In this new series, Road to Pro will follow Tom Yorston on his pursuit of a professional football contract as his time at college in America comes to an end. The 22-year-old from Northamptonshire is currently in his fourth and final year of studying history at Caldwell University based in New Jersey.
As well as studying and playing for his college, where he has led his college rankings for total goals and assists each year, the striker is also playing club football semi-professionally for National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side New York Athletic.
The NPSL is informally known as the fourth-tier of football in America and has nearly 100 teams split across regional conferences. The league has improved in strength tremendously of recent times, due to teams from the second-tier league, the NASL, moving across to join the league following the NASL’s decision to take a hiatus. Many NPSL clubs also compete in America’s version of the FA Cup, the US Open Cup, with Miami United making the fourth round before losing to MLS side Orlando City. Matt Jones, formerly of Belenenses and Philadelphia Union was part of the Elm City Express side who won the NPSL last year.
Due to college rules, Tom cannot sign for any professional sides whilst still in education but with his education coming to an end in December this year, the real push for a pro contract will come then.
In this first post, Tom takes the time introduce himself and get us up to speed with his football career so far, from scoring a hat-trick at Northampton Town’s stadium to playing against New York Cosmos.
English Players Abroad: What was your football background in the UK before you went to America?
Tom Yorston: Growing up I mainly played for my local village team, West Haddon. Despite it not being the highest level, playing in that team with my school friends gave me a great deal of confidence in my game growing up. We also made it to the County Cup final when I was about 8 or 9, in which we won and I scored a hat trick in Northampton Town’s stadium, Sixfields.
After that I was with Northampton’s academy for a couple of years. It wasn’t until the age of around 14 that I realised that I needed to be playing at a higher level in order to improve.
I moved to Rugby Town and would stay there until U18s, during which time I played in the Midland Premier Youth League, the highest level youth league in the Midlands.
After youth football, I wanted to test myself in a men’s league so returned to my village side West Haddon Albion in order to get use to the physicality that was to come over in the States.
EPA: How did you secure a place at a college in the US? Did you have to go to any trials and did you have to have certain grades in your A levels?
TY: Essentially I just applied to an agency called CSUSA. From there I had to submit a lengthy ‘football CV’ listing my accomplishments and teams I had played for. The most important part however, was making a video of myself playing. As I mentioned before, I was playing men’s football and scoring freely so was able to get some good highlights of me playing. Luckily my dad was on hand to film me from the sidelines.
Once I had submitted all my playing information, my agent at CSUSA sent my profile out to college coaches all over the US. It was a Norwegian coach at a college in New Jersey that showed the most interest in me and gave me a formal scholarship offer.
I’m aware that CSUSA hold trials in Scandinavia for prospective players, however I didn’t have to attend any such trials.
In terms of A levels, my college that I was signing for did not require particularly high A Level grades. However, some of the elite colleges such as those in the Ivy League are much more selective academically. More important than your A level results is the “SAT” or “ACT”, a 4 hour-long standardised exam which is required in order to go to university in America.
EPA: Are you on a full athletic scholarship? If you are, are there any other costs you have to cover yourself?
TY: I’m on roughly an 85% scholarship, so my family I have to cover the rest of the costs. On top of the college fees there are also a number of different expenses, such as flights and books which amount to quite a lot.
EPA: What’s the college soccer standard like and how does it differ to the standard in the NPSL? How did you join New York Athletic?
TY: Before I left for America I was very unsure of what college standard would be like. What I have learned from my division is that there is a lot of foreign players doing the same thing as myself. The standard of playing varies a lot from team to team, with some players looking like world beaters whilst others would struggle to get into Sunday league sides.
The main problem with college soccer is the intensity of the season. The season only lasts from September to November, with anything from 18 to 25 games being played depending on how far you go in the playoffs. This means that you are often playing 3 games in the space of 7 days, which is obviously very taxing on the legs.
In terms of how the NPSL differs from college soccer, I would say that it is a step up in professionalism. The teams in my division, despite being considered ‘semi-pro’, treat themselves like professionals and play in a similar manner. I recently played against the New York Cosmos (the same one as Pele and Beckenbauer), and it was obvious how well-drilled and coached they had been.
EPA: What are your options when it comes to turning pro? How do you become eligible for the MLS combine ( series of trial matches in front of scouts from MLS sides which leads to players being picked in a ‘Superdraft’)?
At the minute I’m trying to explore every option in terms of turning pro, whether that’s in the States or in Europe.
The MLS Combine tends to predominately invite players from NCAA Division I (the top-tier of college athletics in America, Caldwell are in Division II), which is unfortunate as there is a wealth of talent in the other college divisions, however many are overlooked.
EPA: Has it been easy to combine your degree and the studying that comes with that with playing football?
TY: I would say yes and no. The college system in America is quite flexible in how you can combine it with playing football. So when I am in season during the autumn I am able to decide, for instance, what time my classes are and to not have them clash with games.
Having said that, with practice every day and games often three times a week, it can often get quite overwhelming. Luckily, there are a number of programmes in the athletic department which help student-athletes with balancing their academics with their athletics, such as imposed “study-hour” sessions.
EPA: How often do you see your family during the year? Do you get back to the UK much?
TY: Thankfully American colleges give long holidays in the winter and summer so I get about five weeks off over Christmas and almost three months during the summer. However, this summer, I have chosen to stay and play in the NPSL over the summer so I will only get the month off this summer.