LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Notre Dame men's soccer coach Bobby Clark stood among dozens of his peers on the edge of the field Friday watching some of the nation's best high school players face off at the Disney Soccer Showcase.
"Well, just getting out of Indiana at this time of year is fantastic," Clark said of the event, laughing. "But, seriously, the facilities here are great. Then you've got all the best teams in the country. You throw in the regional teams and the national teams, and this is possibly the premiere event in the country."
That's why over 800 collegiate coaches -- from the top Division I programs down through Division III and NAIA schools -- were on hand for the showcase, held at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, which ran through Tuesday.
The event brings together 416 teams, boys and girls, and highlights the top talent in the nation, making it a recruiter's dream.
"This is one of the most comprehensive tournaments that's out there," Duke assistant coach Justin Serpone said. "For us, it's a good way to get a second look at some guys we've seen before and also for the following year to get a good look at the best players in the next class."
However, with 365 games being played just during the boys portion of the event, coaches still have their work cut out for them.
"You get the bang for your buck," Indiana coach Mike Freitag said. "You come down here and you're going to see a lot of kids, a lot of games. Yesterday, I was here from 8:15 [a.m.] to 10:30 at night. It all becomes a blur after awhile, but it's good to get out here and see these kids."
What coaches are looking for isn't as cut and dry as talent -- although that's a primary factor. The top players in the nation aren't hard to find, having received numerous accolades, be it all-state or all-American honors. The key thing coaches are looking for are players who will fit into their individual programs.
Each coach appears to be looking for similar but slightly different things. Goalkeepers can be invaluable, and goal scorers are, as Freitag said, "worth their weight in gold," but each school has its own specifics.
"I look for effective players," Freitag said. "I know sometimes [coaches will] come out saying, 'I'm looking for a forward or a midfielder.' I'm looking for player who catches my eye and one I think is a good soccer player who can help my team."
Maryland's Sasho Cirovski was one coach looking for specific position players.
"Usually, you try to find players that can fit holes," he said. "You're always looking for the best players because you can always move some other players around, but a lot of times, you're trying to find the piece that fits your puzzle."
Other programs, such as Duke, seem to fall in the middle when it comes to what they are looking for.
"You're looking obviously for talented kids, but then also kids that fit into your particular program," Serpone said. "Whatever that is that you might be looking for, it could be personality, you just want to find the best fit for your particular program."
The idea of wading through the thousands of players participating in the tournament could be overwhelming, but most coaches come into the event with specific players in mind -- ranging from players that have already committed to their programs, to players coaches are interested in recruiting, to players interested in being recruited.
"Usually, when you come to these things you get tons and tons of kids that are letting you know that they're coming here," West Virginia coach Marlon LeBlanc said. "Of course, we all have our short lists of kids we've been tracking for a number of years, and then you get to see them in a competitive environment. The list dwindles down after a tournament like this."
There's always the possibility of finding someone new, which every coach does each year at the event.
The main focus at the Disney Showcase is on the U-16 players, the majority of whom are currently juniors. Most seniors have already verbally committed to a program, with national signing day for soccer coming up on Feb. 7.
"It's sort of an inexact science, so you're just watching as much as you can," Serpone said. "With the [U-16 players], it's fun because you get to see kids for the first time and you get excited about kids for the first time with that sort of new batch."
While the focus is on the graduating class of 2008, there is still reason for senior players to perform well.
"We just had a couple kids [junior midfielder Maurice Edu and sophomore goalkeeper Chris Seitz] decide to go pro early," Cirovski said, "So we're always looking for some last-minute players as well."
Whatever coaches are looking for, the end of the showcase marks only a beginning of the recruiting process.
"You've got your list of kids you come to see," Clark said. "Some improve their stock and some their stock goes down. Then you find some other players that you've never seen. Then you have to go back, and it's the follow-up that's really the important thing."
And that gives college coaches plenty of work to do once they return home.
Maria Burns covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.