Cap Charles Renken

In the world of soccer, it's tough to keep a secret, and the word is officially out about Charles Renken.

Of course, in the interweb age just about anyone who can be propped upright long enough to toe-poke a soccer ball is touted somewhere or other as The Next Freddy Adu. Lost in the discussion someplace is the question of whether Freddy Adu is really who you want to be the successor to, but that's another topic altogether.

(And please spare me the "Archer, you ignorant slut, everybody knows about this kid" deal. Firstly, no they don't and secondly I'm making a point here)

And now that Arsenal IS SNIFFING AROUND LIKE A HORNY DOG after Young Master Renken, the hype - which until now has been sort of a low rumble amongst the hopelessly message-board-addicted - has officially commenced.

Like Adu, there are the snarky QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS "REAL AGE" as if USSF had a Chinese-government-like ability to produce paperwork of a highly doubtful nature.

Also like our Beloved Preciousss, Renken is the object of the AFFECTION OF THE LAND OF HIS BIRTH and, similarly, the odds are fairly remote that he'll ever suit up for anyone other than the USA, if for no other reason than that Nike pays "The Next American Soccer Superstar" much more handsomely than the similarly touted hero of Zambia.

Just the way it is; Nike sells more gear in Illinois every month than they do in ten years in Zambia.

So if we can somehow avoid 10,000 newbie-initiated threads entitled "Cap Charles Renken NOW!!!" (because capitalizing and exclamation points demonstrate that you really mean it) by people earnestly trying to prevent Renken from suiting up for The Copper Bullets (come on, admit it: you're wildly impressed that I knew that) not only will everyone be eternally grateful but it will allow the somewhat more germane discussion of whether his "development" is better served by being part of a European "Youth Academy" or by living and working at the US U-17 Academy in Bradenton.

That argument is a lot more complicated.

As we all know, Bradenton was founded in an effort to match (or exceed) the quality of programs available to teenaged foreign talent. The best facilities money can buy, competition that actually surpasses much of what the Eurokids will experience (who would you rather these kids were playing against: Barnsley's youth side or the Mexican U-17's?) and the kind of daily, round-the-calendar work that we all know is how you churn out professional soccer players.

And certainly the weather is better in Florida. (Not to mention the girls; it's almost Arizona)

Bradenton has it all, including one big question:

Who have they ever produced down there?

Landon Donovan is a nice player who will always have question marks buzzing around him until he proves he can be a dominent player in a top European league. Fair or not, them's the breaks.

Freddy Adu was a talented young kid when he went in, was a talented kid when he came out and is still a talented kid. He, like LDo, has much to prove, but he's got more time to do it in.

Who else you got? A long, long list of pretty decent players who can carry their weight at various levels, and some young players (see: Szetela, Daniel) who still have a lot to prove.

Now of course this goes both ways; everyone knows that the odds of any"Youth Phenom" turning into an "International Superstar" are about the same as the odds of any random tortoise hatchling making it across that beach to the ocean before being gobbled up by the gulls.

The US pins it's hopes on one or two cute, tiny little baby tortoises, like Freddy. A big foreign youth academy brings in a couple dozen Freddies and if just one of them out of every group eventually makes it onto the big club, the program is considered a success.

Bottom line, I think Bradenton is as good (or better) a place to work on your game as anyplace else. The fact that it hasn't churned out an Adebayor or a Rooney yet may only mean that the US hasn't hatched enough little baby tortoises so that one of them ends up beating the odds.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for having to scramble to keep up with a collection of other wildly talented kids, rather than being The Golden Child from day one, but ego is a funny, unpredictable thing.

I know some people feel that anything in Europe, footballwise, is better than anything in the US, and maybe they're right. In the end though, soccer players make themselves. And Bradenton is about as good a place as any to do the work.