Oct. 12, 2012
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
The adage that a single telephone call can alter the direction of one's life seems rather quaint in the age of mobile devices, texts and instant messaging.
Villanova senior back Kyle McCarthy understands, though, that a simple telephone call can still signal a significant course change on the road of life.
Prior to his arrival on the Main Line in the fall of 2009, McCarthy was a defender of considerable soccer promise from Basking Ridge, N.J. The recruiting process was nearing its conclusion and the hour for a decision to be reached was nearly at hand. After discussing the possibilities with his parents, Fabian and Julie, the younger McCarthy felt ready to state his allegiance.
"I was ready to commit," he says now, "to Colgate."
McCarthy's affinity for Villanova had quietly been known in his own home for some time. The Ridge High School product played club soccer for former Wildcat standout Doug Nevins and had thoroughly enjoyed a visit here to tour campus. Yet he didn't have an official offer from VU and wasn't sure one would be forthcoming. Colgate, meanwhile, was very much interested and the word was that an offer was McCarthy's to accept as soon as he said the word.
"Colgate was on Kyle early," recalls Villanova head coach Tom Carlin. "They were trying to get him to commit and we were still trying to get an idea if he was a fit for us."
As Carlin and company mulled, McCarthy moved closer to saying yes to a program that had tracked him closely for some time.
"The day I was going to call the (Colgate) coach to receive an offer," says McCarthy, "he had to push it back due to family issues."
As setbacks go, it wasn't much of one. McCarthy still expected to give the nod to the Raiders once the call could be re-scheduled. That is, until his phone rang a little later that day. Carlin was on the line.
"Coach Carlin called and gave me a surprise offer," McCarthy says. "Villanova was always the top school in the back of my head. So I accepted on the spot."
"It just so happens that on the day we called he was probably a couple of hours away from committing to Colgate," adds Carlin. "He literally went from having the Colgate fight song on his phone to the Villanova fight song on there in the space of one day."
Thus, was born a Wildcat career of consistent accomplishment. McCarthy entered the starting lineup for the season opener in 2009 and has been there ever since (he brings a streak of 72 consecutive starting assignments with him into Saturday's BIG EAST match with Cincinnati at the Soccer Complex at 1:00 p.m.). While his offensive numbers are modest - he has four career goals, including one each season - that is to be expected for a man who has plied his trade in the defensive midfield and central defense.
More telling about McCarthy's effectiveness are Villanova's stingy defensive numbers. The program established a new school record with nine shutouts in 2011, including 1-0 wins over nationally ranked Notre Dame and USF in the BIG EAST playoffs. This season, McCarthy has helped anchor a backline that has allowed 11 goals in 13 contests (an 0.85 average) despite a more vigorous attacking approach than the ones favored earlier in his career.
"It's been more challenging," says McCarthy of the push to create greater offensive tempo, "but the positives make it worth it. We may have more work to do at times, but when you are getting multiple goals and early goals, it's a huge plus. It's a lot better than defending 0-0 ties."
Indeed, Villanova has already eclipsed its goal total for all of 2011 with 24. More important, is a 9-2-2 overall record that has the Wildcats well positioned for November with just five regular season contests left on the slate.
Those who have watched McCarthy continually snuff out promising chances in front of goalkeeper John Fogarty know well his importance.
"Kyle has been one of our leaders for a long time," says Carlin of an athlete who was named a team captain as a sophomore and has held the title ever since. "He bought into the vision of where we wanted this program to go early in his career and has really played a big part in taking us there."
"From Day One he has always been a dependable guy. You know exactly what you are going to get and you know that he has a great understanding of the values that are most important to this program."
Fabian McCarthy was a soccer player himself and his son has early memories of tagging along to his father's Sunday league games.
"I would go watch him play and I became friends with the sons of his friends," notes the younger McCarthy. "We would all get together to play soccer and then you start to get into your travel teams growing up."
McCarthy spent most of his time as a defender and as he developed it was clear that he had a rare gift of size, quick feet and the ability to anticipate from his years studying the game. He would grow to be 6-3 and that frame lends itself to winning balls in the air, especially in front of his team's own net.
Though the decision to come to Villanova was made quickly, it felt right and the ensuing years have only bolstered that sense. McCarthy arrived as part of a deep class that included current stalwarts Kyle Soroka, Emerson Lawrence, Ryan Whalen, Alec Weiss, and Ryan Quane. It grew to add Fogarty, who redshirted as a freshman, and returned this season for his fifth year at Villanova.
"It absolutely helps us now," says McCarthy. "We know each other's tendencies so well and we know what each guy can give each day. That's really benefitted us. It's been fantastic to work with these guys for the last four years."
It also doesn't hurt that McCarthy today feels more comfortable in a leadership role than he did when he was first named a captain in his second year as a Wildcat.
"That took me some time to adjust to," he says. "I wasn't necessarily a vocal guy and (at that point) you have older players looking at you. I think in my conversations with Tom I've learned to become more vocal about saying something when it needs to be said, not just on the field but off it too."
One manifestation of that leadership came midway through the 2011 season when news came that central back Chris Christian had torn a knee ligament and would be sidelined for the balance of the campaign. That left a void next to William Cason in the central defense and McCarthy had the tools to be effective there. By season's end, Cason and McCarthy had become quite the formidable pair and it's a synergy that has carried into 2012.
"I talked to Coach and we just decided that the switch was a good fit for me and for this program going forward," he says. "It's worked out well."
Aside from an occasional foray into the box on set pieces, McCarthy's role has kept him in the back, where one misstep can result in disaster. It's a reality he and his mates along the back four, which includes Cason, Whalen and Sean Sheridan, happily embrace.
"That's the life of a defender," he says philosophically. "It's tough and it's high-pressure but we all get a sense of enjoyment out of it, like living on the edge. That really helps us form a bond. We all get along great and I think we all have a shared sense of danger. We have each other's backs. If someone makes a mistake, we pick them right back up."
The mistakes have been infrequent this season and the four backs are hardly on an island. Fogarty has been sharp in goal and there is ample support from the midfield. Soroka often shifts back into the defensive midfield if the Wildcats gain a lead and folks like Lawrence, Daniel Gonzalez, and Quane help in that area too.
It has added up to a start unlike any other in the BIG EAST era of Villanova Soccer, which dates to 1984.
"We still have a third of the season left so we can't take our eye off the finish line," he notes. "Carlin calls it fool's gold - you can still fall into a slide and have a mediocre season on your hands. We can't let that happen."
McCarthy is also well aware that this is his final lap on the college circuit. Senior Day is just over two weeks away on Oct. 27 against Pittsburgh. He is on track to graduate with a degree in Communications next May and has aspirations of continuing his soccer career at the professional level. That, though, can wait.
The focus these days is putting an exclamation point on a remarkable four year journey that began with a phone call McCarthy wasn't sure would ever come.