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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.  

 

 

 



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.