Alexandria’s newest Firebirds impress at UDC men’s soccer

Alexandria’s newest Firebirds impress at UDC men’s soccer

By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

The competition is fierce among the players of the University of the District of Columbia men’s soccer program as the team maintains intense training sessions in an effort to find consistency in the early stages of their NCAA Division II season in the East Coast Conference.

But in the midst of their more experienced teammates, two Alexandria freshmen already have made an impact following the transition from high school and club soccer to the college game.

Forward Kevin Ortez graduated from T.C. Williams after four years as a starter on the varsity boys soccer team. As a junior, he helped the Titans win the Virginia High School League 6A state title, and then as a senior was part of the squad that lost in the opening round of the 6A North regional tournament. Alongside him, midfielder Kevin Claure Guzman grew up in greater Alexandria, graduated from Stuart High School and took a year off from school to play and train in South America.

Firebirds assistant coach Danny Wadeson, who handles the program’s local recruiting, first spotted the pair. And so far, they have impressed team officials, especially considering Guzman missed the preseason with a hamstring injury.

Ortez already leads the team with three goals in six appearances, scoring against California (Pa.), Bloomfield and most recently against Roberts Wesleyan last weekend. Firebirds head coach Matthew Thompson is impressed with the young forward’s efforts thus far.

“The first few training sessions, we were surprised, but training is different from games,” Thompson said after a recent practice session. “When he stepped up and scored that first goal, it gave him that confidence to push on. I say he’s not a freshman, he’s a soccer player.”

With UDC competing in the ECC, generally regarded as one of the toughest conferences in Division II, Thompson feels Ortez’s experiences with the Titans and winning a state championship will stand him in good stead, especially as the Firebirds look to mount a charge up the standings.

“We try and recruit players that have a winning mentality, because that’s something you can’t coach,” he said. “If we can get players who were on winning club teams or high school teams, that helps because it just adds to that mentality. We’re trying to turn it around here at UDC.”

For Ortez, that experience was key to his development, as was playing with some of the top players in the city. He is the cousin of Alexandrian Jorge Calix, now a soccer player at the University of Maryland, and with his experience of playing alongside another Terrapin in Eryk Williamson at T.C., believes it has set him up in the best possible way.

“[The state championship] was really big,” Ortez said. “It was a great experience playing in those games and winning that championship and playing with one of the top players, Eryk Williamson. It gave me a lot of confidence and I felt like I could keep working hard and score as many goals as I can.”

Meanwhile, Guzman’s injury prevented him from taking the field until the last few weeks. But as his recovery continues and he gets closer to being fully fit, Thompson believes he brings a different dimension to UDC’s attack.

“[Guzman] didn’t train until that first week we had games,” he said. “It was a big surprise when he came in, and he’s a player. He’s technically great; he like to dribble, likes to take on players. It’s something different that we don’t have, so we’re excited to have him. If we can get minutes out of him, he’s going to hopefully be an impact player and score some goals.”

Despite their experience in high school and club soccer, both players noticed an immediate increase in the level of competition when they arrived with the Firebirds, but said they have the tools to cope.

“At high school, the level wasn’t too high compared to here,” Guzman said. “From high school, the [college] game’s a lot faster; people are more organized. [Compared to] club [soccer], it’s kind of the same from where I’ve been playing. I played a year up and the speed seems to be the same, it’s high intensity with a lot of talking. It’s really competitive people, everybody wants to win and you train so we can win.”

“[College soccer is] a big step [up],” Ortez said. “It’s really different. In college it’s really competitive, faster pace, it’s more aggressive. In high school, it’s fun. It’s not as competitive as here, but it’s really fun.”

As for the team, it is 1-4-1 at the time of writing, but has just begun its slate of conference games. And with some of UDC’s youngest players already contributing heavily to a team that lost about a dozen to graduation last year, the Firebirds hope they will start to put together a stronger run of results.