Kyle Spencer, sports editor, @kyledspencer
UVU soccer head coach Greg Maas’ aspirations of creating a nationally competitive program are evident in the lengthy summer to-do list.
Coach Maas’ first order of business was to find an associate head coach to help him shoulder some of the burdensome load. Matt Ellinger, previously the head coach at the University of Utah, was hired on May 22 and has been working incessantly from day one, albeit without an office. Maas’ lofty goals required that not only a well-qualified individual fill the vacancy, but also someone who had achieved success at the collegiate level. With Ellinger aboard, Maas will be able to lean on a coach who led his Utah team to back-to-back finishes as regional finalists in 2011 and 2012. Matt is also the son of the John Ellinger, who was the first head coach in the history of Real Salt Lake. As he worked for the club his father guided on the field, he was able to witness firsthand the off-field strategies implemented by the club to invoke interest in the fans.
“The chance to get back to the Division I level,” said associate head coach Matt Ellinger in response to what attracted him to UVU. We want to build a soccer culture. We want different student groups and supporter clubs [that are] borderline rowdy. Utah is a very soccer-savvy community and we’re going to be the football team here. Our second preseason game [next year] will be with Real Salt Lake down here. That’s going to be an annual exhibition for us. We’re playing an MLS team every year, which is great for recruiting.”
Maas (U-17 head coach) and Ellinger (U-16 head coach) know each other from their time with the Real Salt Lake development academy, which aside from providing them with a head start on recruiting has helped form a relationship that has them united in their expectations and goals.
“I look at this as an opportunity being the only men’s Division I program in Utah to really engage the community and get people excited,” said head coach Greg Maas. “Matt and I dream that consistently we’re putting four or five thousand fans in the seats at these games.”
The coaches have already received a number on no-official commitment and are currently busy preparing UVU soccer camps, which will be organized in three sessions this year. The first begins June 24 and ends on June 27. Session two will be held from July 15-18, and session three will run July 22-25. More information can be found at wolverinegreen.com. The camps are designed to offer technical training to the individual and help teach team oriented, tactical play. UVU will also hold a Men’s College ID Camp for players interested competing collegiately August 2-3.
“Our first registrant came from Singapore,” coach Maas said. “There’s a lot of interest, especially in the College ID camp. I’ve had four or five players from outside of the state, three of which I haven’t had any contact with whatsoever have found out about it and want to come in. It’s going to be important for us, in particular to engage our current UVU men’s club members, to see if there are some other players we might be able to glean out of that group as well.”
One of the major objectives of the soccer camps is to start creating a national brand that will become the identity of UVU soccer. While a future UVU football team appears to be nothing more than a pipe dream, young men and women that find beauty in the international brand of football can get their foot in the door by enrolling in the soccer camps. It could be their first step toward cementing themselves as a permanent part of history by representing the first ever Division I soccer team in Utah.
“The first priority has been to target our Utah players,” coach Maas said. “We want to get the best student-athletes we can get here in Utah [and] engage them in the opportunity. With our resources [we] kind of network out, through Real Salt Lake, the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders, [and] the L.A. Galaxy. Those particular U.S. development academy clubs that we have a relationship with – we know people in the front office – we are working to get those kids interested.”
With Maas and Ellinger in charge, UVU soccer is poised to invigorate a region that has been starved of the beautiful game on the highest collegiate level for too long. Their passion for the game and desire to build an elite program shine brightly as they talk about their vision, which includes building state-of-the-art facilities and an enclosed stadium that will strike fear into the hearts of the opponents as they experience thousands of energetic, green-clad fans, audibly supporting their beloved Wolverine soccer team from the stands.