Blue Demons withstand 28-shot attack and shut out nation's top team in second half
Intense week commences Tuesday night at Loyola Soccer Park and concludes Saturday night in Omaha, Neb.
Conference opener at Wish Field will be broadcast on the BIG EAST Digital Network
Blue Demons fall 3-2 as Drake scores game-winner in the 86th minute
Robinson and DePaul defense keep the zero until Illinois-Chicago scores in the 84th minute on Thursday
Contact Coach Craig Blazer
Continuing the rise of the DePaul soccer program and concluding his 14th year in 2014 is head coach Craig Blazer.
The Blue Demons opened the 2014 campaign at 3-2-1 with victories over Green Bay (on the road), Utah Valley and Drake while tying with Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. After dropping back-to-back matches, DePaul rebounded with a 3-1 victory over Seton Hall in its BIG EAST opener and a tie with Loyola Chicago. The Blue Demons wound up with two ties in their final eight matches and finished the season 4-10-4, 1-6-2 in one of the top soccer conferences in the nation. In the final NCAA RPI ranking, the BIG EAST had four teams in the top 13.
That demonstrated the team's resiliency. The Blue Demons battled right to the end in overtime losses against three nationally ranked teams. Their schedule featured matches against eight teams that would be ranked in the nation's Top 25 during the season highlighted by the victory over Marquette and the tie with St. John's.
Senior goalkeeper Eric Sorby had a career year and was No. 2 in the nation in total saves during the middle of the 2013 season. Garza had his best season leading the team in goals, assists and points while Yesilli anchored the defense from center back. Freshmen Erik Rodriguez, Simon Megally, Kevin Beyer, Curt Shillingsford and Jake Rawlings had peformances that portend well for the future.
In 2012, the Blue Demons could claim the mythical Chicago-area collegiate soccer crown with victories over Northwestern, Illinois-Chicago and Loyola. DePaul also came away with ties against Valparaiso, Cincinnati and Drake. Blazer & Co. finished off the season with a rousing 3-2 BIG EAST Conference victory over USF at Wish Field.
Antonio Aguilar was selected NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team for the second year in a row and was named All-BIG EAST First Team for the second-straight year.
In 2011, Blazer led the Blue Demons to their sixth consecutive appearance in the BIG EAST Championship tournament. That is no small feat considering the BIG EAST is among the premier soccer conferences in the nation as seven teams competed in the 2011 NCAA tournament with three BIG EAST teams advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals.
DePaul (6-11-2, 3-5-1 in the BIG EAST) secured a playoff spot on the final day of its regular season with a 2-1 victory over Syracuse at Wish Field. Both teams were battling for the last playoff berth. Wes Vallentine scored his first goal at DePaul in the 17th minute for a 1-0 lead. After the Orange tied it up in the 49th minute, freshman Anthony Hunter scored his first collegiate goal in the 59th minute to send his team onto the postseason. DePaul lost 4-0 at No. 7/4 Connecticut in the first-round playoff match.
The 2011 season saw Blazer and assistant coaches Hobie Hare and Craig Reynolds cultivate and develop a young team that had 13 freshmen and 10 sophomores on its 28-player roster. The Blue Demons were able to overcome a season-ending injury to top midfielder Ray De Leon as sophomore Eric Sorby emerged as goalkeeper.
High points of the season included a 4-0 victory over Big Ten champion Northwestern and battling No. 4 Creighton into double overtime before falling 1-0. Antonio Aguilar was chosen All-BIG EAST First Team and freshman David Selvaggi was named to the All-BIG EAST Rookie Team.
From 2007 to 2009, the program put together an impressive resume that included back-to-back BIG EAST Conference Championship semifinal appearances and a BIG EAST quarterfinal berth while turning Wish Field at Cacciatore Stadium into one of the most dangerous home venues in the BIG EAST.
The Blue Demons went 4-10-5 in 2010 and came through in the clutch. On the final day of the regular season, DePaul defeated Rutgers 2-0 on the road to earn its fifth-consecutive berth in the BIG EAST Championship tournament. In the opening round, the Blue Demons came up short 2-0 against perennial national power Connecticut.
Blazer's Bunch set a school record in 2010 with five ties.
DePaul's team grade-point average was No. 3 in the nation among Division I men's soccer programs. The Blue Demons were also in the top 10 percent of men's soccer programs in the nation in the NCAA's Academic Performance Rate (APR). They received the NSCAA Team Academic Award and the BIG EAST Team Academic Award.
DePaul went 8-9-3 in 2009 and qualified for the BIG EAST tournament with a 5-6-1 league mark. The Blue Demons upset Georgetown in the opening round on penalty kicks and a superb performance from freshman goalkeeper Joe Ferrari.
In the quarterfinals, DePaul matched No. 5 Louisville through two overtimes before finally succumbing on penalty kicks.
Steffen Vroom became the first DePaul field-position player to be named All-BIG EAST First Team and also the first DePaul player to be invited to the MLS (Major League Soccer)Player Combine. Freshman Antonio Aguilar was named to the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team.
Blazer's eighth year leading the program in 2008 finished in Tampa, Fla. at the BIG EAST Championship semifinals. DePaul's second-straight appearance in the league semifinals is only matched by Notre Dame among its BIG EAST peers. The Blue Demons rode a late-season surge and finished tied for sixth in the NSCAA Great Lakes Region poll.
The 2008 campaign followed arguably the greatest season in program history in 2007 that sawDePaul make its first NCAA Championship appearance. Blazer has steadily built the men's soccer program into a contender in the region and in the BIG EAST. After being picked as the BIG EAST Red Division's eighth-place team in the 2007 preseason poll, the Blue Demons surprised the league by claiming the division title and advancing to the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship.
Additionally, DePaul saw itself ranked among the region's top 10 throughout the season and held a program-best No. 5 slot in the Great Lakes Region for four weeks. The Blue Demons made noise nationally as they were ranked as high as No. 17 in the Soccer America Top 25 for the first national ranking in program history.
Individually, Blazer and assistant coach Adam Tinkham were selected as the BIG EAST Coaching Staff of the Year and Blazer was named the Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. Brian Visser picked up the BIG EAST's Goalkeeper of the Year Award. The memorable 2007 season concluded with a NCAA Tournament berth, another first for the men's soccer program, and a new record for shutouts in a season while matching the program record for wins in a season.
Through the first three seasons of BIG EAST play, the Blue Demons have improved each year under Blazer's watch. The 2005 squad went 2-8-1 in the league for seven points and proved to be a tough out as they played five overtime matches. The 2006 season saw DePaul qualify for the BIG EAST Championship after a preseason pick to finish eighth in the Red Division. The Blue Demons tallied four league victories, their most conference wins since 2003, and earned the sixth seed from the BIG EAST's Red Division. Among the four league wins were victories over top 15-ranked USF and perennial national power St. John's.
The improvement trend continued in 2007 with a 7-4-0 BIG EAST record and division-best 21 points to go along with a 12-7-0 mark overall. Among the victories were wins over No. 2-Connecticut and No. 21 Louisville while starting the season with wins in five of the first six matches.
One of the cornerstones of Blazer's program is success off the field. DePaul is always among the league's best in the classroom as they claimed the 2007 BIG EAST Team Academic Award. In the first three seasons of BIG EAST membership, the men's soccer program has totaled 51 conference academic honorees. The 2005 team placed 15 members on the list followed by 17 in 2006. DePaul improved on that in 2007 with a conference-best 19 players on the BIG EAST All-Academic Team.
After leading the team through a tough 2001 campaign, Blazer used it as a stepping stone for one of the biggest improvements in college soccer in 2002. In just his second season, Blazer navigated the Blue Demons to their best record since 1996 and the top team GPA among all Conference USA men's soccer programs.
In 2003, DePaul won eight matches and set school records for shutouts and fewest goals allowed in a season. Despite not qualifying for the C-USA Tournament, the Blue Demons were in the thick of the race until the final match of the season. Individually, Patrick Vyncke earned third team All-Midwest Region honors---becoming the first player in DePaul history to be recognized by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
In 2004, DePaul claimed the C-USA Sport Academic Award and John Kornfeld earned third team All-CUSA honors and was named to the league's All-Freshman team. Blazer's squad posted a 3-13-2 overall record and 2-6-2 mark in Conference USA in 2001 after he was named interim head coach.
The Blue Demons were in the hunt for the Conference USA Tournament as late as the final weekend of the season before losing their last two league matches. Individually, Luke Rojo was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team. In that first season, Blazer established a new foundation for the men's soccer program at DePaul. The Blue Demons lost four matches by just a single goal and won back-to-back games for the first time since the 1999 season.
Blazer is no stranger to the world's best in the sport of soccer. Working with the U.S. National teams from 1993-01, he traveled throughout the world and managed soccer at its highest level. The highlight of his U.S. Soccer duties was with the 2000 Sydney Olympics. While in Sydney, the United States recorded their highest finish in Olympic history.
Prior to Sydney, Blazer worked with members of the United States Olympic Committee, Sydney Organizing Committee Olympic Games and Federation International Football Association (FIFA). Leading up to the Sydney Olympics, Blazer managed all 19 pre-Olympic events including competitions in Brazil, England, Portugal, Spain and the 2000 Olympic Qualification Tournament in Hershey, Pa.
He has served as the U.S. National Team Coordinator. His role with the national team included managing team logistics with traveling throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America. In December 1998, Blazer organized and supervised the first international joint venture between Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer in Manchester, England, with the MLS Project-40 team.
In addition to his current coaching duties at DePaul, he is also involved with youth soccer at all levels. He works with the Illinois Olympic Development Program as a member of the Region II staff. Blazer earned his U.S. Soccer "A" Coaching license in 2000 and coached at Cincinnati's Fairfield High School in 1992. While playing at Xavier, he assisted at LaSalle High School from 1987-91.
As a player, Blazer was a goalkeeper at Xavier University from 1987-91 and earned a degree in Political Science and Communications. Craig and his wife, Claudia, are the parents of two sons, Oscar and Julian, and two daughters, Stella and Sophia.