The games on the field at the Disney Soccer Showcase, beginning Sunday at the Wide World of Sports Complex, will likely be among the most competitive local players will face over the course of the club season.
The games off the field, however, likely will be far more important, as the showcase offers a chance for players to be scouted by major college programs looking for future talent. Disney now bills itself as the Nation's No.1 Recruting Event, and it has a good claim on the title with a huge number of colleges represented at the four-day boys event. Hillsborough County United boys director of coaching Kelvin Jones said because of that, getting teams into the showcase has become a major goal for each of the club's top teams at the beginning of the season.
“Because the U.S. Soccer Academy is now around, it's made it even more important that if you're not in the U.S. Soccer Academy, you get into the big tournaments,” Jones said. “It's always been vital, because you can't always give your players good exposure unless they're at the tournaments the (college) coaches are at, and if you're going to have the majority of coaches at Disney, then you've got to be at Disney. It's that simple.”
Soccer recruiting has expanded greatly in the past decade. As college programs' budgets have expanded, so have the reaches of many Division I programs to begin identifying players they want to target at a younger age. Most high school seniors going to major programs will ordinarily commit either before or early in their final year of school because they have been targeted as juniors, or even sophomores.
“I've been doing this for a long time, and what I've seen is the college recruiting is starting earlier and earlier,” Jones said. “A while ago, only the very big schools, like Virginia or North Carolina and Duke, would look at juniors and get juniors to commit.
“It's become increasingly important to be seen now as a junior, because most of the big schools are now recruiting the junior year kids, and as a junior it is huge now, bigger even than senior year. You could get lost in the shuffle here if you don't play well as a junior.”
HCU's boys under-18, under-17 and under-15 teams will all be at the event, as will teams from the Clearwater Chargers, St. Petersburg's Strictly Soccer, Fusion Futbol and RSL Florida. Steve Wolf, who will coach RSL Florida's boys under-16 team, agrees with Jones' assessment that recruiting has escalated to encompass younger players.
“It becomes like a rat race,” Wolf said. “I remember T.J. (East) last year committed to Wake Forest verbally sometime in the spring, and Sebastian Thuriere the year before committed his junior year to USF, so I agree with what Kelvin said, it's a lot more intense to get players now.”
While that is the case, Wolf said he doesn't think the players feel additional pressure as a result.
“This is a game, and it's got to be fun,” Wolf said. “The guys at Manchester United and at the highest level all over the world, it's still a game, and it's still got to be fun. I'm sure they can't wait to get out there and play at Disney, I can't wait to get out there as a coach.”