Soccer, Sports

Movin’ on up

Boston University sports fans are always good for knowing when one of their hockey players has been taken in the latest NHL draft or signs with a professional franchise. But there is another Terrier working his way up through the professional ranks.
Neil Hlavaty, a midfielder on the men’s soccer team from 2005 to 2007, left school after his junior season to sign with the Cleveland City Stars of the United Soccer League’s Second Division (USL-2), which is the equivalent of AA baseball in the U.S. After playing a key role in the team’s championship this summer, Hlavaty expects to move on to a higher level next year.
Cleveland coach Martin Rennie had seen Hlavaty play in a few games for BU and contacted the then-20-year-old while he was training with the Chicago Fire’s Premier Development League (PDL) team during the 2007 summer.
‘I caught a couple of his games for [BU] and he was clearly one of the best players on the field,’ Rennie said. ‘He’s an intelligent player, he passes well and he’s very athletic and fit. He can run for the whole game.’
After several talks, Rennie offered Hlavaty the chance to join the City Stars after the midfielder’s junior season. After finishing third on the team in points his freshman and sophomore seasons with eight and 10 points, respectively, Hlavaty put up his best season in 2007. He recorded three goals and six assists for 12 points, good for a second-place tie with forward Shaun Taylor.
Hlavaty was named the 2007 America East Midfielder of the Year and was selected to the All-America East First Team for the second straight year, as BU finished 9-7-4 and earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. After the season, Hlavaty decided he was ready for the pros and elected to leave school.
‘It was the hardest decision of my life to leave BU, my teammates and my friends behind,’ Hlavaty said. ‘But I thought I had to do it. Like any soccer player, I wanted to go pro all my life, so when the opportunity came about, I decided to go.’
‘I knew from day one this is what [Hlavaty] wanted,’ BU coach Neil Roberts said. ‘My advice to him was to get as much school done as possible and make sure that you go to a club where you’re going to get paid accordingly.’
Hlavaty showed up in Cleveland well prepared for the pros, thanks to his time at BU.
‘Cleveland plays a similar style to BU, so I was prepared,’ Hlavaty said. ‘All the coaches [at BU] did a good job getting me ready – teaching me how to train and get stronger. The tough schedules were good preparation for tougher competition.’
Hlavaty’s first professional season was nothing short of an overwhelming success. He recorded his first professional point in just his second regular season game, setting up Derek Potteiger on a set play to break a scoreless tie against the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Hlavaty finished the season tied for the team lead with three regular season assists and played in 17 of the team’s 20 regular season games. He also scored a crucial goal in the first round of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against the Michigan Bucks. The 34th minute goal broke a 1-1 tie and proved to be the game-winner.
‘Because he was so young, I didn’t think he was going to play much,’ Rennie said. ‘But he ended up playing almost every game, and he dominated the midfield. He’s what we call a box-to-box midfielder. He’s good defending, attacking, passing and holding.’
‘I was definitely satisfied,’ Hlavaty said of his first season. ‘The team won the championship, and I was able to play a big role in that. I knew I wasn’t going to start every game, but I ended up getting a lot of playing time.’
After the end of the season, Hlavaty returned home to the Chicago area to train with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer. He is currently a member of the club’s reserve squad and is playing in reserve games, as the MLS team is in the midst of a playoff race.
After the MLS season ends in November, Hlavaty will compete in trials in Norway and Sweden, where he hopes to impress European clubs enough to get a contract for next season.
‘As long as I’m playing soccer, I’m happy,’ Hlavaty said. ‘Hopefully, I’ll be playing in Europe next year. It’s better competition, and there’s more money there. If not, I should move up to the Chicago Fire’s MLS team.’
‘He’s a worker,’ Roberts said of Hlavaty. ‘His work ethic is what got him this far. Now, he has to climb the ladder professionally and make money.’
Hlavaty is the latest in a long line of Terrier footballers to turn pro. In the last five years, BU has sent four players ‘-‘- including Hlavaty ‘-‘- to the pro ranks. Andy Dorman, a 2004 graduate, played four seasons (2004-07) for the New England Revolution of the MLS before signing with St. Mirren of the Scottish Premier League earlier this year.
Class of 2007 graduates Zach Kirby and Jarryd Goldberg currently play for the Atlanta Silverbacks and Miami F.C., respectively, of the USL First Division.

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