SIUE men's soccer has big summer with pro signings
The Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (SIUE) men's soccer program has had a big year already -- and the Cougars haven't even taken the field yet for the 2016 season.
The Cougars program recently announced that Brett Lane, a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference pick at SIUE, has signed with F.C. Linkoping City in the second division of Sweden's professional league. That makes Lane one of more than 70 former Cougars who have played professionally.
On top of that, earlier this summer, SIUE alum and three-time All-MVC pick Justin Bilyeu made his first Major League Soccer start for the New York Red Bulls in a match against Real Salt Lake on June 22 in Salt Lake City. In January, Bilyeu became the sixth Cougar to be drafted by an MLS team.
That kind of established pipeline to the professional ranks is something that sells the program to high school players, SIUE head men's soccer coach Mario Sanchez said in an interview with Metro Sun East.
“From a pure recruiting side of it, it's fantastic,” he said.
The Cougars' recruiting area is a fertile one, which helps. Sanchez praised the area for the level of coaching at the youth level and the passion of the regional fans, who have been around the area for generations. That trickles upward, he said, to the SIUE program with good players.
University support also is a factor, Sanchez said. That has been evident from the program's earliest days, when the school got Bob Guelker, one of the nation's top coaches, to leave St. Louis University to get the SIUE program going. Guelker went on to lead the program to a Division II and Division I national title in the 1970s. Sanchez said administration still today sees the value in soccer and supports the program “emotionally, physically and also financially.”
“I think that just from day one and you look back at the history of the school, there's always been an emphasis on soccer here,” he said.
This season's edition of the Cougars already has a star player to build around. Last month, SIUECougars.com reported that senior defender Austin Ledbetter had been put on the watch list for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, which is the top honor in collegiate men's soccer. The Cougars, who are coming off a 12-4-2 record in Sanchez's first season at the helm, open their regular season against Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Korte Stadium.
Sanchez said he's excited for the upcoming season. The team had a good start with its first practice of the summer on Aug. 10, with returning players coming back fit and some freshmen who looked good.
Sanchez said the Cougars' slate of non-conference games is much tougher this season in order to challenge the players and increase the chances of getting a bid to the NCAA tournament, which can ride on strength of schedule.
“This program deserves to be playing those top teams in the region and the country,” he said.