Part of the NPSL’s mission is to develop players at the collegiate level. That mission is accomplished if you look at some of the nation’s marquee matchups in NCAA soccer this season.
The matchup between the University of Akron and Virginia Commonwealth University has to be at the top of that list. Five RVA FC players made the starting XI for VCU, while three former and current AFC Cleveland players were part of the UA squad.
Romena Bowie, Kharlton Belmar, Nate Shiffman, Assane Keita, and Jose Manel Bel made up almost half of the Rams’ starting lineup on Friday night. All five were part of the RVA FC squad that claimed the 2013 NPSL National Championship.
“All of us got an opportunity to start 10 games together, practice everyday, and work on things from the previous fall,” Belmar stated. “We were able to perfect things. We were able to get better with each other. It has contributed here so far, as you can see.”
Belmar had a lot of praise for the NPSL, especially the teams that the Richmond, Virginia side faced in the postseason.
“We played a series of great teams in the playoffs. It gave us an opportunity to test ourselves.”
But most of the praise was left for RVA FC head coach Grover Gibson, the reigning Alexander Arellano Memorial Trophy winner as the NPSL’s top coach.
“Grover organized an All-Star group of college kids. We came together, practiced everyday, and worked hard. It was a great group of guys. Grover’s background in the European game helped us and he coached us to a National Championship.”
Bryan Gallego, who spent time in the NPSL in 2012, has been anchor for the Zips backline since his arrival on campus. He has been showered with awards and honors playing under the expert tutelage of Caleb Porter and now Jared Embick.
Keisuke Ohata became the first Japanese player in UA men’s soccer program history this fall, while Brad Ruhaak remains a solid defensive option off the bench for UA. Ruhaak is expected to see time in Sunday’s match against SDSU after Gallego aggravated a groin injury against VCU. All three have worn the colors of the AFC Cleveland Royals at some point during the past two years.
One match, two major college programs, and a showcase for the NPSL. What a great night for the beautiful game in America.