Regarding the current landscape of recruiting in college soccer, Clemson’s men’s coach Mike Noonan says that the success he’s had in that area has required some agility given that MLS is invested directly in player development, and that competition is so keen among the best college programs for top-flight and difference-making talent.
“You have to build-in networks of possibilities, because MLS may home-grow a player, and whereas youth national team players were definitely going to go to college in the past, now they may be presented with another avenue,” said Noonan. “So you do have to be a little more agile, and a little more fluid in your recruiting.
“The landscape’s changed in terms of the age and the timing. You’re committing kids at an earlier age, so that’s fine, but then they’ve got two years in a development academy with an MLS team, and you don’t know. By the end of those two years, they may decide to take an opportunity as a home-grown player. So what’s next, and what’s behind that?
“Players will come into your program now, and I think it’s much like basketball. Basketball does it by rule, but we don’t do it by rule. We do it by choice. In basketball you have to play a year before you can go in the NBA draft. Our situation is almost the same thing. You’re going to see some kids coming into college for a year or two to mature, and then move on to the professional ranks.”
Noonan’s most recent recruiting class reflects at least a couple of different emphases. On one hand there’s a trio of national top-fifty players in Diego Campos, Saul Chinchilla, and Gerald Vargas – all products of national powerhouse Montverde Academy, and representative of the kind of coveted talent that’s necessary to compete successfully in the ACC and at the national level.
On the other, there are in-state products like Grayson Raynor (Greer), and Tyler Rider (Simpsonville), and a fruitful continuation of Noonan’s ability to find ACC-caliber players in his own back yard.
“Local talent has been vital to our success, so far,” said Noonan. “And Tyler and Grayson in this class represent what Ara Amirkhanian, Kyle Fisher, Bobby Belair, Chris Glodack, John Cajka, and the Burnikels (Austen and Alex) have proved to be true … the best South Carolinians can and will succeed in the ACC at Clemson.”
Noonan says that one of his strong hands in recruiting is that his program offers an ideal environment for player development.
“One of the ways that we look at it, is that we’re a program that develops players,” he confirmed. “Players come into our program, and they get better. I think we’ve shown that based on what we’ve been able to accomplish without necessarily the highest-profile kids coming into our program. Kids are now leaving the program and getting opportunities, and people are looking at our team and saying, ‘Who are these kids? We didn’t recruit them, and they ended up playing at Clemson.’
“Those are players like Kyle Fisher and Andrew Tarbell. They’re coming from different areas, and now you’ve got pro scouts looking at them and asking, ‘Why wasn’t he playing for our national team when he was a freshman or a sophomore?’ Ara Amirkhanian, too. We have an environment here at Clemson, where we treat our program as a developmental avenue for kids, because we know what their ambitions are.”
Noonan says that player development entails two different considerations, and that the college game is equipped to serve both.
“They get the maturity of the college experience, and I call that the software,” he explained. “Then we help them develop the hardware, which is their skill and their tactical acumen, and those types of things. But they also develop the software of responsibility, and making decisions, and of maturity: all those things that you’ll need to become a professional player.”
Noonan is confident that Clemson’s selling points are easy to discern once a recruit has taken a first-hand look.
“The other piece of recruiting that’s real important is what you have to offer,” he said. “There’s the developmental piece, but what do you have to offer? I think that any young soccer player who comes to Clemson looks at the academic piece, and looks at the facilities, and looks at playing in the ACC. That’s pretty attractive, so the biggest key for us is just getting them on campus.”