High school girls soccer showcases skills for college coaches in new recruiting landscape

Parents watch their children play during the Team Chicago Soccer Club’s annual College Showcase at the WAA Sports Center in Aurora on Jan. 17. Parents used to only drop off and pick up their child in previous years’ showcase events. But they could watch them compete on the field for the first time this year. (Xiaotao Zhong/Medill).

By Xiaotao Zhong
Medill Reports

Team Chicago Soccer Club’s annual College Showcase for high school girls returned on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and opened its doors to parents as spectators for the first time after last year’s event got canceled due to COVID-19.

The showcase provided an important platform for college recruitment as athletes and coaches tried to learn about a new recruiting environment left by the pandemic where players have a larger role and more flexibility.

“We thought they (parents) want to see what their kids are capable of doing,” Team Chicago Soccer Club’s coaching director Alan Cross said. “They want to see, we want them to see, how we are trying to run it, and trying to build it.”

Players were divided into different teams based on their skill levels, previous experience and age, according to Team Chicago Soccer Club’s coaching director Alan Cross. Different age group players wore different color jerseys to make it easier for coaches to distinguish them. (Xiaotao Zhong/Medill).

The showcase was held at the WAA Sports Center in Aurora, and it was open to all high school girl soccer athletes. A total of 75 players participated in the event. Each player was guaranteed a position to play in two games with at least 20 minutes of playing time in each game, to display their foot skills for college coaches from different leagues and divisions and have an opportunity to impress them before the official recruiting period, which starts in June.

According to Northwestern University’s assistant women’s soccer coach Rich Manning, who attended the showcase, events like this help coaches scout prospects more efficiently and economically as they can watch numbers of good players from local high schools at the same time. The return of the showcase benefitted both the players and coaches as they continued adjusting to the new recruiting model that was shaped by the pandemic and the change of recruiting rules two years ago.

In early 2020, the initial outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in the NCAA canceling its 2020 spring season. The following fall season was severely constrained as well. The NCAA thus offered eligibility relief for student athletes to provide them with an additional season of competition eligibility to play their sport. That offered some new flexibility since “Division I rules limit student athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period.”

With eligibility relief, affected college student athletes are now allowed to enroll in their sport for an additional year after graduation to compete for the team. This means many current players are choosing to stay on their teams or transfer to other schools for an extra year. There will be fewer spots available for the fresh recruits in the next couple of seasons, which means more robust competition.

“Of the current juniors (in high school), we only have one committed right now. Typically, we might have a handful right now,” Manning said. “But because we don’t have a lot of spots, we will kind of wait and see what happens to the current team.”

Besides the fallout of the pandemic, the latest update of recruiting rules also shifted the college recruiting model to a new one. In May 2019, the NCAA Division I Council adopted new recruiting rules that limit recruiting interactions between high school athletes and DI college coaches to curb early recruiting. The new rules state that most sports, including soccer, “would allow communication – either from or to a coach – after the sophomore year of high school.” Compared to previous rules, student athletes are no longer allowed to initiate contact with DI college coaches before June 15 of their sophomore year.

Nevertheless, a handful of high school freshmen and sophomore athletes participated in the showcase even though they were not allowed to communicate with college coaches just yet.

Kelly Lindsay, No.45, a high school freshman, and her teammates get ready for the game. (Xiaotao Zhong/Medill).

“Getting the girls to prepare for what the process is like,” said Jim Lindsay, father of Kelly Lindsay, who is a freshman defensive midfielder at Oswego East High School. “Just to get them used to this kind of thing, so that in the next couple of years, they won’t feel as much pressure.”

Manning said he was also watching some younger players and waiting for June 15 to start making contact with them. “We start calling the ones that we like. We watched them very closely,” he said.

The Chicago area is an extremely competitive region for high school soccer, so it is never too early to prepare kids for recruitments.

“In this community, soccer is a huge sport with our local high schools,” Joe Gits, father of a Team Chicago Soccer Club player, said. “If you are not having clubs like this, you are not going to be able to be competitive at a high school level.”

“You can’t go to every camp,” Lindsay said. “So it’s an opportunity for the coaches to see these girls play in a competitive environment, and that’s fantastic.”

Xiaotao Zhong is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @SunnyZ_16.