Commentary

Georgetown's Brian Wiese on college soccer's uncharted waters for pro hopefuls and high school recruits

A year ago this week, Coach Brian Wiese  guided the Georgetown Hoyas to the NCAA Division I national championship crown. The pandemic has postponed the 2020 College Cup to May 2021. While two men's conferences -- the ACC and Sun Belt -- competed this fall, the Big East, of which Georgetown was also champion in 2019, sidelined its falls sports. Georgetown University implemented some of the nation's strictest precautions against COVID spread, limiting the Hoyas to two weeks of practice with a handful of players.

SOCCER AMERICA: I understand your team has been more restricted than most?

BRIAN WIESE: Georgetown was really conservative with how they handled the pandemic relative to our peers. The general disparity of how every conference and athletic department handled it has been interesting to see. There were teams forced along into what football mandated -- the ACCs, SECs, Big 12, etc. -- but Georgetown was fundamentally shut down as an institution.

Only kids who had a real high need to be on campus returned for the fall. Teams weren't going to train. I believe most of the other schools in the Big East trained, although nobody competed, they all had some form of training at varying degrees depending on their situations.

We got about a two-week window for the nine kids who are local to train in November. That was really a beta test, a mini-camp before Thanksgiving, to see how it would go moving forward. Our preseason will start Jan. 11. So we're really behind.

SA: There has been speculation that some colleges encouraged students to return to campus despite the high likelihood of virtual classes because housing is a significant revenue-producer for universities ...

BRIAN WIESE: Georgetown was really good about it. I think they've handled the situation as well as you can hope in terms of giving students a fair shake on what's going on financially.

SA: Your players trained on their own and you had Zoom meetings?

BRIAN WIESE: Yeah, we did the Zoom thing. We recruit kids who want to be pros. It's been hard because they want to play everyday. But they're very intrinsically motivated. We did some fitness metrics testing on the nine kids who we worked with in that mini-camp and they were really fit. They'd been training hard on their own, and they looked very sharp soccer-wise from what they were doing fundamentally left to their own devices. Some freshmen were able to train with their academy teams. They all kind of pieced it together, but it felt like a super extended summer.

SA: Some teams faced issues with travel restrictions on international students, but you don't have many foreign players, do you?

BRIAN WIESE: We're a very domestic-based group in general. Last season we had Achara, who's Nigerian [via boarding school in Massachusetts], JB Fischer, who's French, and our Greek goalkeeper, Giannis Nikopolidis. This year it's just Giannis.

SA: You've got eight freshmen on your roster so I take it you didn't have an issue with players opting for a gap year?

BRIAN WIESE: Every school's a little different in this and at some schools kids took a gap year depending on what situation they were in. All of our kids are taking classes remotely, so when the freshmen arrive they'll be in their second semester academically but it will be the first time we've been able to work with them.

SA: Playing during the 2020-21, because of the unique situation with COVID, won't count against players' NCAA eligibility. Will that be issue in the future when you form rosters?

BRIAN WIESE: Regardless if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, the NCAA gave everybody a blanket year. So yes, seniors get another season beyond this one even if they play in the spring.

But our niche is for the kid who really wants to become a pro, but also doesn't want to leave after a year or two because they understand the importance of getting a degree. A sort of middle-track balance. So what most of our kids do is graduate after three and a half years, which isn't too uncommon in general for serious players.

So eight of our seniors were on pace to graduate this month. Guys like Derek Dodson and Jacob Montes, all-Americans, on a normal cycle would be getting ready to participate in the MLS Combine, looking forward to the draft. They would be graduated and ready to try to make it with a pro team.

Right now these guys are trying to figure out, "What do I do?" The uncertainty for these guys is really, really tough.

SA: What are they doing?

BRIAN WIESE: They're trying to make decisions amid the uncertainty. In the normal course of things, there would be a couple guys who would be GA, Generation adidas. A couple of guys who are senior contract guys, who sign before the draft and they know they're going to play pro. They just don't know necessarily where.

The vast majority of guys wait for draft day, their names come up on a board and, a week later, they go off to FC Dallas or LA Galaxy or wherever, and try to make a team. A lot of them don't make it. They're there for a couple, three or four weeks, and told, thanks but no thanks, and they have to figure what do do next. But in normal times, they're graduated, and weighing their options.

SA: But now they have another option, of playing their senior year in the spring ...

BRIAN WIESE: MLS is still not totally clear about how they're going to navigate the situation. So our guys are deciding, should I drop a class to be able to stay enrolled in the spring and play, or do I find a master's degree to continue to play? Or am I going to go pro? Because if I go pro, I don't want to drop that class. The timing is incredibly tricky for these kids.

SA: This is something they have to decide very soon.

BRIAN WIESE: Yeah, right now. Three of our guys are sitting on their hands waiting to see, am I going to get a senior pro contract offer? In which case I know it's going to be a guaranteed contract with the league and I'll go, I'll play. Or is it a maybe, or a USL-type offer, in which case they might decide, that's not the entry point they want, and they're going to come back and play the spring to try to raise their stock for a May entry.

There's a sense that the league [MLS] will offer a limited number of things. The ones who they don't offer [a senior contract] they're going to still draft but then encourage them to finish their senior spring. But for a lot of the better players, they've been planning on going pro. And so a lot of these guys were saying, well, what do I do? Do I fabricate an academic experience to come back and play? For some of them, it makes sense, for some it doesn't necessarily. It's a really tricky situation. It's a really tough time to be a good player as a senior.

SA: But you're not expecting a situation where players will stay and use the extra year of eligibility, and incoming freshman will find themselves on a team with an expanded roster?

BRIAN WIESE: I don't think so. We may be an anomaly with that. We're a little bit more of a conveyor-belt. I don't think we'll have a lot who will take that fifth year.

My old boss, Bobby Clark -- I played for him at Dartmouth -- who I cut my teeth with, as an assistant for five years at Stanford and five years of Notre Dame, his culture was one of: come in and redshirt, stay for a fifth year, and we're an older team. Our group here at Georgetown is more of: come in, get through, get your degree, don't leave early, but don't stay for too long if you're really good. So I don't think our roster will swell much.

SA: Describe how different things are because of COVID with this season's freshmen and your future recruits.

BRIAN WIESE: Here's the landscape of things:

We have our freshmen. We haven't worked with them yet. So we don't know how good they really are, or what positions they may or may not play, which normally at this time we would have a very good feel for, because we would have had full season with them. We haven't seen them play yet.

We haven't been seeing the nine-member recruiting class 2021 play. So we're guessing about how good they are and what positions they may or may not be able to play. By the time we're able to see kids play in April, it'll be over 13 months where we haven't seen a kid play in person. That's a crazy amount of time.

We've started recruiting the 2022s. But we've actually had to say, we've got to stop really recruiting 2022s until we get a better feel for what we really need. We're starting to guess too much about what our needs are and who the kids are.

SA: With the NCAA extending the "dead period" until April 15, you haven't watched potential recruits play in person. But there's video ...

BRIAN WIESE: I really don't like recruiting over video. But that's the only option we have right now.

SA: What's the problem judging players through video?

BRIAN WIESE: It's very important to see somebody play in person, because we make decisions all the time on how they are with teammates, how they handle referees, how they handle parents and coaches. Do they win well when they win a big game or are they jerks? Do they lose well when they lose a big game, or are they sulking off the field? Those things tell you a lot about a kid. You don't see any of that on video. And by the way, they're also sending us edited clips they picked or a game that they decided is the right game for us to see.

And it's very tough on the kids. There's a lot of guesswork from the kids as well.

SA: How so?

BRIAN WIESE: A lot of kids out there don't know where they're going. Do they take gap year? Do they go to a school without ever setting foot on campus, to a coach who's only seen them on video?

If they can get to a campus, there's no tours, we can't walk them around. The worry long-term is that coaches are gonna make mistakes on kids and take people who aren't the right fit. Kids are going to take risks on a campus and a program without really getting a good feel for it. The big picture worry is a spike in transfers because people are going find themselves in the wrong place.

SA: How do you feel about the post-Development Academy era? 

BRIAN WIESE: It really coincided with COVID, right? So the new landscape of youth soccer is a huge mystery to me. Maybe other coaches have a better handle on it. ECNL absorbed good teams into it. MLS Next has a lot of former DA clubs.

With the DA, there was a consolidated sort of centralized system, with data and rosters. It was a little more regionalized because they didn't have a lot of tournaments, just the main events -- the showcase, the playoffs. So I think it regionalized recruiting a bit. It was a nice platform in essence, to get to know the very large pool of talented kids. For sure.

Now there's been a lot of movement. If I went to national tournament this weekend, I wouldn't know what game to sit at. Who are the best teams to sit down and watch? It's really hard to make that determination right now.

Once the things are open up again, it's gonna take a little while for everyone to recalibrate. The whole recruiting landscape in general is going to start from square one.

Photos by Rafael Suanes/courtesy of Georgetown Univ. Athletics
5 comments about "Georgetown's Brian Wiese on college soccer's uncharted waters for pro hopefuls and high school recruits".
  1. humble 1, December 16, 2020 at 11:05 a.m.

    Smary guy.  Singular approach.  Always interesting to hear his take he is a straigh shooter.  Right up there with Sasho Sirovski - whos comments are always worth a read/listen.  Thank you.

  2. Wallace Wade, December 16, 2020 at 11:41 a.m.

    Interesting. So, he only recruits players that want to become Pro's? I don't know many players with the ability and mindset of becoming Pro's electing to play Men's College Soccer? 

  3. Wooden Ships replied, December 16, 2020 at 9:16 p.m.

    Agreed. Peculiar. 

  4. humble 1 replied, December 17, 2020 at 12:22 p.m.

    Let's not go trashing college soccer again. Here in the USA - we have the largest organized amatuer soccer leagues in the world - men's and women's college soccer.  Wiese: "The vast majority of guys wait for draft day, their names come up on a board and, a week later, they go off to FC Dallas or LA Galaxy or wherever, and try to make a team. A lot of them don't make it."  I think he's talking about a desire to become a pro - but also a willingness to put in the work to get the degree - so get the degree - check the box - then give it your best shot to become a pro.  If you love the game - you play as long as you can.  All good. Just do it!    

  5. Erm Lepley, December 17, 2020 at 2:29 p.m.

    This may be the best and most honest article I’ve seen on the subject.  The one big thing not addressed is the 1 year 2021-22 exception to the NCAA scholarship limits (for current seniors only at the school’s funding discretion) and its impact on: (1) whether seniors stay for spring & return next year; and (2) the 2021 & 2022 recruiting classes.  Was this discussed at all?

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