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A Package Deal

Aug. 23, 2006

By Mark Zeigler

They are three guys from the Seattle area, three guys who went to different high schools but played on the same youth club since they were 13. Three buddies. Three musketeers.

"We don't just play together," Ciaran O'Brien says. "We're friends off the field. We hang out together. It's not about one of us. It's about all of us."

And that, as much as scholarship offers or reneged oral commitments or family connections or 70 degrees and sunny in January, is what landed the three highly touted freshmen on the USD men's soccer team to complete a recruiting class ranked as high as 11th nationally. They are friends first and foremost, and that means they have each other's back.A year ago, it didn't look like it would turn out this way. O'Brien, Tim Grey and Chase Tangney had decided to go to college as a package deal, and they had chosen the University of Washington.

O'Brien gave an oral commitment. Grey backed out of a commitment to Kentucky to pledge his allegiance to UW. Tangney was sold on the Huskies as well and planned to commit during their recruiting visit in late September.

They went to Seattle, visited the campus and individually met with the coaches. Everything seemed to be fine, except for one small detail:

Tangney, under the impression he would be offered scholarship money, was told he'd have to walk on initially with the possibility of a scholarship later.

Tangney: "Ciaran and Tim were like, 'That is not cool.' "

Grey: "They screwed over Chase."

So they make a group decision. They would go elsewhere.

O'Brien called Seamus McFadden at USD, where his older brother, Leighton, blossomed from a lightly recruited midfielder to West Coast Conference Player of the Year and where O'Brien's family had wanted to Ciaran (pronounced Keer-in) to go from the start. McFadden said he'd see what he could do and get back to them.

He got back to them in, oh, about a half-hour.

Who wouldn't?

Grey is a bruising 6-foot-3 central defender who led South Kitsap High to its first appearance in the state final four. Tangney is an all-state forward and the leading scorer on their club team, FC United, that reached the national under-16 championship game.

And O'Brien, a playmaking midfielder with sublime vision and foot skills, was the Washington Player of the Year and so dominant in his high school league that one opposing coach said, "He's a pro. Period." He has been in camp with the under-18 U.S. national team and has the option of claiming Irish citizenship - both his parents were national-team players there - and playing for Emerald Isle, which he says has contacted him about the possibility.

Or put it this way: McFadden says O'Brien had a "poor game" in the preseason scrimmage against the out-of-shape Toreros alumni, and he still managed a goal and an assist in the 2-0 victory.

McFadden got the call in late September, after he had already put together a solid recruiting class that included three players from a championship Arsenal FC team in Alta Loma - Ryan Peterman, Mike Barbeito and Fabrice Guatrat - and all-state forward J.T. Howlan from Thornton, Colo. He also has talented midfielder Colin Jennings, a transfer from San Diego State who had to sit out last season.

Good thing McFadden had some extra scholarship money saved up from previous seasons.

Add the Washington trio, and you have what College Soccer News rated the 11th-best recruiting class in the country and second best on the West Coast behind UCLA. Mix in a Toreros team that returns six starters from a 9-6-5 season, and you have the ingredients for greatness.

Not buying the hype is McFadden, whose team opens the season Friday night at 7 against perennial East Coast power Rutgers and has his typically grueling schedule.

"I'll be honest," McFadden says. "The 11th-ranked recruiting class in the country means nothing to me - absolutely nothing. It's a nice thing to put on your Web site, but the proof is in the pudding. You have to prove it to me. What it does is tags them with expectation, and soccer is not about expectation. It's about productivity."

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles north, Washington opened preseason camp without three local players who coach Dean Wurzberger thought he originally had locked up.

"We didn't have (scholarship) money for all of them," says Wurzberger, an SDSU alum. "They want to all be on money and all go one place, and we weren't the program that could do that. We don't have money for everybody.

"But there are no hard feelings at all. USD is a great program. I wish them well. Hopefully we'll see them in the playoffs."