July 2, 2012
OCALA, Fla. – Pitt men’s soccer boasts a host of players playing in leagues around the country and the world this summer. While the summer is a needed ‘break’ for many college students, it is far from that for Pitt soccer. Junior defender Alex Harrison is one of a host of Panthers sharpening their skills during the summer. As Harrison explains in the following blog, the summer season is a chance to stay conditioned and to train and play with some of the best players in the country. All of this comes with a common goal: to improve individually by refining their respective games which translates to a better all-around team.
Alex Harrison Blog
The summer is the chance for collegiate players to play in a number of competitive leagues around the United States. I received a phone call in May by the Ocala Stampedes technical director Matt Weston who asked me to join the Ocala Stampede (a team who participate in the Premier Development League). During the conversation Matt made me aware that the team’s plan was to win the PDL, with them being unbeaten to date (winners of six in a row!!). I was and am still thrilled at this amazing opportunity.
The PDL is affiliated and owned by the USL pro, which is the third tier of U.S. professional soccer, located in Ocala, Florida and apart of the Southeast conference. Having played in the PDL previously, I was already well aware of the level of competition. Teams in the PDL are arguably every bit as good as USL pro teams with players from across the world competing against each other.
I arrived in Florida on a hot Wednesday and got to watch the team play in a scrimmage with the U 20’s. It was a chance for me to scout out the talent of which I would be playing with and competing for places with. I was extremely impressed at how well the ball was kept and the movement off the ball. After the scrimmage I was introduced to the team meeting lads from other colleges like USF, Syracuse, Hofstra, Cincinnati, Indiana to name a few. I also met three players from Brazil who had been flown over and were under contract with Brazilian pro teams. One of the Brazilians was under contract with a team in the 1st division of the Brazilian leagues, who play against the likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho!
After being in Ocala for one week I had just been cleared to play when the current coach, Anderson Silva, was fired having lost two consecutive games. This just shows how serious the program is taken. I was chucked into the deep end for my first game, with the new coach selecting me to play against the conference leaders Orlando City. We ended up winning the game 3-2 as I scored the game winner in the dying (waning) seconds from a corner. My second game came against VSI Tampa, falling 2-1. During this match I collapsed at half time due to dehydration and was unable to play the second half which was a scary experience. This just shows that British people and Florida weather doesn’t mix well together!
Training consists of two-a-days working on shape, ball work, and fitness sessions a couple times a week. We would train very intensely and with a purpose. Our philosophy is considered to be “the way the game is supposed to be played”, which is to keep the ball on the ground and pass the opposition of the park.
I have enjoyed my time in Florida and looking to being in as best shape I can be for this coming fall. The experience I am gaining from playing and training with these top class players is as good as it gets and I am learning new things every day. This just shows how beneficial summer soccer is. I think sometimes folks don’t realize it really is a year-long process for every college student-athlete. The summer is not a time to goof off, but it’s a time to keep up our conditioning and improve our game.
Some of my teammates are also (continuing to) competing this summer. Goalkeeper Lee Johnston is likewise playing PDL for Panama City Beach Pirates, who also compete in the Southeast conference. We are scheduled to compete against each other on July 8 and 13 which I am thoroughly looking forward to. After training with Lee for a year I know his weaknesses so hopefully I score a couple past him (kidding, but not really).
Ryan Myers is playing Super 20’s for the notorious Reading United AC, who are a fantastic academy bringing talent through its ranks from the youngest ages. Sophomore midfielder Dan Prete and incoming freshman Andrew Wright are playing together for city Islanders U20 team, which will help the players become familiar with each other, likewise juniors Ryan McKenzie and Cory Werth are playing together on a GPSL team in Pittsburgh. Andrew Clifford is also playing GPSL with a different team along side ex-players Andy Kalas and Ryan Brode. We are all over!
Emilio Cordero is currently training with the Puerto Rico Under 20’s with them having Under 20 World cup qualifiers coming up towards the end of July. I also had a conversation recently with Dan Mark who is doing well and mentioned playing in Spain in the Euros. He said him and Cesc Fabregas are playing well together in training and have got what it takes to reclaim the trophy. In his dreams, I think! I would be remiss if I didn’t wish Hami Kara the best of luck, who is in Turkey training with some big clubs over there. I know he will have great success.
It won’t be long before we are all back in Pittsburgh and ready to get the 2012 season underway. I know I can’t wait … and I am pretty sure my teammates feel the same – we are ready!