DU soccer players hopped on coach’s pitch
Call the University of Denver men’s soccer team a Cinderella story, and the Pioneers will kick you in the shins with their glass slippers.
“Why not us?” DU coach Jamie Franks told me, with as much defiance as he could muster from his 5-foot-8 frame. “I get frustrated when I hear the question: ‘Are you surprised how well this soccer team is playing?’ I’m really not. I’m not surprised at all by what’s going on with this program.”
Wearing glasses and a suit as the DU team bus got ready to roll on a trip to the final four, Franks looked about as threatening as your friendly neighborhood bank teller. The competitive fire inside him, however, is big enough to take on the world and torch conventional wisdom.
So when Franks is coaching the U.S. men’s national team during the knockout stage of the World Cup in 2034, remember you read it here first.
But first let me tell you the story of how the Pioneers (20-0-3) crashed the party at the College Cup, where Denver plays Friday against Wake Forest, with
the winner earning a berth in the national championship game.
Shortly after being named DU coach at the tender age of 28, the baby-faced Franks called a team meeting.
“The first thing Jamie did when he took over was to sit us all down and say, ‘If you don’t believe we can win a national championship, then get off the bus. Get off the bus right now,’ ” recalled DU midfielder Karsten Hanlin, a fifth-year senior.
“It definitely blows your mind, because every athlete that goes off to college has the goal to win a national championship. But we all know that’s not probable, because there are something like 200 teams and only one champion every year. From Day One, though, (Franks) instilled the belief in all of us. He has held us to a higher standard, and we’ve put in the work. There have been some doubts along the way. But those doubts are gone. There isn’t a single guy on this team that doubts we can do it.”
When Hanlin left Cherry Creek High School to join a college program less than 30 minutes from his house, the Pioneers were coming off a 5-11-3 season. “When I committed to the program, we were ranked 88th or 90th in the country,” Hanlin said.
Five short years later, soccer is as much a source of athletic pride at DU as hockey or lacrosse. Soccer made in Colorado is for real, and it’s real good. Hanlin, who has scored five goals and added eight assists this season, is among six players in the Pioneers’ starting lineup who grew up in the state.
Yes, I admit it’s a stretch to predict Franks will eventually walk the sideline as coach of the USMNT. But give me 100-1 odds, and I’d put money down on him this very minute. Please remember that Bruce Arena won four consecutive NCAA championships as coach of Virginia from 1991-94.
“It’s not always the most talented team,” said Franks, who believes a soccer roster loaded with skill but short on character is going to walk off the pitch in disappointment. “It’s the best team.”
The Pioneers are not one of the four most-talented teams in college soccer. But this trip to the final four is no one-time fluke for Denver.
“The first of many, we hope,” Franks said.