Fans who worry whether new coach Jared Embick will be able to recruit the same level of talent to keep the University of Akron soccer program a perennial national championship contender need not flood Embick’s email inbox.
He’s getting the same question regularly from his father, Gary.
“My dad asks me all the time, ‘When are you going to get some big names in there?’ ” Embick said Monday during a 45-minute interview in his UA office. “I just laugh at him.”
The elder Embick, a retired high school biology teacher in Grand City, Ill., near St. Louis, has obviously been surfing the Internet. After spending six years under UA coach Caleb Porter, Jared Embick took over last month when Porter departed for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.
Porter recorded the highest winning percentage in the country (.832) in the past seven seasons, won the school’s first national team championship in 2010, went to back-to-back College Cup finals and posted five consecutive seasons in the NCAA Round of 16 or better, including 2012.
Embick, 34, was named Porter’s successor in October.
Since the season ended, the Zips have seen four players sign home-grown contracts with the MLS, two of them underclassmen, and there could be more. That group includes DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC), Wil Trapp and Chad Barson (Columbus Crew) and Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution). Two more seniors have departed — part-time starter Thomas Schmitt and goalkeeper David Meves, who has a chance to be selected in this week’s MLS SuperDraft.
In recent weeks, Gary Embick has become just as inquisitive about recruiting as a season-ticket holder or member of the AK-Rowdies.
“He says, ‘People are asking what’s going on,’ ” Embick said of conversations with his father. “I tell him, ‘You’ve got too much time on your hands. Go watch a movie instead of going [online] and seeing what people are saying. We’ve got this under control.’ ”
After a team meeting today, Embick leaves Wednesday on a recruiting trip to Holland. Stops in Denmark, Ghana and Honduras could follow, depending on the success of his efforts in each country. He also wants to check back in with recruits in Arizona and Houston.
During his travels, he is looking for three or four players.
“This year the players we wanted, I didn’t think were necessarily at the level we would like as far as American kids,” Embick said.
Embick said a Brazilian defensive midfielder who could replace Trapp is applying for his visa this week and hopes to be enrolled in school by next Monday or Tuesday. He said he’s kept the top commitment from the fall, who is “probably the third-best prospect available.” Two Ohioans are expected to be among the incoming class on signing day Feb. 6.
“I can understand where the public may be antsy because there’s six guys who left,” Embick said. “If they look at our commitments, there’s three or four guys. They want players, players, players, which we could get. In the fall they could be unhappy because the level is a little down.”
Embick said junior transfer Robbie Derschang, late-emerging sophomore walk-on Saad Abdul-Salaam and several members of last year’s freshman class should play a big role next season. They include Matt Foldesy (who backed up Caldwell), Andrew Souders (behind Barson) and Alfred Koroma, limited to 14 games after being hospitalized for two serious infections.
But Embick is looking for players who can beat them out. He will be aided by returning assistant Oliver Slawson and Carl Capellas, a Warren native and coach at Hiram College for the past nine seasons, who will soon be announced as recruiting coordinator.
Embick called Capellas “a fiery assistant” more in the mold of Porter, added so they can “keep that emotion going.”
Before he left for Portland, Porter said Embick played a big part in recruiting.
“He has a great eye for talent. Especially in the last three or four years when I got so busy having kids and all the things I had to do with the alums and community. I was working with the national teams. He was my eyes and ears when I was gone,” Porter said in November.
“He went out on the road and identified most of the guys that we got. I played a big part in closing the deal, but he deserves a lot of the credit for finding the guys.”
Embick said the majority of the time he’d watch recruits play, start conversations and get them to visit, then let Porter take over.
“If we get a kid on campus it’s almost a done deal, especially with a fall game, the atmosphere, the Rowdies, when they see how nice the field is,” Embick said. “At the end of the day if you’re a starter here, you’ve got a very good chance of being a professional.”
Embick hopes to continue UA’s pipeline from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which has produced several of its stars. He said three from there visited over Christmas and the Zips “may end up getting one or two.”
Embick doesn’t want to call next season a transition year, but he’s also concentrating on the next class. He admitted he feels the pressure of maintaining Porter’s standards.
“You can’t help but have that cross your mind,” he said. “When I was working with him I was thinking about those things, anyway, because I couldn’t let it drop. Now it falls on my shoulders.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.