Photo courtesy of West Virginia University Athletics
By AVI CREDITOR
For West Virginia University centerback Eric Schoenle, a junior season that started out with so much promise and potential did not exactly end in the most ideal manner.
The Mountaineers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the second round, and, on an individual level, Schoenle never landed the Generation adidas deal from MLS that some thought might have been coming his way.
An elite central defender with U.S. Under-20 experience, Schonele said he was never contacted about a Generation adidas contract, let alone offered one, despite being among those up for consideration.
"Eric's a pretty level-headed kid when it comes to that kind of stuff," West Virginia coach Marlon LeBlanc said. "He doesn't get too high or too low. It's one of his strengths as a player. He's always very much composed. He knew about it, we had spoken about it, spoken with the league and kind of knew where he stood."
In addition to other factors, LeBlanc suggested that the Mountaineers bowing out of the NCAA tournament early via a 4-0 rout to the University of Maryland did not do Schoenle any favors.
"We needed to keep going," LeBlanc said. "The more eyes on you for the elite player, the better. There just weren't enough eyes on Eric that were willing to say he was ready."
As a result, Schoenle is headed back to West Virginia for a fourth season, and he does so with an upbeat attitude. As the leader of a team primed for a strong campaign, he has no regrets about how last season wound up unfolding.
"It would've been nice (to get a GA deal)," Schoenle said. "I was a little disappointed after being in the discussion and not gettting it. At the same time, I can finish school now. I can get my degree in case it doesn't work out. Just to be in the mix was nice for me, to be recognized as one of the better young players in the country. I just have to focus on this year now."
Focusing on this year means proving to scouts that his thin 6-foot-2, 150-pound frame is not a hindrance to his pro prospects and that his leadership skills complement his already stout technical qualities. He has made an effort to bulk up this summer, hitting the gym for weight-lifting sessions three times a week for a six-week period during preseason training.
"It's funny that (his weight) is a major detractor. It's an overrated thing when it comes to soccer," LeBlanc said. "He is the type of kid that will find a way, and he knows he needs to get stronger. He's not a weak kid by any means. The kid is very intuitive as to how to play in the back and how to be a good defender. At the end of the day, if you look at the centerbacks around the world, you want guys who are smart soccer players."
Schoenle, a business management major, has soccer smarts, with a strong sense of positioning himself to be a dominant figure in the air. There are few, if any, technically sound, left-footed central defenders of his caliber on the collegiate level. The size issue is a factor, though, and in addition to hitting the gym to try and add some bulk, Schoenle also spent time this summer training with the Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union, gleaning tricks of the trade along the way and having his flaws as a vocal leader exposed.
"Now I can kind of know what to expect if I do end up going pro, having been there for a couple of weeks," Schoenle said. "I got some feedback from some of the coaches saying I need to talk more. It helps me to where I'm at now. I have been talking more, and coaches have been telling me that. Going there and being shy and being quiet helped me learn that no matter where I am, because of the position I play I have to be vocal and be a leader."
With former West Virginia right back Ray Gaddis, another leadership presence across the back line, now plying his trade with the Union, the Mountaineers' defensive unit is Schoenle's to guide.
"He's come back fitter and better than ever. He's really gotten after the guys in terms of his command and presence back there," LeBlanc said. "Exposing him to (pro clubs) was one of the better things that we've done. He's always been introspective and been able to analyze things for himself. Sending him out to an environment where he was a little fish in a big pond … the feedback he got was constant."
Now the feedback that Schoenle is seeking is that from professional scouts, coaches and technical directors, telling him what he wants to hear: That he's ready to make the leap to the next level.
"For me, I'm just always looking to try and get better as a leader," Schoenle said. "(Last year) I just let it play out. It didn't work out, so I got the spring under my belt and preseason. Hopefully we can put together a good season and all things will work out this year."