Over the past decade, nearly 50 UCLA Bruins have gone on to play Major League Soccer. How exactly do the Bruins churn out so many professional-grade athletes? To find out, we hit up former UCLA All-American and Bruins head coach Jorge Salcedo, who also serves as a scout for the U.S. National Team.
STACK: How do you build a successful recruiting class at UCLA?
Jorge Salcedo: So many variables [are] involved in deciding whom you choose as potential recruits—including work ethic [and] how they perform on the field, but more importantly, how you think they’re going to adjust to the new lifestyle. In 2004 and 2006, the recruiting classes we brought in were obviously good soccer players; but also, they were guys who were motivated to come and learn, to become better soccer players.
STACK: Tell me about your evaluation process.
JS: It’s a long one. Nowadays, you really need to get out there and see players perform several times . . . so you can see them at their best and at their worst, [so you] know what they bring on a daily basis.
When you go out and recruit players, [those who] play at a high level consistently make you very interested. So the process is: go and see them play—whether at a showcase, [in a] high school [game], or on their club teams—and identify who you think is going to develop into a good player that can help your program.
STACK: How much of the recruiting process is proactive for the coach and for the athlete?
JS: Every situation is unique. Many players initiate contact with us—through email, letters, phone calls; but it can also go the other way. Obviously, because of the parameters of recruiting, there are limitations in the way we can communicate with [players].
STACK: In terms of getting noticed, do you think it’s more beneficial for an athlete to play club or high school soccer?
JS: Here at UCLA, we identify the majority of players in club. But I think there are, without a doubt, very, very good players who don’t play club soccer and [who play] just high school soccer. It’s much easier to identify them in club soccer, because [of] certain showcases we all know about.
STACK: If an athlete is really serious about playing in college, do you recommend that he play club?
JS: Yes. The players who only played high school soccer and [still] went on to an elite [college] program are few and far between. Nowadays, there’s so much competition among universities to bring in the top players, [and] those players are generally playing in club soccer. But I am an advocate of high school soccer; [it] is a good place for a lot of good players. There are a lot of very good coaches in high school who help develop players and prepare them to come into the universities and schools like UCLA. But, for the most part, club soccer is the more traditional route, and it’s a route we’re more used to.
STACK: If athletes want to market themselves to a coach, how else can they do that?
JS: One way, [which] I don’t think is used often, is a neutral party. That’s a good route, because oftentimes, we just hear the best things from the recruits and their parents. A [recruit] can say, “Hey, this person has an idea of how I can play; speak to them.”
STACK: Who is an example of a neutral contact?
JS: It could be a coach [from another] high school or a coach of a club team you played against. They have an idea of who you are as a player, as well as an understanding of the experiences you’ve had.
STACK: When you’re evaluating athletes, what’s the role of size, speed and agility?
JS: Soccer is one of those sports [in which] you don’t have to be a certain size to play the game, and you can utilize your instincts, experience [and] vision of the game. So many aspects, I think, are unique to the sport that size doesn’t really matter.
STACK: What advice would you give an athlete who wants to play in college?
JS: Be very good at one thing-whether it’s heading a ball, hitting a ball over a distance, dribbling, crossing or finishing. Of course, you have to be good at several things, but if you can stand out better than the rest in at least at one thing, then I think you have a better chance at [being] in a good situation.