Club soccer looks to repeat success of ’03 season

By Kyle Betts

As the men’s club soccer team prepares to make a run in the postseason, they look to their veteran leadership to help them bring the same success they had in 2003.

Illinois dominated the Midwest Alliance Soccer Conference and lost only one game during the 2003 regular season. That team carried their great play to the national tournament where they beat the best teams in the nation and won the championship with a victory over Utah Valley State University.

Three years later, five players from that championship team remain on the squad, and they look back to that 2003 season as they try to repeat that success.

“It was a very complete team,” senior midfielder Allen Barton said. “Starting from the back with the goalie all the way up top to the forwards, every position seemed to have the right guy for the right spot.”

“Every single person on the field was very skilled and very hardworking,” senior captain and coach Rickie Partyka said. Partyka said that attitude also lead the team to a victory at nationals. It was a defining moment for that season and for the Illinois soccer program.

Down 2-0 at halftime to Texas A&M;, the Illini were on the verge of being eliminated from the national tournament, but instead they put together a second-half comeback that would lead them to a 4-2 victory and propel them to the championship.

“In 2003, the team refused to lose. No one on the team could accept losing,” said senior midfielder Dave Brown, who scored a goal in the comeback against Texas A&M.;

Barton said he thinks the team’s success also came from strong individual play that allowed certain players to take over the game.

“The 2003 team had some amazing talent,” Barton said. “Certain individuals could really carry the team on their backs and pick up when other players made a mistake or just weren’t playing well.”

While the team had a hard working attitude and individual skills that allowed them to win on the field, senior Joe Rokop said he thinks the success was also a result of the team’s unity off the field.

“We had great chemistry together,” Rokop said. “We were such good friends off the field that we worked well on the field.”

The 2006 Illini now look to repeat the success of the past behind the leadership of the players who have been there before, but they are going to have to do it a different way.

“This year’s team doesn’t have the same caliber of individual talent, so in order for success, we’re required to work better as team,” Barton said. For Brown, the desire to win is what will make the difference for this team’s success.

“Do we have the will to win?” Brown asked. “We didn’t show it when we played Michigan and lost earlier this year, and I’m sure we will face a similar test before the season is over, so we will find out if we have the will to win or not.”

Partyka said he thinks that on a team filled with young talent, the potential to succeed is there but the experience from the veteran players will be the most valuable asset in trying to become champions again.

“Some of the younger guys might not know how much this means to the older guys because they haven’t experienced it yet,” Partyka said. “We try to do our best to let them know that this is it. You have to get here because if you don’t get here then the season didn’t mean anything.”