FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – University of Akron sophomore Scott Caldwell earned the Zips their first-ever national title in any sport when he scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA College Cup Final last weekend in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In a roundabout way, the Braintree, Mass., native simultaneously brought a championship home to New England.
Caldwell’s progress at Akron has been followed closely in Foxborough, and not merely because he grew up in the region. Prior to leaving for college in Ohio, Caldwell captained the Revolution’s Under-18 team during the club’s inaugural season in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2008-09.
Because of his connections with the club, Caldwell’s recent success – which included recognition as the College Cup’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player and a spot on the All-Tournament Team – has been celebrated in Revolution circles, even if Caldwell himself has yet to fully grasp the scale of his accomplishments.
“Not exactly,” he said when asked if his heroic role in winning a national title had sunk in yet. “I still feel kind of like we have another game to play, almost like the season’s not over. We always had to prepare for another [game], so it almost feels the same way.”
That workmanlike approach is a product of Caldwell’s impressive soccer background, which now includes two years of schooling under renowned Akron head coach Caleb Porter. Caldwell credits individual attention from Porter and a supportive group of upperclassmen with helping increase his confidence, which he believes has been the most notable change in his game since arriving on campus last fall.
“I wouldn’t say there are one or two specific [areas of improvement],” Caldwell said. “I think it’s just been gradual where every little step of the way I’ve gained a little bit of confidence, and maybe that’s helped in every area.”
Caldwell’s self-belief also received a massive boost in Foxborough during the summer of 2009, before he ever stepped on the field with his Akron teammates. For two months, Caldwell occupied a spot in the Revolution’s locker room and trained on a daily basis with the club’s first team.
“It gave me that opportunity to train with elite players,” Caldwell said of the experience. “Looking back on that, it tells me that I’ve played with some of the best players in the country, so that helps with confidence, as well. It definitely helped me prepare just to get ready for a fast-paced college game.”
Caldwell’s adjustment to Division 1 soccer has been relatively seamless, as the technically-gifted midfielder quickly rose from a substitute’s role his freshman year to a full-time starter his sophomore season. After making 19 substitute appearances without a goal or assist in 2009, Caldwell started 21 of 25 games while notching five goals and one assist in 2010.
Such rapid progress has garnered the attention of the Revolution, which has kept in touch with Caldwell throughout his time at Akron. According to Caldwell, he receives periodic notes of congratulations on his accomplishments from members of both the Revs’ technical staff and the club’s Youth Development Program, including Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns and Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales.
Of course, Burns and the Revolution’s coaching staff have good reason for following Caldwell’s development.
Because of his participation in the Revolution’s youth system, Caldwell’s rights are protected through Major League Soccer’s Home Grown Player rules. Should Caldwell choose to pursue a career in MLS – either by leaving school early or upon graduation – the Revs would have the opportunity to sign him directly and prevent other teams from selecting him in the league’s SuperDraft.
After hearing about the Revolution’s recent signing of 15-year-old Leominster, Mass., resident Diego Fagundez as the club’s first-ever Home Grown Player, potentially playing for his hometown team is an enticing prospect for Caldwell.
“That’s a great story for [Fagundez] being so young and signing with a professional team. I’m sure it’s a dream come true for him,” said Caldwell after first offering his congratulations to the Revs’ U16 starlet. “It’s pretty cool just that the opportunity lies there, and that would be great if it happened (to me) one day.”
But while Caldwell is eagerly anticipating a potential chance to represent New England on the professional stage, he has no plans to follow the path of Ethan White, who recently left the University of Maryland following his sophomore season to sign as a Home Grown Player with D.C. United. Instead, Caldwell plans to play his remaining two years at Akron and earn his degree before contemplating his soccer career.
With that said, Caldwell admits a possible future in Foxborough has crossed his mind.
“It’s a little ways down the road,” he said, revealing a wisdom and patience rarely found in 19-year-olds. “But if I could, that would be a really good opportunity.”