The Virginia Tech men’s soccer program has been unable to recruit international players since the 2008-2009 season. This self-imposed restriction is the result of several recruiting violations, which occurred under former head coach Oliver Weiss.
The 11 violations dealt mostly with the payment of fees for international players, such as Tech’s undergraduate application fee. Although these violations occurred several years ago, the men’s soccer program has suffered greatly due to the resulting punishment. The Hokies have a combined record of 19-44-7 since the ban.
Luckily for the Hokies, the restriction period is finally coming to an end.
This coming spring, head coach Mike Brizendine and the rest of the men’s soccer coaching staff will once again be able to recruit international players.
“You can’t imagine the excitement level within our staff for this to happen,” Brizendine said. “It’s been a grind. It’s not like next year we’re going one baby step, we’re expecting to be taking two steps forward.”
Brizendine has very good reason to be excited.
Over the past few decades, international players have begun to pour into all levels of American soccer and have had a substantial effect on the game. The MLS is beginning to lure international stars like David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls).
The immersion of these players in the MLS has slowly begun to influence other international players to play for American universities as well as for private high schools.
“Overall, within men’s college soccer, it is having a profound impact,” Brizendine said. “Let me take it a step further. It is having a profound impact on our MLS as well.”
The real impact can be seen in the fact there are now 24 international players playing in the ACC, with Maryland having the most with six.
Maryland is currently ranked No. 1 in the country and has played all six of their international players this season. It is a major reason why they are having such an outstanding season.
“It seems to be that a lot of the good teams do have a lot of international players,” said Jed Prater, Tech's team captain. “I think it brings a little extra something, especially bringing in European players who have been playing all their life. I mean soccer is the number one sport over in Europe.”
There are several explanations to why these players are leaving their countries to come play in the United States.
Many of the players are drawn in by the idea of gaining a college education from an American university, which was the case of Maryland’s star freshman, Tsubasa Endoh, who also had an opportunity to play professionally in Japan.
However, another big factor for these international players to consider is the athletic facilities that are made available to them. Coming from Somersby, Australia, Prater can certainly attest to the difference.
“It’s very professional compared to playing semi-pro back home,” Prater said. “You come here and you get great facilities and training every day.”
Possibly the most intriguing aspect of this boom of international players is the parity it is creating between teams. Almost all American universities that have a men’s soccer program are beginning to recruit these international players. which is beginning to close the talent gap between the traditional powerhouse programs and the mid-majors.
“The top 10 is the top 10, but after that, it is a lot harder to tell the difference between those teams because you get a couple of internationals and pair them with a few hardworking kids who believe they can win, and they’ll get results,” Brizendine said.
There is no better example of this than in the Colonial Athletic Association, where six of the conferences 11 teams are currently ranked in the top 70 in the men’s soccer RPI.
In comparison, the ACC, which is considered one of the top conferences in men’s soccer, has seven teams ranked in the top 70.
In 2011, the CAA’s All-Rookie team consisted of eight international players. Those eight players are currently some of the best players in the conference this season and a major reason the conference is doing so well this season.