By Sean Whooley
Soccer is so often referred to as the world’s most popular sport, but it took a while to catch on in the United States.
Despite this, the country is rapidly progressing in what most people around the world call “football.” From the professional level all the way down to instructional leagues for kindergarteners, the sport continues to grow. One place that is a perfect example of this is the University of Maryland.
Under head coach Sasho Cirovski, now in his 24th year at the helm, the Terrapins soccer program has blossomed into one of the most consistent and successful college soccer setups in the country. As Maryland improves, as do other university soccer teams, and it is a sign of how the United States is coming along in development.
“American players are getting better, and they have been for a while,” Cirovski said.
Although Americans are becoming better and better at soccer, a big influence on the college game is the contribution of foreign-born players. Soccer is popular around the world, and different countries have their own ways of developing players, but many from overseas find their way onto college teams.
Cirovski’s Maryland team is a very good example of this situation. The Terrapins, undefeated and ranked number one in the country, have five foreign-born players on their roster. Though only two, Gordon Wild (Germany) and Diego Silva (Argentina) play prominent roles, the Terrapins are part of a huge trend around the nation. The leading scorer in the college soccer regular season has 19 goals, but there are nine players with 12 goals or more. Of the top nine scorers in the nation, a whopping six were not born in the United States. Instead, they come from all over–Spain, England, Ireland, Sweden and Germany, represented by Maryland’s Wild. Three of the top five scorers, all with 14 goals or more, are foreign-born, including top-scorer, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Albert Ruiz.
It doesn’t stop at individual play, however. Maryland is atop the national rankings, but the team sitting right behind them, Wake Forest, also utilizes foreign-born players. Like Maryland, five are listed on their roster, and three play important roles in the team.
The Syracuse University men’s soccer team takes it to a whole new level. The Orange are the sixth-ranked team in the country, and boast a total of 13 foreign-born players on their roster. Of the seven players to play in all 18 games for Syracuse this season, six are foreign-born.
Despite a clear influence of foreign players on the college game, including within his own program, Cirovski believes that it isn’t a slight on American players, as they are still playing at a high level. So, rather than going searching for international talent, Cirovski often sticks to recruiting in the United States.
“I have rarely gone and recruited international players as a first choice,” Cirovski said. “I’d prefer to get the best American players, or Canadian players, who understand the level of commitment it takes to be a student athlete. A lot of the foreign kids have a tough time with that.”
However, as the records prove, he has been forced to recruit international players. According to Cirovski, if American players choose to go pro over college, that is when he taps into the “wide open” international market, especially because of all the players willing to make the leap to the college game.
“The international kids who have a very tough market to crack to make it professionally are looking at the NCAA as a godsend because it’s a place where the players can go to school and play sports at the highest level,” Cirovski said.
Whether or not he continues to bring in more international kids depends on the future of American soccer and player development. However, whatever Cirovski is doing now is working for the number one team in the country.