Matt from Rivals site TheBlueJayCafe.com was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Creighton soccer team, what USF can learn from their success with a soccer-specific stadium, and how to convince a quality head coach that your school is better than North Carolina.
Educate our readers on Creighton's style of play, especially on defense. From what I've seen they are extremely aggressive on defense in the midfield.
Historically, under previous Coach Bob Warming, Creighton predominantly played a more defensively oriented style of Soccer referred locally to as "Valley Ball" (for the Missouri Valley Conference)... a lot of playing back, packing the box, and hoping that an opportunity presents itself. Although certainly not the most egregious purveyor of "Valley Ball", CU soccer by 2009 was not too exciting to watch to be honest.
The 2010 season saw the arrival of Jamie Clark (NOTE FROM GARYSJ: an assistant at Notre Dame from 2006-07). He promised us a noticeably more "attack focused" style of play. He delivered, Clark's record was 13-6-1 and he took us back to the NCAAs after a year away. We were all somewhat shocked then when he went home at the end of the 2010 season for Christmas Break, and never really came back, except to pack (for the University of Washington)!
But then in early Spring, Coach Elmar Bolowich was hired.
Wait a minute. You hired a coach from the University of North Carolina? After 22 years and a national title there? How'd a small school like Creighton pull that off?
Basically it comes down to respect.. He (and his program) had earned it by the truck load, but he wasn't getting any from the University, the students, or the community in general. His program was consistently one of the top teams in the nation, yet to the University he was always going to come after UNC Football, UNC Basketball & even, to a lesser degree, the storied UNC Women's Soccer program. He was lucky to get 750 people to a home game, even after winning the National Championship!
When Bob Warming left Creighton for Penn State, our AD Bruce Rasmussen had contacted Elmar about suggestions for a replacement and Elmar (among others) had recommended Jamie Clark. When Clark then quit after just 7 months, Rasmussen put out feelers again. Elmar called CU, telling Rasmussen he wanted the job for himself. Of course, that was not really a hard sell, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Reminds me of the story Bear Bryant told about his time at Kentucky, when the university bought Adolph Rupp a car while he got a cigarette lighter. Anyway, style of play:
Bolowich also said he would promote aggressive play on offense, but also a strong defense & mid as well. That has been borne out with the results so far! 39 goals scored, to only 5 allowed!
The defense includes former USMNT U-17 (NOTE: and Bradenton Prep product) Tyler Polak, and has alternated between Jace Peters & Jake Brown in the back. Also in the back is the very solid Junior Brent Kallman, whose brother Brian played for CU and now plays professionally).
The linchpin though, has been Andrew Duran in D/M. A widely recognized national talent when he arrived at CU four years ago, Duran sadly was beset with injury and illness every season, until this year, his Senior season. His play has solidified the various parts of the defense (including record setting keeper Brian Holt) into a cohesive whole and created an almost impenetrable wall. In fact Duran is one of two finalists for our Supporters Group, the Creighton Kommandos, Player Of the Year award!
How good is Brian Holt? He has the accolades and some crazy goalkeeping stats, but in the games I've seen, he rarely gets tested. I could have had a clean sheet in the Northern Illinois game.
Having a good defense in front of you certainly helps, but Holt is the real deal!
Granted Northern Illinois was not a great test, but yes he has the skills. He's only 5'8", but he gets the job done.
He has set the all-time record for Creighton University for consecutive shutout minutes last season, then broken it twice this season. He holds the all time record for shutout games not only for CU, but for the entire Missouri Valley conference. As you alluded to, he has only surrendered 5 goals in 22 matches thus far this season!
What people may not realize, is he is also currently tied for career all-time shutouts in NCAA history! Nothing personal, but that is a record I expect him to own solely after the next 3 matches. Obviously all those games were not against teams of the caliber of Northern Illinois. In fact this year, CU's RPI for the last several weeks, has been #1 the nation, so strength of opposition has not been a factor! We played (NCAA tournament teams) Maryland, UC-Irvine, UC-SB, Indiana, Wisconsin, Providence, St. Mary's, and Bradley. (NOTE: USF also played Bradley, Providence, and UC-Irvine. DePaul was another common opponent. Creighton went 5-0 in those games to USF's 2-1-1.)
Ethan Finlay doesn't exactly stand out in the pregame introductions, but he has a great ability to create space for himself near the goal. What else makes him a contender for the Hermann Award, college soccer's
equivalent of the Heisman Trophy outstanding player award?
Awareness, judgment, speed, and work ethic.
He always gets to the right place at the right time. If he cannot make the shot, he plays it on to someone who can. Preseason everyone assumed it was just going to be the "Ethan Finlay Show" this year when it came to goals. But in actuality, although Ethan has 13 goals & 6 assists, 12 different players have scored a goal this season.
Many times, Ethan will pull defenders away to double-cover him, creating opportunities for others to score. His focus is always on the team. Despite all his accolades and awards, and all the hype as he is about to go pro, he is completely self effacing. No "rock star" attitude, it's all about the team. We will miss him!
For several years now, Creighton's been able to get tremendous crowds to their soccer-specific stadium. USF just debuted its own stadium this season. Other than winning, what's the secret to creating a great environment for college soccer?
First off, as you mentioned, winning gets you press and brand awareness.
Then the facility certainly helps! Creighton's Morrison Stadium seats 6000. The seats come right up to the edge of the pitch. We have 4 types of seating available: the main stadium has seat back style seating as you would see at any MLS or European stadium, the south end is the student section, with bleacher style metal benches, but they never sit down anyway. The east side of the stadiums is terraced, like European stadiums traditionally were up until the 1980's. People bring their own folding seats, or families can bring blankets and lay on those. The north end is a gently sloped hill suited for young children to run around on and stay out of everyone else's way. The main stadium on the west side also houses the press box, luxury corporate box suites, a lounge, 2 sets of concession stands & restrooms, and the players lounge/trophy room.
Also location, location, location! The stadium is located in downtown Omaha, at the extreme eastern edge
of the Creighton campus. TD Ameritrade Park, permanent home of the College World Series is just 3 blocks farther east in an area referred to as NoDo (North-Downtown). This area has shops, clubs, Saddle Creek Records HQ/Store and in house club SLOWDOWN, restaurants, hotels, and apartments. Another 2 blocks east in Century Link Arena, home of CU Basketball, concerts, etc... On the east side of the Century Link Arena is the Omaha Riverfront and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River.
Thank you Matt for your answers, and especially for pointing out that USF's soccer team will be only three blocks from the site of the College World Series. It may be the closest our school ever gets.