It is an exciting time for graduating college soccer players, especially in the New York metro area. While we have yet to see what NYCFC will commit to scouting and developing players in the local community, the Red Bulls and the Cosmos are increasing their commitment to area players.
The Red Bulls are looking to shift from a veteran heavy squad with European influence to a young team with domestic roots. The first major acquisition of the off-season was the signing of New Jersey native and academy graduate Sean Davis to a homegrown contract. More significantly, rumors of a Red Bulls operated USL-Pro club has reignited.
East of the City, the New York Cosmos made news in the youth development front. Real Madrid and Spanish great Raul has committed to the Cosmos both on and off the field. During the press conference to introduce Raul, he provided a sobering view of what he could offer as a player: “I have a contract for two years. I will try to play those two years, but it might be one, maybe two, maybe even three years.”
Nevertheless, he spoke about his commitment as the club’s technical adviser to the soon to be opened youth academy. “If the body says this is it in six months, I will be more involved in the academy.”
Cosmos’ head coach Giovanni Savarese echoed that commitment. “His involvement for the beginning is that he will be helping the director, which we are going to add to our staff. The director will be full-time, but Raul will be advising this director about building the curriculum, building the structure, and building the entire academy for us,” said Savarese at the same press conference.
That full-time Director of Training and Development is John Fitzgerald with 28-years of youth coaching experience around the Long Island area. Fitzgerald is tasked with creating the Cosmos youth program from scratch.
Of course, youth development is the future, what options are available for prospects now?
The Major League Soccer draft modeled similarly to other domestic sports leagues is a widely covered and a familiar path for the country’s top amateurs. A few of New Jersey school’s top graduating seniors such as Cameron Porter of Princeton and Matt Jeffrey of Monmouth have appeared on several college prospect big boards. No announcement has been made of them attending the Major League Soccer Combine. Though players have been invited to individual club tryouts and workouts.
There is a path for players with professional aspirations not on the course MLS has laid out. New York Cosmos defender and alumni of New Jersey’s Player Development Academy, or PDA, Hunter Gorski, earned a contract and a spot on the first team without attending league combines. The Stanford graduate was not picked in the Super or Supplemental draft after his senior year, but through connections was able to earn a 2-day trial with the San Jose Earthquakes which lasted most of the spring into summer. “From that 2-day trial I played well, and then felt that they should bring me in for another week,” said Gorski. “Just after that I guess they kept liking what they saw and wanted to keep bringing me back. By the time I turned around I was there for a good three, four months probably.”
Gorski’s journey was prior to the boom of MLS clubs affiliation with United Soccer League – Pro. His time was spent on the reserve team training with the first team in 2013. Given that there is no North American Soccer League draft, clubs must find ways to scout their own college prospects. The Cosmos run their own combines as well as attending the annual NASL combine.
Only in their second full year, the Cosmos are establishing a process to best scout and sign young talent. When discussing the club process of signing college players, Assistant Sporting Director Luke Sassoro lays out the progression: league combine, two club combines, and preseason invites with the first team. Recognizing that players do slip through the cracks, especially given the lack of attention paid to the college game even within the soccer media, the club will attempt to hold tryouts every year.
“There are so many colleges from Division I, II, III, NAIA to Junior College that there’s players everywhere,” said Sassoro. “You have to make sure that you do a system of checks and balances.”
As of right now the Cosmos are in the embryonic stages of their academy and do not have a reserve or U-23 team similar to the New York Red Bulls. Sassoro is confident as the youth infrastructure forms the link between the youth team and first team will be an essential element to the club’s structure. He sees them as an important addition towards their objective of being one of the preeminent clubs in North America. The reserves and U-side will be a step “so you have those players that can gain the really important in game experience, which is more for younger guys on the back end of the roster of the first team that aren’t quite ready but has potential,” said Sassoro.
Thus far the young players out of college the Cosmos have signed all have ties to the New York City metro area. Aside from Gorski signed in the fall of 2013, the Cosmos added Jimmy Mulligan a St. John’s player from Medford, NY, just before the spring season opener. Unlike Gorski, who earned more than 20 caps in 18-month, Mulligan did not see much first team action until the end of the season. That is not surprising if you consider no other NASL club has the Cosmos’ resources and, perhaps, no other club in the United States or Canada has the global recognition, giving them a wider possible player pool.
Cosmos’ technical staff do scout area college players when they have time during the season, however they also rely on a network of scouts and agents across the country. The MLS academy system has allowed clubs to increase their scouting capacity. The Red Bulls follow many of their academy graduates throughout their college career. As the NYCFC and Cosmos academies become better established and evaluate more youth players first hand their college scouting will improve.
For this current crop of college graduates, they will still need to put in the work to catch the eyes of scouts. That may require multiple tryouts and time with one of the area’s many National Premier Soccer League or USL – Professional Development League fourth division clubs. Gorski credits the summer leagues with helping him development as a player giving him exposure to different environments.
Still it is difficult to go noticed if you are outside the MLS academy system. Gorski has some advice for any graduating seniors with an eye on a professional career. “If you put in the work and have the right mentality then the opportunity is going to find you. So I wouldn’t panic. I wouldn’t get frustrated with the system with the way things have played out up to that point. I would focus on taking advantage of the situation when it comes your way.”