The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 16, 2013

Two Mountaineers likely headed to MLS

Four with state ties could hear names called in soccer's draft

By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer

BECKLEY — Two standouts from West Virginia University’s mens soccer team could very well hear their named called today as the 2013 Major League Soccer SuperDraft takes place in Indianapolis, Ind.

Centerback Eric Schoenle and midfielder Uwem Etuk are expected to further their careers in the nation’s top domestic league following successful careers at WVU. Both players were chosen among the top seniors in the nation and were invited to participate at the MLS Draft Combine this week in Florida.

“I thought I did pretty well,” Etuk said of playing at the combine. “It’s tough playing with players you didn’t know, battling for position... players showing off for the coaches. I was happy coaches wanted to see me there.”

Etuk spent four years playing for the Mountaineers. He netted eight goals and had 18 assists in his time there, including six in his senior season.

“It was a terrific four years. I think the coaching was at a high quality,” he said.

“I’ve seen it with other players I know and my brothers who are looking at schools, other coaches don’t go out of their way the way he (LaBlanc) does. I was thankful I got to play for him and play at a school like WVU.”

Unlike the football and basketball teams, WVU’s men’s soccer team was without a home following the departure from the Big East to the Big 12. The Big 12 does not currently play men’s soccer. The Mountaineers are the only of the 10 members of the conference who have a soccer program. West Virginia instead joined the Mid-American Conference.

“I hated leaving the Big East. I thought Big East soccer was probably the best. The MAC was a new experience for us, going against a top notch program like Akron was nice, but a lot of schools saw WVU coming in and instead of playing a normal style they sat back and played for a result.”

Etuk was named to the U-14 and U-15 United States National teams in 2005 and 2006. In 2008 he was selected to play for D.C. United’s U-18 Academy team.

“It was probably the most professional environment I’ve had,” he said.

“You get the full experience of what it’s like as a professional, what it’s like to be competing for a spot. It was really intense. D.C. (United) really set me up for everything that I’m doing now.”

Current Major League Soccer policy states that players who spend time in a club’s academy system are available to sign with the team under a Discovery Claim, and forego the MLS Super Draft. As a member of D.C. United Academy, Etuk was eligible to be signed to a Home Grown Player contract by the prestigious team, however the black-and-red declined.

“I wanted to start my career at D.C., but it didn’t work out that way,” Etuk, a Virginia native said. I was thankful to go to the combine and show my abilities in front of the coaches and have that opportunity. I had to make the most of it.”

Etuk is largely expected to be selected in the 2nd round of the draft, but may sneak into the late first round as the crop of left-footed players in the draft is slim. While Etuk played midfield at WVU, he worked out at left back during the combine and is expected to play the position as pro. Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union are rumored to be interested in his services.

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Schoenle may very well be the top soccer prospect to ever come out of the mountain state.  The 6-foot-2 Centerback was a four year player for the Mountaineers, where had 14 goals in his 75-game career in Morgantown, many of which were game winners.

Schoenle impressed many scouts during the combine, leading ESPN Analyst and former National team player Alexi Llalas to label him as one of his “three players to watch.”

The NSCAA third team All-American is regarded as one of the top defenders in the draft, drawing comparision to former Columbus and Portland defender Eric Brunner.

Schoenle was in discussion after the 2011 season to sign a Generation Adidas contract wih MLS, but ultimately returned to WVU for his senior season.  Generation Adidas is a joint venture between the shoe-maker and MLS. Players signed to GA contracts generally make a higher wage than most other Rookies. Notable GA signings in the past include USMNT players Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley.

Schoenle’s height and ability to play in the air, both offensively and defensively, created many matchup problems in college play, however his small build of 147lbs will surely need to be added to if he hopes to continue his success in the much more physical ranks of Major League Soccer. editor and Beckley native Drew Epperley is predicting Schoenle to be selected by the San Jose Earthquakes with the 16th pick of the draft.  The Earthquakes were defeated in the Western Conference semi-final in 2012 by eventual MLS Cup winner L.A. Galaxy.

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Schoenle and Etuk aren’t the only two who played college soccer in the state who are likely to make the leap to MLS this season. Fellow Mountaineer Shadow Sebele and Marshall University goalkeeper Daniel Withrow are expected to sign with teams following next weeks suplemental draft.  Many experts have ranked Withrow as the top goalkeeper in the 2013 draft class, but a poor showing at the combine will likely keep him from being selected during the SuperDraft.

The draft will be broadcast on ESPN3, ESPNFC, and YouTube with the first pick being announced on ESPN SportsCenter at Noon.

-Email: jrollins

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