THE COLLEGE RECRUITING LANDSCAPE IS CHANGING -FAST. Over the years of researching (DI) women’s recruiting classes, there have been some noteworthy shifts and changes. Specifically, it has long been discussed that the pool of girl youth players ias been steadily expanding for the last 20 years or so. Additionally, this expansion has pushed up the numbers of players such that the various local clubs could start to “professionalize” and hire permanent staff and build out facilities. This latter movement has sidelined parents who not so long ago dominated the boards and coaching staffs of the clubs and has brought an increasing focus on competition and the national leagues. Big Soccer has been the host of much discussion among us about the positive and negative aspects of this trajectory. But a new wave of a different kind of expansion has hit the club and college scene. Two key factors have converged in the last 12 months to induce a tsunami of quality and numbers of women players entering US colleges in 2017. As much as the men’s college game is withering in the face of direct competition for top players for the professional game, the women’s side has moved to flood colleges with quality players this year. Historic patterns seen in the ranking of recruiting classes have changed significantly this year. Diligently using the same rating and raking system, the scores of recruiting classes have remained stable over the past 7 years with regard to the top few schools and the rankings of the schools at about 50 ranks down the list. This year, while the top ranked schools are a little higher (but still in the historic range), the scores normally seen at the 50th rank are now (2017) seen at about the 60th rank. This means that the numbers and quality of the recruiting pool has in the last year expanded by 20 percent. (See table at the end of this post.) One of the drivers of this sudden quality/quantity surge is the decision of US Soccer to create and fund national youth teams at each year from the initial identification of players at the U14 level through the U20 level. International competition is now available for every annual age group from U15 through U20. That’s 6 cohorts playing international matches involving perhaps 40 girls/young women each. Less than two years ago is was 4 cohorts, and for along time before that is was, practically speaking, U17 and U20 only. (I am aware, if course, that a U18 team was around, but only met several time per year, and only in recent years has started playing internationally on a regular basis. I am also not dealing with the U23s as that group is not relevant to college recruiting.) So, practically speaking, US Soccer has increased the numbers of girl/young women youth players from two teams involving perhaps 60 players to 6 teams involving about 180 players – 300 percent increase. The pipeline of players is much larger and far more girls are being exposed to more rigorous training and college coaches know where to look for the up and coming players. This does not mean, of course that the numbers of players coming out of the pipeline has increased by 300 percent, but it does mean that there is a larger pool of players who have bee involved with that training and who may have not continued to the end, but they are being recruited and they have the advanced skills to show for their time in the system. (This year I am seeing many more players entering college that had significant Youth National Team experience perhaps a year or more ago, even if they are not still active on the national team.) In addition to this increase in YNT training and skills, the older programs are continuing apace such as ODP and various identification camps. And there are new venues that have popped up for getting players into identification situations which, in turn, is feeding off the increased YNT availability. Examples of these efforts would be Top Drawer’s regional showcase events and ECNL, and US Club events. All of these factors have conspired this year to increase the quantity/quality of college recruits by, I would estimate, about 15 percent. But the quantity/quality numbers I am seeing show a 20% increase. What about the other 5%. The answer to this question kept hitting me in the face as I worked through team rosters. I have never before seen the sheer numbers of foreign players just now coming into US colleges. Sure, there have been for quite some time a few of the mid majors and some DII and NAIA teams that have specialized in attracting foreign players. And I have been saying for some years that Mark Krikorian at Florida State is showing the way of the inevitable future by recruiting significant numbers of foreign players. But 2017 is different. It seems that the numbers of recruited foreign players as jumped exponentially. Not only are colleges actively looking across borders, but there has been a arecent change (especially in England and Germany) that seems to encourage this practice. It’s not just FSU in the ACC anymore. This year Louisville, Wake Forest, NC State, Pitt, UNC, have recruited foreign national team players... and for Louisville, Wake, NC State and Pitt, the reason is ovious: it’s the only sure fire way to become competitive in the ACC. I could illustrate many more examples, but here are a few that popped out. West Virginia, to supplement its stable of Canadians, in its 2017 class has brought in two English national youth team players, one New Zealander, and a Spaniard. Wake this year has brought in national youth teamers from Iceland and Germany. South Florida has 3 foreign national teamers in its freshman class as does TCU. I didn’t really figure this out until I had mostly worked my way trough the rosters, but I stared making a list yesterday and of the last 29 teams I looked at I counted 17 classes with from one to three foreign freshmen. And the key lesson here is that these foreign players are not just lowly club players. They mostly are players from the country’s national youth teams, and in most cases, it is the foreign players that are at the top of the class. I can point to a number of schools whose 2017 classes would not be in the top 100, but simply because of their foreign players are now in the top 30 classes. I will cite one interesting case. Florida Gulf Coast has in recent years had its healthy share of foreign players. This year things did not work out so well and they only have 2 in their class of 7 freshmen. But these two were the highest ranked, and pulled their lowly class ranking up into the top 40. So how did coach Jim Blankenship solve this problem? It was simple... he just welcomed 6 transfers -three of whom were highly raked foreign players and presently they have the 12th strongest incoming class in the country. To sum up, the times have changed for women’s college soccer teams. There are more and better players in the US so recruiting a strong class is easier (until, that is, the pro leagues start to take the talent directly from high school in significant numbers), any school that wants to yet boost their competitive position will have to recruit foreign players.