Gallagher's Growth Is One Cause For Optimism in Men's Soccer
Aug. 29, 2003
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
On the lush green turf of the Villanova Soccer Complex, the name still connotes an image. It is a vision of size, deft ball skills and a grit that sent a clear signal that the area nearest the Wildcat goal would not be navigated blithely.
Indeed, the name of Jim Curtin, Villanova class of 2000, and current Major League Soccer fixture, still holds meaning here.
Only a handful of the 2003 Wildcats played with Villanova's former all-Big East performer. Yet Curtin remains something of a gold standard here, especially for those 'Cats charged with the task of working to protect the goal.
So when longtime Villanova head coach Larry Sullivan invoked the name of his former standout in evaluating a current defender, observers here took notice.
"To me," Sullivan stated, "(Patrick) Gallagher is the closest thing we have had to Curtin since he left here. He is composed, physical and knows what he's doing."
Among those raising an eyebrow at those words, was none other than Patrick Gallagher himself.
"I do take that as a compliment," says Gallagher, who started 10 of the 17 games he played in as a freshman in 2002. "To hear your name mentioned with a guy who was a great player here and is now in the MLS, is cool. It was a very nice thing for Coach Sullivan to say and I appreciate it because it shows that he has a lot of faith in me."
In 2003, Gallagher looms as a critical component as the Wildcats aim to assert themselves as a club on the rise in the Big East Conference.
The soccer odyssey that has delivered Gallagher to Villanova began as it often does. Gallagher and a group of his young friends included soccer among a wide range of sports they played. But by the seventh grade, a core group had formed and gravitated toward the soccer field.
"There was a clan of us," Gallagher says. "In middle school we became a very good team. In one of those years we went undefeated and trailed only once all season - and that was in the first game. It was a terrific experience."
That early success continued at Middletown High School. Gallagher bonded with his teammates and by the time his senior year was complete, he had helped lead his team to a state championship.
"It was an amazing ride," Gallagher says, still marveling at the moment two years after the fact. "For a high school like ours to have that kind of success was just so precious.
"It was a little tough to see it end."
One element Gallagher began to appreciate over the course of his high school career was the cerebral part of the game.
"I learned how important it is to be a student of the game," he says. "You learn to appreciate its subtleties and the small ways you can gain an edge."
Gallagher thrived in the midfield and as he looked beyond high school, there was an admittedly vague notion of somehow using soccer to land at a quality academic institution.
"I can remember one of my club team coaches asking me what I wanted to get out of soccer," Gallagher states. "I told him that I hoped to land some kind of a scholarship, be it Division I, II or III."
Working in Gallagher's favor was the success Middletown enjoyed. However, the fact that he did not attend a traditional high school power or spend his summers playing for one of the top club teams worked against him. His break came when Sullivan and his staff spotted Gallagher at a high school all-star event.
"I met Coach Sullivan and his sons (Bryan Sullivan is a Villanova assistant coach and Brenden Sullivan served in that capacity from 2000-02) and was impressed," states Gallagher. "They offered me the chance to come to Villanova and I couldn't think of anything better. I would get to play at the highest level of Division I soccer in the Big East and attend a great academic school."
As an astute observer of the game, Gallagher understood there would be an adjustment to Division I. But even that knowledge couldn't fully prepare him for what lay ahead.
"Everything moves so quickly," he says. "It's such an intense game. Every header is contested. It took a little time to get used to that."
Sullivan used Gallagher as a midfield reserve in September. As the campaign wore on, Gallagher moved into the starting lineup and quickly came into his own.
"He made very steady progress," notes Sullivan.
If the final regular season mark of 5-13 wasn't what Gallagher or his mates would have preferred - and it wasn't - the good news was that a largely youthful unit came through the travails with its psyche intact.
"We worked very hard and it was tough to deal with losing so many close games," Gallagher states. "But we learned from it and we're working even harder now to make those plays that can make the difference between winning and losing."
In the wake of that season, Gallagher had a better feel for that which he needed to bolster. He and several teammates underwent a vigorous fitness program designed to boost cardiovascular endurance. What's more, he found a club team home that afforded him the opportunity to again enjoy success and become acclimated to the central defensive role Sullivan envisions for him in 2003.
"I owe a lot to Alan Mezger (Villanova's new assistant coach and the head coach of FC Delco)," Gallagher states. "My old club team had kind of fallen apart and I really wasn't sure where I would play. Alan invited me to play for FC Delco and that was tremendous. They had won national championships before and I got to be part of another one this summer.
"It was just a tremendous summer and I am reaping the benefits now."
"We're pretty big back there," says Gallagher. "Chris and I love to head the ball and I think we're all developing a good feel for playing together."
As he looks ahead to 2003, Gallagher believes there are several reasons to believe this can be an improved squad.
"We have very good leadership from our captains, Dan Massimini, Colin, and David O'Donnell," he explains. "Our upperclassmen are very focused on what we need to do to win. Jonathan Lopuski has been particularly helpful to me, pushing me to get better and always encouraging me.
"We played well in the spring and the preseason. Now we need to carry it over and get off to a good start. If we can do that, we have a great chance to build some confidence."
As for his own future, Gallagher simply wants to improve. If that happens, he reasons, the rest will take care of itself.
"I'd like people to respect me as a good player," he says. "The best way to do that is for us to win games and be a factor in the Big East."
If he can accomplish that, perhaps one day the name Gallagher will be invoked as a badge of honor on the soccer turf of West campus.