of what might have been.
4) David Weir – Scotland
Possibly the most iconic figure on this list, David Weir managed to become a cult hero at four separate clubs over a tremendous 20-year playing career, amassing more than 100 appearances for each of them.
Not only that, but Weir is also a member of the Scotland national football team roll of honour, captaining the side on four occasions. He even played for his country at the age of 40, a national team record.
He won the Scottish Premier League three times with Rangers, the Scottish Cup twice with Rangers and once with Hearts.
More than 20 years ago though, a young David Weir was in fact scouted by the University of Evansville, Indiana whilst playing at an inter-scholastic tournament in Lincolnshire. He moved to America on a full scholarship.
Perhaps even stranger still, Weir was considered too immobile to play at centre-back, leading to him playing a season at centre-forward. He scored 28 goals in 27 appearances and was named NCAA All-American, only to return to Scotland with Falkirk never to play striker again.
5) Santiago Solari – Argentina
The final entry on our list is one that might surprise even the most educated of fans.
Santiago Solari in his prime was one of the most majestic midfielders in Europe. During his five-year spell at Real Madrid the only thing greater than the Argentine’s mercurial brilliance was his crippling inconsistency.
When on form, Solari would light up the left flank with grace, speed and skill, his magic-wand of a left foot whipping in crosses and stinging shots towards goal. When out of form, he seemingly used his magic wand to turn invisible.
None the less, Solari’s raw talent took him to some of the biggest teams in the world, including River Plate, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. With Madrid, he even won the greatest prize of all – the UEFA Champions League. In his time at Real Madrid and Inter alone he won a combined 13 major titles.
Few would guess that such an illustrious career began at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He attended for two years before joining Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.