Louisiana has had no problem sending its top high school football players to the next level, but soccer is a different matter altogether.
According to a StudentSports.com report from March, on a per-capita basis, Louisiana is tied for the nation’s fourth-fewest amount of Division I men’s soccer players, averaging about four per year. This year, one of them is Lusher Charter School’s Andrew Malinich.
“Soccer was always natural to me,” Malinich said Saturday after his club team’s game in the US Youth Soccer Region III Championships at the Burbank Soccer Complex. “When I was young, I just always enjoyed playing the game. I always looked forward to soccer season.”
Malinich was Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year after he led Lusher to the first team title in the school’s athletic history. A prolific scorer — 110 goals and 60 assists in his high school career — Malinich has committed to play for North Carolina State this fall.
But despite all the accolades and the stats, the state’s lack of interest in soccer forced Malinich to market himself in an attempt to get his name out there among college coaches.
His father, Paul, helped his son make his brand known.
“This is a tough place to get recruited. You’ve got to go out,” Paul Malinich said. “(Andrew) reached out to 20 coaches and said, ‘Come see my games. I’ll be in your area of the world.’ ”
Just like in football, college coaches often turn to websites like Hudl, which offers full game footage and highlights of high school teams, to gather information in the recruiting process. But unfortunately for Malinich, Lusher doesn’t use Hudl for soccer, so he found a less-efficient way to market himself: He went to the schools and took part in College ID Camps.
The camps let players visit schools and showcase how their abilities would fit in that coach’s system. Malinich landed offers after attending camps at N.C. State, Alabama-Birmingham and Messiah, a Division III university near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Playing in club leagues is another way to get noticed. Malinich plays for the Louisiana Fire, an Under-18 team and the current state club champion. His coach, Matt Millet, echoed Paul Malinich’s views on the struggles that the state’s best soccer players go through to get noticed.
“It’s all about marketing,” he said. “You have to call and email, call and email and (coaches) probably still won’t come.”
Part of the problem is that none of Louisiana’s major universities have an official men’s team — only club teams.
“Sometimes it’d be nice to have a (college) team here,” Andrew Malinich said. “And I think with the talent in Louisiana, teams could form at those big schools because they have a good amount of kids who want to stay in state.
“All you would need is to get a coach that’s committed and the program on your side.”