Player safety, recruitment heavy on the minds of Big East Schools - by Justin Sousa

It’s a testing time in the realm of college sports with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing life to a virtual halt. Though in its offseason, college soccer is enduring the effects of the virus as recruitment camps have been canceled indefinitely and players travel home to be with their families. Priority number one was always to ensure the players’ safety, and Marquette men’s soccer head coach Louis Bennett was one of the first among his conference peers to speak his mind on the situation.

"We will deal with challenges as they continue to arise,” said Bennett. “Our primary concern is safety and a healthy environment for our student-athletes, staff and recruits. We don't want to put anyone at risk, and as per NCAA rules, the next period of time until April 15 will be a dead period for in-person recruiting. We're just coaches, not doctors, so we want to make sure safety is our primary concern."

Still, coaches are scrambling to piece together training regimes to provide some type of normality to their players’ lives. Unfortunately, the true challenge lies in accepting the current circumstances as a temporary normal. But, as important as the physique and maintenance of their team’s technical quality is, the focus for Big East coaches is primarily on caring to their players’ mental and emotional needs.


“You have to make sure that they’re all mentally OK,” said Paul Snape, head coach of the Butler men’s soccer team. “I have a lot of smart kids on my team that we check in with, but they’re so disciplined and motivated that they take ownership for their academics. But there are other guys who are working hard and need help, and those are the guys we have to monitor closely.”

Working hard, as Snape put it, involves keeping up with their online learning, completing at-home workouts and checking in on their teammates and coaches daily. The players’ routines that helped balance these responsibilities at school are no longer applicable, though, and establishing a new one will undoubtedly be an added source of stress. The physical distance that divides teammates and coaches and the massive decline in social interaction can also take a hefty toll on the players’ morales.

Georgetown men’s soccer head coach Brian Wiese stressed the importance of replicating the social and structured environment of a college campus during this time. Admittedly, it isn’t going to be perfect, but it would be shaped so that the mental, physical and emotional needs of the players are met. Adaptability and flexibility have been two key attributes necessary for his team to navigate through the early stages of this pandemic.

“I joked around about Time having a Person of the Year because now we’ll have an ‘App of the Year’ with Zoom,” said Wiese. “It’s amazing how important seeing faces is. We really want to put as much stuff on there as possible. Right now, each of the coaches are going through 45-minute meetings with individual players just to see how they’re doing and what their set up is like at home. We talk soccer with them, talk about the team and anything to just check in.”

For Coach Wiese, these individual meetings serve a multitude of purposes. He and his assistant coaches have met with the leaders of his returning players to discuss the game plan during quarantined training and the standards they want set for the nine freshmen joining the squad in the fall. Wiese added that each of the freshmen have been called individually as well and are being cared to in the same fashion as their future teammates.

While the technological face-to-face interaction may not provide the same influence as being physically close to one another, Coach Snape emphasized a need to look on the bright side of this situation. He has personally started reading books on leadership and engaging in activities that he hopes will help him improve both as a coach and as a person.

“We’re really working on the mindset of players,” said Snape. “How do you deal with adversity? How do you overcome these problems? How do you connect with the team and the coach? Of course, we want to get back onto the field, but right now we have to focus on the positives that we can take away from this.”

On the recruitment front, Snape is focused on his team’s current condition. This is a situation that is out of his hands, and he and the staff must focus on what they can control. With only one spot left to fill for the fall, Snape is confident the data he and his team have gathered will be enough to get the impact player they are looking for.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that there are genuine concerns for high school players finding the right school to commit to. Coach Wiese had to cancel two player visits of his own due to the pandemic. He is also relying on preestablished player information to help get them through what will be a dry patch nationwide for college soccer recruitment.

“The way that everything is modeled at the moment, though, it looks like we’re going to have to cancel our middle school camp and turn it into a high school camp because that may be the only way we see players between now and November or December,” said Wiese. “I’m concerned kids will make rash decisions and not fit in. That’s going to cause a ripple effect of kids transferring.”

For now, though, the attention is entirely on their own players and taking on the conditions of this catastrophic pandemic day by day. The players are safe and healthy with their families, and that’s all that matters. While an official return to the field is unknown for any college sport, there is no doubt the Big East soccer teams are raring to get back into the groove of their regular training schedules.

Justin Sousta 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..  

These Colleges Would Have Highly Competitive Men's Division I Soccer Programs. Where There Is A Will There Is A Way.

The likelyhood of men’s college soccer programs being added right now are probably slim to none due to the budgetary concerns facing athletic departments and compliance requirements contained in Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972 which mandated that educational institutions provide equal opportunity to men and women in athletic programs. In short, Title IX, requires that colleges give scholarships to men and women in roughly the same proportion as the male-female student population ratio. The addition of another men's program without the addition of another women's program could raise Title IX compliance issues.   

A total of 310 colleges field women’s soccer programs at the Division I level. A total of 205 colleges field men’s soccer programs at the Division I level. It is great that there are so many women’s Division I programs. It is unfortunate that there are not as many Division I men’s college soccer programs. More youth play soccer than any sport in the country. Additional Division I men's soccer programs would benefit the programs involved, the schools that currently have teams, and provide additional opportunities for talented student athletes who love the game.    

Be that as it may, the following colleges are among those who do not currently have a men's Division I soccer program that would likely be very competitive if they did. All are in states that have a solid contingent of very competitive home grown talent, all would be members of a highly successful conference or fit nicely into a conference as an affiliate member, and all have successful women's soccer programs with a good following which would tend to indicate that the same would be true if they had a men's soccer program.   

Florida State University – Go Noles. There is a ton of soccer talent in the state of Florida. A lot of it departs Florida every year to play collegiate soccer elsewhere. Many who go elsewhere would welcome the opportunity to remain in-state and play for the Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  FSU created a women’s program in 2000 that has been very successful with a lot of in-state talent playing key roles. The women's program has a solid fan base. No reason to believe that a men’s program would not thrive as well. A men's soccer program at FSU would be a win-win. It would be win for Florida State, a win for soccer in Florida, great for the ACC, and a plus for soccer in general. .  

University of Florida – The Gators are members of the SEC which unfortunately does not offer men’s soccer. All fourteen SEC schools have women’s soccer programs but only Kentucky and South Carolina have men’s programs and play as an affiliate member of Conference USA.  Both South Carolina and Kentucky have solid programs with a great fan base. Florida would as well. A men’s soccer program at the University of Florida would attract top level talent from within and without the state of Florida. The Gators added women’s soccer in 1994 and won their first NCAA national title in 1998 with a 26-1-0 record. A men’s soccer program at Florida would generate a lot of excitement and hit the ground running.

University of Texas – Hook’ em horns. The great state of Texas is a hot bed of youth soccer. SMU which is located in Dallas has long had a highly productive men’s soccer program. The University of Texas would be as well. SMU, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley are the Division I men’s college soccer programs in the state of Texas. Football is king in Texas but there a lot of talented and soccer savvy young men in Texas who would love to have the opportunity to play college soccer for the Longhorns. A Texas tough men’s soccer program would compete for a national championship in no time at all. The Longhorn women’s team has a roster full of homegrown talent. A men’s program would as well. There are a lot of people who would welcome and support a men’s soccer program in College Station. Everything is big in Texas. No reason to believe that a men's soccer program would not be as well.  

Georgia Tech – Georgia, the Atlanta area in particular, is a hot bed of youth soccer. Concorde Fire is just one of many successful soccer programs in the area. The Yellow Jackets are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference which would be a big plus in terms of recruiting and program stability.  Atlanta is a large metropolitan area and hub. The market for college soccer in Atlanta is huge as reflected in the fact that Atlanta United which began play as an MLS expansion team in 2017 has one of the largest fanbases in the MLS.  Georgia Tech is the only school in the ACC that does not have a womens soccer program. They do have both mens and womens club soccer teams but this is a college that looks to be a natural for a Division I varsity program.   

University of Georgia – The Bulldogs are members of the SEC. Kentucky and South Carolina are the only two SEC schools that currently have men’s Division I soccer programs. Both are affiliate members of Conference USA in men’s soccer which also includes Marshall, Charlotte, FIU, FAU, UAB and Old Dominion. The University of Georgia would be a great addition to Conference USA. The fact that both South Carolina and Kentucky have had successful teams with a very solid fan base is a good indicator that Georgia could do the same. Football is the big dog at the University of Georgia and in the SEC and always will be. Regardless, Georgia could field a very competitive men’s soccer program by tapping a portion of the in-state talent as well as the talent in neighboring states. There are a lot of young men in Georgia who are die hard Bulldog fans and elite soccer players who would like nothing better than to be able to represent the University of Georgia in soccer. The state of Georgia has produced a lot of very talented soccer players. Georgia added a women's soccer program in 1995 when former football head coach Vince Dooley was the athletic director. The women's program has enjoyed great fan support. A men's team would as well with plenty of very competitive opponents not very far from Athens.  .    

Brigham Young University – There are a lot of reasons to believe that BYU could field a very competitive Division I men’s soccer program. For starters, youth soccer is very big in Utah. The Cougars currently have a very competitive club team that some might favor over a Division I program. The BYU women’s soccer team under the direction of head coach Jennifer Rockwood has qualified for the NCAA Tournament twenty out of the twenty-five seasons that the program has been in existence. In 2019 they were 21-1-1 overall, won the West Coast Conference title, and advanced to the Elite Eight. Thirteen of the twenty players on BYU’s 2020 women’s roster are from Utah. It stands to reason that there are also talented young men in Utah who would like to stay in-state and play for BYU. Utah Valley University which is located in Orem, Utah is the only Division I men’s college soccer program in Utah. Utah Valley began play at the Division I level in 2014 in the Western Athletic Conference. Under head coach Gregg Moss, Utah Valley has been very competitive in the short period of time that the program has been in existence at the Division I level. The fact that the Wolverines earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2015 speaks for itself. A men’s Division I soccer program at BYU would also prosper and be a great addition to the West Coast Conference.

University of Southern California – USC checks all the boxes when it comes to warranting a men's Division I soccer program yet is one of the few schools in California that does not offer a varsity men's soccer program. It shoud be noted that the Trojans do have a self-funded club team. California is among the top producers of highly competitive youth soccer players in the United States with numerous academy teams. USC would not have a problem fielding a very competitive men's team. They would play in the highly competitive Pac-12 which would also benefit greatly from the addition of another participating school in men’s soccer. The women’s program at Southern California has been very successful with a resume that includes winning the national championship in 2007. All the Pac-12 schools have Division I women's soccer teams. The interest as well as the talent exists to field a successful men's soccer program at Southern California. The large contingent of international students at USC makes it even more of a natural. The fan support that the LA Galaxy enjoys in the MLS is just one more positive indicator. A men's soccer program at USC would blossom in no time at all. 

Washington State - Washington State has a men's club team but not a Division I mens soccer program. There is a lot of talent to draw from in Washington and California as well as other neighboring states. The Cougars would have the additional advantage of playing in the highly regarded Pac-12 Conference. Washington State began fielding a women's Division I soccer program in 1993. Last year the women's team advanced to the College Cup for the first time in the history of the program.  Jamie Clark at the University of Washington in Seattle has fielded very successful teams by recruiting heavily within the state of Washington. Pullman might be a little less attractive to some than Seattle but there is no reason to believe that Washington State could not attract its fair share of elite players. Enthusiasm for soccer in general is favorable in Washington as reflected in the number of folks who attend the MLS contests of the Seattle Sounders. 

College Soccer Coaching Carousal - A Look at the 2020 Coaching Changes

West Virginia, Boston College, George Mason, San Diego State, Boston University, College of Charleston, Harvard, UMKC and Incarnate Word will be under new management in 2020. FIU, Purdue Fort Wayne and Eastern Illinios have not yet announced their new coach.  

West Virginia - The Mountaineers stayed within the West Virginia family with the hire of Dan Stafford as their new head coach. Stafford, who hails from London, England, played collegiate soccer for the Mountaineers from 2004 through 2007 and served as a team captain his senior season.  West Virginia appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times during Stafford's tenure as a collegiate player. He has both an undergraduate degree and a masters degree from West Virginia and served as an assistant coach at West Virginia from 2011 through 2013.

Stafford returns to Morgantown after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Charleston from 2014 through 2016 and as the Golden Eagle head coach from 2017 through 2019. He led the Golden Eagles to a 61-4-5 record as the head coach, won the Division II National Title in 2017 and 2019, and the coaching staff was named the United Soccer Coaches Division II Coaching Staff of the Year in 2017 and 2019. 

Stafford is a player centered coach who views player development, the ability of his players to make good decisions, an environment of trust, the growth of the student athlete, and recruiting players that will be the right fit for the desired culture of the of the program as important ingredients.  It is an additional plus that Stafford was a teammate of West Virginia assistant coaches Andy Wright and Nick Noble who were All-Americans during their playing days at West Virginia and are very knowledgeable and  experienced coaches.

Stafford takes over the reins of the program from Marlon LeBlanc who resigned at the conclusion of the 2019 season. LeBlanc served as the West Virginia head coach for fourteen years during which time the Mountaineers were 138-100-34 and earned six berths in the NCAA Tournament including the 2019 season in which they were 10-9-2, won the Mid-American Conference Tournament, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  

Boston College - When Ed Kelly announced he was retiring after thirty-two seasons as the head coach at Boston College, he indicated that he hoped that "another Eagle who understands what a special place he Heights is" would assume his role and lead the program to continued success. Boston College Athletic Director Martin Jarmond accomplished that when he announced that Bob Thompson, who came to Chestnut Hill twenty years ago as a student athlete, would follow Kelly as the Boston College head coach.  

During Kelly's thirty-two year tenure, Boston College was 289-239-67, earned a total of thirteen NCAA Tournament berths, advanced to the Elite Eight in 2002 and 2015, had a total of fourteen double digit seasons, and won conference titles in both the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences. 

Thompson played as a midfielder for Boston College from 1999 through 2002 during which time the Eagles won two Big East championships and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  He was a key element on the 2002 squad that still holds the school single season win record with eighteen victories. Thompson then played three season of professional soccer including two for the New England Revolution. 

Thompson began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Northeastern University in 2007. He then served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Tufts University for two years before returning to Boston College as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator in 2012 and 2013.

Thompson then accepted a position as an assistant coach and later became the associate head coach at UMass Lowell from 2014 through 2017. In 2016 Thompson was recognized by College Soccer News as one of the top twelve assistant coaches in the country.  He returned to his alma mater and served as the associate head coach under Ed Kelly in 2018 and 2019.

Thompson should hit the ground running with plenty of talent to work with. He will inherit a young team that was 9-6-3 overall last year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Boston College had a lot of freshmen, including three members of the All-ACC Freshman Team, in the starting lineup in 2019.  

George Mason - The Patriots made the most high profile and perhaps most unexpected hire when they announced that highly regarded and respected veteran coach Elmar Bolowich would be their new head coach.  Bolowich comes to George Mason with a proven track record of success at the collegiate level at both North Carolina and Creighton.  

Bolowich returns to college soccer after serving as the Boy's DA Technical Director for the Armada Youth Academy in Jacksonville, Florida in 2019.  He was the head coach at the University of North Carolina for twenty-two years during which time the Tar Heels were 280-144-40. Bolowich led North Carolina to fifteen NCAA Tournament appearances, four trips to the College Cup (Final Four) and won the program's first national championship in 2001. He left Chapel Hill to accept the head coaching job at Creighton at the conclusion of the 2010 season.  Bolowich was the head coach at Creighton for eight years (2011 through 2018) leading the Bluejays to a 115-40-17 overall record, six berths in the NCAA Tournament, and two trips to the College Cup.

Bolowich takes over the leadership role at George Mason from Greg Andrulis who resigned as the Patriots head coach after fifteen seasons at the helm of the program with a 124-114-39 overall record, two conference championships, and three appearances in the NCAA Tournament with the most recent  in 2014. 

George Mason has had success at times but Bolowich who has never shied away from a challenge has some rebuilding and catching up to do since he takes over a program that was 4-12-1 last year with a 3-5-0 mark and seventh place finish in the Atlantic 10.

Bolowich stated, "We want soccer at George Mason to rise to a nationally competitive level and we want to create a soccer culture on campus." He added, "I look forward to this challenge and I'm ready to get going."  

San Diego State - Ryan Hopkins was named the fourth head coach in San Diego State history taking over the reins of the program from veteran Lev Kirshner who had served as the Aztec head coach for twenty seasons during which time his teams were 142-179-57 and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2005, 2006 and 2016.  

Hopkins comes to San Diego State after spending two highly successful seasons as an assistant coach under George Gelnovatch at the University of Virginia. Before that he served as an assistant coach at Denver for five years under Bobby Muuss and then Jamie Franks during which time the Pioneers won four Summit League regular season and tournament titles and secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament four times. His resume also includes serving as an assistant coach at Wisconsin in 2012, as an assistant coach at Cal Poly from 2009 through 2011, and at his alma mater Concordia from 2009 through 2011.

Hopkins played collegiate soccer at Concordia where he was a four-year starter in goal from 2000 through 2004 and a two-time All-America selection.

College Soccer News recognized Hopkins as one of the Top Twelve Assistant Coaches in the country in three out of the last four seasons. It is a plus that he has been associated with successful programs and knows firsthand what it takes to succeed at the highest level. He has been given high marks by Gelnovatch, Franks, and Muuss for his passion for the game, work ethic, and commitment to developing student athletes. 

Hopkins stated, "It is a dream to come home to California and lead a Pac-12 soccer program.  San Diego State provides a great platform for our student-athletes to excel in the classroom, on the field and in the community.  I look forward to helping them find the best versions of themselves everyday as we continue to push the program to new heights."

Hopkins will have his work cut out for him as he faces the very real and daunting challenge of moving the Aztecs upward in the hierarchy of the highly competitive Pac-12 Conference where the margin for error is very slim. Last year San Diego State was 4-12-2 overall with a 1-9-0 mark in conference play.

Boston University - It is tough to follow someone like Neil Roberts who has been the face of Boston University soccer for a long time but that is the task new head coach Kevin Nylen faces.

Roberts retired at the conclusion of the 2019 season after serving as the Terrier head coach and an ambassador for college soccer for the past thirty-five years.  During that thirty-five year span Boston University was 367-218-93, secured nineteen conference and regular season tournament titles, and earned fifteen invites to the NCAA Tournament. 

Nylen who is from Ipswich, Massachusetts looks to be a good fit for Boston University. He comes to BU  after serving as the head coach at FIU for three seasons during which time the Panthers were 29-15-9. In 2017 Nylen was named the CUSA Coach of the Year after FIU was 12-2-4, won the program's first ever regular season conference title, and was awarded a berth in the NCAA Tournament.   

Nylen played collegiate soccer as a defender for St. Anselm College from 1999 through 2002 and was the team captain his senior season.  He then had a six-year professional career playing with the Wilmington Hammerheads for three seasons and the Charleston Battery for three years. 

Nylen began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Amherst College in 2009 followed by two seasons as an assistant coach at Boston College in 2010 and 2011. He then served as an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at FIU from 2012 through 2015. Nylen left FIU to serve as the chief scout for the Orlando City SC Development Academy in 2016 before accepting the head coaching job in 2017.  

Nylen inherits a Boston University team that was 4-12-1 with a 3-6-0 mark in Patriot League play in 2019. The Terriers didn't qualify for the six team Patriot League tournament last year for the first time in six years.

Harvard - Josh Shapiro assumes the head coaching job at Harvard after ten very successful seasons as the head coach at Division III Tufts where his teams were 126-37-28, appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven times, and were national champions in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019. Shapiro took over a program at Tufts in 2010 that had won only two games the previous two seasons and led them to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2012.

Shapiro was a four-year letterman at Middlebury College and was a team captain as a senior in 1997. He was an assistant coach at Lafayette in 2003, George Mason in 2004 and American University in 2005 before serving as an assistant coach at Georgetown from 2006 through 2009. 

Shapiro has a successful track record of putting in place a winning culture. His focus at Tufts included  the creation of a team oriented culture, a solid work ethic, a culture of continual improvement, and a focus on team oriented goals. His teams at Tufts attacked but they were also very effective on the defensive side of the ball.

Shapiro takes over the reins of the program from Peter Lehrer who had a 42-58-13 record during seven seasons as the Crimson head coach. 

Shapiro faces the challenge of bringing about improvement on both sides of the ball as he inherits a program at Harvard that last year scored eight goals while allowing forty-seven in route to a 0-14-1 overall record.  

College of Charleston - The Chris Wiggins era will begin in 2020 at the College of Charleston. Wiggins assumed the leadership of the program after Ralph Lundy who has been synonymous with College of Charleston soccer for a long time retired at the conclusion of the 2019 seasons after thirty-three seasons at the helm of the program.  During Lundy's tenure the Cougars were 323-277-53, earned five conference championships, and made five appearances in the NCAA Tournament field.

Wiggins played college soccer for the College of Charleston from 2000 through 2004 where he was a three-year starter in goal and a two-time All-Southern Conference and All-South Region selection. He holds the program record for career goals against average, wins, shutouts, and saves. He then played seven years for the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League. 

Wiggins began his coaching career as an assistant coach at West Virginia for two seasons. He then returned to the College of Charleston where he served as an assistant coach under Lundy for nine seasons and as the Associate Head Coach in 2018 and 2019.

Wiggins will seek to put his stamp on the program in 2020 as he takes over a team that was 2-12-2 overall with a 1-6-1 record in Southern Conference play last year. 

University of Missouri-Kansas City - Ryan Pore was named the new head coach at UMKC after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Tulsa from 2013 through 2016 and as the Associate Head Coach from 2017 through 2019 under head coach Tom McIntosh.   

Pore had a banner career as a collegiate player at Tulsa from 2002 through 2004 where he was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and All-American. Pore was the top goal scorer in the country as a senior in 2004. He then played professional soccer for seven years including four seasons with Sporting Kansas City.

Pore takes over the leadership of the program from veteran Rick Benben who retired at the conclusion of the 2019 season after twenty-two years at the helm of the program during which time the Roos were 148-212-42, won seven conference championships, and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2001, 2003, and 2008.

Pore takes over a team that was 6-11-0 last year and that will begin play in the Summit League in 2020.

University of Incarnate Word - Kika Lara returns to his alma mater Incarnate Word as the head coach after serving as the head coach at Eastern Illinois University for five years during which time his teams were 20-53-13.  Prior to that he was an assistant coach at the University of Dayton from 2009 through 2014 and was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Assistant Coach of the Year in 2013 for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Lara played at Incarnate Word from 2001-2003 during which time the team earned berths in the NCAA Division II NCAA Tournament in 2002 and 2003 and had a cumulative record of 58-15-6. He then played professional soccer from 2004 through 2008.

Lara comes to UIW with high marks from former coaches and will seek to leverage the experience he has gained as a player and as a coach at Dayton and Eastern Illinois to make a positive impact on the program at UIW.

Lara replaces Chris Fidler who served as the programs interim head coach in 2018 and 2019 and as an assistant coach for five seasons prior to that. Incarnate Word was 5-12-0 with a 2-9-0 record in WAC play in 2019.