New Mexico soccer star falls in love with PPL Park

Photo: Philadelphia Union PPL Park and Union front office staff help with the snow removal at PPL Park yesterday. The NCAA College Cup men's soccer Final Four will be played at PPL Park with semifinals on Friday (Notre Dame vs. New Mexico at 5 p.m.; and Maryland vs. Virginia at 7:30. The winners will play at 3 p.m. Sunday for the championship. All three games will be on ESPNU.)
Photo: Philadelphia Union PPL Park and Union front office staff help with the snow removal at PPL Park yesterday. The NCAA College Cup men's soccer Final Four will be played at PPL Park with semifinals on Friday (Notre Dame vs. New Mexico at 5 p.m.; and Maryland vs. Virginia at 7:30. The winners will play at 3 p.m. Sunday for the championship. All three games will be on ESPNU.)
Posted: December 14, 2013

New Mexico's Kyle Venter had a reaction similar to that of most amateur and professional soccer players seeing PPL Park for the first time.

Venter, a senior defender, and his teammates had a walk-through on a chilly Thursday morning in preparation for Friday's College Cup soccer semifinals at the stadium in Chester.

In the 5 p.m. game, New Mexico (14-5-2) will face Notre Dame (15-1-6). Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Maryland (16-3-5) and Virginia (13-5-5) will meet in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal.

The championship will be Sunday at 3 p.m.

"This is gorgeous, top of the line," Venter said of the home of Major League Soccer's Union. "I haven't been in too many MLS stadiums, but this is a gorgeous place to play. Right by the water, the field looks awesome, and I am excited to get out here tomorrow."

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Venter hasn't been in many professional stadiums, but that should change soon. He is among the best players in college soccer, one of 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, soccer's Heisman.

Venter is so focused on helping New Mexico win its first national title that he won't even address the prospect of his post-college career.

"No, I am excited to be here tomorrow with this team and looking to go out on a high note and looking forward to playing Notre Dame," said Venter, whose team has not allowed a goal in its three NCAA tournament wins.

The cold weather won't affect Venter, who is from Aurora, Colo., and says he has played in his share of snowstorms.

According to Weather.com, the game-time temperature is expected to be 31 degrees, which is downright balmy compared with what the Lobos have faced in their previous three tournament wins.

All three games, home wins over George Mason and Penn State and last week's 1-0 quarterfinal triumph at Washington, were played in weather below 30 degrees.

The field was frozen at Washington.

"It was like a blacktop surface, hard as a rock, but credit goes to us for persevering through that and to get here," Venter said.

Venter was named Conference USA's MVP and defender of the year.

"He makes everything so easy for the team and all the other players around us," said New Mexico keeper Michael Lisch. "He is a great organizer, great in the air and tactically very smart."

"You want to get your team to the last weekend you could possibly play," Venter said. "We have put ourselves in a position to put our footprint in history for college soccer, the program, and the state of New Mexico."


NCAA College Cup

What: NCAA College Cup national semifinals.

Who: No. 3-seeded Notre Dame (15-1-6) vs. No. 7 New Mexico (14-5-2), Friday at 5 p.m.; No. 5 seed Maryland (16-3-5) vs. No. 8 Virginia (13-5-5), Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: PPL Park, Chester.

Notre Dame vs. New Mexico

How Notre Dame got here: The Fighting Irish had three NCAA tournament wins at home, defeating Wisconsin, 4-0; Wake Forest, 4-2; and Michigan State, 2-1.

How New Mexico got here: The Lobos won home games against George Mason, 1-0, and Penn State, 2-0, and earned a 1-0 win at No. 2 Washington in the quarterfinal.

Outlook: This is a classic offense-vs.- defense matchup. New Mexico is the only team left that hasn't allowed a goal this tournament. The defensive leader is senior Kyle Venter, among 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, soccer's version of the Heisman. Venter was the Conference USA MVP and defender of the year. James Rogers (7 goals, 6 assists) and Niko Hansen (7 goals, 5 assists) are the Lobos' leading scorers. Notre Dame is led by its Herman Trophy semifinalist, senior forward Harrison Shipp (12 goals, 8 assists), who was the ACC offensive player of the year. Sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan

(9 goals, 5 assists), has scored a goal in each of his last five games.

Maryland vs. Virginia

How Maryland got here: The Terrapins scored NCAA home wins over Providence, 3-1, and UC Irvine, 1-0, and then earned a 1-0 quarterfinal victory at California.

How Virginia got here: The Cavaliers beat St. John's 2-0; Marquette, 3-1; and Connecticut, 2-1.

Outlook: This is the third meeting between Maryland and Virginia and it should be as close as the other two. The teams played to a 3-3 tie in the regular season and Maryland scored a 1-0 win over the Cavaliers in the ACC championship game. Maryland is led by 2012 Hermann Trophy winner and 2013 semifinalist Patrick Mullins, who has an ACC-best 16 goals. Schillo Tshuma is second on the team with eight goals. Freshman goalie Zack Steffen of Downingtown West, a product of the Philadelphia Union's youth academy, has played every minute and recorded eight shutouts. Six players have scored UVA's seven goals in the tournament. Ryan Zinkhan has scored in the last two games. Eric Bird leads the team with seven goals and shares the assist lead with five. Sophomore forward Darius Madison of La Salle High and the Union academy is second with six goals.

- Marc Narducci


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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