After the 2016 postseason NCAA playoffs, four men’s soccer seniors were drafted to professional teams; three to Major League Soccer (MLS) teams and one to a United Soccer League (USL) team. Those four seniors — Kip Colvey, Chase Minter, Wade Hamilton and Matt LaGrassa — proved that making it to the pro leagues after Cal Poly was not just a dream — it was an attainable reality.
According to Coach Steve Sampson, current seniors forward Kaba Alkebulan, defender Adam Olsen and forward Tyler Savitsky were the players with the most potential to continue play into the professional leagues this year. Unfortunately for the former Cal Poly soccer stars, none of the three players were selected in the MLS SuperDraft.
“I like to be a player with a chip on my shoulder,” Alkebulan said. “I can hold on to it [to] motivate and push me forward.”
According to Sampson, the lack of a postseason berth in the seniors’ final season definitely hurt their exposure to MLS clubs.
“Anytime your team does well, it only adds value to their exposure … it would have given them more opportunities,” Sampson said. “I’m not happy that we didn’t make the playoffs this year just because of that.”
Even if the team did make playoffs, earning recognition from professional clubs would not be guaranteed. Sampson said there are two factors that make being picked up by an MLS team difficult. Firstly, there is pressure from the MLS teams to select their own academy players who decided not to go to college. Secondly, several North American Soccer League teams are folding, creating a surplus of players on the market.
“It’s not just about being the right player,” Alkebulan said. “It’s about being the right player at the right time for some of these teams.”
Even though Alkebulan, Olsen and Savitsky were not drafted, they are still experiencing the anticipation and pressure of landing on a team. Even some of the players who signed professional contracts in 2016 are in the same boat as contracts expire and new opportunities arise. In the meantime, all athletes can do is train and wait for that phone call.
“I could get a phone call and be gone tomorrow,” Olsen said. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
Once a player gets a call from a professional club, they can either be invited to preseason tryouts or combines, mass showcases where athletes perform mental and physical tests in front of coaches.
“It’s less about the draft and more about how you show in these tryout situations,” Sampson said.
Time is running out for some of these players as MLS and USL teams will solidify their teams within the next couple weeks, and Cal Poly’s senior soccer class is focused on staying in shape for any opportunity that may arise.
So far, Alkebulan has been invited by the San Jose Earthquakes to a combine and has trained with Sacramento Republic and the Las Vegas Lights. Currently, he is looking to improve his play and log minutes with a solid USL team.
“It’s a difficult thing,” Alkebulan said. “It’s both physically taxing and mentally taxing. There’s no room for doubt.”
Olsen also tried out with the San Jose Earthquakes and USL teams such as Orange County and Sacramento United. Sampson believes he has a good chance of going into L.A. Galaxy or Sporting Kansas City preseason within the coming weeks.
“I’ve just been training, staying fit, I’ve been to some combines, but there was no draft day excitement for me,” Olsen said.
Both Alkebulan and Olsen have been able to get some reps and advice from former Cal Poly men’s soccer goalie Hamilton who just spent the last two years with the Portland Timbers.
Savitsky is currently in preseason with Reno 1868 FC, an affiliate of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Going forward, Olsen hopes the team in future years will be able to mesh together and start creating a presence in the NCAA tournament.