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11/23 5:00pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Union asst. Vartughian scouting NCAA tourney

CHESTER, Pa. — A feeling of nostalgia swept over
Rob Vartughian as he watched the University of Pennsylvania and Maryland
collide in the second round of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament last
weekend. Vartughian, after all, coached at
both places before accepting a job as an assistant coach with the
Philadelphia Union last year.

But as much as those two schools are linked to his
past, they also represent a bridge to his future. Not a day goes by
where Vartughian isn’t scouring the local college scene to find the next
great Philadelphia Union star.

“That’s a big part of the responsibilities I took
on this year because I came from the college game,” said Vartughian,
who, by his estimation, has been to nearly 70 collegiate soccer contests
this season, including every one of Penn’s
home games. “I enjoy that part. We just want the most information we
can going into the combine and the draft.”

In other words, there really is no offseason for
the Union assistant coach, who will be traveling the country leading up
to the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 13. Vartughian says he and the rest of the
coaches already have good knowledge of the
top college players, but a lot can still change depending on who
decides to come out early.

Either way, the Union will almost certainly draft
an impact player with the No. 5 overall pick. Last year, they plucked
Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo, Kyle Nakazawa, Toni Stahl and Brian Perk from
the collegiate ranks, while drafting Jack
McInerney out of high school. Only Perk is no longer with the club, and
Mwanga, of course, was a Rookie of the Year finalist.

“I think you look at everything,” said
Vartughian, who in addition to his scouting duties, also serves as the
team’s goalkeeping coordinator. “You look at technical ability, tactical
ability, the conference they played in and what kind
of competition they’ve seen. You look at the environment the coaches
created for them. And you look what kind of character they have. That
part can sometimes get lost.”

Even with the landscape changing and more players
either leaving college early or skipping it altogether in search of
their pro dreams, Vartughian has still seen plenty of well-rounded
collegiate standouts in his travels. He’s also noticed
more excitement and increased attendance at games – a direct
correlation, he believes, to the growing popularity of Major League
Soccer.

“The league is doing fantastic right now
and the college game is part of that process,” said Vartughian, who
helped guide the Terrapins to seven straight NCAA tournament appearances
and two national championships. “I look at my
time at Maryland and how the attendance rose pretty much every year.
This year, if you look at the crowds at college games, it’s been great.
Our domestic league is a good one and it’s only getting better. Because
of that, it trickles down to college.”

So with the end of the season looming, does the
former college assistant coach have any predictions on which team will
take home the College Cup on Dec. 12?

“I think [Maryland] has the pieces to win it all,
but you can stay that for a lot of teams,” Vartughian said. “So does
Akron, North Carolina and Louisville. If you look at our team from 2008
that won it all, I don’t think we deserved to
win it. It’s all about getting hot at the right time.”

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