TSW Q&A: Northwestern women’s soccer coach Michael Moynihan talks recruiting, soccer IQ
By Charles Boehm and Roger Gonzalez
Michael Moynihan, the first-year coach of the Northwestern University women’s soccer team, spent some time at the ECNL National Showcase Event: Zarephath this weekend to check out the action and recruit as he looks to build the Wildcats into Big 10 contenders after finishing in the cellar of the conference last season. The Illinois school went 2-16-1 overall and 1-9-1 in conference in 2011.
Moynihan arrived at Northwestern after spending 15 years as the coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he led the team to nine NCAA tournament appearances. On Saturday he took some time out of his schedule to speak to The Soccer Wire about the weekend, his recruiting efforts and the “soccer IQ” that is missing for so many top players.
TSW: What are you looking for out here in New Jersey while scouting players?
MM: [We are] looking at everything still — 2013s, 2014 [recruits], mostly. I just started at the program in January. At that point, there was only one 2013 [player] committed, which was a little bit behind other schools. So I’m playing a little bit of catch-up.
TSW: Obviously there are some elite players out here. Have you liked what you have seen thus far?
MM: Clearly, the level is great, relative to other tournaments and showcases we go to. The ECNL, it is kind of the cream of the crop. When you see kids here, you know they are competing at a high level, against other high-level kids, so it’s a little bit easier to evaluate. It’s just a matter of sorting through it all.
TSW: How is recruiting going so far? Has it been tough to get going, especially at a well-known academic institution such as Northwestern?
MM: The most difficult thing right now is what NCAA rules allow as far as communication.Because kids are making decisions, they’re showing interest so early — I can’t tell you how many kids call me, and I can’t call them back, I can’t email them. It is a really frustrating process when they are clearly interested in the school and there’s nothing I can do, other than hopefully get in touch with me. To me, it’s a no-brainer that if someone is interested in your school and they call you, you should be able to call them back. But that’s not there yet. There is a lot of talk about changing the rules to make it a bit more lenient, and more pro-prospect, I guess, to look out for that. I’m sure there are some decisions on the way, but nothing yet.
TSW: It is quite interesting to see how coaches interact with players at a tournament like this, with such a high density of top prospects. What have you seen?
MM: Some will go up and hug, others will have little conversations, others will say “Hi” and “That’s all I can do.” Others try to avoid it all together. There is quite a range of what is deemed appropriate. “Exchanging a greeting” is the rule. You are allowed to exchange a greeting — and there’s different interpretations as to what a “greeting” is.
It’s rather frustrating. A lot of stuff goes through to Rob Kehoe at the NSCAA [National Soccer Coaches Association of America]. There’s a coaches listserve, so every once in a while, a compliance question will get thrown out there and someone will say, “This is the interpretation we got, what are other people being told?” And sometimes there are a variety of answers, but they’re all based on the same NCAA rules…So Rob will go to the NCAA, ask for an interpretation, and they’ll come back and say, “This looks pretty good. We’ll leave it up to the conferences to make their own decisions.” So they don’t really say yes, no, let’s make it black and white. So you have different conferences that actually have different interpretations.
I think we [the Big 10] are little stricter, especially at Northwestern. Northwestern’s never had any major rules violations, they want to keep it that way. So we’re probably a little bit stricter as a whole.
TSW: Are you finding any quality 2013 players still available? It seems like nowadays kids commit at a much younger age.
MM: Oh yeah. There are kids that, for whatever reason, decided to wait a little longer. Some are coming back from injuries. There’s some good kids out there. I hope to have a few of them soon. We should know shortly after this [tournament].
TSW: Being at Northwestern, is it that much harder to recruit, considering the academic requirements?
MM: A lot of decisions can’t be made until we have test scores. We go through a lot of preliminary work to see if they can even get in. They need to have six semesters of high school grades completed…For some of the high-end academic schools, it’s sometimes a little bit more delayed.
One concern I had going into Northwestern was, how many kids are actually going to get in, and be able to handle the academic load? I’m amazed with how well a lot of these women do in the classroom. That’s a good thing — a lot of them are really high-achieving academically.
TSW: Are you looking at any specific positions for the next recruiting class?
MM: In all honesty, I’ve been coaching at the collegiate level for 19, 20 years and I don’t know that I’ve ever recruited that way. I always just look for the best players and put them where they can help us. A little bit positionally, but really it’s: do they have the athletic characteristics, or do they have the understanding of the game, is what I look for. We move them around quite a bit with players that are adaptable.
TSW: Players seem to be more tactically savvy at a younger age these day. Is that your experience as well?
MM: Yeah. I think there’s still a ways to go, because women on the international scene are advancing faster than our players are. And a lot of it is the exposure to the game, through the media and just the culture, their everyday environment. Our players, you’re getting more that seek it out, that watch, but still not nearly enough. They don’t embrace the game the same way, they don’t have have the teams that they follow professionally to find out how they do, stuff like that. I think there’s a lot of concern in the country about our players, that there’s not enough that understand the game at that level. But I think it’s making progress as well.
To me, it needs to happen at younger ages. I’ve been traveling a bit more through my role at Northwestern, and seeing soccer around the country, we’re starting to see little pockets where [I think] “Wow, these kids really play well and their understanding is far better than what I’m used to watching.”
They really need to be watching regularly when they’re younger — and enjoying watching. I’m shocked at how many girls I talk to [who say], “Nah, I don’t really watch soccer. It puts me to sleep,” or whatever. I’m like, “This probably isn’t the program for you, then.” They seem to enjoy playing it, but not as much watching it, and that’s really where you get the understanding of different game situations, how to read thing better, what’s possible.