40 College Signees? Why FC Alliance players get recruited

40 signees in one senior class. That’s how many FC Alliance players from the 2023 graduating class signed to play college soccer. For the 2024 graduating class, the list is already up to 26, with players signing weekly. These numbers are staggering considering that the national average for high school boys moving on to play college soccer- at any level- is only 8%, and for girls it is only 10%. Nearly every single player for FC Alliance has an opportunity at the next level, ranging from NCAA Division 1 to junior college.

Why are so many players from FC Alliance moving on to college soccer? The raw number of college signees- and the percentage of players signing with schools- is absurdly high when compared to most other youth sports clubs. Here are four major reasons this is happening:

Reason #1: ECNL and ECNL-RL

The best players play in the best leagues. And where the best players are, the college scouts are. On the girls side, ECNL is widely considered to be the best girls league in the nation, possibly in the world. Over 90% of ECNL players move on to college soccer, while over 70% move on to NCAA Division 1. Of those who do not, the vast majority still have offers to do so. ECNL-RL has quickly emerged as a great option for those who do not play ECNL. Both leagues play in ECNL Showcases with hundreds of scouts. ECNL Florida in January had well over 300 college coaches in attendance. On the boys side, ECNL is behind only the 29 MLS Academy teams in terms of level. Since joining the league, the exposure for FC Alliance boys has surged. Of the 40 college commitments in the 2023 class, 20 were from the boys side. Furthermore, playing at a high level spurs player growth. The better your opponent consistently is, the better you become, as the game is played faster and with greater intricacy. College coaches feel like ECNL and ECNL-RL players are well prepared for the college game, so they recruit heavily from those leagues.

Reason #2: Focus on College Soccer

FC Alliance stands by the belief that players should play college soccer. There is a very small percentage of players in the United States who should go directly to professional soccer. In fact, this percentage is miniscule. These are players offered significant financial contracts or signed by MLS teams. The club does not believe it is in the best interest of players to be stuck in lower-level leagues earning small wages in order to advance to the highest professional leagues. Those odds are small anyway. College soccer is an excellent pathway to professional soccer (and playing college soccer includes a college degree). Take a look at the 2024 MLS Superdraft- which is mostly college players. The #1 overall pick was Tyrese Spicer from Lipscomb University in Nashville. The #8 overall pick was his teammate at Lipscomb, Malachi Jones. Spicer went to Toronto FC and Jones was selected by New York FC. Because of this focus, everything the club does is with the goal of college recruitment in mind, from training for the college game to participating in specific leagues and events.

Reason #3: Relationships with Colleges

It has been long pointed out that FC Alliance has strong relationships with hundreds of college soccer programs. College coaches often attend FC Alliance games and practices. There is consistent dialogue between schools and club staff. More important, however, is the trust between those coaches and FC Alliance. If a player is overlooked, club staff has the weight to contact college coaches and get players serious looks. Part of this is that FC Alliance has a reputation of being honest with coaches. If FC Alliance recommends a specific level of college soccer for a player, then it usually turns out to be the appropriate level. Far too often, clubs gain reputations in the college community of overstating their players’ abilities. Although it is noble to promote your players, it will waste valuable time and resources if the players are not truly at the level stated, and future players may lose opportunities because of it. In fact, a common occurrence is that if a local player, not in FC Alliance, contacts a college about being evaluated, that school often contacts FC Alliance for an opinion. Brutal truth, but nonetheless, reality.

#4: FC Alliance Has Top-Level Coaches

Yes, every club says this. However, one thing that does not lie is (verified) resumes. FC Alliance has coaches who have each coached hundreds of future college and professional players. Many staff members themselves played collegiately and professionally. Boys Director Paul Dalton- once the most expensive player in the English Championship Division- has scored goals against teams like Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham and more. He came to FC Alliance as a director of a Chicago Fire MLS youth program. Jon Schneider and Laban DeFriese are the two winningest coaches in the history of Tennessee. For those two to be in the same club speaks for itself. Josh Gray has decades of experience sending players to high-level college soccer programs, including all Power 4 conferences, and has developed national pool players (three have been called up to national teams). Chad Stocton has excelled in developing players into college-ready athletes. Frankie Delgado has a long history of coaching college and club soccer. Both Stocton and Delgado assist with the placement of dozens of players each year into college soccer and have built strong relationships with college programs across the country.  Filip Leander has coached a team to a #1 national finish and has had hundreds of former players in all levels of college and professional soccer (including the MLS). Elaine Roth and Alan Schoenfeld have coached future NCAA Division 1 players for more than 20 years each; both are elite coaches and player developers. Both have had players move on to the SEC and other high major schools. Hemant Sharma is one of the nation’s premier goalkeeper coaches; he has coached for the University of Tennessee for over a decade. Kable Nunnally recently led his U13 girls to a national final four finish. Eddy Semaan and David Clothier are nearing two decades of coaching club soccer. The list goes on.

Many other coaches have ties to college, professional, and even international soccer: Micah Varner coached in Spain and at Georgia Southern, Dave Baisden is the associate head coach at Carson Newman, Kevin Cardona coached at Tennessee Wesleyan,  ESL Director Caleb Lucas is a former All-American at Maryville College, Will Turcios grew up playing in Honduras, Robbie Wickham played in Trinidad, Yoni Sorokine played college soccer at UCLA, Kristen Lyons and Blake Hayes were both standout collegiate players at Tennessee Wesleyan, and Johnny Bracewell played at LMU. Some coaches are FC Alliance alums, including Ben Rice, who has gone through the system as a player. Overall, these coaches know how to develop players and the pathway to take. They’ve “been there, done that” many times. And, going forward, they don’t plan on changing what they do any time soon. And they expect to keep helping droves of players reach their dreams of playing at the next level. 

For the ever growing list of FC Alliance college commitments, go to https://www.fcallianceknox.org/college-commitments.