Seminarians and Soccer! Meet the Pontifical North American College Clericus Cup Team | Joseph Previtali | February 28, 2007
They have everything a soccer team could want.
The veteran of international athletic competition in goal, who uses every inch of his body and every ounce of his energy as a mere means to frustrate the hopes of every would-be scorer; the strategic mind and skillful play of a player/coach of European pedigree and New Jersey toughness; the wily veteran defender from the South with two bad ankles and a bad knee, but one huge heart, which never fails him in making the stop on defense; the break-neck intensity of the lighting-fast renegade from North Dakota, who once trained for the U.S. Olympic Development program; the flashy superstar/coach from Boise, Idaho, by way of Michoacan, Mexico, who once scored from midfield in Roman competition and who gave up a possible career in professional soccer in Mexico to respond to the call to the priesthood; and a supporting cast that leaves them without weakness at any position on the field.
And yet, for the Pontifical North American College, participation in the Vatican-sponsored Clericus Cup, an international soccer tournament for priests and seminarians in Rome, will be a lesson in the underdog treatment to which American soccer has become accustomed.
"I'm not sure who people are talking about, but I know it isn't us," said Daniel O'Mullane, seminarian of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, and co-coach of the NAC soccer team, which will play its first game of the Cup this Saturday morning against the Pontifical Urbanian University. "I don't mind surprising people right up until the day we are playing for the trophy. Hopefully we'll be the talk of the town a month or so from now when we have played a handful of games."
Deacon Josh Waltz, a four-year starter at defender from the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, echoes his rookie coach's underdog sentiments.
"Being from the United States gives us a bit of an edge," said Waltz. "Given the present state of affairs in the USA concerning soccer, most teams will no doubt consider us the underdog. This tournament gives us a great opportunity to show the world that the USA is a competitor in the soccer world, even though it will be on a small scale. The USA soccer program is not exactly at a highpoint, so anything that we do can only help it."
The NAC has had a soccer team for many years, and in past years they have played several games throughout the academic year against various seminary colleges in Rome. But the Clericus Cup provides a whole new level of competition for the American side.
"I think that there is some pressure on the NAC to represent our country well, especially as this cup receives more and more international press," said Deacon Aaron Killips, a fourth-year defender from the Diocese of Savannah, GA, who anchors the stifling NAC defense. "I don't think that there is a big pressure to win, but we certainly hope to show others that Americans can play the world's game and play it well."
But there is one member of the team who knows that pressure very well. Unlike the rest of his teammates, Deacon Andy Roza of the Archdiocese of Omaha is no stranger to the pressure of representing his country in high-level, international, athletic competition. Roza, who had to give up soccer after eighth grade to concentrate full-time on curling, won bronze medals for the United States at the World Junior Championships in 1999 and 2001. His curling career behind him, he is now in his fourth year as the goalkeeper for the College.
"It was a thrill to have a jacket that said 'USA' and my name on it," remembers Roza. "I've never felt so patriotic as when I represented the country at world championships."
Indeed, patriotism is in no short supply for the American team as they prepare to participate in the 16-team tournament, in which more than fifty countries are represented. The NAC will, in fact, be one of the few teams made up exclusively of players from one country.
"We are representing America in this competition, although I don't think we'll fully realize that until we see the patriotism of other countries," said O'Mullane. "We are certainly seen, as are other countries represented in the tournament, as an offshoot of our country's soccer. Unreasonable though that may be, we are excited to represent our dioceses, college, country, and Church in this tournament."
In a very real way, then, the NAC soccer team will be ambassadors for America to the world, at least in the context of this international competition.
"I think American patriotism will certainly play a major role in the Cup," said co-coach Jaime Gil of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho. "This cup is a great opportunity to share with Rome and the world the true virtues that represent Catholic America. Strength, fair play and teamwork should indeed be present in our team."
Gil, who grew up in Mexico and moved to Boise several years ago, shares coaching duties with O'Mullane. The latter, who hails from England, has been specifically charged by his teammates with the task of preparing America's team for the widely-publicized tournament. O'Mullane's background in the soccer-saturated culture of Great Britain enables him to be uniquely qualified to manage the NAC squad as they prepare for international competition.
"The NAC used to play a type of soccer known as 'Boot-ball,'" joked Waltz. "In this highly complex soccer strategy, one man kicks the ball as hard as he can and the others run as fast as they can after it and try to score a goal.
"Thank the Good Lord we now have a coach who really cares about technique and strategy. The NAC has a new approach to the game this time around due to the European influence of Coach Dan O'Mullane. It is heavily weighted on the defense, with only a few outlets to the wings and strikers. We are confident this strategy will work so long as everyone holds his position. The focus of the Clericus Cup most heavily will be on the defense."
O'Mullane, for his part, sees his task as a very simple one.
"We're going to play a soccer game tailored to the people on the team," said the first-year coach. "I think we have a pretty good plan, which will put our players in the place that will most help the team. We're heavily influenced by an American style of soccer in a correlative manner. The strength of American teams is their athletic prowess, and I don't imagine that will be different with us.
"The men, trusting in my ability to manage, have responded well to what I have offered, understanding that such decisions (tactics and personnel) have to come from one person. Again, I have to commend the players: when I am able to lay out our objectives in a clear, precise manner the players respond diligently in attaining our goal."
Waltz identifies O'Mullane's contribution specifically in the areas of improved teamwork and discipline.
"The dynamic feature of the NAC's team that will help us play well and to win will most certainly be our ability to play as a team and to stay disciplined in regards to locking down our positions," said Waltz, who twice led his high school team to the North Dakota state championship game.
Gil echoes the sentiments that discipline and game control will factor heavily in putting the NAC in position to win.
"In our practices we have talked much about learning to be defensive," said the second-year sweeper/midfielder, who at age 17 was invited by the Secretary of State of Michoacan to play for the state team. "We want to play in order starting with a solid defense that will give security to our game, and consequently a good control of time and space. Most of our players are in good shape and that will create a good offensive game."
Roza sees the brand of soccer played by the NAC as a typically American contribution to the Clericus Cup.
"As Americans we tend to be direct and physical in our brand of play," said Roza. "Not a lot of flashy stuff or creativity on the ball, but we play effectively as a team and run pretty well."
In soccer, however, Americans also tend to play the role of underdog. Yet, despite their underdog status, O'Mullane likes the NAC's chances in the Clericus Cup.
"I think we stack up well against other teams," said O'Mullane, who will also start at striker for the NAC side. "For one, we are a very athletic group of guys. Actually, that's been my biggest shock since coming here in the summer: the men we have here are very gifted athletically. If we can play the way I envision we're going to be in every game."
Perhaps their greatest advantage, however, is their obvious possession of the all-important athletic intangibles of leadership, intelligence, and discipline.
"We have a team of leaders," said O'Mullane. "In that sense it is a very easy team to manage. We understand that the same qualities it takes to lead are often the same qualities it takes to follow, albeit in a different form.
"It's hard to get into the specifics now and let the cat out of the bag, but we hope to play the right way: we're focused on defense, playing as a team, playing smart and hard, and playing disciplined soccer."
Come Saturday morning, those intangibles will be tested in a very tangible way at the international level.
Pontifical North American College | 2007 Clericus Cup Schedule (Preliminary Round)
March 3, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Collegio Urbano (Field A)
March 10, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Seminario Gallico (French College) (Field B)
March 17, 9:30AM vs. Croati (Field B)
March 24, 9:30AM vs. Tiberino (Field A)
April 14, 11:15AM vs. O.M.I. Team (Field B)
April 21, 9:30AM vs. P.U. Gregoriana (Gregorian University) (Field A)
April 28, 9:30AM vs. C.I. Mater Ecclesiae (Legionaries of Christ) (Field B)
2007 Clericus Cup Roster
Rev. Jeremy P. Leatherby, Diocese of Sacramento
Rev. Mr. Alejandro Del Toro, Diocese of Rockford, IL
Rev. Mr. Aaron D. Killips, Diocese of Savannah, GA
Rev. Mr. Andrew J. Roza, Archdiocese of Omaha
Rev. Mr. Benjamin C. Sember, Diocese of Green Bay, WI
Rev. Mr. Joel A. Sember, Diocese of Green Bay, WI
Rev. Mr. Joshua K. Waltz, Diocese of Bismarck, ND
Mr. Paul J. Fasano, Diocese, of Rockford, IL
Mr. Steven M. Titus, Diocese of Cheyenne, WY
Mr. Jaime Gil (Coach, Captain), Diocese of Boise, ID
Mr. David Rivera, Diocese of Camden, NJ
Mr. Jordan R. Bauer, Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul
Mr. James P. Melnick, Diocese of Little Rock, AR
Mr. James F. Adams, Diocese of Kalamazoo, MI
Mr. Daniel P. O'Mullane (Coach, Manager), Diocese of Paterson, NJ
Mr. Fernando A. Saenz, Archdiocese of Santa Fe
Mr. James N. Morrison, Archdiocese of Mobile, AL
Mr. Philip A. Smith, Diocese of Toledo, OH
Mr. Jacob Bertrand, Diocese of San Diego
Mr. Scott D. Pogatchnik, Diocese of St. Cloud, MN
Additional Team Support
Team Chaplain, Representative: Rev. James F. Quigley, O.P.
Equipment: Mr. Gabriel E. Acuna, Archdiocese of Chicago
Assistant Coach: Mr. Gilbert A. Tranquilus, Diocese of Bridgeport, CT
Trainer: Mr. Gregory T. Rannazzisi, Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY
Starting Lineup | March 3, 2007 (9:30 AM) vs. Pontifical Urbanian University
Goalkeeper: Rev. Mr. Andrew J. Roza, Archdiocese of Omaha
Sweeper: Rev. Mr. Aaron D. Killips, Diocese of Savannah, GA
Stopper: Mr. Jaime Gil (Captain), Diocese of Boise, ID
Left Defender: Rev. Mr. Joshua K. Waltz, Diocese of Bismarck, ND
Right Defender: Mr. Steven M. Titus, Diocese of Cheyenne, WY
Left Wing: Mr. James N. Morrison, Archdiocese of Mobile, AL
Left Midfielder: Mr. Philip A. Smith, Diocese of Toledo, OH
Right Midfielder: Mr. James F. Adams, Diocese of Kalamazoo, MI
Right Wing: Rev. Jeremy P. Leatherby, Diocese of Sacramento
Forward 1: Mr. Fernando A. Saenz, Archdiocese of Santa Fe
Forward 2: Mr. Daniel P. O'Mullane, Diocese of Paterson, NJ
Joseph Filice Previtali is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He is in his third year of theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he currently resides. In June, he will receivethe Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). Previously, he was sports editor and columnist for The Gonzaga Witness, a Catholic student newspaper, which he co-founded with his friends at Gonzaga University. He will be reporting on the Clericus Cup for IgnatiusInsight.com and the Insight Scoop blog throughout the course of the tournament.
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