Stirling or Seattle?

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Al-Sayed- 3; Cross – 4, Credit: Ed Beach

Why are more and more young footballers heading to the US to further their careers?

They played together at Stirling Albion FC but in November 2016 their careers took them across the Atlantic Ocean to Springfield, Missouri.

David Cross and Stephen Al-Sayed once dreamed of making the grade with Stirling as part of the club’s youth program but with first team places limited, the pair made the move across the Atlantic to test themselves in the U.S Collegiate soccer system.

The former Binos have now become Panthers and they are currently hitting heights in their careers that they could only have dreamed of before taking the plunge and leaving home for their big soccer adventure.

Cross, from Bannockburn, has recently been named as part of the regional team after scoring eight goals in 21 games from defence.

Both David & Stephen were placed in the United States through the Sporting Futures USA Program for Talented Student Athletes. Cross and Al-Sayed aren’t the only British players who have gone to the US in search of a better career.

According to the Fulbright Commission, almost 11,000 British students were at American colleges in the past academic year – an increase of 21% in the past 10 years. Although the number of soccer scholarships is not recorded (there’s no American equivalent of UCAS) it is clear they are becoming more popular.

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Credit:  David Binnie

College soccer is certainly attractive: in 2013, more than 30 teams had average attendances of more than 1,000, 10 with more than a 2,000 average, with some derbies attracting over 10,000 fans. To put that in perspective, last season English League Two sides Morecambe and Accrington both averaged less than 2,000.

The biggest games are shown on national television, and there is a clear route to turning pro: every year, MLS clubs take their pick of the best college players via the superdraft. But there is another reason why more Britons are heading to American colleges – the rise in companies, or middlemen, who arrange soccer scholarships.

Pass4Soccer, which began in 2003, was one of the first. According to their latest annual report, they now have 40 competitors. “It seems in the past 12 years they’ve sprung up left, right, and centre,” said Daniel Gray, a director at the company. “Five years ago, there were 10 or 15. Now there are 40. People are jumping on the bandwagon.”

Each firm is different but, broadly, the model is the same. Students pay a fee, and the company gets them a place at a US college – if they are good enough on the pitch and are capable of getting a degree.

The companies’ fees vary. Sports Recruiting USA, one of the cheapest, charges £999; Pass4Soccer is £1,295; others charge more than £2,000. The firm’s claim it is money well spent – they say, with contacts and experience, they are able to get better scholarships for their students. Pass4Soccer, for example, estimate that 15% of their students get full scholarships – meaning the college pays all of the student’s fees and living costs.

While British universities are turning down more applicants per year, American universities are making strenuous efforts to harvest this sudden, abundant crop of young Brits and you can’t blame them for going, rising tuition fees in England is one major factor, having increased from £1,100 in 2003 to a maximum of £9,000 a year now.

While the chances of turning professional are still slim for the duo, they can only be admired for their commitment and passion for the game, they took the ultimate gamble and for the moment at least, it looks to be paying off.

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