Throughout the summer, Blind Brook goalkeeper Ben Seguljic’s focus was on finding the right college. The senior made every attempt to get himself noticed, but no matter where he went, he couldn’t escape the same dreaded inquiry.
“I visited a lot of campuses, and I got the same question: ‘Where do you play academy?’ ” Seguljic said. “The thing that stuck out to me was that not playing academy, it was a lot harder to get myself recognized. I had to go to the college ID camps over the summer, but the academy kids had already had their showcases. It wasn’t impossible to get seen, but it was more challenging.”
With the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to overlap its academy season with the high school season, top players from across the country have been forced to choose one or the other. The biggest selling point for the academy teams is that their players will receive more exposure to big-time college coaches, but players such as Seguljic have worked hard to prove that you can still get recruited if you stick with your high school team.
Seguljic recently committed to Providence College, with Mahopac striker Joseph Iraola committing to American University shortly after. Both sent a clear message that, while it might be more difficult to get noticed, it’s not unattainable.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the Division I level,” Seguljic said. “I just focused on working hard, and eventually, I got there.”
Seguljic and Iraola have become two of the poster children for Section 1 soccer; examples who many high school coaches point to as evidence that you can still play college soccer without playing for an academy team.
“I currently have four players playing in college, and I’ve sent seven players (there) in the last four years,” said Byram Hills coach Matty Allen, who is also the president of the Section 1 coaches association. “None of them played for academy teams, so if the system isn’t broke, why fix it? My opinion is that if you’re a great player, they’ll find you.”
While Seguljic and Iraola managed to earn scholarships, both also benefited from playing for club teams that aren’t associated with the U.S. Soccer Federation. Iraola plays for the Olympic Development Program Region 1 club team, which he believes was a major asset in the recruitment process.
“With that you’re still allowed to play high school, so that was big,” Iraola said. “There are still a lot of top-notch club teams, especially in the New York area. We do a lot of college showcases, and there are big tournaments where a lot of colleges go to.”
Pearl River midfielder Giovanni Galvano is another player who decided to stick with his high school team and is considered a legitimate college prospect. He played for FC Westchester in the past – a U.S. Academy team which features more local players than any other – but feels confident that his decision won’t hinder his college outlook.
“It’s not a concern at all because I’ve spoken with coaches, and there are plenty out there who don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said. “They know I’ve had the academy experience, and to them, that’s enough.”
While there are alternative options for players who don’t want to lose out on the high school experience, most college coaches acknowledge that playing for an academy team does give players a leg up.
“What happens is that all of the better players are grouped together, so you get more bang for your buck, so to speak, when you go watch an academy team,” Iona College coach Fernando Barboto said. “In a high school game, there may be one or two college players on the field, whereas with an academy game, there may be nine or 10 .”
Barboto noted that recruiting an academy player can be very competitive because so many colleges are vying for their services, whereas high school players tend to be easier to reel in. He said he and his staff are constantly on the lookout for “a diamond in the rough,” and still keep tabs on the top high school players.
Ultimately, the prevailing sentiment is that if you’re good enough and pursue your goals with determination, you can find your way onto a college soccer field.
“I think college coaches, they’re not going to turn down a good player whether he’s an academy kid or a high school player,” Barboto said. “My advice to that prospect would be to make a list of the schools that you want, then go after them. Don’t worry about where you’re playing. That’s not the most important thing. You’re looking for a school where you’re going to fit. … You can’t wait around for schools to recruit you.”