How the NCAA Basketball Final Four Reflects the Trends in College Soccer Recruiting

I have been watching a lot of college basketball recently with the NCAA tournament on TV and let me tell you, even though I’m a soccer coach, it has been so much fun. There is so much parity and it seems anyone can beat anyone, displayed by the lack of a #1, #2 or #3 seed in the Final Four on the men’s side and early exits from programs like Stanford, Connecticut and Indiana on the women’s side. I recently read the ESPN+ article about how the Transfer Portal has changed everything in college basketball and the new balance of power that has taken place because of the transfer portal. Well, it’s the same in soccer.

In the past, I wrote about how difficult it is to play NCAA Division I or Division II soccer, especially on the men’s side, because many colleges would rather take a foreign player, with more experience, than our own domestic players. Check out the blog I wrote about this here. Recruiting is that much more difficult with the transfer portal allowing players to switch schools multiple times with no penalty and coaches looking for a quick fix. It has changed the entire college sports recruiting landscape.


I was talking to a college soccer coach this week and he was telling me about the current state of affairs for what used to be a major recruiting showcase, one that I attended annually when I was coaching. He shared that fewer colleges are attending and that the showcase no longer provides rosters and contact information for the teams who are attending. Teams have to do it themselves, send rosters to college coaches and have a parent/manager hand them out to those that attend. When coaches used to go to showcase events, the hosts would provide rosters with contact information to us coaches, making it easy for me to contact those players we were interested in.


When asked why he thought attendance was down, he shared that player attendance is down and so therefore college coaches find it less attractive to attend. As a coach, you can choose to spend three days away from your family and maybe find one or two kids you might be interested in, or you could sit at home and scour the transfer portal and find older, more mature players that can make more of a difference and help your team be immediately better versus waiting for a first year to mature.

The transfer portal has changed everything. Coaches are looking at the transfer portal as a way of finding immediate impact players. Coaches would rather take a proven veteran, college player than an unproven first year. We are seeing the transfer portal change the trajectory of a team faster than ever. As of today, there were 2,294 men’s soccer players in the portal and 1,700 women’s soccer players.


The ESPN+ article I mentioned discusses basketball statistics, but I can only guess from what I have seen, the soccer numbers are comparable. Of the top 100 basketball recruits in the class of 2022 in D1 , according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, only 17 are averaging double figures in scoring this season. Eleven of those 17 were top-25 prospects. Of the Top 100 transfers in ESPN’s transfer rankings last spring, a whopping 62 are averaging double figures. This is the first year ever there is not one high school All-American in the Final Four!!! Transfers with experience are more sought after than even high school All-Americans!


The floor is higher for transfers! The average age in college soccer is probably 21 now and so the realization is that it is hard for an 18 year old to compete right away. The pandemic rule allowing a 5th year of eligibility has made the average age older and made it harder for the regular college freshman to make an impact. Let’s add in the international student component, as these are often older players too (as discussed in my previous blog). Let’s look at Syracuse who won the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer title this year. On their roster, they had nine international student-athletes and eight transfer students. With a total roster of 28, only three were first-year American-born players, and all three of these athletes took a redshirt year.


While one might assume that these three athletes were unhappy, but with the way things panned out for Syracuse this year, student-athletes like this want to play, regardless of whether or not the team wins a national championship. They very well may choose to transfer before the 2023 season. This in turn creates a log jam and it’s not limited to the Division I level. It has a trickle-down effect from Division I to Division II and Division III.

Then there are the gap-year programs. For these athletes, they can delay the start of their collegiate career while training year-round and not risk any of their amateur eligibility. So now, if you have your eyes set on playing at the Division I level, you have even less opportunities as you might have had five years ago. You are competing for roster spots against transfers, international students and gap-year prospects for a select few spots on that roster.


One of my clients this year was offered a spot on a Division I roster, only to find out a few weeks later that their offer had been pulled in favor of another athlete who had transferred from another program. As a result, my client committed to a high-level Division III program, earned an above-average amount of playing time and overall had a very enjoyable first season.


This cycle seems to be more common in male sports than female sports, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen for both genders. Like I’ve said before, college coaches get paid to win, simply put. If they can get 1-2 more wins next season by convincing a transfer to join their team, you better believe they are going to do just that. A transfer has already played in a college soccer program, they are used to the physical demands and in-season and offseason culture. They will more than likely have an advantage in the physical size and strength categories as well. Even so, there are still schools out there that recruit four-year players and want those that they can develop and mold into the right fit for their respective program. However, you have to know which schools these are, otherwise you could find yourself stuck in a program with limited playing time.


Transfers have changed everything and parity has made the NCAA postseason tournaments so exciting, but if you take a deep dive into it, you see that recruiting has become more and more challenging in the last few years and that is here to stay.


I started Top Student Athlete Recruiting in 2020 and have helped over 150 soccer prospects land at great fit opportunities. My job is to use my experience and connections to evaluate, identify, educate and connect prospects with college coaches. If you want to get a good game plan together for your recruiting, let’s chat. I offer a free, no obligation consultation where I’ll walk you and your parents through the TSA Recruiting process. From there, you can decide if you want to join our team. In this day and age, it’s so much more than finding a school to go to. Don’t think you have to do this alone. I’ve helped over 150 families already not only find their right college choice, but also SAVE MONEY on their education. If you’re interested in learning more, click the button below and complete the online form to request a consult with TSA Recruiting.