Harvard is represented in Portland, Seattle, Dallas and New England this summer (Penny Ashford).
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – While the 2016 season is still a few months from the first kickoff, several Harvard men's soccer players with professional aspirations are plying their craft with Major League Soccer (MLS) programs across the country.
Rising junior center-midfielder Sam Brown has become a fixture in the starting lineup for the Portland Timbers U-23 squad. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, whose homegrown rights belong to the Columbus Crew, Brown has played in front of recent crowds of 5,100 and 6,500 at Providence Park in downtown Portland.
"The level of training has been high and the environment is intense," said Brown. "Guys are playing for more than just a starting spot - they are playing for potential professional contracts."
Elsewhere in the soccer-crazed Northwest, Crimson co-captain Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu and center-back Daniel Smith are playing for the Seattle Sounders U-23s. Wheeler-Omiunu, a two-time All-Ivy League first team selection, recently played the full-90 against in-state rival Kitsap Pumas, with whom former Crimson striker Hiroki Kobayashi '15 signed his first professional contract a year ago. Wheeler-Omiunu's experience with the Sounders has provided a great opportunity for him to pursue his professional dreams.
"This U-23 squad is very well run; we have a ton of staff and we benefit from a professional environment," said Wheeler-Omiunu. "This is a great way to continue to help me build towards playing professionally."
Smith, who made 15 starts for Harvard in 2015 and plays an integral leadership both on and off the field for the Crimson, also continues to climb the ladder within the Sounders organization.
Senior co-captain and all-region center back Mark Ashby is in Frisco, Texas with a group of 15-20 homegrown-eligible players who train together on a daily basis for FC Dallas. Rather than fielding an independent U-23 squad, FC Dallas has developed an integrated system in which Ashby will be incorporated into first team and academy trainings throughout the summer. A product of the U16 and U18 FC Dallas Academy, Ashby is involved in a fluid model developed by his hometown club.
"FC Dallas teams train at the same time on adjacent fields, so there is a strong sense of integration and a tremendous level of professionalism," Ashby commented.
Closer to campus, rising junior Christian Sady is lacing up his boots for the New England Revolution U-23 squad. Sady's technical acumen and uncanny ball striking ability have served him well throughout his many years within the Revolution organization. As a left-back this summer for the Revolution U-23s, Sady has already played two matches against the first team, going up against the likes of former U.S. Men's National Team selections Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies.
"It has been a great experience," said Sady. "My goal has always been to play professionally, and my experience at Harvard and with the Revs has provided the ideal pathway to making that happen."
The group of five is looking to join a growing list of recent Harvard graduates in the professional ranks. Michael Fucito '08-'09 was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and made an immediate impact with the Seattle Sounders. Hermann Trophy finalist Andre Akpan '10 was chosen in the second round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids and went on to a successful career at various stops in the MLS. That same year, Kwaku Nyameke '10 was selected in the fourth round by the Columbus Crew.
Ross Friedman '13 followed suit when he signed a homegrown contract with the Columbus Crew in 2014. Kobayashi debuted with the Kitsap Pumas a year ago, and most recently Tim Schmoll '16 landed a professional contract with New York Red Bulls II. The recent Harvard-to-the-pros pipeline continues a trend that began with Will Kohler '97 (15th overall in 1997) Tom McLaughlin '98 (36th overall in 1998), and Kevin Ara '04 (24th in 2004).