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The Significance Of College Soccer - Our Opinion - Don't Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

The issue currently facing collegiate sports is not whether the coronavirus is going to have an impact on revenue to fund athletics.  It is a given that revenue is going to take a hit. Uncertainty exists in regard to how much of a hit, for how long, and how best to address it. The specific answers to those questions will vary among colleges.

The Dilemma - Difficult Choices Have To Be Made  

There is an old adage that "cash is king."  That translates in terms of college athletic programs to "football is king" because football is the predominant revenue generator for college sports. There is a lot of uncertainty right now regarding the impact the coronavirus will have on the 2020 college footbal season. Predictions range from a season as usual to no season at all. Chances are it's likely to be somewhere in betweeen with the format ultimatley determined by what is best for player safety.

From a financial standpoint, a college season without football will have implications for all sports. It also will have an impact on the many businesses in college towns like hotels, restaurants and retail stores etc. that get a huge bump in business during home football weekends.

It doesn't take a deep thinker to conclude that one possible option to address the potential decline in revenue is to eliminate non-revenue generating sports. That places men's and less likely but possibly women's soccer programs among others in the crosshairs.

It is difficult to get a grip on the ripple or downstream effect of the coronavirus but our awareness and acceptance of the possible downstream challenges has increased with each passing week. The coronavirus will eventually be in the rearview mirror. We will get throught this but in the meantime there is a very real sense of urgency in regard to the likelyhood of lost revenue.  

Those in positions of authority with the responsibility of making very tough decisions are faced with a difficult task made even more challenging by the uncertainties that exist.  Like all tough decisions it is not so much what must be done but how to do it.

The Nuclear Option  

We don't pretend to know all the potential options but hope that the decision makers pursue other solutions rather than rushing to the nuclear option of dissolving programs like college soccer that have been in existence for many years. That option in our view is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  

It  is a given that eliminating non-revenue generating programs is a simple solution. Simple solutions are sometimes great but not if there is a rush to judgement that treats a complex issue, like the problems that currently exist, as if the solution is simpler than it is. 

 

Player Development 

On another different but somewhat related issue,  U.S. Soccer recently announced that they were ending the operation of the U.S. Development Academy.  The Development Academy was formed in 2007 as a platform to enhance competitive youth play and the development of elite soccer players.  It included youth academies and youth clubs from various organizations, including Major League Soccer, across five different age groups.   

This announcement generated dialogue from various quarters regarding the development of soccer talent in this country and  fanned the fire of the those who tend to devalue college soccer on the grounds that it does not prepare players for the MLS or World Cup play.  

In our opinion, that viewpoint reflects tunnel vision. For starters, it is not accurate. It does not acknowledge the many college players that have gone on to play in the MLS and on the U.S. National Team who benefited from playing college soccer. It also discounts the high level of college coaches in this country in both major and mid-major programs and their on-going efforts to restructure college soccer to maximize player development.  Last but not least, it reflects a lack of understanding and appreciation for the role that college soccer plays in the growth and interest in soccer in the United States.

It is accurate that some elite players do elect to forgo college to enter the professional ranks.  Of course, there is merit for the existence of alternative approaches and pathways for some of the individuals who seek to play professionally.  The existence of alternative approaches is not the point.  Alternative pathways to the professional ranks exist in college soccer as well as college basketball, football and other sports. Basketball mandates at least a year of college athletics before entering the professional ranks but that is not the case for college soccer.  

The development of robust youth soccer programs that enhance the competitive play of the youth in this country is a good thing.  It is a plus that more young players in the United States who desire to play professional soccer are developing the skills needed to play professionally.  A certain percentage of players will inherently elect to forgo college to enter the professional ranks in this country or abroad or enter the professional ranks after a season or two in college. The fact that occurs does not diminish the value of college soccer and the significant role of it.  

The World Cup - What Happened in 2018?

It would be naive to underestimate the impact that the level of success that the United States has in World Cup play has on soccer within this country. For evidence of that you need look no further than the resurgence and increased interest in soccer that resulted in 2002 when the United States made it to the quarterfinals.

Some view the World Cup as the sole measure of the health of soccer in a country. When the United States didn't qualify for the World Cup in 2018 questions naturally and appropriately arose regarding player development in this country.  It was a disappointing turn of events for any soccer fan in this country.  We all want the United States to be more competitive in World Cup play.

Some were quick to place the blame of player development on college soccer. That viewpoint again reflected tunnel vision and treated a complex problem as if the solution was simpler than it is. For those who remember, similar concern and dialogue existed back in 1988 when the United State's men's basketball team didn't win the gold medal in the Olympics in Seoul, Korea. That was the last year in which NBA players were not allowed to participate on the Olympic basketball team and lead to the "Dream Team" in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona that defeated its opponents by an average of forty-four point in route to claiming the gold medal. That team included the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and David Robinson and included only one college player. . 

While the United States is ahead of others in regard to football, basketball and baseball that is not the case in soccer where the rest of the world has been developing men's soccer for centuries.  Progress has occurred over the past twenty years but the bottom line is that men's soccer in the United States is still chasing other countries. Those that don't realize the improvement that has been made likely lack a historical understanding of where we were thirty years ago.

In the case of women's soccer, the United States has been extremely successful on the world stage. One of the reasons the United States is so dominant on the women's side, and that the traditional development model is viewed as having worked well and is not under heavy attack, is that the we began with a much more level playing field. The women deserve a ton of credit but now face the challenge of maintaining their success because the interest in the women's game has significantly increased in recent years in Europe.  

It is worth noting that Major League Soccer (MLS) which represents the sport's highest level in the United States and Canada was formed in 1995 and the first season took place in 1996. The MLS which initially consisted of ten teams struggled at first but is now on solid ground and will expand to thirty teams in 2022. The future is bright for MLS which is great for soccer in this country but the fact remans that the MLS is relatively young compared to European soccer leages that have been around for over one-hundred years. As a result the MLS has catch up issues as well.  

The European Model

Yes, they have a different model in Europe in terms of player development. Under the European model  professional clubs utilize youth academies to train players from a young age with the intention of signing them to full contracts in their teens. 

There are those who for various reasons would like to see soccer move away from the traditional American model and toward the European model of development at the expense of college soccer. 

The traditional model in the United States is to develop players through youth and high school programs, then college before moving on to a professional career if they are good enough. The model in Europe is way different. Prominent professional soccer clubs in Europe identify talented players at an early age and bring them into their organization and begin the process of developing them.

In the United States the data indicates only 1.4 percent of the individuals who play college soccer play professional soccer. That is about the same ratio as the percent of college athletes in basketball and football who go pro. Of course, the percentage varies among individual teams. 

In Europe around one percent of the young soccer players who join youth teams under a professional soccer club actually enter the professional ranks. It is reasonalbe to say that young players in Eurpope currently have the opportunity to play more competitive soccer at an early age. It is also reasonalble to conclude that under the European model the goal of the professional clubs is to identify the very top tier of talented players and that the process weeds out weaker players.

The addition of more competitive youth programs, competitive leagues, and improved coaching in the United States is beginning to address the gap that exists. However, a focus that is narrow in scope, that only serves the professional game, that devalues the role of college soccer, and only seeks to serve a limited sector of the population is not good for the ongoing growth and overall development of soccer in the United States. 

 

The Future Of College Soccer

There is a role for college soccer in the overall growth and health of soccer in this country as well as in developing and preparing players for the professional level.  Accordingly, it is important that college soccer do its part to continue to seek ways to improve player development, the overall level of play, and to make college soccer a viable option for more but perhaps not all top-tier talent.    

The  value of college soccer programs to universities, participants, and soccer in this country is immense.

College sports including college soccer have challenges to overcome but they are a big and vital part of the fabric of this country. When the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, we hope that there won't be any more college soccer programs that fall victim to it.  


 

 

 

College Soccer Recruiting. The Top Ten 2020 Recruiting Classes

College Soccer News issues its initial ranking of the top ten 2020 recruiting classses in the country. The list is based on the information currently available and will be expanded to include the top thirty classes after additional information becomes available. The teams ranked at the top of the deck are not likely to change but past experience has established that it is wise to delay the comparison and evaluation of recruiting classes beyond that until sufficient information is available. That is particularly true this year due to the potential impact of the restrictions that suspended in-person recruiting and on-campus visits.

College Soccer News' recruiting class rankings are a projection of two factors. The first is the level of success the indivdual members have had against the highest level of competition. The second is the ability of the entire class to meet the short and long term needs of the program. The difference in the level of talent among the top recruiting classes is very slim so distinctions in the ordering of classes often comes down to the potential of the class to meet immediate needs. The real measure of any recruiting class is ultimately determined on the field of play over a four year period.


#1 - Duke - The Blue Devils have added an extremely talented, deep, and balanced nine-member class that is arguably the strongest from top to bottom as any in the country. The class includes defenders Adam Armour and Antino Lopez, midfielder Peter Stroud, and goalkeeper JT Harms who are all ranked among the top fifty members of the high school class of 2020 by College Soccer News and whose resumes include playing with the U.S. U-17 National Team. If this class stays together, they will win a lot of games during their stay in Durham. 


#2 - Indiana - Todd Yeagley did an excellent job of merging a top-notch recruiting class in with returnig players last year. He will have the opportunity to do it again in 2020 with another banner class on the way to Bloomington. The good news is that the Hoosiers do not have the immediate needs that must be addressed that they had this time last year. Junior transfers center back Callum Stretch, an All-Summit League Second Team selection and two-year starter at Denver, and outside back Nyk Sessock, a starter for the past two seasons at Pittsburgh, should hit the ground running. Midfielders Kyle Folds and Emerson Nieto out of the Indiana Fire Academy and forward Lukas Hummel out of the Saint Louis FC are among a highly regarded group of incoming freshmen who are impact players.  Forward Nathan Ward and defenders Joey Maher, and Lawson Redmon round out a talented class that is eager to do their part to carry on the winning tradition that exists at IU.


#3 - Georgetown - National Championships pay dividends on the recruiting trail. The 2020 recruiting class at Georgetown validates that premise. Hoyas head coach Brian Wiese will enter the 2020 campaign with several significant voids to fill on both sides of the ball. His 2020 recruiting class which spans the nation looks to be just what the doctor ordered. The nine newcomers have resumes that include top level competitive play that will enable this group to help fill immediate voids while developing the skills needed to play an even greater role in the future. Forwards Marlon Tabora Ponce and Pranav Jha, midfielders John Franks, Chris Hegardt, Trevor Burns and Kyle Linhares, defenders Kenny Nielsen and Dominic De Almeida, and goalkeeper Ryan Schewe round out a soccer savvy class that will compete for playing time right out of the gate.


#4 - SMU - The Mustangs annually bring on board a banner recruiting class which always includes an impact player or two from talent rich Texas. The 2020 class is no exception. The class is headlined by four transfers who are likely to make an immediate impact for a team that is coming off an impressive 18-2-1 season in which they won the American Athletic Conference title for the third consecutive year and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Junior midfielder Skage Simonsen, a transfer from St. John's where he was the 2018 All-Big East Freshman of the Year and a 2019 All-Big East Second Team selection, and sophomore forward Papa Ndoye, a transfer from LIU who was the NEC Rookie of the Year, should help fill the void that exists due to the graduation of All-American forward Garrett McLaughlin (16g, 5a). Junior center back Timo Hummrich, a transfer and two-time All-CAA selection from Delaware, and sophomore back Judson Burns, a transfer from Clemson, should help fill the gap that exists due to the graduation of All-American defender Eddie Munjoma (12g, 8a) and Philip Ponder.. Midfielder Cesar Garcia who played for FC Dallas and forward Jose Ortiz out of the Solar Soccer Club are among the freshmen who hail from Texas who could make an immediate impact. Midfielders Tyler Oakson, Nathan Ashley, Kellan Barry, Cody Black, and Harvey Castro round out a solid recruiting class that will join an SMU side that is slated to return eight starters. 


#5 - Wake Forest - The Demon Deacons may have had the number one class in the country if defender John Tolkin and midfielder Bryce Duke who initially indicated they were going to Wake Forest had not elected to enter into the professional ranks. Regardless, this nine member group is a top five caliber class with the skills needed to fit nicely into Wake Forests' possession oriented style of play in which everyone on the pitch is capable of adding to the attack. The class includes Prince Amponsah out of the NYCFC Academy, Cristian Escribano out of the FC Dallas Acadmey, and Jahlane Forbes out of the Orlando SC Academy, Hosei Kijima out of the IMG Academy and Garrison Tubbs out of Atlanta United FC Academy. The midfielders are Chase Oliver out of the Atlanta United FC Academy, Oscar Sears out of IFK Stocksund, and Colin Thomas out of the United Futbol Academy. Thomas Raimbault out of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy is the lone forward. The future is bright at Wake Forest.


#6 - Louisville - John Michael Hayden has added a recruiting class that has the potential to strengthen the Cardinals on both sides of the ball and create upward movement in the hierarchy of the highly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Forwards Aboubacar Camara out of the Philadelphia Union and Nico Diaz who honed his skills with Inter Miami CF and the Orlando City SC Academy are among the newcomers who should add punch to the attack and help fill the void that exists due to the departure of Cherif Dieye (7g, 6a). Defenders Nico Carrera out of the FC Dallas Academy and Bryce LeBel who played for the New York Red Bulls should help fill the void that exists on the defensive side of the ball. Highly regarded goalkeeper Osmar Chavero out of the Houston Dynamo and midfielders Macoumba Ba out of the Montverde Academy, Roarke Schmeider who enrolled in January out of the Internationals SC and Eric Danquah out of Montverde Academy are among other members of a balanced recruiting class that will join a solid contingent of returning players.  


#7 North Carolina - North Carolina has added a recruiting class that should help UNC rebound from a 7-7-4 season in which they were absent from the NCAA Tournament field. The class, which has not yet been formally announced, includes defenders Axel Alejandre whose resume includes playing with the U.S. U-17 and U-15 National Teams and Riley Thomas out of the United Futbol Academy. Midfielders include High School All-Americans Yaya Bakayoko out of Martin Luther King High School in New York, Jameson Charles out of Washburn High School and the Minnesota Thunder Academy, and Sammed Bawa out of the Taft School, Garrett Kessel who played with the North Carolina Fusion, and Jonathan Sinclair who played for F.A. Euro. The lone forward in the class is Akelm Clarke out of Black Rock FC and the Loomis Chaffe School.  


#8 - Clemson - Mike Noonan seeks to build on the momentum of a banner 2019 eighteen win season with the addition of a very solid group of newcomers that includes midfielder Callum Johnson who transfers in from Boston College where he scored eight goals and contributed ten assists while appearing in fifty-two contests over three years. The class also features defenders Ben Erkens who was the Gatorade South Carolina Boys Soccer Player of the Year, Brandon Parrish who was the Tennessee Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year, Titus Sandy Jr. out of highly regarded Charlotte Soccer Academy, and Harmady Diop out of the Montverde Academy. Midfielder Josh Hallenberger out of the Houston Dyanmo Academy and goalkeepers Trevor Manion out of the Penn Fusion Soccer Academy and Seth Wilson out of the FC Dallas Academy who has played with the U.S. U-17 Mens National Team round out the recruiting class. Talented midfielder Tanner Tessmann who had initially signed to play both football and soccer at Clemson instead elected to enter the professional ranks signing a homegrown contract with FC Dallas.


#9 - Akron - Akron reloads as well as any team in the country but last year the bounce in the level of their play that normally occurs didn't happen. As a result opponents exploited the weaknesses that existed and the Zips string of twelve consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament unexpectedly came to an end. The remedy may be on the way via a 2020 recruiting class that should enhance the level of competition for playing time across the board and help fill the gaps that exist. Members who enrolled in the spring include midfielders Ryan Combe who played with the Raca Sport Club U-19 team in Brazil and Hazem Sohby who is a senior transfer from Ottawa University in Arizona and defender Jordan Seaman out of the Internationals Soccer Academy. Other expected members include goalkeepers Will Meyer who is a senior transfer from Louisville and Josue Hangi who played for Atlanta United, forwards Jason Shokalook out of the Internationals Soccer Academy and Damon Williams out of South Carolina United who should add depth up-top, midfielders Dyson Clapier out of the Portland Timbers Academy and Connor Lee out of the Internationals Soccer Academy, and defenders Paul Jones who played with South Carolina United and Nick Scott out of the Internationals Soccer Academy. 


#10 - Stanford - Stanford's 2020 recruiting class may not be as strong as the 2019 class that included forwards Ousseni Bouda and Gabe Segal, midfielder Cam Cilley and defenders Keegan Hughes and Keegan Tingey but then again it does not necessarily need to be and for that matter few classes in the country will be. Nonetheless, Jeremy Gunn will welcome another recruiting class, which has not yet been formally announced, to The Farm that will create competition for playing time, add depth, help address the gaps that need to be filled, and that looks to be aligned well with a very talented and experienced contingent of returning players. The class includes defenders Conner Maurer out of the New York Red Bulls, Noah Adnan out of the Bethesda Soccer Club and Ryan Dunn who played for the Charlotte Independence Soccer Club and the Carolina Rapids. Maurer is ranked by College Soccer News as one of the top fifty players in the 2020 high school class. The class also includes midfielders Connor Evans out of the Portland Timbers Academy and Layton Purchase out of Real Colorado and highly regarded goalkeeper Eliot Jones who played for the New England Revolution whose resume includes playing time with the U.S. Youth National Team.


#10 - Portland - Nick Carlin-Voight enters his fifth season at the helm of the program at Portland with a 2020 recruiting class that could give the Pilots the edge they need to overtake St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference race and return the Pilots to the NCAA Tournament field after being absent in 2019. Forward Jason Reyes, a junior transfer from Kentucky who scored eleven goals and contributed six assists the past two seasons, should add an additional dimension to the offense. Defender Paul Odendahl, a graduate student transfer from Coastal Carolina will add experience to the backline. Defender Kevin Bonilla, a U.S. U-20 Team member out of the FC Dallas Academy and midfielder Nicholas Fernandez out of the Barca Academy are among what looks to be a very promising and motivated group of freshmen. 


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 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..