After a fall season to forget, three of Penn soccer’s best dedicated their summers to improving their game so that this year will be one to remember.
Junior forward Duke Lacroix, senior forward Stephen Baker and senior captain Jonny Dolezal spent their summers playing with semi-pro teams in the Mid-Atlantic Division of the Premier Development League.
And if all goes well, the Quakers will be reaping the benefits this season.
“We’re happy for those guys,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “All three of those guys have worked very hard to get where they are right now, and [we’ll take] any chance we can get to help move out players along and develop them.”
The PDL is the top league for amateur soccer players in the United States. Baker and Dolezal played for Reading United A.C. in Pennsylvania, while Lacroix suited up for the Ocean City Nor’easters in New Jersey.
“We were practicing with some of the best players in the country, and then in games you’re playing against some of the best players in the country,” Baker said. “So it was great competition, that’s the only way to make your game better.”
The constant competition in training that Baker, Dolezal and Lacroix encountered forced them to increase their level of intensity on the field in practice and games.
”The training was great, everything about it — the environment, playing with the best players in the country, every day you’re competing for your spot — so the competitive environment was a great experience coming into this season at Penn,” Dolezal said.
Fuller and the rest of the Quakers hope that the trio will carry over that level of training into practices and games at Penn.
“When you’re playing with the better players from other college programs, guys who are serious about their craft and have the same aspirations you do, it makes you better,” Fuller said.
“And then they bring that to our team. They come back with higher expectations of how they train and how we train. It’s better for everybody.”
Lacroix spoke highly of Ocean City, one of the top semi-pro clubs in the nation.
Due to an injury halfway through the summer, Lacroix wasn’t able to finish the season with the Nor’easters, but still benefited from the work he put in.
“It’s a great experience to play at such a high level for the entire summer, especially for the offseason in college,” he said.
Along with playing against some of the top college players in the country, the trio got to experience what it’s like going up against some of the top professionals as well.
In the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Lacroix’s side took on the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer, while Dolezal and Baker’s team played the New York Red Bulls.
Lacroix played against some of the top players in MLS, like Sebastian Le Toux and Jack McInerney, but held his own.
“When I went to watch Duke play against the Union, he looks like he belongs,” Fuller said. “In that game at PPL Park, he did not look out of place at all. In fact, he looked dangerous.”
Proving yourself against the top players in the country, both amateur and professional, is a big step for American soccer players with dreams of going pro — something Baker, Dolezal and Lacroix all expressed a desire to do after graduation.
“I definitely want to try to play,” Dolezal said. “Hopefully professionally, that would be great obviously. That’s been my goal and dream, to play professionally.”
“I think all three of those guys have aspirations to play professionally,” Fuller said. “So having a summer like they did is a really necessary and important step for them.”
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