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The 2020 College Soccer Season. How The Coronavirus May Shake Things Up.

There are still a lot of big picture unknowns. Much is in limbo right now as reflected in the recent decison of Ivy League to place all sports on hold until at least January. Whether other conferences follow suit remains to be seen. The coronavirus crisis will eventually be in the rearview mirror but in the meantime there will be a new normal during the 2020 college soccer season.

Projecting ahead, the impact of the abbreviated spring season, the inability of players to participate in team related play during the offseason, and the changes that will occur in preseason training sessions will likely vary among programs. The new normal may shift the relative standing of teams and conferences in 2020.

The following factors are among those that have the potential to have a greater impact on team performance in 2020 than in the past.

Learning Curves could be extended further into regular season play for those teams that have a lot of newcomers in key roles. Teams with a solid core of returning players that have played together will not likely require the same length of time to gel. Establishing the desired balance between offense and defense may take a little longer this year. 

Style of Play may make a difference. Teams with a more direct style of play may settle into a rhythm faster than those that are more possession oriented. Touch on the ball and the ability to put together combinations sometimes takes a little longer to fall into place. 

Team Chemistry could be impacted. Programs with a solid core of returning leaders could have a greater edge than in the past. Some teams could take longer than in the past to sort out their identity which could impact their play in the early going.  

Depth may have more of an impact in 2020 than in years past due to physical conditioning. Individual players may not be as game ready from a physical and stamina perspective in 2020. More may have to play their way into top condition. Team depth could be a significant difference maker from the get-go.  

Change Management. The ability of coaches to adapt their practice sessions and preparation in general to the new normal will likely vary among programs. The facilities available could impact this.   

Staying Healthy. Additional factors will be in play this year. Avoidance of the virus and the maintenance of a healthy roster will be impacted by the diligence of individual players, the procedures and processes individual programs put in place, and local conditions.  

Physical Conditioning. Individual players were much more responsible for conditioning during the off season than ever before in the past. Competitive athletes know that their workouts are more productive and accountable when participaing with others. The ability of individual players to put together a full ninety minutes of play is dependent on being in shape. Lapses in play can occur when players are not fit. Poor conditioning could lead to early season upsets and more injuries. 

International Student Athletes. Many teams build their rosters around international players. This could be a diffucult situation because US Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced that international students will need to leave the country or risk deportation if their school transitions to online only learning. Unless an exception is made for college athletes, this could result in the loss of international players that might have a significant impact on some programs.  

The Recruiting Process. The restrictions preventing in-person contact in recruiting may result in more misses on the recruiting trail. The impact of this will likely vary among programs. 

Recruiting Classes. Restrictions on traning sessions and player interaction may increase the amount of time it takes and make it more difficult for teams with large recruiting classes to seamlessly merge their newcomers in with returning players .

New Head Coaches. There are seventeen new head coaches in 2020. The transition period for teams with new head coaches could be prolonged in 2020.   

Transfers. It may take a longer period of time after the season has begun for transfers to make the transifion to a different style of play and new teammates. 

Trial and Error. Soccer is among the first sports to get undeway after the start of the school year. Soccer will not have the benefit of learning from the experience of other sports. 

Celebrations. Celebrations will no doubt be different. Some individuals and teams will be better able to adjust to changes like this than others.

Travel - Playing on the road could be more cumbersome than in the past due to precautions needed to keep players healthy. This could make away contests even more difficult.  

Home Cooking - The fact that the crowds on hand at venues like Akron, Connecticut, Creighton, Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Wake Forest among others may not be as large and perhaps as vocal as in the past might take away a little of the edge that some programs have when playing at home. 


 

The Challenges of International Recruitment in College Soccer - By Justin Sousa

College soccer has been a long-standing platform for youth players to continue playing at a high level and receive a valuable secondary education. Even in the age of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the college system continued to pump out MLS and USMNT caliber players such as Jordan Morris, Jackson Yueill and Miles Robinson. Over the last decade, it’s also become a platform for international players to continue their journeys to the professional game while also planning for a future after their careers are over.

Since 2012, there have been at least two international players drafted within the first 10 picks of each MLS SuperDraft. They have accounted for about 37% of all top ten picks since 2012, and 27 of the 59 Generation Adidas contracts awarded between 2012 to 2020 have gone to international players. There were also five consecutive first overall picks awarded to international players between 2014 and 2018 when there had previously only been one – Steve Zakuani of the Akron Zips in 2009 – in SuperDraft history.

Yet, even with the growing number of international college soccer players, the actual process of recruiting such players remains a difficult one. The same financial aid provided to American citizens often does not extend to those coming to these programs from different countries. Investing large sums of academic scholarship money on international players that coaches may not be familiar with is also a big risk for any college soccer program.

“We have athletic aid to help kids pay for things, we have need-based aid to help kids pay for things based on family finances, but the need-based aid doesn’t extend beyond U.S. citizens,” Brian Wiese, head coach of Georgetown men’s soccer, said. “That makes it harder to extend our dollars to some of the international kids because they either have to be able to afford it, or we have to use a lot of athletic aid, and those funds run out pretty quickly. Luckily for Georgetown, we have great brand recognition, great degrees, it’s in a great conference and it’s got a lot of appeal for domestic kids.”

Georgetown rostered four international players in 2019, and only two of them featured in the national championship game against Virginia. Three of those players have now graduated, and goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis will be the sole international player at Georgetown as their incoming freshman class consists of nine domestic recruits.

Schools like Harvard, however, have the financial backing to recruit players outside of the United States. Their freshman class for next season features players from Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, Japan and England with only two of them having previous ties to the United States. The school’s global name recognition also helps sway international players to play for them over other Ivy League schools or competition in the ACC, AAC or Big East. Head coach Josh Shapiro’s experience working at the Division III level allows him to understand and appreciate the benefit of having strong financial support for a program.

“I think a lot of it has to do with your ability to attract players in a way that makes sense,” Shapiro said. “I didn’t have a lot of international financial aid while at Tufts, but I have phenomenal international financial aid at Harvard. Most [international] families are not prepared to spend money like American families are, so that $70,000 price tag can scare them. At Harvard, our ability to give full-grant packages and cover so much of the need for people makes it much more feasible.”

Harvard’s assistant head coach Mike Fucito also heralds the connections the school and the coaching staff have made both within the United States and overseas. Though the program has benefited from players taking the initiative of reaching out to the school on their own, a trusted contact who supports those players can go a long way in easing the recruitment process.

“As a starting point, it always helps to establish contact with people that we trust to send us players that we think are on the level,” Fucito said. “We also have a couple of guys who played for their respective national teams at youth level who just reached out to us. If we think it makes sense to go and see them, then we will definitely make an effort to go and do so. There’s more and more showcases popping up, but I think that’s still where we try to establish connections in different areas because it helps streamline the process a little bit.”

Still the ability to find players willing to buy into a coach’s philosophy and manage the egos some international players have can add to an already difficult task. Butler head coach Paul Snape emphasized the ability to judge a player’s character is as important as being able to assess whether they are good enough to play in college. The mental and emotional hardship of acclimatizing to a new country and the inevitable culture shock that comes with it also cannot be underestimated when contemplating the recruitment of an international player.

When programs can find these good international players, it compensates for the small pull of top domestic players going to college. The growth and development of youth systems within the United States has pushed top prospects towards signing professional contracts earlier instead of playing in college. If the talent pool just isn’t strong enough to maintain a competitive squad during conference and national tournament games, coaches are forced to explore their options outside of the U.S.

“If you can go and get a kid that’s been in a Bundesliga, Premier League, or La Liga academy for four or five years, he’s going to be exposed to all this high level competition and all this methodology even if he hasn’t made it to the first team,” Snape said. “What we’ve seen in the last decade is that the best kids are usually one-and-done, or the Christian Pulisics and Gio Reynas are going to Europe early.”

Shapiro shares a similar viewpoint on the ever-changing windows of opportunity to the professional game for players around the world. While Americans are acclimatized to their opportunities coming around their college years, youth players in Europe and South America are used to signing their first professional contracts when they’re 16, 17, or 18 years old. Those players know they can get a second chance at 22 years old, but they also know a college degree can provide future benefits if a professional career doesn’t materialize.

“Before the Coronavirus came in, I would call it an epidemic of early signings with kids signing USL contracts or MLS contracts,” Wiese said. “They think that the only way to succeed in the path to being a pro is to bypass college completely, but that just isn’t true. The coronavirus situation had quelled that because there’s no point in signing into an environment where nobody is playing, or the uncertainty is too high. There’s much more security in the college soccer ranks than there is right now in the pro soccer ranks.”

That uncertainty will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on the pathways and development of soccer players across the country. What it does pose is an interesting challenge for college coaches to hone their recruitment skills and maximize their networks to continue building competitive rosters. Whether they do so through the inclusion of more or less international players is still to be seen as normalcy slowly resumes in the sports realm.



Justin Sousa is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

College Soccer - Media Relations - It's An Important Part Of Any Athletic Program

A lot of factors and individuals in supporting roles play a part in the success of collegiate athletic programs. One key ingredient that should not be overlooked is the role of the individuals within athletic departments and conferences who are actively involved in media relations and communication. Their role and responsibilites and the significance of it have evolved as the manner in which information is consumed has changed with the development and accessibility of information through the internet. This seems like a good time to identify a few of the many dedicated and professional individuals who serve in this role in college soccer as a means to salute and acknowledge the value of all of those who serve in similar positions coast to coast.   



Barbara Barnes - Georgetown University - Assistant Athletic Director of Communications. Barnes came to the Hilltop in 2008 and has served in her current role since 2017. As the primary media contact for the men's soccer program she annually does an excellent job of providing a lot of interesting and timely information regarding the accomplishments of the program and the Hoyas players.

 

 

 

 


Bobby Parker - Bradley University - Associate AD for Communications and Event and Facility Operations - Parker has been a member of the Department of Athletics at Bradley for twenty-two years and is in his fifteenth year as an Associate Athletic Director. He joined the staff at Bradley in 1999 as the Sports Information Director. As the primary contact for the men's soccer program, Parker provides a wealth of information regarding the men's soccer team.  

 

 

 


Jodi Pontbriand - Rhode Island - Assistant AD, Media Relations - Pontbriand joined the athletic staff at Rhode Island in 2006 and was promoted to Assistant Athletic Director in 2019. As the contact for the men's soccer program, she does a really good job of communicating current data and information regarding the team and promoting the performance of the Ram players.  

 

 

 

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Sean Palchick - University of Akron - Assistant Director for Athletics Communications - Palchick has served in his current role since 2014. He performs his role as the primary contact for the men's soccer program with a gusto that serves the program well and results in a lot of information and insight regarding the accomplishments of the program as well as individual team members. 

 

 

 

 


Meredith Rieder - Duke University - Associate Sports Information Director - Rieder joined the Athletic Department at Duke in 2008 and served for seven years as an Assistant SID prior to assuming her current position in 2015. She provides a ton of information regarding the men's soccer program and the Blue Devil players. The fact that she was a four-year member and starter on the women's soccer team at Denison, where whe was an All-American her senior season, adds to her effectiveness.   

 

 

 


Mike Cihon - Bowling Green State University - Assistant Director for Athletic Communication - Cihon, who is a graduate of Bowling Green State University, is in his twenty-fifth year in the athletic communications office and his twenty-fourth as an assistant director. He serves as the primary contact for the men's and women's soccer programs. Cihon is a seasoned source of information, analysis, game reports, and statistical data regarding the soccer programs.  

 

 

 

 


Ryan Davis - Missouri Valley Conference - Assistant Commissioner for Communications - Davis enters his fifth season as Assistant Commissioner for Communications for the MVC. In that role he serves as the primary media relations contact for men's soccer. Davis is a very capable and experienced source of information in regard to the teams, players, statistics and game recaps within the MVC.  

 

 

 

 


Kristin Quinn - Big East Conference - Assistant Commissioner for Olympic Sports and Marketing - Quinn has served in her current role with the Big East since 2014. Her responsibilities include media relations for men's soccer in the Big East Conference. She is a knowledgeable, proficient and energetic source of information regarding the men's soccer programs in the Big East. 

 

 

 


Niko Blankenship - University of Denver - Director of Athletic Communications - Blankenship joined the staff in the Athelitic Department at Denver in 2014 as the Assistant Director of Athletics and Recreation Publicity before being promoted to his current role in 2018. His responsibilites include serving as the primary communications contact and media representative for the men's and women's soccer programs. Blakenship is a deft source of information regarding the status of contests, the ongoing activities of players, and the accoumpishments of both programs.  

 

 

 


Charlie Duffy - Indiana University - Assitant Director of Media Relations - There is a lot to talk about when it comes to the soccer program at Indiana and Duffy does a really good job of doing just that with timely press releases that provide the Hoosier faithful and others with up-to-date information regarding the program. 

 

 

 

 


Jordan Caskey - Furman - Assistant Athletics Director, Athletics Communications - Caskey became an assistant sports information director at Furman in 2006. In that capacity his responsibilities include the coordination of publicity initiatives for the men's and women's soccer programs. He is a consistent and vital source of information regarding the activities of both programs and of the accomplishments of current and former Paladin players. 

 

 

 


Matt Turk - CSUN - Assistant Director, Sports Communications - Turk joined the Athletics Communications staff at CSUN in 2017. In that regard his duties include serving as the sports information director for the men's soccer program. Turk came to CSUN from CSU Bakersfield where he served as the primary contact for the men's soccer program for seven years. He has been an adroit source of information about the Matador soccer program and players including recent feature articles regarding the most memorable moments in CSUN Athletic history.  

 

 

 


Brent Stastny - Charlotte - Associate Media Relations Director - Stastny has served as the primary media contact for the men's soccer program for many years. He has consistently been a source of current and historical information regarding the activities and accomplishments of the program and the 49er players.   

 

 


Nicole Praga - Penn State - Assistant Director of Communications - Praga's duties include serving as the primary media contact for the Nittany Lions men's soccer program. Penn State exceeded expectations in 2019 returning to the NCAA Tournament field for the first times since the 2014 season. Praga enthusiastically did a lions share of work on a weekly basis providing on-going information and press releases regarding the accompishments of the program and the players.