Soccer: Former NCAA soccer star comes north

Interestingly enough, in the midst of the NCAA's annual massive media exposure around its basketball tournament, a talented player is leaving the States to come play in CIS competition. Israel Jones, a midfielder with the Division I Southern Methodist University men's soccer team, has decided to join the Trinity Western Spartans on a transfer from SMU. Jones was an All-American in high school and made the all-freshman team and the Conference USA tournament all-star team with SMU back in 2004. According to Trinity's press release, he's also played professionally in the Major Indoor Soccer League, which actually has a pretty good quality of play from the games I've watched (though those non-soccer obsessives who don't subscribe to Fox Sports World Canada probably haven't heard of the league). The Spartans, last year's Canada West champions, also picked up local product Liam McAllister, who's played with the Vancouver Whitecaps' U-18 team.

The particularly remarkable aspect of this transfer is how it comes at a time when two other nearby B.C. schools are considering packing up and moving to the NCAA. Way back in January, UBC Associate Director of Athletics Theresa Hampson told me that part of UBC"s rationale for considering the jump to NCAA Division II was a desire to attract a higher calibre of athletes, particularly Canadian ones. "We want to keep the best student-athletes in Canada, and one way to do that is full-ride scholarships," she said. Well, Trinity appears to have found an athlete who at one time was a Division I star without being able to offer full-ride scholarships.

It might be dangerous to draw too broad a conclusion from this case, though, given that I'm not all that familiar with Jones and most of the information on him seems to be largely about his first year or two. He also seems to have popped up with the Des Moines Menace of the Premier Development League (the bottom rung of United Soccer League competition: think single-A baseball or so) and the University of Louisville Cardinals at some point, but didn't seem to appear too prominent with either team. It's quite possible that he's cooled off considerably since his freshman campaign and has bounced around as a result. Still, it's interesting that an American guy from Cleveland who was a NCAA star at one point would be interested in joining a West Coast CIS team, particularly at a smaller university like TWU.

CIS men's soccer has seen some pretty talented players overall, though. Consider last year's national championships, which featured Toronto FC goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic returning to the UBC Thunderbirds to help them to the Sam Davidson Memorial Trophy. Interestingly enough, Djekanovic wasn't even selected as the tournament's best goalkeeper despite his professional experience: that honour went to Western's Haidar Al-Shaibani. He's now signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Djekanovic wasn't the only pro in last year's championships, either: others included York's Nana Attakora-Gyan and Jamaal Smith, who were both also with TFC last year. It seems men's soccer's in pretty good shape at the CIS level.
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