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Dons Hoping To Ride Goalie Uhl To a Third Straight WCC Title

Sept. 21, 2006

By Tom FitzGerald
San Francisco Chronicle

Former USF men's soccer coach Steve Negoesco isn't quite ready to rank Geremy Uhl among the top goalkeepers ever to grace the Hilltop. Besides, Negoesco hasn't seen all of USF's goalies. He coached there for only 39 years.

"Let's see how he does this year,'' Negoesco said.

USF won four national championships under Negoesco, so it's understandable that he's a tough guy to impress.

"He's got the size, and he reads the game very well,'' he said of Uhl. "He's very quick and smart, the kind of kid who is humble enough to work with his defense. Some goalkeepers will yell at their defense (for mistakes). They're not introspective. They don't look at their own flaws."

The Dons have won back-to-back West Coast Conference titles under Erik Visser, who succeeded Negoesco in 2001. They open their title defense Friday at St. Mary's (2-3-3), followed by a Sunday night home game against Santa Clara (4-2-1), another team with huge aspirations.

As usual, USF (5-1-1) will rely on Uhl, a 6-foot-4 redhead who has 22 shutouts in his career and 12 in WCC play, one shy of the record that U.S. national team goalie Kasey Keller set while at Portland (1988-90). His name is pronounced "Yule," but there are no gifts for the opposition.

Uhl would love to follow Keller into the pro ranks, and during a training trip to Romania this summer, he was tempted to sign with a Romanian first-division team. Uhl decided to come back to the Dons because he thought he owed it to his parents to get his degree (in marketing) and felt a commitment to his coaches and his teammates.

Uhl admits he and his parents back in Los Alamitos (Orange County) used to argue over the value of a degree. "That's been their dream," he said. "Mine has been to play professional soccer. So there was a lot of conflict there.''

Now the conflict is confined to the soccer field, where Uhl dominates the box like an especially territorial dog. He's the Clifford the Big Red Dog of college soccer.

Some opponents sense "that the option of sending balls into the box or crossing from the wings isn't realistic,'' assistant coach Tyler Gottschalk said. "When we played Penn State (a 2-0 USF win), he won everything.''

Gottschalk thinks Uhl was always so focused on playing professionally that he worked out too much. Until this year, Uhl was "beating himself up physically. ... He's much more mature this year than in the past. He's learning to pace himself,'' Gottschalk said.

Uhl used to beat himself up in another way. "I'm a really competitive person,'' he said. "When I was younger, if I got scored on, I'd just lose it. It took me awhile to learn that, although you do everything you can to stop the ball, thinking about it (immediately after a goal) does nothing for you. You still have the game to play.''

Visser was watching high school players in a San Diego tournament when he first saw Uhl. "He made two saves that convinced me,'' he said. "Very few goalkeepers have the athleticism to make the saves he made -- point-blank shots from maybe 10 yards out.

"The thing that really impressed me was that after the initial save, he quickly got up for the rebound. A lot of goalkeepers will make that first save and then kind of give up on the play. It displays not only his athleticism but his determination. It tells you a lot about his character.''

Visser places Uhl with senior Eric Reed of UCLA and sophomore Chris Seitz of Maryland's defending national champions as the best goalies in the country.

Reed and UCLA had the upper hand on Uhl and the Dons on Sunday in a 2-0 win. But Visser calls his group "the most talented, the deepest and the most experienced team that we've had in the last six years. If we stay injury-free and stay focused, this is a team that could go to the Final Four.''

Uhl agrees. "Mentally, we have a lot of strong players, older players who have been through a lot and are never satisfied,'' he said.

Not the least of which is the big dog in the box.