The 2014 NCAA College Cup kicks-off today at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, and the Crew Soccer Academy will have representation.
Michael DiCesare, a senior midfielder from Westerville, spent a little over a year with CSA and also spent some time with the U-19/20 teams. Now, his UMBC Retrievers are in the soccer equivalent of the Final Four, with a match against Virginia on tap for 5:00 p.m. ET this afternoon (ESPNU).
UMBC entered the tournament unseeded and has gone on a run that included knocking off fourth-seeded Maryland, 13th-seeded Louisville and 12th-seeded Creighton. Although they're the only unseeded team in the College Cup, the Retrievers aren't surprised with their success.
"We came into the season with very high expectations, we'd won the America East the past two years and even gotten a seed in the tournament last year," said DiCesare. "We came into the season thinking everything was going to go very well, if not a repeat from last year when we only lost one game and were ranked fifth at the end of the year. We had a few rough patches in the middle of the season. We kind of worked through it. Once we got to late October, November we started playing our best soccer. We've really just surprised a lot of people, but in our locker room and in our athletics department we really haven't surprised anyone. This is where we thought we'd be at the beginning of the year."
DiCesare has appeared in 14 matches this year, scoring a career-best three goals, which came in a hat trick versus Vermont on November 1. As a senior leader on the club, he's helped the Retrievers as an important reserve and as a veteran presence -- the 5'10", 165-pounder has appeared in every NCAA Tournament match thus far.
"I feel like I have a unique role because of injuries I've had in the past and having not started since my sophomore year and everything," said DiCesare. "I've had to take a leadership role from the sideline for some of that. Now, I'm working my way back in the lineup and doing everything I can to help the younger guys who are playing, encouraging everyone else in the lineup."
This afternoon's match against Virginia poses a challenge, but one that DiCesare is confident UMBC can overcome to keep its run going.
"I think Virginia is a very good team. They have a few very dangerous guys up top that we need to worry about. I think it's a very good matchup for us and I think it's a very winnable game. Our styles match-up very well to where we can both pressure and attack them wide and in other areas."
Ultimately, for a player who hails from Columbus and represents the Black & Gold's Academy as he searches for college soccer's ultimate triumph, CSA has been a big part of shaping DiCesare into the type of player that he is today.
"Playing with the Crew Academy was great. The environment that was always provided felt like a professional environment; we were always expected to train as professionals. With that transitioning to the college level, it's really helped me with an easy transition to play at this level and continue to improve."