The numbers at the 2015 US Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships are staggering.
Two hundred thirty-eight teams. More than 4,000 players. Thirteen states represented encompassing thousands of square miles.
But for the bounty of college coaches in attendance at Boise’s Simplot Sports Complex, the tournament represents a recruiting buffet.
Chuck Bechtol, the men’s head coach at NCAA Division III Linfield College outside of Portland, Ore., knows he can’t spend the kind of money a Division I program can on recruiting. But the regional tournament in Boise provides an opportunity for him to even the playing field and see some of the top players in the Western United States all in one venue.
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“You’ve got an opportunity to look at a lot of kids in one place,” Bechtol said. “You don’t have to travel a lot. Once you’re here, you’re able to see a lot of teams and a lot of players.”
The tournament has drawn 63 registered college coaches ranging from NCAA Division III Amherst College in Massachusetts to Division II Hawaii Pacific University to Division I University of Virginia. But the tournament also hosts an untold amount of unregistered coaches, like University of Portland’s men’s assistant Brandon McNeil.
“You’re always recruiting,” McNeil said at halftime of a U-16 boys game between Santa Clara Sporting of Northern California and the Scottsdale Blackhawks of Arizona. “You’re always looking for that next player to keep tabs on and know and build a relationship with. You’ve got to do your research to make an investment for time and money and resources.”
McNeil said Portland is focused on players at the U-16 levels to fill its recruiting class for 2017, and then U-15 players for 2018. But concentrations vary from college program to college program. Bechtol said Linfield hones in on players at the U-17 and U-18 levels that haven’t already drawn Division I offers. And women’s college coaches have even scouted down to the U-14 level this week to find who’s next on their radar.
College coaches say they typically enter with an eye on filling recruiting needs from their traditional recruiting grounds. But with so many players on display, they keep an eye open for anyone who might impress.
“I watched a game from a totally different state than I normally would watch (Tuesday) morning just because I was told they have a center back available that fits a need we have,” said Coe Michaelson, the Northwest Nazarene’s men’s head coach who is balancing coaching the U-17 Boise Nationals boys and finding players for the Nampa program.
McNeil and Bechtol both left Wednesday night like many college coaches, with an off day coming Thursday and the start of the knockout rounds Friday. Bechtol said after three games in three days, he won’t see the best recruits have to offer in the knockout stages, which eliminates half the number of teams that began the week, further limiting the pool of players to see.
So that puts extra emphasis on the first three days of the tournament. McNeil said he leans on the network of clubs and coaches he’s already developed relationships with to determine what games to scout. But surprises are still sprinkled throughout the buffet.
“We’re looking for the best players,” McNeil said. “And grades are massive for us. To be the full package of having grades and being the best player, that’s what we’re looking for.”