Can 'pretty good' players play college ball?

Aspirations to play college soccer and hopes of a scholarship are apt to influence many decisions young players and their parents make. We've relayed some of the common questions we've heard from parents to Lisa Lavelle, president of The Sport Source, which has spent more than 20 years in college counseling for student-athletes.

By Lisa Lavelle

My 15-year-old son really wants to play college soccer. He doesn't play for a U.S. Development Academy team. He's a good player, but I've got enough of a soccer background to know he's not good enough to play Division I soccer. Should I encourage him to pursue college soccer?

Interesting question. With a soccer background, you know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and playing for the U.S. Development Academy does not guarantee any player will be a Division I recruit either. When it comes to college sports, not just Division I, there are several levels each year -- the final four teams, sweet 16s, the postseason qualifiers, and so on. Each year the group changes based on win-loss and hinges on seniors graduating from the team.

What one coach might see in one player is not always what another coach sees. When it comes to recruiting at any level, college coaches are looking for players who can make a difference. I encourage your son to look at all levels of play and not just NCAA DI. Get to the game early, watch the team warm up, check out the players on the roster and have your son size himself up.

Most kids and families only consider those schools they have heard of and for some strange reason think if it’s not NCAA Division I or II it can’t be good. To illustrate this aspect, when it comes to Academy teams and players being recruited, Portland Timbers noted on their website, that this year [2015] they had 14 players recruited to college, the most they had ever had -- and not all were Division I athletes.

When it comes to collegiate sports and playing professionally look at Redlands, they are NCAA Division III and Ralph Perez along with his staff has done and incredible job and several players were drafted into the pros. Another example University of Maine Fort Kent -- USCAA -- this team reads and plays like a mini-professional team. Bill Ashby has done a heck of a job recruiting, winning championships and I am not sure how many NCAA Division I teams would want to play his team in a match. Remember, where you come from will not define where you are going.

Further Reading: The College Process: Be Prepared, Proactive and Persistent

(Lisa Lavelle is President of The Sport Source, which has been connecting kids to college opportunities since 1989. For more information on The Sport Source’s Official Athletic College Guides, tools, and resources, go to

7 comments about "Can 'pretty good' players play college ball? ".
  1. Raymond Weigand, June 25, 2015 at 8:16 p.m.

    Also, and maybe simpler, your question is related to a 15 year old ... I would anticipate that most players will still be growing (mentally + physically) which is an opportunity to see fitness and the focus on technical skills also grow exponentially. If a 15 year old suddenly realizes that he really wants something ... like be awesome at soccer ... he has 2-3 years of available time to prove it - this is plenty of time to transform into a top flight player. Especially if there is a committed effort to a singular purpose as well as a supportive family.

  2. beautiful game, June 26, 2015 at 3:02 p.m.

    Everyone misses the key point, SOCCER IQ; if a player doesn't have it, it matters little.

  3. Ric Fonseca, June 27, 2015 at 4:02 p.m.

    > I w: I think you miss the point, and that is that as I've witnessed in the past 30+ years, it is the parents with the $$$ who want to play for their sons/daughters, and will just about do and pay whatever it takes so that their child gets a free ride, no matter the skill level. Jeepers creepers, I could write a book about my experiences, and I'll tell you a short one: when I began coaching at a local Calif state university, a couple of the players, brothers, requested and then demanded that I bring in their youth (read: ayso) coach to continue working with their foot skills. No, really, it actually happened, the young men US born and ayso trained, wanted me to spend $$$ for their ayso coach, while I had a very short time to prepare the team, recruit more academically eligible players, and have open tryouts to field an at least competitive team, and go against already established local colleges/universities. The end result was a mediocre first season, and luckliy for me and my assistant coach, those two guys graduated (one did, the other quit the team and dropped out) The point is that what the article mentions is the ability to be - at least nowadays,- to buy a childs entry into a college level team, but to at least try and be a skillful player good enough to make a college team, at whatever division in NCAA/NAIA, or community or junior college. At 15, only and unless the player shows significant skill will a college coach even bother to see him/her play - not withstanding the myriad of rules and regulations, or what the so-called "foreign accented" coaches may preach and make unfilled promises to help a kid land a college athletic scholarship. Stay tuned as there is more to this than meets the eye!

  4. Kent James, June 28, 2015 at 10:43 a.m.

    As a former college player and current HS coach, I would certainly encourage any player attending college to try to play there. Often when HS players don't play in college, they give it up forever (which I hate to see). But as the article points out, scholarship level D-1 is very difficult and rare, so don't count on that. Establish a group of colleges you want to attend, then contact the coaches to see if they're interested. While athletic scholarships are unlikely (and not available at D-3), sometimes coaches can help players obtain other sorts of aid, or, help you get in a very competitive school (by being your advocate; most schools allow coaches to encourage the admittance of a certain number of players every year). At the very least, at smaller D3 schools, they should allow you to attend a pre-season camp to see if you can play with the team. And if you go to a big school and aren't good enough to play with the varsity, they often have club teams that are quite talented and take less time than the varsity. Failing that, most college towns have adult amateur leagues that would be a great way to get off campus and get to know the local community (as well as being much less demanding; usually just a game a week).

  5. Ric Fonseca, June 28, 2015 at 8:07 p.m.

    Kent, you've hit the nail on the head and I completely agree with you, except that you've forgotten another avenue for high school graduating student athletes: the community-junior colleges that are in great abundance, e.g. here in California there are at least 125 community colleges, of which more than likely at least 110 offer intercollegiate soccer. The cost of attending community college in California is very affordable, and many teams are very competitive. The academic factors are geared to at least equate for a transfer program to a four-year university, that is the first two years - freshman and sophomore - and I know for a fact that there are many community college student-athletes of the soccer genre that have gone on and shined at a four-year program. There is, sadly, a negative aura about community or junior colleges, but I can tell you that having recently retired after almost 40 years teaching and coaching at this level, our student-athletes perform better academically and equally athletically as someone who may have been admitted as a student athlete from high school.

  6. Kent James, June 29, 2015 at 12:52 a.m.

    Ric, good point. Unfortunately, in my area, the community colleges generally don't have athletic teams (they did in the 1980s, but no longer; not sure why). My main point, which I'm sure you agree with, is that people should keep playing and if they look hard enough, they'll find an appropriate outlet.

  7. Allan Lindh, July 1, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    Simple answer is pick the kid's colleges to consider on the basis of the quality of the education, and affordability. Then look into who has the best soccer program. Start now visiting the schools during the fall, go to a match, talk to the coaches and players, check out the schools. Education and growing up are first priority, pick the best soccer program consistent with those goals. And if your son is a late bloomer, develops into a real player, he'll get a further chance somewhere. Remember Chris Wondolowski was not recruited by DI programs out of HS, they wanted him as a middle distance runner. He went to DII Chico State to play soccer, and may well end up his career as MLS's all time leading scorer.

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