City's soccer culture helps Cavaliers get international roster

The Concordia University men’s soccer team graduated 12 players from last year’s team, which finished second in the Cascade Collegiate Conference (11-3, 15-5 overall). Still, the Cavaliers have been picked to finish second in the CCC, behind Corban University.

“There’s been a lot of new faces, and they’ve shown that they’re on board and want to get things right,” Concordia coach Dan Birkey says. “The work ethic has been really good. In terms of the nature of the group, some good things have been happening. But we have a lot to do.”

The Cavaliers have an incredibly diverse side, with an international roster that features players from the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, England, New Zealand, Australia and Brazil.

“I’ve been able to travel and do some things overseas and meet guys,” says Birkey, who enters his 27th year with Concordia. “They get an idea of who you are as a coach and what kind of player you need and want. Those contacts have sent some boys to me.”

Birkey says the soccer culture in Portland has helped him recruit international players as well.

“We live in a soccer-strong part of the Northwest,” he says. “We have a lot of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver (British Columbia) or Northern California guys. But the thing is that foreign guys like the school, they like Portland, they know Portland is a soccer-intelligent, soccer-hardy place. The word is out globally about Portland.”

When he is recruiting an athlete, Birkey says he looks at international and domestic players similarly, but does believe that having international players adds a bit of je ne sais quoi to the side.

“When I get a resume from an international kid who has his grades and has the desire to come to the states, why not?” Birkey says. “Once they get here and they show well and they’re good characters, it’s the same as a good kid from Seattle or Hillsboro. But it does bring some flair, it does bring a different identity and mentality into the team room and training. I like that. Soccer is a global game.”

This season, Birkey plans to start junior Arne Niermann from Lippstadt, Germany in goal, and the coach expects that freshman Cody Guthrie, from Troutdale and Barlow High, will be an important part of the back line.

“We’re young (in the back),” Birkey says. “But the guys are working hard to get the system we use. We’re not as good as we’re going to be as the season progresses. But thus far we have a pretty good idea who the keeper and back line is going to be.

“There’s room to improve, and that’s what we’re working on. But it’s a very hardworking and smart bunch.”

Birkey says having a strong midfield is critical to the Cavaliers’ season.

“In this game, you’re always concerned about your core and your guys down the middle,” he says.

Senior Sam Carmichael, from Adelaide, Australia, junior Ben Culpan, from Auckland, New Zealand, and senior Quinn Sinser, from Bellevue, Wash., will be important pieces in the midfield.

Sophomore Timur Zhivdze, from Bobrov, Russia, will be one of the leaders on the attack. His eight goals are the most of any returning player off a team that lost all four of its all-CCC honorees, including top scorer Septi Danciu, the school’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Concordia’s season began with home games Saturday against No. 6-ranked Hastings (Neb.) College and Monday versus No. 23 Rocky Mountain College of Billings, Mont.

No. 10 Concordia of California is the next foe coming to Concordia, taking on the Cavs at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Then comes the CCC season, which begins with a Sept. 16 match at Corban.

Birkey says he wants the Cavaliers to look at the season as three parts: the preseason, conference play and postseason.

“This team needs to have its heads wrapped around the segments,” he says. “We play three top-25 schools in the first two weeks. You’ve got to take that on. We’ve got to then bring that experience and maturity from those games into conference play.”

Last year, the Cavs reached the conference tournament final but lost 1-0 to Corban. That ended Concordia’s three-year run of national tournament appearances.

Corban is the unanimous favorite in the CCC coaches’ preseason poll, having captured all eight first-place votes. The Cavs were second in the poll.

“The main thing in front of us is to be focused on winning the conference,” Birkey says. “We have to realize that what happens in postseason is because of the work you’ve done in conference play. That’s the gateway to anything beyond.”

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