Nashville SC NCAA US Soccer

The next level: What does it mean?

I’ve now fully compiled the stats for men’s and women’s Division I soccer players from the state of Tennessee. If anyone’s missing from either of those, let me know through the usual channels (and share other divisions in the comments here if you  care to do so: this turned into way too massive an undertaking to devote my time to that).

This isn’t an exercise in frivolity, though: we can learn things about development in the state – and how that ultimately filters up to the professional levels, to MLS, and even the US National Teams.

First, the nitty-gritty

56 men from Tennessee (including a couple who played their final years of high school ball outside the state) play at 34 different NCAA programs. Since there are 206 total programs, that means that 27.2% of Division I squads have at least one Tennessean. The programs leading the way? East Tennessee State has 10 players from the Volunteer State, while the out-of-state high program is North Florida with four.

Women’s college soccer is considerably larger – there are 338 total programs – so take that into account when noting that there are 150 women at 52 different programs (Tennessee represented on 15.4% of rosters). UT-Chattanooga has by far the most Tennesseans with 21, while there’s a tie for out-of-state programs between Ole Miss and Presbyterian at five apiece.

While the more-limited spread on the women’s side may seem troubling on its face, it’s worth noting that there are 11 in-state programs with an average of  7.91 women on them. Meanwhile, there are just four in-state programs, averaging just 4.75 men.

It should come as no surprise that there are four or five hotspot areas for high school talent. Those hotspots tend to be those with youth clubs that help facilitate development and exposure to the next level: Memphis (Lobos Rush), Nashville (Tennessee SC/Tennessee United), Knoxville (FC Alliance), Tri-Cities (Tri-Cities United), and sometimes Chattanooga (Chattanooga FC).

Why it’s important

What does this have to do with Nashville SC? (It’s worth noting that I don’t limit my scope to the professional game on this here site, but it’s certainly the focus). The establishment of a soccer culture is crucial. That doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in sending players to the next level – there are many other ways to measure – but a soccer culture throughout the state should certainly lead to more players continuing soccer careers.

A soccer-watching culture, primarily in the form of soccer bars (many of those are doing carry-out while they’re currently closed for shelter-in-place reasons. Give them a call and support them!) is another aspect that can aid in overall soccer culture. It builds a sense of soccer community, and helps build following for the sport – and ultimately the local team.

Again, all these things are inter-related, and improvement of the overall soccer culture is an end to itself just as much as it’s a means to helping the local MLS side – or NPSL sides, or maybe someday a USL team – be successful both on and off the pitch.

Down the line, a rising tide lifts all ships, as the phrase goes. If there’s better talent in the Volunteer State, it’s better for soccer-interested residents

The improvement

There are plenty of ways individuals can help, though most of them are on the shelf thanks to your famed virus situations of note: watching (TV and in person) at all levels, supporting soccer-related or soccer-tangential businesses, and getting out and playing will, inshallah, be back on the table soon.

It wouldn’t be this site if my ideas weren’t a little bigger in scale, though, right?

The establishment of the Nashville SC Academy may not pay immediate dividends when it comes to talent production and development, but by providing a more direct path to pro, it will raise the game down the line. Not only does it provide the highest level of youth coaching in the state – it will be the first boys’ Development Academy program in the state (unless MLS teams, as has long been rumored, break away from the DA; it will be the highest level of club soccer ever in the state regardless) – but it is another path. If the best players in the state filter into the pro academy, that’s an opportunity for the top players at other clubs to get more individualized coaching, helping the second tier improve quickly, as well.

I asked Top Drawer Soccer‘s Travis Clark about this very phenomenon not too long ago.

“FC Dallas is a good example of how a pro team has offered opportunities to local players and brought them through,” Clark said. “But in many ways, that just offered a slightly different platform and pathway that existed in the form of previous clubs. So it’s basically a more direct pathway that offers local players to turn pro immediately. That platform allows players to sign, develop and potentially get spotted sooner.”

More soccer is better in other ways, too. It’s unlikely that there will be an explosion of college soccer programs in the state (looking specifically at Division I, though other levels play a role, as well). A high-level academy and more pro soccer – Memphis 901 FC, Chattanooga FC, etc. – certainly help.

Improving the high school game – longtime followers of the site know I’m a major advocate for scholastic play, even though it’s marginalized by many pundits with a focus on development for the professional game – is also beneficial. More soccer in the state means more high-level coaching available, improving the caliber of play and development. My genius idea for this one would be varsity (or club-varsity) inter-mural futsal to help with off-season skill development, as well.

In conclusion

The data indicates that Tennessee has a long way to go when it comes to cranking out talent, either for college or the professional game. However, the culture of the sport in our state seems to already be on the rise, and the future is bright in the Volunteer State.

Tanner Dieterich is a Nashville native who managed to turn soccer into a pro contract with Nashville SC.
Photo Courtesy Clemson University Athletics.

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