Cal Poly Men’s Soccer head coach Steve Sampson announced the signing of six new players for the 2019 roster last week. The players include one Major League Soccer Academy product, two graduate transfers and three junior college transfers. Sampson said he expects the players to bring not only experience and maturity, but also a level of talent the program has not seen in years.
Forward Spencer Held and midfielder Colin Hyatt played as teammates during their time at the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) program Real So Cal. It is only fitting that the two will collaborate again as Cal Poly’s newest graduate transfers.
During his senior year of high school with Real So Cal, Held finished as USSDA’s second leading goalscorer in the country. As a Pac-12 Conference All-Academic selection for two consecutive years, Held made 46 appearances for California and totaled six goals before graduating in December 2018.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about [Held’s signing],” Sampson said. “He’s [a] very big, strong, physical center forward that is an absolute lights-out goalscorer.”
Hyatt also holds an impressive record under his belt. At six-foot-five, Hyatt made 11 appearances for Stanford in 2016. The midfielder has experience at the highest level of collegiate soccer, having taken part in two of Stanford’s three successive National Championships from 2015-2017.
Sampson described his excitement of securing players with championship experience and said he believes Hyatt, along with the other recruits, will help bring a winning mentality to the team.
“I’m excited about the attitude of our returning players,” Sampson said. “But I’m also excited about how this mix of recruits is going to challenge [them] and make things a lot more competitive on a daily basis within our team.”
Forward Noah Boettiger, the only incoming freshman of the group, spent the last five years with the Colorado Rapids USSDA program. Boettiger will add depth to an already impressive lineup of players. According to Sampson, the depth of the program will be the best it has been in four years.
While discussing the experience of Major League Soccer (MLS) Academy players such as Boettiger, Sampson was quick to point out the program’s efforts in recruiting international players as well.
“We’re not just looking for Californians or development academy kids,” Sampson said. “We’re looking anywhere that we can find quality, whether it’s inside this country or outside this country, in order to make it happen for Cal Poly.”
A widespread criticism of youth development soccer in the U.S. is that talented players are often overlooked because they cannot afford to take the academy route, or they play overseas. For Sampson, breaking from the conventional recruitment process has paid off, as all three of the program’s junior college transfers are international players.
Defender Jackson Brady, who was born in New Zealand, has two years of eligibility remaining for the Mustangs. The six-foot-two-inch player registered eight assists in 15 games for Salt Lake Community College. He is also a member of the New Zealand U-20 Men’s National Team player pool.
The second defender of the group, Josh Graham, also has two years of eligibility remaining. The Greater Manchester, U.K. local played for Manchester City Academy before coming to the United States. Because of restrictions barring him from competing in Division I soccer, Graham chose to attend St. Louis Community College. He helped guide his team to a national championship in 2017 when he recorded six goals and two assists from the back line.
Sampson said he hopes the pair of defenders will help make up for what was lost in freshman defender Brecc Evans. Evans, who is leaving the program after signing a professional contract with North Texas SC, started every game for the Mustangs last season.
“[Brecc] proved his quality, even as a freshman,” Sampson said. “He’s a truly outstanding kid, and I wish him really, really well.”
The final junior college transfer, midfielder Creed McKinnon, started in 15 of 16 games for North Idaho College last fall. The six-foot-three-inch Australia native spent four years at a top academy in South Africa before beginning his collegiate career.
While it is too early to make any predictions about next year’s team, Sampson said he is expecting nothing less than to compete for a Big West Championship in 2019.
“It’s time for the existing players to raise their level, commitment and passion for this team and for this university,” Sampson said. “It’s time to make a statement with the quality of players we’re bringing in for this next fall to vie for a Big West Title. I’m sick and tired of not playing to our level or to our standard, and it’s time we start playing to that standard.”