Story courtesy of Akron Athletic Communications
AKRON, Ohio - Five underclassmen from The University of Akron men's soccer 2010 national championship team have signed contracts with Generation adidas and will enter the 2011 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, the MLS announced Tuesday.
Junior striker Darlington Nagbe, junior midfielder Michael Nanchoff, junior defender Kofi Sarkodie, sophomore defender Zarek Valentin and freshman midfielder Perry Kitchen will each forgo their remaining eligibility to turn professional. The five UA starters collectively represent the most early signees from a single team in MLS history.
"This is an exciting day for the entire Akron soccer program and certainly a dream come true for this special group of Zips players," said UA head coach Caleb Porter, who recently signed a 10-year contract extension. "It wasn't surprising after winning the national championship that MLS identified several players as being ready for the next level. Certainly, this could be perceived as bittersweet losing so many quality underclassmen at one time but when a player is offered the coveted Generation adidas contract it gives them the best platform to enter professional soccer and I am nothing but happy for them."
Generation Adidas is a joint venture between Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer aimed at raising the level of young soccer talent in the United States. The program, sponsored by adidas, encourages early entry (without college graduation) of American players into MLS. Entering into the program automatically classifies a player as professional and thus, disqualifies them from playing college soccer. As a result, Generation adidas players are also guaranteed scholarships to continue their college education should their professional career not pan out.
"I think its important for people to understand its not so much that these young men were looking to leave Akron or that they are prioritizing a soccer career over school," Porter said. "It's more of a case that the Generation adidas program gives them the incredible opportunity to have the best of both worlds with the way these contracts are structured. They will receive a guaranteed multi-year contract and as a part of the program each player is provided an educational grant to finish out their degrees when the time is right."
It is the third consecutive season an Akron player has signed one of the coveted GA contracts. Steve Zakuani was the first to do it in 2008 and teammates Teal Bunbury and Blair Gavin followed in 2009. Zakuani was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft and the first ever selection of the expansion Seattle Sounders. Bunbury was drafted No. 4 overall by Kansas City in 2010 while Gavin went a few picks later, No. 10 overall to Chivas USA.
"Obviously, for the vast majority of college soccer players four years and graduation is the only option," Porter said. "For a select few who are talented enough to be offered this type of opportunity, it becomes a very hard thing to pass up. It's actually quite an honor for our program to now have had eight players receive this same path into MLS. This should bode well for what Akron soccer is doing to develop players and hopefully makes a strong statement to future recruits looking for the best soccer environment possible."
Until 2005, the GA program was sponsored by Nike and was called Project-40. It is just the third time in the program's history - dating back to 1997 - more than two players have been selected from the same team. Maryland and Virginia each had three players signed in 2008 and 1997, respectively.
"We want to wish Kofi, Darlington, Michael, Zarek and Perry all the best and appreciate their contributions to making history with the program. My staff and I will miss working with them and I know our fans will miss watching them in the Akron uniform. I know they will continue to be tremendous ambassadors for the University of Akron during their professional careers and I'm looking forward to following their success."
Along with departing seniors Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Chris Korb, who have both been invited to participate in the MLS Draft Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., next month, the Zips are expected to have as many as seven players selected in the MLS SuperDraft, which will be held in Baltimore, Md., on Jan. 13.
The 2010 Zips (22-1-2) captured the first team national championship in school history in any sport on Dec. 12 with a 1-0 victory over Louisville in Santa Barbara, Calf. It was also just the third team national championship in Mid-American Conference history and the first since Western Michigan's cross country team won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965.