College coaches agree: 1-day, 1-site aspect makes PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase a big hit for recruits

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By Bob Narang

Benedictine University men’s assistant soccer coach Mark Tun rarely stayed too long in one place on Friday at the 17th Annual PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase in McCook.

The former Saint Viator, Chicago Sockers and college standout made a point to keep moving, watching games from different spots on the fields to get a better judgement on Black Friday.

On a day widely regarded as one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, Tun had a different type of shopping checklist. The one-day annual event has grown into a must-attend for men’s and women’s college soccer coaches.

This year, 300 high school boys and girls prospects from all over Illinois attended the showcase at The Max. Beginning in 2020, high school players from Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri will be invited.

“The ability to come see players on all levels is great,” said Tun, who played in the PepsiCo Showdown during his prep career. “The exciting thing is we’re able to find guys here that may have flown under the radar during the high school season.

“That’s exciting for us. We also can get eyes on multiple goal keepers and identify guys you really need. You have four fields going – juniors and seniors on two and freshmen and sophomores on two others. So you can build for the current and also look into the future for players.”

Bradley assistant men’s coach Tim Regan, who starred for Sandburg and the Chicago Magic as a youth player, has mined the Chicago area for years. Bradley’s current roster features seven players from the Chicago area, notably Bolingbrook native and Wheaton Academy graduate Jha’Lon Johnson.

Regan was the 17th overall pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft and played six years in the league. He was Toronto’s head of scouting and also coached the Indy Eleven in the NASL before joining Jim DeRose’s staff in Peoria.

Besides watching players compete from all different class levels, Regan said coaches appreciate noticing how potential recruits respond with the charity aspect of the showcase.

Every PepsiCo attendee sports a t-shirt jersey with the logo of Buddy’s HELPERS, a nonprofit uniting high school student athletes in an annual community service campaign built around “Making A Difference On AND Off the Field” to cultivate leadership for a stronger future.

“This event is an important part of the recruiting process in terms of being able to evaluate players early and track them on and off the field,” Regan said. “There’s an on-the-field component that’s important to all of us, but more importantly you get to see these kids giving back and you want that to be a part of your program in the future.

“We get to watch them play with players who they don’t know, able to evaluate their personality on the field and how they talk to teammates that they have no background to go on. It’s a useful experience for us to evaluate a different part of their game.”

Calvin University women’s soccer coach Emily Ottenhoff made the long trip from Grand Rapids, Mich. to view recruits at the showcase. 

“For me being from Michigan, there’s a lot of talent in Chicago so the opportunity to come down and see people I normally wouldn’t see on a regular basis is a great chance to check out a bunch of players,” said Ottenhoff, a former standout at Chicago Christian. “It’s a very organized event. I’ll look at mostly juniors and some sophomores, but I also took a peak at each field, to see players from each game.”

Loras College men’s soccer coach Dan Rothert is a longtime attendee of the showcase. He’s made a habit of filling his roster with Illinois players. The 2019 roster had 16 players from the Chicago region.

“This is great for us because I have a lot of guys that are seniors, and I have seven or eight kids that I have marked down and am interested in,” Rothert said. “Plus a few kids that are not seniors and younger kids that we can start conversations with for down the road.

“It’s a great event, has good numbers and to have them all in one place on one day is very helpful. We don’t have an event like this in Iowa.

“Those kids don’t have that much exposure. With this, it gives kids exposure that they might not normally get. It’s a big deal.”

First-year Wisconsin-Platteville men’s soccer coach Sam Koenig, who was at Dominican University previously, noted that the showcase is an ideal venue for college coaches.

“It’s great because there are so many players in one area, it’s really nice for us that we don’t have to go to multiple soccer games,” Koenig said. “There are players from all over the state in one spot. It’s great.”

Several recruits noted that playing in front of so many college coaches flanked around the various fields was a good test of their skills in a high-pressured situation.

Not only that, but six Chicago TV stations (CBS, NBC, ABC, WGN, Univision and Telemundo) were present at The Max.

“If you can perform well here, it’s very helpful,” Chicago Washington senior Angel Arismendiz said. “This is a great place to test yourself with all the attention.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 24 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

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