The CIS regular season came to an end this weekend, while state side the NCAA is deep into conference play, and in both associations teams have played between 12 to 14 games, which in term evaluating talent you can start coming to some conclusion on this season's performances.
I have had the chance to personally scout a couple of CIS games, including a match between top ranked York and Guelph lead by striker Robert Murphy who I wrote about in my CIS preview. York won the game 2-0 and Murphy showed some talent but did not stand out. Part of the reason is York, talent-wise, has more depth than Guelph. However, to me it seems CIS players know this is most likely the end of their soccer careers, so they don't appear to have the same determination as you witness south of the border. I do feel there is talent at the CIS level and feel the CSA should put more effort in raising the profile of the domestic game and give these players aged 18 to 22 some hope.
For Canadians there is some hope South of the border. The Syracuse duo of Alex Halis and Chris Nanco are proving to be some of the top freshmans in the NCAA this season, to go along with fellow 905'er UCONN's Cyle Larin. TFC should make sure they do anything possible so these players are potential Homegrown players four years down the road. Another Canadian, MacKenzie Pridham, a senior at Cal-Poly has scored 8 goals in 14 games and now should be in the list of potential draft picks in the 2014 MLS Superdraft.
In terms of the top prospects for the 2014 MLS Superdraft my lists remains mostly the same as it has in previous weeks with my current top 10 prospects.
The biggest change in my complete list are probably the underclassman or potential GA's where the team success of Notre Dame and Louisville has put box-to-box midfielders Nick Besler and Marlon Hairston in the list of potential first round picks. The concern for these two though is neither player has outstanding size or athleticism, while St Louis' Robbie Kristo and Indiana's Femi Hollinger-Janzen, who do have some skills that show potential, their own and teams’ performance this season creates some concerns about giving the players a guaranteed MLS contract.
Speaking of Indiana concerns, last year champions have been the biggest disappointment this season already losing nine games and are probably eliminated from post-season, which puts a number of high profile college players going into this season’s draft potentially in jeopardy.
West Coast teams have had a strong early campaign with California and Washington at the top of the polls, with CS-Northridge and UCLA closely behind. I have a few west coast-based players just out of my top 10 MLS draft prospects including California's Steve Birnnaum, UCLA's Victor Chavez, and CS-Northridge's Sagi Lev-Ari. It could be argued there is an east coast bias to my list. One of the reasons is the NCAA Soccer schedule is very regionalised, so many of the west coast teams haven't played the top east teams and vice-versa, so a bias exists because there is a lot more east coast teams then west.
Another reason I would argue the success of the west coast teams has less to do with individual talent but quality of coaching. As I'm a strong believer in college talent I'm also a strong supporter of NCAA coaching and their potential of being quality MLS Coaches. In the past I've debated this topic with people in the game and my main argument is that NCAA college coaches have the greatest awareness of North American soccer talent and their experience makes them more knowledgeable about the position than a recently retired MLS player.
This has been proven as well in the MLS records books with the league’s greatest coaches Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid, and the success this season of new coaches Caleb Porter and John Hackworth, all joined the league from the NCAA ranks.
This being said here is my list of current NCAA Soccer coaches who I think would have the greatest success in the MLS.
Tim Vom Steeg, UC Santa Barbara
Vom Steeg has turned Santa Barbara’s soccer program into a powerhouse both off and on the pitch and has many similarities to what Caleb Porter did at Akron before joining Portland. Vom Steeg has an overall record of 186-72-27 since 1999, and prior coached Santa Barbara City College to a 121-18-4 record.
Vom Steeg won national coach of the year in 2004 and again in 2006 as he led the Gauchos to the national title that season. The 2006 team included MLS players Eric Avila, Chris Pontius, Andy Iro, and Tyler Rosenlund. He also recruited and managed Rob Friend, Dan Kennedy, Sam Garza and Luis Silva. Vom Steeg has also not been afraid of recruiting international players and adapting them into the team despite language and tactical barriers probably one of the biggest transition from the college to the pro game.
Sasho Cirovski, Maryland
In my opinion, it’s a shame this Canadian has not been offered either the Toronto FC or Canada National Team job yet. A man who started his playing career in the old Canadian Soccer League, Cirovski is a legend in college soccer with a 314-116-29 record at Maryland, including two champions and five final four appearances. However, his greatest achievement might be the amount of players he coached who turned professional.
Currently there are 17 MLS players who played at Maryland including Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers, and Graham Zusi. Add to this Maurice Edu is a former Terp and in total Cirovski developed 47 current and retired MLS players. He's probably the greatest Canadian soccer coach of all-time, although the only question regarding him coming to the MLS is he might be taking a pay cut to do so.
Jamie Clark, Washington
Only 36 years old, and born in Scotland, Clark played college soccer for North Carolina and Stanford before being selected in the 1999 MLS draft by San Jose. He played 34 games in the MLS from 1999 to 2001 he then played some games in Scotland, as well as the US minor division A-League.
He tried his hand in coaching in 2002, first as an assistant with New Mexico then Notre Dame. He was offered the head coach position at Harvard in 2008 and lead the team to a 26-10-1 record and NCAA tournament spots. He then became Creighton’s head coach in 2010 and finished the season 13-5-2 before joining Washington in 2011. Each season he's coached he had players drafted in the MLS drafts, so he has shown an ability to recruit but his specialty is motivating teams to success which is also key in the professional game.
Ken Lolla, Louisville
Caught up in the non professional days of American Soccer, Ken Lolla never really got a shot as a professional player despite a number of awards in college. The 47 year old started coaching in his twenties, although made a name for himself as head coach of Akron where he coached from 1993 to 2005 having a record of 160-68-25 and building the framework that later allowed Caleb Porter to be so successful.
He joined Louisville in 2006 and has posted an 88-42-19 record, including runner-up in the 2010 National Championship Game. He has developed 15 MLS players via Louisville including recent highly touted players Austin Berry, Nick DeLeon and Andrew Farrell, and many expected a fall from grace this season but the Cardinals remain as one of the top teams in the country.
Kevin Grimes, California
Kevin Grimes might have the greatest playing pedigree amongst NCAA coaches. The former defender was capped by the US National Team five times and was part of the inaugural MLS player draft in 1996. Although already 30, he retired soon after and joined SMU as an assistant coach in 1997 and then became head coach of the University of California in 2000 and since has won PAC 12 coach of the season five time and three conference titles.
His career record as a coach 131-80-31 isn't as good as the others but he has proven he can develop MLS talent including having six players drafted in the 2010 MLS draft. This year California has surprised many and if Grimes was to lead the Bears to a National Championship a transition to the MLS might be the perfect next step.
Other potential MLS coaching prospects include Carlos Somoano, North Carolina, Brian Wiese, Georgetown and despite Indiana’s struggles this season their coach Todd Yeagley has former MLS experience. Meanwhile veteran coaches Jay Vidovich, Wake Forest and Ray Reid, Connecticut have great experience winning games and developing MLS talent, although like Cirovski they might be happier where they are than in the MLS.
As I've said many times before we need to respect the MLS as a North American product and this should include the promotion of North American talent be it player or coaches.