Welcome to From The Upper Deck, my blog about RSL and soccer in general. I have a lot of passion for the beautiful game. I am just a fan that likes to sit in the upper deck and take it all in.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

UVU Soccer- What is the Big Deal?

By Charles Barnard
This is part two of a series of articles I am writing on the new UVU soccer program. Part 1 can be found here .

The first game was an outstanding success. Tweets that were sent out during and after the first UVU men’s soccer match spread the word that something special happened down at Clyde Field. Others though weren’t so sure what all the hype was about.

“Soo…somebody explain why UVU having a soccer team is a big deal. I’m obviously missing something here.” –@itschappy

Many people were asking the same question that Chappy was asking. Why was it a big deal that one of Utah’s universities had a soccer team? Didn’t BYU have a team already? And then there was the question that I had. Will this team in any way benefit RSL?

In part two of this series looking at the UVU program, I am going to attempt to answer some of these questions.

UVU is the only university in the state to have a Division I men’s soccer program. This is very different than what other collegiate institutions have in the state. Due to Title IX, other universities in the state have not had men’s soccer programs. The University of Utah and Utah State currently have club teams on campus.

BYU had a club team as well for many years, but in 2003 BYU moved its team out of club sports and moved into the PDL. The PDL (or USL Premier Development League) is a pro development league that is in the fourth level of the American soccer pyramid. Think of it like Single A minor league baseball. While it is technically not a professional league (most players do not get paid) it is a higher level of soccer than a standard university club team would be.

This is one of the reasons that the UVU team is a big deal. By having a true Division I team, UVU will be playing at the highest level of college soccer. As being one of the only schools in the West to offer Division I soccer, UVU has the opportunity to bring in some of the best players around the region to play for them. They will also have the chance to play against some of the best college players in the country as well. This is one of the ways that this team will benefit RSL.

When asked how UVU would benefit the team, RSL General Manager Garth Lagerwey said the following.

The arrival of the UVU program to the State of Utah is quite beneficial. First it allows RSL coaches and scouts to watch college players without having to get in a plane. Second, having a Division I program in our backyard provides another avenue for Utah talent to hone their game and pursue their soccer careers.”

Lagerwey makes some very good points here, especially if you read a little between the lines. Currently the MLS Super Draft is still a very important way to bring in new talent into MLS teams. Having UVU just down the road is going to tremendously help RSL in scouting for the draft.

But the future of the draft is in question. More and more players are going the academy route. Due to this I can see the day when the Super Draft will be phased out. Most of the kids that graduate the academies and do not get a homegrown contract right away currently head off to college. The important thing is that these player’s rights are still held by the MLS teams whose academy they attended. This is why RSL was able to sign a player like Jordan Allen who left the Academy to play at the University of Virginia.

I could see a day when there would be a pipeline from the RSL Academy, to UVU, and then on to the other minor league teams that RSL is in the process of creating. As Lagerwey said, it is another way for Utah players to hone their skills while pursuing their soccer dreams.

With this in mind I feel that UVU made the perfect choice in hiring their Head Coach Greg Maas. Maas already has a relationship with RSL. He was the teams U-17 coach for four years and led the team in 2008 to the SUM U-17 Championship.  He also assisted down at the academy for a year. His current roster has at least two players that I know of that has had ties with the RSL youth program.

So to Chappy and those other people that were wondering, yes it is a big deal that UVU has a team. How big of deal still remains to be seen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

UVU Soccer- A New Beginning

The first in a series of articles looking at the new UVU soccer team.

By Charles Barnard
Since the announcement that Utah Valley University was getting the state's first division one soccer team, I have been curious. I wasn’t sure why but I was somewhat interested in this team. Questions kept coming to my mind about the team. What would this team mean to the soccer community in Utah? Would the team have any type of positive effects on RSL? Would the soccer be any good? 

I will be honest; I have not watched much if any college soccer in my life. I wasn’t sure what the answer would be to any of the questions above. But I was curious so I thought I would sit back and see what this new team would bring.  

As time went by I started to hear more and more about the team. As I heard about some of the players that would be playing there, my interest level started to rise. Then I started to talk to Coach Maas over Twitter. He seemed like a really good guy. I was really starting to hope that this team would take off.  

Last Friday I had the chance to go down to UVU and check out the final practice before their inaugural home match. In talking with Coach Maas I discovered two things. One, he really is a great guy, and two, he really knows his stuff. I also had the chance to speak with team captains Skyler Milne and Karson Payton. Both players were very gracious with their time and were both very excited for the upcoming match against UMass.

Opening night finally arrived last Saturday.  I had decided a while ago that I would skip out on watching the RSL match so I could attend. I took my 10 year old daughter with me to see if I could really answer any of those questions that I had.

Both my daughter and I were blown away by our experience. We arrived early and were shocked with how many people were there. The stands were almost full a half hour before game time. By the time the game started, fans were sitting all along the sideline of the field or anywhere else they could find a seat. The announced attendance was 2,610 but I honestly think there might have been even more than that there.

There was a sense of excitement in the air at kickoff. My daughter who had never been to a UVU sporting event before was already a huge fan yelling and shaking her Wolverine pom-pom in the air. It didn’t take long for the stadium to erupt when Payton, a former RSL youth player, scored the first goal in UVU history just six minutes into the match.

The festive atmosphere continued throughout the match. The Wolverine mascots entertained the crowd (my daughter loved both of them) and the UVU “Green Man Group” (think Blue Man Group but in green) preformed at half time.

I had truly forgotten how much fun a college game in any sport could be, especially when you have family and friends there to support particular players. We happened to be sitting amongst the family and friends of UVU midfielder Lucas Cawley. It was fun listening to them yell and cheer every time he had the ball and it was a joy to see their excitement when he scored a goal just before halftime.

And the scoring just didn’t stop. By the 65th minute, UVU had scored its 5th goal on the night (by 5 different players) and would coast home to a 5-1 victory.

The team had absolutely answered one of my questions. I had wondered if the soccer would be any good. The answer to that was a big yes. Coach Maas has put together a very talented bunch of kids and has them playing a very attractive style of soccer. It will be interesting to see how they do against some of the more talented teams in the WAC but for at least one night they made me a believer. They also have a huge fan in my daughter who was already asking me to go to another game as we were walking back to our car.

But what about my other questions above? Those questions might take a bit more time to answer. Throughout the rest of this week on the blog I will be looking into these questions. I will share the interview that I conducted with Coach Maas and the team captains. Plus I will write up my thoughts (as well as others) on how this team might help RSL.