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What kind of player becomes a D1 NCAA College Cup player?

My U16 son played in the VisitRaleigh Showcase and while down in North Carolina we were able to watch the NCAA College Cup Semi-Finals. Having watched the NCAA D1 Soccer postseason fairly closely it was exciting to have the opportunity to watch these 4 talented teams play back to back at the amazing Wakemed Soccer Park.

The soccer purists (read snobs) like to tell us that soccer in the US is of poor quality and that our NCAA D1 teams are just athletes and not technically and tactically sound footballers. While I would agree the level is certainly not of professional caliber – the two matches we watched on Saturday were high intensity, fast paced and possession based. It was exciting to witness Indiana University reach 100 NCAA tournament wins, a first for any D1 men's soccer program. The energy in the stadium was amazing and it was an all around great night.

After watching Syracuse University top Creighton and then Indiana University beat the University of Pittsburgh I began to wonder about the composition of each of those teams. I am in Raleigh for a college showcase and my 15 year old is in the beginning stages of college recruitment. I wonder, what kind of player becomes a D1 NCAA College Cup player?

To explore this more we took on the task of discovering where these players are from, what is their playing history and how did they come to collectively play in this once in a lifetime event to represent their school at the national level. We collected data for each of the 4 teams participating in the final four and looked at their starting line-ups and substitutions for this one final four game.

When talking with families about their college recruitment process I hear time and again, “I want to go somewhere, where I will play.” With this in mind we looked at how many freshmen played in the College Cup Semifinals. Only 3 freshmen played in this event but when looking at sophomores the number jumps significantly to 15 sophomores. The average player in this event was just over 21 years old and in their junior year of college.

Another topic that comes up often when discussing D1 and D2 college soccer is the topic of International Students. We often hear that D2 specifically supports a majority of international students in their soccer programs. When looking at the 4 schools participating in the NCAA D1 College Cup Semifinals were surprised to find that only 40% of the players were International Students. We also learned that 12% of players played for the national system in some capacity; players either participated in youth player pools or were called up to play in international competitions for their country.

One of the most encouraging statistics is that 28% of players were transfers; players who came from other collegiate programs to their current school. Many played in DII or NAIA programs before their transfer but a surprising number came from community or junior colleges before transferring. This is important for the athlete who might want to play DI or believes they should be playing at a higher level but their recruitment process hasn’t garnered the results they had hoped or they are not academically ready. Players can start anywhere, work hard and develop the skills and relationships to reach their goals.

Ohio represented this event well. We had 4 players participating and all 4 players came through the Crew Academy including Indiana University’s goalkeeper JT Harms of Plain City who was the only goalkeeper of the evening with a shutout. Indiana University also played Samuel Sarver of Chesterland and Maouloune Goumballe of Cincinnati. Colin Biros of Jackson, Ohio was a transfer from the University of Akron who came on as a sub for Syracuse University.

Each of the College Cup teams were composed of a diverse roster varying in nationalities, ages and playing backgrounds. What I found most interesting when doing this research was that although every player from Ohio came through Crew Academy there were a number of players without academy and national pedigree who not only played but impacted the game. Aspiring college prospects can take away from this analysis that D1 NCAA College Cup players are talented, hard working and focused players, if you want to play at this level you have to rise to the level but there is no one pathway to D1 soccer.

Be sure to watch the NCAA D1 Men's College Cup on Monday (12/12/2022) at 6:00 PM on ESPNU.

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