Had you told Coach Ian McIntyre in August that his Syracuse team would win the 2022 Division 1 national championship, he would’ve laughed you off. The Orange only won two games in 2020 and finished at a flat .500 in 2021.
“That probably wasn't a reflection of the talent we had,” says McIntyre, a 51-year-old Basildon, England native who has coached in the college circuit for 26 years.
But reflect talent it did in 2022, when the Orange only lost two games en route to its first-ever national championship.
McIntyre arrived in the USA in 1992 to play soccer at Hartwick College. As a coach, McIntyre has witnessed recruiting networks across college soccer moving more heavily toward the international field amid the trend of young elite U.S. talent going straight into the pros.
“Yes, we look under some different rocks,” said McIntyre. “In our conference we have a different makeup than some of the other teams — but we've certainly earned a credibility with young players, both domestic and international, that we can help them become the best version of themselves during their time here.”
McIntyre fielded two Americans and nine international players (including three Canadians) in the College Cup final against an all-American Indiana team, one of the few teams that recruits domestically and can still compete for national championships. The Orange won 7-6 in penalties after a thrilling 2-2 regular time finish.
McIntyre’s commitment to excellence has kept his school relevant for players who use college soccer as a means to go pro: 22 players coached by McIntyre have been drafted to the MLS since 2010 — recently and notably, U.S. national team defender Miles Robinson (two years with the Orange before a Generation Adidas contract in 2017) and Canadian national teamers Tajon Buchanan (two years before GA in 2019) and Kamal Miller (four years before going pro).
Last season’s national championship run resulted in five players getting drafted in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
SOCCER AMERICA: Let's start with the big picture ... describe your path to the national championship this year?
IAN McINTYRE: Look, it was a remarkable season. We won an ACC championship and finished it up with a national title. If you had said at the beginning of the season that we would be having this conversation to talk about that — we didn't see that coming.
We certainly had a good group. If you look at our record over the last few years, that probably wasn't a reflection of the talent we had. We've had some challenges on and off the field through the last few years, and we've added some talent and our younger guys who have gone through a lot have kind of grown up.
And it's a very resilient, tough group that continues to grow and learn some lessons along the way. And then we went on this really remarkable stretch of games from the middle of October.
SA: What do you mean when you say Syracuse went through some challenges over the last few years?
IAN McINTYRE: If you look at our story and see a team that just won a triple and went 19-2-4 — we didn't make the tournament last year and had a .500 record. The year before that we won two games. Some of the struggle was competing in the fall of 2020 during Covid — the ACC was the only conference to compete.
In New York it was tough to play during the winter — Syracuse did a good job of keeping student-athletes safe, but we had a lot of challenges competing in New York. Just those two things.
Before this year, we had never gotten a seed higher than No. 10 in the ACC tournament — so based on that, it's a valid question to ask: where did this national championship come from?
The next part of that is that almost every year we lose our best young player to Generation adidas and Major League Soccer, which is a wonderful problem to have.
When your best player moves on, it can create some challenges. I thought we've been very competitive in an extremely difficult ACC.
In 2021, though we had an 8-8-2 record, we were losing games by one goal in overtime. A big part of it as well is that we added some very special transfers in Levonte Johnson, Nathan Opoku, Lorenzo Boselli — exciting attacking players.
That's what we learned — if you're losing young players early, you need to find players who have maturity, experience and who can make an impact straightaway.
SA: The run of games beginning in October ... a big part of coaching college teams, or any team with league play and an end-of-year tournament, is making sure they peak at the right time. As a coach, what is your strategy in the peaking department?
IAN McINTYRE: We lost two games this year, but it was in the space of 10 days. We lost to a late goal against Virginia when we were down a man for 70 minutes. The next week we lost to a very good Cornell team. We were second-best on the night but would see them again in the tournament [Syracuse won the third-round NCAA tournament game 1-0 off a goal from sophomore German midfielder Giona Leibold].
It was the first time we played behind all season with 11 men. And we didn't respond well. The next game we were hosting Wake Forest. That was a pivotal time of the year — a crossroads. It could've gone another way. Off the field, we showed a maturity and took some steps to build our toughness. We beat Wake Forest, No. 1 in our division at the time when we were No. 2.
Then we went on a run to win our conference ahead of Wake Forest and Clemson. We played North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson in seven days — the gauntlet that is ACC play.
SA: Some of your favorite national title celebrations, the first in program history?
IAN McINTYRE: For me, it was great to have my family down there. My wife and daughter came down to the field after the game — just to be able to give them a hug.
With my guys? Listen, it was their time, their locker room. I wanted to give them their distance. I enjoyed it afterwards, back on campus — having the chance to sit down individually with guys.
From that moment when Amferny Sinclair (top photo) made the winning penalty — it was just an opportunity to be with my staff and family.
We got back to campus at 2:30 a.m., it's 9 degrees out and snowing, and we had our community back onto campus. It was just very special.
SA: What was it like having the World Cup overlap with the college soccer season for the first time ever? Especially with all of the international guys on your roster?
IAN McINTYRE: Oh, it was fantastic. Look, it's the first time I wasn't fully engaged with a World Cup since ... being a boy. The challenge is that we progressed in the national tournament and we had to keep coming up with practice times to try to keep everyone happy — we've got a very diverse team.
SA: Some guys missed their teams playing?
IAN McINTYRE: Exactly, that was it. We have Americans, Canadians, Germans, Polish heritage, our captain is Costa Rican. The first game that we did miss was actually Costa Rica getting smashed by Spain.
Poor old Amferny [Sinclair] comes off the practice field — guys had been winding him up all during the whole practice saying that Costa Rica was up 1-0 — and we finally told him, 'No, sorry, Spain is up 7-0.'
It was fun to watch games unfold with the guys. We were down in Cary, North Carolina, for the final four and caught France vs. England on that Saturday. All the guys made fun of the coaching staff [assistant coach Sean Lawlor is also an England native]. So it was a lot of fun to have them overlap.
SA: Like many other top programs, Syracuse has mostly internationals on its roster. What is your recruitment network like? How do you find guys from all around the world? What is your take on the new reliance on internationals in the college game?
IAN McINTYRE: It's about attracting players from wherever we can — 20 minutes away in New York, Costa Rica, or Ghana. Having said that, geographically we can get to Toronto a lot quicker than New York City or Boston. There is a natural connection, even prior to me, between good Canadian players and Syracuse.
But yes, we look under some different rocks. In our conference, we have a different makeup than some of the other teams. It has to be a good fit academically here at Syracuse — but we've certainly earned a credibility with young players, both domestic and international, that we can help them become the best version of themselves during their time here.
A lot of players come here because we have credibility with not just moving our players onto the next level but for them to have success at the next level.
That was one of the fun parts of the World Cup, Arlo — watching two of our former players, Tajon Buchanan and Kamal Miller, play in the World Cup. It would've been three had Miles Robinson not been injured this past year. That also adds credibility for us to players and their families. That's international and domestic players.
I was very fortunate to come over in 1992 from England and I know how impactful the college game has been on me and my family. Soccer is a global game and I've embraced the fact that we have a very diverse locker room. I think it enhances our Syracuse team on the field and certainly off the field.
SA: Do these internationals come to the USA for a chance to go pro, or for an education?
IAN McINTYRE: And that's both. Amferny Sinclair, our captain from Costa Rica, the family really appreciates education — to be able to compete in the ACC and earn a Syracuse degree — that's a huge attraction. For some of our German players, there isn't the same opportunity to combine both. We traditionally attract students who want to do both — work towards an elite degree with aspirations to see how far they can progress in their journey to be a professional soccer player.
SA: Should the NCAA cap the amount of international roster spots?
IAN McINTYRE: For me, no. As an international coach, I would hope they never limit the number of internationals. Is that the next part as well? Limiting coaches? I understand the argument and a lot of internationals do come over, but I do think there's a real value in the diversity and experience that comes with an international student.
SA: The year before you took over, the Orange finished 3–15-0. What were some of the biggest changes in the program that you made?
IAN McINTYRE: Our first year here, we won two games. There's no quick fix. No short-cut. No magic formula. It's hard work, it's certainly recruitment of the right young men who buy into and believe in what you're looking to build.
It's about surrounding yourself with special young men and coaching staff — and having an administration that believes you and supports you and gives you every opportunity to create an environment that allows your student-athletes to grow and evolve.
Photos by Michael J. Okoniewski/Syracuse Athletics.
Thank you for the write up. Well done to Ian, staff and players. I started following Syracuse this year, for my player. Saw they were good team, top class staff, international roster, great facilities, top class academics. What you would want for your player going to play in college. Watched the Cornell game - that was a great game. Cornell comes at you - all skilled players - hard edge - terrific 1-0 game. College soccer - interesting - in that all the talk is about who goes pro - but - all the boys with a few exception are there - not to go pro - but to carry on playing the game they love - while getting an education. Coach Ian knows this well. That's why his long career is one of success - college soccer - not about making pros - it can happen - about playing the beautiful game - while getting an education. I would not be surprised to find out coach Ian has coached more future coaches than he has pros in his career - but no one counts that. College soccer - still so under appreciated here. For me - the foreign player in our colleges and their consistent winning of championships - is a bellweather for success / failure of our domesitic academies - MLS and others. We should not ban foreigners - we should do a better job in our academies. College soccer will tell you how we are doing - as most academy grads - don't go pro - they go to college! Have a nice day!
College soccer is not much different than the rest of college and university education, where academically qualified foreign students with wealth (family, soverign or government) take up spots in elite American universities, while American students have to suffer through largely inferior public school systems and meager family finances. Something is vastly wrong with this picture and it is the American public school system, held hostage by testing once mandated by No Child Left Behind, leaving our country falling educationally ever more behind Western European countries, Japan, S Korea, Australia, and China. Maybe Russia, too? Critical thinking and STEM knowledge? Whuzzat?