While World Cup fever has gripped most Americans, the best soccer players to ever play in northwest Ohio watch the action with unique perspectives.
St. John’s Jesuit graduate Adam Montague and Northview alum Jessica Okoroafo have played big time college soccer in the Big Ten. Both have experienced the intensity of the sport at a high level. But both said nothing compares to the World Cup.
Montague, a senior forward at Michigan State University, finished tied for first in the Big Ten with four game-winning goals last fall. Montague said watching the country embrace his sport has been “pure excitement.”
“It’s a special time,” he said. “It’s been incredible. It gives you insight into what the rest of the world feels about soccer.”
Montague and Okoroafo are viewed by many as the top male and female high school soccer players from the Toledo area. None has ever made it to the ultimate level, the U.S. National team, but the area has produced a bevy of collegiate players.
Okoroafo, a 2005 Northview graduate, was named the Big Ten freshman of the year at Purdue. The forward was a two-time captain for the Boilermakers. At the end of her freshman year, Okoroafo was invited to the Team U.S. Under-20 training camp.
“Obviously, I’m biased but I think soccer is the most beautiful game there is,” she said. “People don’t understand all the little things and the skill these players have. I’m really into the stories behind the teams.”
Montague, who was second on Michigan State in scoring with five goals and six assists, earned All-Big Ten second team honors.
Montague, who is living in Chicago during the summer before his senior year of college, said the World Cup excitement has been palatable.
“It’s a lot of fun regardless of the so-called bandwagon fans,” he said. “They’ve been having watching parties here in Chicago and thousands are watching on the big screen.
“It’s funny how everyone is living and dying by soccer right now.”
Former Perrysburg player, Maddy Williams, is considered one of the best female players from the area. Williams, who will be a sophomore at Purdue, was named an All-American at Perrysburg in 2012. She lead the Yellow Jackets to the Division I state title, scoring 48 goals. Williams, who tied the Purdue freshman record with her 10 goals last fall, said she watches the World Cup differently than the average fan.
“It’s definitely been awesome to watch the top players play against each other,” she said. “Any highly competitive player watches the formations and the runs they make. The creativity sparks some ideas.”
Montague is considered the best prospect to eventually represent northwest Ohio on Team USA. He is expected to be drafted in January's Major League Soccer SuperDraft. He is ranked No. 10 among a list of the top prospects for the 2015 class by the Web site topdrawersoccer.com.
He is described as a forward with a large frame (6 feet, 3 inches, 185 pounds) who does a lot of things coaches and scouts will love.
Jimmy Walker, the executive director of coaching at Sylvania’s Pacesetter Soccer Club, coached Montague when he was a teen. He called Montague an exceptional talent and a great athlete with good work ethic and attitude.
“Adam could become the most decorated kid from this area,” Walker said. “He will almost certainly will be an All-American and get drafted.
“I could see Adam being a national team player someday. I wouldn’t say that about many players. I don’t say that lightly.”
If Montague does get drafted into MLS, he would be just the second player from the area to receive that distinction. Northview graduate Pete Dzubay had a distinguished career as a goalie at the University of Michigan.
In 2006, Dzubay was the 17th player selected in MLS’ draft when he was chosen by the New York Red Bulls. Dzubay, who still holds UM records for career records in saves (298), wins (36) and shutouts (19), also trained with the Chicago Fire of MLS.
Ryan Creech, who spent 16 years as the boys coach at Northview, said the area has produced many top players. He said Montague and Dzubay distinguished themselves from the pack.
“They have had the most consistent and longest careers from beginning to end or are still playing,” said Creech, who himself was inducted into Miami University’s hall of fame after a stellar soccer career.
Another local goalkeeper, Casey Latchem, also had a splendid career in the Big Ten.
Latchem, a Perrysburg graduate, rewrote the record book at Ohio State. A two-time All-Ohio goalie for the Yellow Jackets, he started as a junior and senior for the Buckeyes. Latchem also had a tryout with the Columbus Crew of MLS.
Anthony Wayne graduate Kate Allen recently wrapped up a record-setting career at Northwestern. As a senior forward she led the Wildcats in scoring in 2013 while leading the team in goals all four years. Allen finished her career with 21 goals, which ranks third in school history.
Although none of the best players from this area have represented Team USA in the World Cup, Walker said it is just a matter of time.
“It’s very difficult in a smaller market like this,” Walker said. “But we’ve already had a handful. At some point you'll see a player make it.”
Okoroafo said she was hugely influenced by the U.S. women’s team that won the 1999 World Cup.
“A lot of programs are flourishing here now,” she said. “I think more will come out of the area.”
Williams said is doing all she can to reach the highest level. “That would be unreal. I'll have to have a lot of good college seasons under my belt.”
Among the brightest prospects among the current prep players is St. John’s senior Camden Buescher, who has committed to Northwestern.
Buescher was invited to spend 10 days last fall with the Everton Football Club of the elite English Premiere League.
St. Ursula’s Celia Oatis recently committed to Michigan State, while Perrysburg’s Josie Fowler is being recruited by the top Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference schools. Both Oatis and Fowler will be juniors this fall.
“They are two very good young ones,” said Perrysburg girls coach Jorge Diaz. “They both have been part of the National Olympic Development Program.”
All of those players are focused on the sport’s biggest stage in Brazil. Montague said he was glued to the United States’ heartbreaking tie with Portugal on Sunday.
“No one thought the Americans would survive this Group of Death,” he said. “Americans never quit. At times it’s not the prettiest soccer, but we’ve gone out there and battled.
“[The tie] was frustrating. I've been on my fair share of winning and losing games like that. It’s nice to see all these underdogs win. I just hope we get some luck against the Germans.”
There are a number of MLS players on Team USA's roster and Montague said he dreams of one day participating in the world’s most popular tournament.
“I’m realistic about my abilities,” Montague said. “But you look at the roster and there are five or six MLS guys who made it. I have a never say never attitude.”