Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A tale of two seasons

Within the course of one calendar year, University of Connecticut goalkeeper Joshua Ford has experienced two very different soccer seasons.

The first - which began in the late-summer months of 2007 - was a charmed one. As a redshirt freshman at UConn, Ford stepped up and amazingly manned the Huskies net for the eventual Big East champions, posting an incredible 0.53 goals against average and recording clean sheets in 14 of his 24 matches. The Huskies coasted into the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament before eventually falling to Virginia Tech 0-1 in early December.

The second began in mid-Spring of this year, and was, for all intents and purposes, the exact opposite of the one he enjoyed months prior. Ford returned to his Premier Development League club, the Rhode Island Stingrays, intent on carrying the success he saw with Storrs, CT to East Providence, RI.

Instead, the Stingrays struggled mightily throughout the PDL season. Ford registered an unimpressive 2.29 goal against average, though he was often the victim of porous defending unit that often turned the Stingrays end of the pitch into a one-sided Pong match.

But the personable and team-oriented 20-year-old refused to point fingers or place the blame on his compatriots.

“The hardest part going through this season was that we were so close to reaching our goals and winning matches,” said Ford.

It was those close matches that doomed an otherwise talented bunch. The club nearly captured victories against formidable Cape Cod and Ocean City sides, but was thwarted each time after conceding a last-minute goal. Grouped with a heart-wrenching 4-5 loss to Vermont – one in which their opponents scored four unanswered goals – it seemed that the Stingrays were snakebitten all season.

“Being so close in some games then having that one mental break down that costs us to tie a match or to lose the match was difficult,” said Ford. But the Liverpool, NY native failed to dwell on the negatives of such a season.

In fact, he’s thankful for the opportunity to play in the PDL for the Stingrays. “My experience with the Stingrays has only been positive. (Head coach) Mario Pereira has allowed me to play with his team, and so far, being with this team has led me to become a better and well rounded player,” said Ford. “I am very grateful to (him).”

It wasn’t long ago that Ford was just another newcomer to the Rhode Island squad. After redshirting his first season at UConn, Ford looked to the Stingrays to help prepare him for his first collegiate season between the sticks.

“I got on board with the Stingrays first by talking to my University of Connecticut coaches to help set up a tryout for a team in the summer,” said Ford. “They had set up for Mario to come watch me play during our spring season to see if I would be helpful to his team.”

Ford proved to be more than just helpful. He quickly became the club keep’s primary keeper, playing in twelve of the club’s 12 of 16 matches in 2007. Much like this season, Ford was tested often, requiring him to make 78 saves in those 12 games as a PDL rookie. But the amount of action unquestionably aided Ford’s development as a young player.

“Playing in the PDL has allowed me to play against great competition,” said Ford“Playing with the Stingrays has allowed me to play with and against great individuals - that alone has brought new light to how the game can be played.”

Even though his 2007 numbers (3-9, 2.14 GAA) didn’t reflect it, Ford’s experience in PDL certainly prepared him to take the stage as his school’s primary keeper the following fall.

“The benefits to playing in the PDL in the summer helps collegiate players to stay sharp, match fit and helps with preparation for the upcoming (NCAA) season,” said Ford. “It makes me personally feel that I am a step ahead of the competition.”

Judging by his freshman performance, Ford was more than just a step ahead of the competition during the 2007 NCCA season. He played every minute of his Huskies’ memorable season, and was awarded All-Big East Third Team honors after his remarkable campaign.

Like many young players, Ford cites some of the best in the business as his soccer role models. Matt Reis and Tim Howard as well as Italian Gianluigi Buffon as fellow keepers he patterns his game on.

“(They) are amazing to watch,” said Ford. “Seeing some of the big saves they make, it makes me want to be able to play like them.”

Despite the polar-opposite pair of seasons, Ford only has one goal in mind.

“To become better,” said Ford. “There has been no solution for me besides doing extra work to get better.”

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