COLUMBIA — In 12 years as head coach of Columbia College’s men’s soccer team, John Klein has grown used to recruiting players from high schools and junior colleges around the state. This year, he has faced a challenge of a new nature — recruiting for a program that has yet to play a game.
In addition to coaching the men’s team, Klein has spent his season building the school’s first women’s soccer team, which will debut in the fall.
Four high school players and four junior college transfers have committed to play for the Cougars next year. Klein says he hopes to get up to 20 commitments for the fall and has extended offers to about 10 more players.
Although the program has no track record that Klein can cite while recruiting, the coach says he draws on the success he has had with the men’s program.
“I think the girls sometimes have a fear of coming into a new program that’s not established, but I try to show them the success that we’ve had with men’s soccer and assure them that the same format will apply to the women,” Klein said.
Klein said he hopes his players will welcome the challenges that come with starting the program.
“I do think the ones that have committed are as excited as our coaching staff is about being part of the first women’s team at Columbia College,” he said. “I think, if there is that fear, you know, maybe it’s not the player that we want here.”
With assistant coach Jon Desha, Klein said he has recruited at every junior college within 5 hours of Columbia, including St. Louis and Kansas City. One international player has committed so far.
Klein said he thinks mid-Missouri is a strong area for women’s soccer.
“A lot of basketball players can play soccer,” he said. “Softball players can play soccer. You don’t lose girls' soccer players to another big sport like football.”
While building the program, Klein hopes Columbia College will become a destination for soccer players around the state.
“I don’t believe Columbia College is a household name in St. Louis or Kansas City, but I think immediately, as we have added women’s soccer, our name is spreading throughout Missouri,” Klein said.
With the men’s and women’s teams set to share facilities and play most games back to back, Klein hopes to create a community for soccer players.
“He really felt like this was an opportunity for him to build a soccer community, not necessarily two different teams, but a community of soccer players, both male and female,” Columbia College athletic director Bob Burchard said.
While Klein is still looking to add more staff members, including a goalkeeper coach and some female coaches, he said he thinks the program will run smoothly once it kicks off in the fall.
“I think the first year is a tremendous challenge just because there’s so much additional recruiting to find 20 female soccer players,” he said. “But I think once we get this first group in and we’re only looking for 6 to 8 players every year, it’s going to be just fine and completely manageable.”