Ryan soccer kick-starts toward future

  • Mike Bradby won just three regular season Catholic League games in his first season in replacing George Todt, but the Raiders have advanced to the league semifinals as the seventh-seed. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • In good hands: In year one of a new soccer era at Archbishop Ryan, (left-right) Joe Stock, Jared Ott and Steve Gassman have left plenty of hope for a bright future under head coach Mike Bradby. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

Even with the loss of 17 seni­ors and the only head coach the Arch­bish­op Ry­an soc­cer pro­gram has ever known, Jared Ott nev­er once con­sidered spend­ing his seni­or sea­son else­where. 

Sure, there has been plenty of change in the last 12 months, but the way the Raid­ers’ keep­er sees it, change can be a good thing and he saw it as his duty to over­see the trans­ition from le­gendary head coach George Todt to first-year man Mike Bradby.

“I wish I could have won a cham­pi­on­ship for Mr. Todt,” Ott said. “Just know­ing how he was and see­ing how far he brought us, there was no thought in my mind that I was go­ing to leave. I want to do it here. I want to make my­self known here, not some­where else.”

Last Oc­to­ber, Ott was on the field when Todt coached his fi­nal game, a heart­break­ing shootout loss to La Salle in the Cath­ol­ic League semi­finals. After 13 league titles, 650 ca­reer wins and hav­ing the soc­cer field at Ry­an named in his hon­or, Todt walked away on top.

And even though his re­tire­ment was known dur­ing the sea­son, it still plunged the pro­gram in­to an un­cer­tain fu­ture, es­pe­cially with the high gradu­ation num­ber and the ex­odus of tal­en­ted hol­d­overs like Mi­chael Kirby, who op­ted to trans­fer to Holy Ghost Prep. Ry­an un­der­went a trans­form­a­tion, a com­plete facelift in a pun­ish­ing league that does not wait around for the rest of the com­pet­i­tion to get ac­climated. 

As a res­ult, the Raid­ers struggled out of the gate. The de­fens­ive unit, anchored by Ott and ju­ni­or stop­pers Joe Stock and Steve Gass­man (a trans­fer from Frank­lin Towne Charter), has been stingy, but at times the youth­ful Raid­ers have had trouble scor­ing goals. They tal­lied nine goals and gave up 18 goals in 11 league con­tests, of which the Raid­ers fin­ished 3-6-2, good for sev­enth in the Cath­ol­ic League stand­ings.

That may not sound like much to write home about, but pro­gress in­deed has been made. Ry­an has lost games, yes, but many have been tight and not in­dic­at­ive of the team’s re­cord. The Raid­ers fell to the top two teams in the league, Fath­er Judge and St. Joseph’s Prep, 2-0, and played third-seeded Ro­man wire-to-wire be­fore fall­ing 1-0 on a late goal. They have been in games, which has giv­en the team con­fid­ence as it headed in­to the play­offs, where they won a 1-0 first-round game over Con­well-Egan last Fri­day. 

Then, in a Tues­day night quarterfi­nals shock­er, Bradby’s Raid­ers stunned the Prep 2-1 in over­time, on a break­away goal from Stock. The win set up a Sat­urday semi­finals match-up with Judge, the city’s top team in 2013, who ad­vanced to the semis with a 3-0 win over Bon­ner-Pren­der­gast. The Raid­ers will cer­tainly have their hands full with John Dun­lop’s highly-skilled Cru­saders, but Ry­an’s built-in ad­vant­age is the fact that it hosts the semis and cham­pi­on­ship game on George Todt Field. Sud­denly, a cham­pi­on­ship that didn’t seem pos­sible a week or two ago is in sight, some­how some­way. 

“Any­time you take over a pro­gram, pa­tience is re­quired and res­ults take time,” said Bradby, a former Raid­er un­der Todt and 1986 gradu­ate of Ry­an. “That be­ing said, ex­pect­a­tions when you play at Ry­an will al­ways be high. There are go­ing to be speed bumps along the way. The biggest pos­it­ives of this group are that they have bought in­to the found­a­tion and struc­ture that has been laid out now and go­ing for­ward. They are play­ing for one an­oth­er and un­der­stand that it is a priv­ilege to play at Ry­an and put on that uni­form.”

Gass­man, in his first sea­son with the pro­gram, said the pride, tra­di­tion and his­tory of the pro­gram was evid­ent from the first day he stepped on cam­pus, even with Todt (who still serves as Ry­an’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or) no longer pa­cing the side­lines.

“I’ve no­ticed there’s a big dif­fer­ence between here and Pub­lic League soc­cer,” he said. “Not just game­play, which is al­ways in­tense no mat­ter the game; but the main dif­fer­ence is the crowds. At Ry­an, and in this league, the crowds are crazy, every­one gets pumped up. That’s the main reas­on I play, for these guys and for our fans. I want to put on a show and I want to win. Every kid on this team wants to win. If we don’t, every­one is dev­ast­ated. We’re wear­ing the black and red with pride now.”

One of the biggest reas­ons the pro­gram hasn’t suffered a mo­nu­ment­al step back is Bradby, an alum of the pro­gram who un­der­stands how ser­i­ous soc­cer is taken at Ry­an. He is al­ways en­cour­aging in de­mand­ing the best from his play­ers, something both vet­er­an and young­er play­ers have re­spon­ded to.

Bradby’s will to win, the play­ers say, has been in­fec­tious.

“As a coach, he hates los­ing more than he likes win­ning,” Stock said. “I re­spect that more than any­thing else. I like win­ning, but los­ing sucks. We had a bit of a rough patch in the be­gin­ning, but now I feel like every­one is buy­ing in­to the pro­gram 100 per­cent. Once you put on that Ry­an uni­form, that’s your blood. I wouldn’t want to put on any oth­er one.”

Of course, hav­ing the ex­tremely skilled Ott in net has helped ease Bradby’s trans­ition. The vo­cally and phys­ic­ally im­pos­ing Ott — who stands at 6-foot-5 — doesn’t let much get by him in net. In soc­cer, you’re of­ten as good as the in­di­vidu­al stand­ing between the posts, and Bradby couldn’t help but rave about his keep­er.

“Jared is, in my opin­ion, the best goal­tender in the state of Pennsylvania,” he said. “He com­mands the box the way a goalie should, and most im­port­antly makes the key saves that keep us in games. He is dir­ectly the reas­on why we are mov­ing for­ward in the play­offs. 

“He is even a bet­ter in­di­vidu­al off the field. He is very ma­ture for his age and is the lead­er that all coaches in their re­spect­ive sports would want on their teams.”

Re­gard­less if the Raid­ers lose to Judge, or march for­ward to cap­ture the un­like­li­est of cham­pi­on­ships, the fu­ture is bright and the found­a­tion is set for the Bradby Era. Young­er play­ers have con­tin­ued to de­vel­op as the sea­son has pro­gressed, and al­though Ott will move on, hol­d­overs like Stock and Gass­man will re­turn to make sure things stay on course. 

Bradby may al­ways be in Todt’s shad­ow to some de­gree; after 44 years and a score­board and field that bears his name, Todt’s last­ing im­pres­sion on the pro­gram is a good thing. It shows the ex­cel­lence he de­man­ded over his dec­ades in charge, something that Bradby un­der­stands and hopes to rep­lic­ate. At the same time, the new guy at the helm is about for­ging his own iden­tity, one the school, play­ers, alumni and fans can con­tin­ue to be proud of.

“I de­sire cham­pi­on­ships like any­one would, and by do­ing things the right way, I like our chances of put­ting this pro­gram back on top where it be­longs. There’s no iden­tity is­sue at all. I can’t worry about look­ing back. The sup­port since the day I was named the coach has been noth­ing but first class. I hope to make them proud.”

Count Ott as someone his coach has already made proud.

“Mr. Bradby has done a great job. We give 100 per­cent be­cause of him and his de­sire to win,” he said. “I wish I could be a fresh­man again. I would love to play with these guys for an­oth­er couple years.” •• 

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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