Gluck: Changes envisioned 2 years ago come to pass in College Soccer

Two years ago I wrote this article, it had widespread readership across the college soccer coaching establishment and it appears to have had considerable influence with US Soccer too.

I’ll leave everything as is and let you read it anew…

Original article offered in January 2016.

If you’re anywhere near being an enthusiast of Major League Soccer, or soccer in general, the tides of potential change in College Soccer should be a welcomed sight.

And this latest article from should be mandatory reading to get a feel for how things are progressing.

For me, that progress comes as no surprise.  And in case you missed it here’s what my thoughts were earlier in 2015:  Major League Soccer – Can it truly reach the heights of top European Leagues by 2025 .

So with those two articles, plus two interviews Stephen Brandt and I have had on the Yellowcardedpod with Jamie Clark (Head Coach University of Washington) Interview with Jamie

Jamie Clark

Jamie Clark

& Jeremy Fishbein (Head Coach University of New Mexico) Interview with Jeremy Fishbein

Jeremy Fishbein

Jeremy Fishbein

it should help us carve out some questions as we spend time with Sasho Cerovski (Head Coach of University of Maryland) later this month.

Sasho Cirovski

Sasho Cirovski

My intent, through questions and discussion, is to touch base, in one way or another, with how College Soccer might better envision topics like these (below) as part of a successful end state (perhaps before 2025)? 

And yes, the NCAA is a tough nut to crack, but if colleges are really set up to help those, who attend, to better prepare for their lives in a professional environment then it only makes sense to seek out better ways to prepare students for the real rigors of professional soccer.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or even all the questions but if there is intent, true intent, to make the United States a leader in soccer then it’s worthy to consider that changes need to be made at the college level.  It is… after all… the most beautiful, individualized, team sport in the world and it’d be rude for the NCAA not to consider how it can better serve their students who wish to play professional soccer.

  1. A college soccer season that mirrors the length and rough number of games played at the professional level.  (Being worked as of February 2018)
  2. A college soccer ‘rules of law’ that mirrors that of FIFA and US Soccer. (Accepted and part of new ‘test’ in College Soccer Division I – February 2018)
  3. A soccer competition (that US Soccer supports) where College teams can potentially play against Professional teams for the US Open Cup – and yes amateur leagues across THE REST OF THE WORLD compete in national cups.
  4. A training environment where players can experience the same type of physical training and game tactics they’ll face in the professional leagues.  In other words get rid of count-down clocks and multiple player substitutions as well as the silly rules about what constitutes soccer training versus workouts in the gym. (Accepted and part of new ‘test’ in College Soccer Division I – February 2018)
  5. A coaching environment where coaches can experience the same types of tactical nuance that professional coaches face.  In other words, again, ditch the multiple substitution rules.  Thereby forcing head coaches to have their players experience tired legs, which in turn, can change the tenor/tactics of a game.  Meaning it isn’t simply about playing – with fresh legs for all players – a full 90 minutes.  This then translates to better understanding possession with purpose – possession for the sake of possession – versus possession for the sake of penetration – or – (put differently) non-possession where you lure your opponent into untenable defending positions if/when they lose the ball in attack.  (Accepted and part of new ‘test’ in College Soccer Division I – February 2018)
  6. A refereeing environment where referees gain valuable experience in governing a game relative to the rules of FIFA and US Soccer…  I think most would agree, the greater the pool of eligible referees to manage professional soccer, the greater the likelihood that refereeing in this country will get better.  (Accepted and part of new ‘test’ in College Soccer Division I – February 2018)

If you did read my article, or previous articles I’ve written on these topics, you should know there are roughly 1900 college soccer teams in the United States; that equates to roughly 41,800 players playing outside the governing rules of FIFA and US Soccer.

That also equates (if each college team has 1 Head Coach and 3 Assistant Coaches) to 7,600 coaches not coaching and managing tactics (successes and failures of those tactics) they are likely to experience as a professional head coach.  This isn’t to say coaches are not aware of those different types of tactics – it’s only to offer that having the regular experience of managing, relative to those tactics, may be different in the professional ranks as opposed to college ranks.

Finally, every game needs a referee and two assistant referees, plus a fourth official on the sideline.  So that equates to 7,600 referees managing games outside the governing rules of FIFA and US Soccer.

Bottom line, that means the single greatest level of amateur soccer in this country is failing to properly prepare players (in their prime), coaches, and referees for professional soccer.  

So… Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati – if you’re really going to espouse to a greater success of soccer, across this nation, then I’d expect you need to focus on supporting college coaches, as much, if not more, than MLS.  Others may disagree…  (NOTE: Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati are both OUT at US Soccer)

What are your thoughts?

Best, Chris



  1. JFG

    The issues claimed to be problems above, IMHO, are vastly overstated. For the most part, top college players play at least 90, if not 100% of a college game — few coaches would allow those players to not be fit enough to play the entire game if he/she decides that they need to play the entire game. Beyond that, name 3 rule differences that affect how the game is played. No rethrow on a throw-in that never enters the field? FIFA should implement that, it speeds up the game & eliminates a possible way to time-waste at the end of games. Countdown clock? No big deal there. Tactics — higher level tactics generally require consistency of players playing together, and in an environment where 1/4 to 1/2 of the core team changes each year, it’s difficult to see how changing anything else would allow a significantly higher level of tactic to be implemented. Finally, at least 90% of college refs are also climbing the USSF ladder, so that’s a moot point.


    • Chris Gluck

      JFG thanks for sharing your thoughts. One thing I’ve learned in my years of soccer is that there are many different views on how the game is played, especially from a tactical viewpoint.

      I’m not sure I can answer your question without creating an extremely long dialogue but I’ll try to do my best…

      While I don’t regularly rely on wikipedia too much I felt it worthy to include this quoted excerpt for your consideration as well as others…

      “While similar in general appearance, NCAA rules diverge significantly from FIFA Laws of the Game. If a player accumulates five yellow cards over the course of one season, they are banned one game. A manager may make unlimited substitutions, and each player is allowed one re-entry which must occur in the second half of the match. All matches have an overtime period if the game remains tied after 90 minutes. As opposed to a classic two half overtime, a sudden death rule is applied. If neither team scores in the two ten-minute halves, the match ends in a draw (unless it is a playoff match, then it would go to kicks from the penalty mark). College soccer is played with a clock that can be stopped when signaled to by the referee for injuries, the issuing of misconducts, or when the referee feels a team is wasting time. The clock is also stopped after goals until play is restarted, and the clock generally counts down from 45:00 to 0:00 in each half. In most professional soccer leagues, there is an up-counting clock with the referee adding injury time to the end of each 45-minute half.[5]”

      Now if that isn’t up to date perhaps someone can add some more clarity but if it is up to date then I’d offer the substitution rule alone makes for a considerably different game in more ways than one. And I have feedback to indicate that yes, the college soccer game is far more direct in its style of play than professional soccer – again making that one rule impact more than just player fatigue. So with a more direct style of play I would offer the distribution of player skills and how they execute those skills are impacted. In other words with more direct play there is less controlled possession in the middle third of the pitch – and more likely – more crosses at least for those not in the elite tier of college soccer. In addition, it also could mean there is less build-up from the back. Others may see that differently???

      In speaking with Peter Walton, the head of Professional Referee Organization, (PRO Referees) he indicated to me (I will paraphrase as it’s been about 4 months since we spoke). The idea of adding college soccer referees under the umbrella of PRO would be superb – the training they currently receive to ref college soccer games does not meet the standards required by MLS. In addition, he also felt (to paraphrase) that adding that volume of referees into the overall umbrella of MLS Refs would be of great value to the overall development of the sport in our country. So I would offer it is not a moot point – but that’s just my view.

      The idea of stopping the clock in soccer is alien to me and I’m not sure I could ever agree that it adds value. As for time-wasting – well good sir – I have just one comment with respect to that (for me) – it’s a part of the game… as is frustration, elation and a whole list of other emotions that go with the technical and tactical nous needed to play it. 🙂

      I’m not sure that helps good sir – but I greatly appreciate your well thought comments. Best, Chris


  2. JFG

    The above notwithstanding, I do support splitting the schedule into fall and spring seasons with some relaxation of normal NCAA training rules, provided that academic standards can be maintained.


  3. thecancercureexperiment

    While I appreciate and agree with the author’s intent, I don’t believe that lengthening the college soccer season to the extent described is feasible. These players are students, remember? If they are in college, their number one goal should be to get a degree. However, if their primary goal is rather to become a professional soccer player, then it seems to me that there should be a more appropriate venue where this can happen. Why can there not be academies to develop post-high school players for a professional soccer career? In my opinion, if we really want to be on par with the rest of the world, we need to dissociate professional soccer development from college soccer.


    • Chris Gluck

      thecancercurexperiment… thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Is your view the same with respect to college football, basketball, and baseball players?

      Academies for post-high school players exist – areas of the country vary in how many of those clubs there are, but if you track MLS Academy teams they play a wide variety of clubs not associated with an MLS professional soccer academy.

      And one of the prime hunting grounds for college soccer coaches are those very same academies.

      Hope that helps???


  4. Caleb

    Chris, excellent article!

    While I agree with most of your recommendations for change, I see one key area requiring immediate attention:
    1. Style of play – last fall, I attended a number of matches between top 20 D1 schools. What I witnessed were physical, tennis matches where balls were constantly pinged from the back line up to the forwards, completely bypassing the midfielders. Thinking what I witnessed were anomalies, I decided to watch televised colleges matches. Sadly, the play was more of the same. US college players aren’t challenged to play under pressure and work the ball out of the back. Consequently, there is no linkage from the back line to the midfield and so on.

    So while extending the schedule is meaningful, the longer schedule would only produce more of the same.


    • Chris Gluck

      Hi Caleb, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your kind views good sir!

      I agree – I have seen the same tennis matches – I call them games of Ping-Pong (same thing) 🙂 I believe, and in speaking with some college head coaches, this could change if you alter the substitution rule having players with more fatigue tends to force them to manage their time on the pitch more – i.e. rest while they play – which sometimes fits into that mold I speak about in my recent article – possession with the intent to possess – and that can sometimes be referred to as ‘defending with the ball’.

      I’m not sure I make the itch worse or scratch it and alleviate it – but if you extend the schedule as well as bring substitution rules into play that match FIFA and US Soccer then I sense that style of play lessens…

      Then again – with so many teams and the talent spread out so wide across the country it’s likely the tennis style of play continues (for awhile) until more skilled players play soccer in college. For me I sense the lack of numbers of skilled players also impacts that style… And a reasonable way to increase the level of skilled players in college is to increase the games in the schedule and force the lads to understand that minutes played are “earned” not given… Does that make sense Caleb?


  5. Ross

    Leave your College Soccer as it is, please! College Soccer allows your young men and women to play at a competitive level (Div 1, 2, 3) as appropriate, with the realistic and achievable goal of getting a University Degree with part (all!) of the exorbitant fees paid, in exchange for playing soccer. Wow! What a great deal: all participants can achieve the goal = a degree, and a few will make the grade as a pro-player IF they are good enough. Here in the UK (Europe) 1000’s of young men start on 16-18 scholarship programmes with pro-clubs, and a VERY low single digit % make it as a pro. The rest? Nothing from THE GAME. Education flushed away and the outcomes are well below the general populous, in terms of careers, earnings, mental health, crime……

    I’ve spent a lot of time in the USA with Soccer, and think that your College/Athletic System is fantastic (compared to our “Sport Academy” system over here) and I write to you as a former English University Coach (9yrs) and now English FA Coach Tutor/Mentor.

    Don’t allow single-minded pro-clubs (businesses, remember) take over the lives of your young athletes. I don’t see evidence that it would go well, whereas I’ve seen many players from here in the UK go over to the USA “on scholarship at university” and they invariably end up happier and more successful than their counterparts who “chase the dream” here.

    Just my experience! Ross Napier


    • Chris Gluck

      Hi Ross,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts – it is interesting that in my last interview with a noted Head Coach in college soccer he indicated that FIFA has been reaching out to better understand how college soccer works and how they might learn from the unique organizational efforts. So I do sense there is opportunity for both sides to learn from each other.

      There are concerns, however, from many, that the lack of commonality in rules of the game detract from college soccer players really understanding the complexities of the game – the idea of multiple substitutions really is ‘naff’ (at least in my view) 😉 Best Regards, Chris


  6. Danny Woolly

    Hi Chris,

    from working with various ages up to u17 I have found one very serious but simple problem with the style of play and the ‘panic’ to rush the ball forwards. I am from England and growing up a major part of my soccer life was watching the game, looking at players playing in my position, watching teams keep the ball and making simple 5 yard passes at the back and in midfield to draw teams out of position again relating to the patience possession which is not found in most US teams. I always question the teams I work with about a recent soccer game whether that be MLS, BPL or an international game. The percentage of players that actually watch the game is incredibly low, last years women’s world cup final was a prime example.

    To become a better player and to understand the game more they simply have to show more passion and actually watch soccer games.


  7. Peter Philips

    When did college soccer rules diverge from FIFA rules? I played varsity soccer 80-84 and we played FIFA rules


    • Chris Gluck

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for visiting my site and reading this article as well as adding your comments. As far as I know College Soccer has never followed FIFA. The most glaring difference in the substitution rule but there are others… such as no extra time and even a count down clock instead of count up clock. I’m not aware that college soccer ‘ever’ followed FIFA governing rules. There have also, always, been mandated no greater and no less than soccer pitch sizes and given the diversity of soccer pitches for college in this country it is highly unlikely that every college soccer pitch has fallen within those guidelines.

      I would be interested to know if you played college soccer where teams were not allowed more than three substitutions and even if they weren’t it’s likely college soccer still allowed those teams to have their players re-enter the game too… another divergence from FIFA.

      I’m not sure that scratches your itch but in searching the internet I’ve seen no information that supports college soccer ever following the specific guidelines as directed by FIFA…

      Best regards, Chris


      • Peter Philips

        Hi Chris, I played at Whitman College from 1980-1984. We had a varsity program and played Division III in the league that included Linfield, Gonzaga, Whitworth, PLU, PSU, Seattle University, Pacific… I don’ t remember the actual league name.

        We also played in tournaments against Long Beach State, Cal, University of Washington and others. To my recollection in all cases we played FIFA rules.