Williams senior back Phil Vestergaard (St. Petersburg, FL) a four-year letterman and a three-year starter for the Ephs has secured an invitation to the North American Soccer League (NASL) Combine to be conducted in Fort Lauderdale, FL, February 10-12.
The annual NASL event allows players the opportunity to display their talents to coaches, scouts, and staff from all eight NASL [www.nasl.com] clubs: Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Minnesota Stars FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Puerto Rico Islanders, San Antonio Scorpions, and the Ottawa Fury.
Only 66 players will be invited to the 2012 NASL Combine.
Vestergaard's invitation to participate in the 2012 NASL Combine came about in an unorthodox manner. While home over semester break he played in a reunion game with his old club team Strictly Soccer Futbol
Club (St. Petersburg). "At Strictly Soccer I was coached by Hans Burt whose son Chad, is a professional player, who has played in the NASL for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and has also played for a professional team in Japan," Vestergaard said. "Chad is currently playing in a league in Poland, but is looking to make a start in the English leagues."
|Phil Vestergaard '12|
"I was put at center and right back, and to be honest I didn't have the best support on my team," Vestergaard noted. "So for 45 minutes I had to defend our goal from a pretty merciless onslaught brought on by Chad Burt and Christian Raudales who was another player on my club team and will also be attending the combine in Ft. Lauderdale."
Vestergaard's impressive play against the 45-minute offensive onslaught that day was noted by his former coach and an NASL scout. "At half time, my old coach Hans took me aside with another assistant coach Brian Wellman, who is also a recruiting coach for the Carolina Railhawks, and told me they were quite impressed with my play and asked me if I had any plans for continuing soccer after college."
Vestergaard, a psychology major with intentions of becoming a consultant informed Burt ad Wellman that, "at the time I had no real intentions of continuing soccer besides playing casually in the spring and joining any recreational teams that I might find in the course of my life. However Mr. Wellman told me that he sincerely thought I had the right mix of skill, presence, and physical ability to become a solid fullback for any team in the NASL."
While flattered with the assessment of his abilities by the two coaches on hand Vestergaard still needed a little more prompting, which came from Burt. "Hans told me that I would really never have a chance like this again, and that I might always wonder "what if" if I didn't do it."
That little half time chat inspired Vestergaard to write up a soccer cover letter and apply for one of the coveted 66 spots in the NASL Combine.
While at Williams Vestergaard earned First Team NSCAA New England North Honors and Second Team NSCAA All-American recognition.
Vestergaard is the 46th Eph coached by Russo to be named an All-American, while 66 have earned All-New England honors.
In 16 games last fall the 9-4-3 Ephs allowed just 10 goals, 0.625 a game.
Starting 15 of the 16 games in 2011 Vestergaard finished third on the Eph team in scoring with three goals and one assist (7 points). All three of his goals were game-winners.
Vestergaard was called on to stabilize the Eph backline while the group worked its way through and injury-plagued season.
Missing the game of soccer shortly after his Williams career ended nudged Vestergaard into playing as many pickup games as he could with his former Eph teammates. "To know that your real playing days are over is a strange sensation, but now with the NASL Combine coming up, even with the training that I hate so much, I feel like it's not over," said Vestergaard. "I know it's a long shot that I get picked up by a team. Soccer is still alive for me, and it's a great feeling."
"I hope I can at least match some of the success that Charlie [Romero] found in his USL Pro Combine experience," Vestergaard stated. "I look forward to hearing what kind of offers he gets." Romero a 2011 Eph grad was a standout striker who just finished participating in the USL Pro Combine and netted four of his team's five goals in the final scrimmage of the combine.
"Phil improved immensely over his four years with us to the point this year where I thought he was our best player," commented Eph head coach Mike Russo. "Obviously, he is an excellent defender but he also possesses very good skill going forward in the attack. He is big, fast, athletic, and possesses a great attitude and mentality, which I think will serve him well in the trials with NASL. Phil is versatile as well as he can play the outside and central defending positions. I wish him all the best as he has worked hard to raise the level of his game and I truly believe he has a big upside."
"I met with coach Russo the other day, and just seeing the smile on his face when he thought about possibly having two professional soccer players from the program in the past two years really made me excited and ready to play." Vestergard noted. "Knowing that you have the support of people from a community like Williams can really give you the boost and the confidence to perform in tryouts such as this, where you really have to give everything and be a standout player."