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College Spotlight


The names and accomplishments come rolling off Dean Wurzberger's tongue, and it seems as if he barely has to pause to catch his breath.

Brandon Prideaux, an 11-year MLS veteran and two-time MLS Cup winner.

Craig Waibel, one of the Houston Dynamo's most popular players of all-time.

Ian Russell, an eight-year MLS veteran.

Billy Sleeth, Chris Eylander, George John — all current or former MLS stars as well.

The other thing they have in common? All are former Washington Youth Soccer players whose talent blossomed under Wurzberger's tutelage at the University of Washington.

When he arrived in Seattle in 1992 to take over the men's soccer program, California native Wurzberger didn't know that his newly adopted state would be such a treasure trove of soccer talent.

Wurzberger knows it now. After 18 seasons at the Huskies' helm, he needs no convincing about the kinds of players who grow up in the Washington Youth Soccer system.

"[Washington Youth Soccer] produces a lot of guys who can play the game and play it reasonably well and serve a role on the team," Wurzberger said. "There's a decent understanding of the game, they're taught well from youth, and they know the game."

Indeed, Washington Youth Soccer alums have taken Wurzberger and the Huskies on quite the successful ride through nearly two decades — 12 NCAA appearances in 18 years.

While some seasons certainly have been more successful — the 1996 squad that included Prideaux and Russell, among others, was the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — Wurzberger made clear that the ride would continue to be powered in large part by Washington Youth Soccer players.

"It's a plus that they come through the Washington system — that's the first place we look," Wurzberger said. "You see them more often, we know their coaches a bit better, and we're exposed to them a lot more."

Recently, players from this state who have made the jump to UW have been setting the standard in the Pac-10. Kevin Forrest of Edmonds was the conference's Player of the Year in 2006; the next autumn, Kent's Ely Allen was the co-Player of the Year. Both stayed home to wear the Huskies' purple and gold.

"When you get Player of the Year in the Pac-10, you're counted as one of the best in the nation," Wurzberger said. "And to have that back to back …" he added, letting the unfinished sentence speak for itself.

BEYOND HUSKY PURPLE



Some of Wurzberger's state-produced Huskies have gone on to be counted among the best in the professional ranks.

Prideaux just finished an 11-year career that took him to four different Major League Soccer teams, two of which -—the 2000 Kansas City Wizards and the 2004 D.C. United — won MLS Cups. He is now an assistant on the UW staff. Waibel has been part of three MLS Cup winners, all with the San Jose Earthquakes/Houston Dynamo franchise. Russell was part of the Earthquakes side that won it all in 2003.

Waibel is still active, as are at least half a dozen more, including Chris Eylander, signed as a backup goalkeeper last year by the Seattle Sounders.

Numerous others from the Washington Youth Soccer pipeline who came through Wurzberger's program played with the Sounders of the United Soccer League's First Division and other USL teams. Sleeth, Viet Nguyen, Rees Bettinger and Jake Sagare are among that group.

"Because of the athletic spike and the narrowing of the pyramid, the majority of them won't play past college," Wurzberger said. "But there's a special breed that has it all — talent, desire and the personality to go against setbacks and make it at the pro level. Hopefully, we've provided a program for those who want a top-level collegiate experience, and for those who aspire to go on."

Whatever their aspirations, top-caliber players who get their kicks in the Washington Youth Soccer system can count on getting a serious look from Wurzberger.

"At least 50 percent (of the Husky roster) every year will be Washington state players. We just have to get the right 50 percent," he said. "They don't all want to come here — we're not the right fit for every single player. But we're very proud of our record of keeping the top players here.

"Obviously, one of my goals is that we're appealing to in-state players," Wurzberger added, "and that they see the upside of staying home."

So that perhaps someday, their names and accomplishments will come rolling off his tongue, too.


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