Sept. 12, 2012
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
Through most of his time as a developing young player, Kyle Soroka usuallly found himself a long way from the opponents' goal. Playing for F.C. Delco on the club circuit and Neshaminy High School, Soroka was customarily stationed at right back, where job one was helping the center backs keep the area in front of his team's goal free from danger.
It's a place on the field where the spotlight shines only occasionally.
Soroka took no issue with that role. For as long as he has played the game, the native of Langhorne, Pa., has been more than content to be a contributing part of the unit. In fact, his work as a back had attracted the notice of soccer programs in perhaps the most potent soccer conference in the nation, the BIG EAST.
Then, as so often happens, a twist of fate arrived in the form of an injury to a teammate who played up front. Soroka was moved into an attacking position and in the process clearly established that he had a knack for one of the most valued tools in all of sport: versatility.
"Growing up, I was primarily a right back," notes Soroka. "Then, during my senior year of high school I was moved up top by my club team. I did well and it kind of went from there."
All of that set him up for a college career that has seen him slotted into a variety of spots, depending upon the team's needs. In his four seasons as a Wildcat he has been a key defender, an orchestrator in the midfield, and, of late, a dangerous scoring threat near the opponents' goal.
This most recent role apparently suits him well. In it, Soroka has already recorded three goals, added an assist, and helped ignite an offense that has accounted for 12 goals through its first five contests. Most important of all, it's a switch that has helped Villanova win four of its first five games in 2012 to add to a late season surge in 2011 that resulted in the program's first two playoff victories over nationally ranked Notre Dame and USF.
"The big thing from our standpoint is that Kyle is taking ownership in everything we do," states Villanova head coach Tom Carlin. "Whatever spot you put him on the field, he's taking ownership of the responsibilities at both ends. The growth of his confidence level has been really noticeable this year."
In fact, Carlin notes, it's less about positioning in the starting lineup than it is about desire and persistence.
"His constant pursuit of things on the field has been impressive," says the fifth year coach. "Sometimes you don't even know where he's playing on the field because he's making 80 yard recovery runs and then making 40 yard attacking runs. He's covering a lot of ground. We turn to him for a lot of different things."
"He's kind of a lead by example kind of guy," adds Carlin.
There aren't many better examples for a group than teammates willing to accept whatever role its coaching staff assigns him. It's been a pattern over the course of his days at Villanova, one Soroka has accepted easily.
"We have been battling injuries for the last couple of years here," says Carlin. "We lacked depth in certain areas. When those injuries came, we felt we had to plug Soroka into those holes."
A case in point came in 2011. Soroka began the year up top and had begun to develop a nice flow with his roommate, forward Dylan Renna. But just as the duo began to click - Renna missed all of pre-season camp and the first three regular season games due to hip surgery - another setback occurred. Center back Chris Christian suffered a torn ligament in his knee, ending his Villanova career. That forced McCarthy into Christian's old spot and Soroka back into the defensive midfield.
The shuffling, though, took its toll as the athletes adjusted. The sparks of offense that had begun to fly were harder to locate. Prior to an Oct. 19 home date with No. 9 St. John's, Carlin elected to pair Soroka and Renna again. The results were instantaneous - Soroka scored two goals and Renna added another in a 3-1 win on a wet day on West Campus.
The switch was not entirely responsible for the surge that would ultimately lift Villanova to a BIG EAST semifinal for the first time since 1993. There was growth from the back line, including McCarthy and William Cason, and other spots too. But it certainly enhanced the Wildcats' ability to create scoring chances, no small plus for a team that needed more from an area that leaned so heavily on a defense that set the single season school record for shutouts (nine).
"I think our finish created a lot of confidence for our guys, Kyle included," says Carlin.
"It was huge for us," adds Soroka. "It showed that this program is going in the right direction and that it can compete with top teams."
That, in turn, helped foster individual belief.
"I'd say I have a lot of confidence now," adds Soroka. "Just knowing the foundation of the team I know we can be successful. That creates a lot of confidence."
Little creates more good vibrations for goal scorers than balls in the back of the net. Soroka notched the `Cats first goal of the new season on Aug. 24 at Manhattan and added two more in a 4-1 win over Stony Brook on Aug. 28.
"When you are playing in an attacking role, goals do boost your confidence," he says. "But if you get caught up in it too much, it can haunt you."
Obviously, goals are essential and a key objective. Yet within the program there is a larger emphasis placed on consistent commitment.
"It's something (Carlin) talks about every day," says Soroka, "but it isn't what people might think. The commitment is to going out and implementing the game plan and working hard. It's what we've been doing."
Soroka comes by his success through years of development. He hails from a soccer family that produced an older brother Ryan who was a Parade All-American before he played collegiately at St. John's. Kyle began kicking a ball around at age five and had already moved into competitive soccer by the time he was 10. With quick feet, grit, and a strong leg, Soroka moved on to the radar of schools like Villanova, St. John's and Virginia Tech during his years with F.C. Delco. He settled on Villanova early and has never looked back.
"I was looking for somewhere where I could have a good relationship with the coaching staff," he says now. "That's something I have with Coach Carlin."
Soroka moved immediately into the starting lineup as a freshman and has been there ever since. He had five goals and two assists in 2009 and then those numbers dipped a bit as a sophomore when he spent more time on the defensive side. As a junior, he finished with five goals, including the only tally in the 1-0 win at No. 5 USF that lifted the Wildcats into the BIG EAST semifinal at Red Bull Arena.
He has already started 62 games at Villanova, with 15 goals to his credit. His career arc has mirrored his program's. There have been ups and downs on the field that have created a broad tapestry of experiences he can now draw upon.
"I'm more of a lead by example type, though I am trying to speak up more," he says. "It's trying to get the underclassmen to follow you, whether it's just through your play or saying something when it needs to be said. You have to know how to deal with each one of the guys.
"When I came into the program it was totally different than it is now. As a senior, (Carlin) says it's our team. The reality is a lot of it is on us. We just do it together and I think that's a reason we have had success so far."
There are still challenges ahead. This weekend offers a pair of games against Ivy League foes Penn (Friday night at Rhoads Field) and Princeton (Sunday on West Campus), both of whom defeated Villanova in 2011. Beyond that lie two local Philadelphia Soccer Six contests (La Salle and Temple at home) before the ever grueling BIG EAST slate begins with USF hoping to avenge its playoff loss here on Sept. 29.
Yet the good beginning gives the Wildcats a chance to build on their dream of securing the program's first ever NCAA Tournament bid. Soroka, who is on schedule to graduate with a Communications degree next spring, is a central figure in that quest.
"Kyle knew that he was a big reason for the success we had at the end of last season," Carlin says. "He has taken his role seriously. He feels like he has a job to do and is going to do it. The confidence from that run is showing. But most importantly, it's a case of a senior taking ownership in this team and winning all the battles in the middle of the field that he has to win."
Back, middle or front, it matters not where he is stationed.
"Anything to help the team," Soroka says.
Call it versatility, if you like. What the senior knows is that multiple mini-duels stand between Villanova and its aim.
Soroka is set on winning as many of them for his unit as he can.