Men’s soccer within reach of making national tournament

Courtesy Photo /
Grand Valley Student Alessandro Chimento handles the ball while playing for the Mens Club Soccer team in 2008

Courtesy Photo / Grand Valley Student Alessandro Chimento handles the ball while playing for the Men’s Club Soccer team in 2008

Curtis Kalleward

To be the best, a team must improve upon itself game after game, season after season.

For the last three years, Grand Valley State University’s men’s club soccer team has done just that while still finding time to have fun together.

“It’s really laid back but competitive,” said senior keeper Andy Stradtner. “We’re all good friends. We all hang out, and we have a great time playing together.”

As the only men’s collegiate soccer team in Allendale (a varsity squad does not exist), GVSU plays in the Midwest Soccer Alliance, considered by many to be one of the toughest club conferences in the nation.

“Our conference is really challenging,” Stradtner said. “Only two or three losses and you’re out. It’s all about staying focused through the whole season.”

The 11-team conference is comprised of many big-name schools within driving distance, including Big Ten Conference teams Purdue University, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

“We’re one of the few schools that don’t have a varsity team,” said GVSU head coach Jeff Crooks. “Purdue doesn’t either. Neither does Illinois. They’re all good teams. The national champion has come out of our division in five or six of the last ten years. We’re playing tough teams.”

Crooks added the toughness of competing against a top-tier school makes entering postseason play quite difficult.

“We’ve never beaten Michigan,” he said. “We had to beat Michigan State to get in. It was tied between the two of us. All they had to do was tie or win and they would have been through and sent us home. It’s the second time in eight years that we have even beaten Michigan State.”

Senior team co-captain Nick Carlesso said defeating the Spartan club team was the most significant victory of his career and for the team’s season.

“The biggest moment this year for the team was the win against State,” he said. “Whoever won that game was going to go onto the playoffs, so winning that game that was the highlight so far this year.”

Athletics aside, club players face difficult challenges off the playing fields. Club players pay dues in every sport, and coming up with the money to play is not always easy. The men’s club soccer team is sponsored by Mancino’s Pizza and also hosts many different fundraising activities in order to compete.

“To pay dues, we do team sponsorships, we do some fundraisers, and we put on three-on-three tournaments sometimes, too,” Carlesso said. “Then everybody pays dues on top of that. It keeps going up every year. Traveling, referee fees, and less money received from the school all add to the rising costs.”

Now that a national tournament berth is within reach, the team feels that, with the correct mixture of strong play and a little bit of luck, they can grasp onto it, Crooks said.

“We took a step in the right direction when we beat State,” he said. “We put ourselves in position to get to the conference tournament. It’s been a struggle. Now, can we put ourselves in a position so that we can win one of those last two games and have a chance to go to the national tournament?”

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