How to Play Soccer as Long as You Can

The following article is our intro to the October issue of Amplified Soccer Athlete. The issue features strength and fitness training, ball control drills and more to help you play at your highest level now and for years to come. Content contributions come from some of the top professional training, nutrition, mental-game and fitness leaders in the industry. We know you’ll enjoy your experience. Subscribe Today!


“I always told myself I was going to play soccer as long as I could,” says Megan Tabler, recent Chico State women’s soccer graduate.

Megan, like a lot of collegiate athletes, wants to continue to play following the end of her intercollegiate career. Also like most college athletes, that playing opportunity does not come at the highest level of her sport. A quick look at the statistics shows that only a little more than 1% of NCAA men’s college soccer players will go on to play at the MLS level in the United States. That calculation does not include the tens of thousands of athletes also playing at the NAIA, NJCAA and similar levels. While NCAA does not have similar calculations for women’s soccer the numbers would be smaller with more women’s collegiate soccer players than men’s and fewer NWSL teams.

Estimated probability of competing in men's professional soccer (Source: NCAA.org)

NCAA Participants Approximate # Draft Eligible # Draft Slots # NCAA Drafted % NCAA to Major Pro
23,602 5,245 76 72 1.4%
  • MLS SuperDraft data from 2014.  There were 77 draft slots in that year, but only 76 picks made.  Of the 76 picks, 72 were NCAA student-athletes (68 from Division I programs, 3 from Division II and 1 from Division III).  Percentage NCAA to Major Pro calculated using the 72 NCAA selections. (Source: mlssoccer.com).
  • These calculations do not account for other domestic or international professional soccer opportunities.
  • These calculations also do not take into non-NCAA collegiate athletes.

This means that Megan and her peers must look for additional opportunities to continue to play at various levels of competition. Fortunately for them, opportunities are plenty, but waiting to be discovered. We’ve featured a number of these opportunities in this issue and will have more on our website over the next month. 

There are options overseas for athletes to continue their career playing in both men’s and women’s leagues around the world. A more unique option is the International Academic and Soccer Academy (IASA). IASA offers student/athletes the best of both worlds: A top quality Master’s degree program while living and playing in a true sports culture, on a year round basis. IASA may provide an exit route into the professional game at some level, for some students, as they will be continually working and playing within a professional sports environment. This issue features an interview with both Megan who has recently joined the program and the IASA recruiter, Jeff Thompson.

USL now boasts 24 competing clubs around the country, a number that has doubled since 2011 and included 13 new USL clubs in 2015, seven of which are owned and operated by MLS clubs (Source: USLSoccer.com). At a similar level, the North American Soccer League (NASL) has 11 teams and competes as the second highest league in the men’s soccer pyramid. We have profiled the life of Nick Shackelford, who was most recently with the LA Galaxy II team of USL. Our article on Nick gives you an inside glimpse of the true life of a semi-pro soccer player. As you’ll discover, virtually all players at the USL/NASL level have day jobs. They are coaches, work in offices, and are personal trainers. A few are between things or just getting started and looking for new opportunities. For Nick and many others like him, semi-pro soccer is just part of the passion and work mix, but there’s continual hope that it will blossom into something more than that.

Long recognized as the top amateur soccer league in North America, the Professional Development League (PDL) is a proving ground for up-and-coming players, like Chris Hellmann from the Des Moines Menace, who have aspirations of playing professionally. The PDL, a USL affiliate league, features 65 men’s teams within four conferences throughout the United States and Canada in 2015, including 10 teams affiliated with USL PRO or Major League Soccer clubs. According to the official PDL website, 189 current MLS players and 295 current USL players have PDL experience. One of the college game’s top scoring threats, Hellmann lifted Lynn University (Florida) to the NCAA Division-II title in 2014. The senior from Germany has his sights set on Major League Soccer. You can learn about Chris and Des Moines Menace of the PDL in this issue.

180 clubs are in operation between USL, NASL, PDL and the National Premier Soccer League combined, providing playing opportunities for more than 3,000 athletes. Additionally, on the men’s side, USASA, NAASA and other leagues provide opportunities to continue playing.

Below NWSL in the women’s soccer pyramid, the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) is an independent league with over 70 teams participating from all over the United States. According to the WPSL website (www.wpsl.info), WPSL teams roster college, post-college, foreign players and talented high school players every year. Many college programs encourage their players to play in the WPSL summer league because they believe it helps them prepare for the upcoming season and they give post-college players a place to play at a very high competitive level while they are starting their careers. Later this month we will feature interviews from the WPSL including Kansas City Courage director Wendy Loque. 

The W-League, another option for women’s players to play after college, is the first and longest-standing women’s soccer league in North America. The 2015 W-League campaign featured 18 teams in three regional conference. 

For both men and women, other less-organized options exist in most communities to play recreationally. Ultimately, we simply recommend that if you want to continue playing that you search out those opportunities because they exist.  Our last article is from Dr. Jay Williams, whose piece focuses on the benefits of playing soccer as an adult. The bottom line is that playing soccer is more enjoyable than traditional exercises and can be a great benefit to overall health can be very effective.  Play for the love of the game and your long-term health!

As always, the issue features strength and fitness training, ball control drills and more to help you play at your highest level now and for years to come. Content contributions come from some of the top professional training, nutrition, mental-game and fitness leaders in the industry. We know you’ll enjoy your experience.

Here’s to Amplifying Your Game,

Amplified Soccer Athlete


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