DU Alum Records MLS Shutout In Pro Debut

(above) DU Alum Joe Willis makes a save On Saturday night for DC United
by Travis Clark

DU Alum and soccer goalkeeper Joe Willis (6'5 189 lbs.) found out Friday he was about to make his pro debut, and then went ahead and put together a performance to remember when he got his chance.

The rookie of out of the University of Denver looked more like an established vet than a newcomer on Saturday, making a couple of game-changing saves to set the table for a 4-0 rout of the Vancouver Whitecaps at RFK Stadium.

“I can’t speak enough about Joe Willis tonight,” said midfielder Chris Pontius, who scored two goals in the win. “He made a huge save in the first half and even in the second. If he doesn’t make those saves, I think the game changes.”

With No. 1 goalie Bill Hamid out because of a red card suspension picked up against Toronto last week, Willis and Steve Cronin were told at the beginning of the week that they would duke it out for the starting role.

And the 23-year-old Willis seized the opportunity, battling past the established MLS veteran to earn the start before he came up huge in his first pro game.

Willis’s first save came in the 40th minute, the score tied at 0-0. Whitecaps forward Camilo curved a free kick from around 30 yards out that beat the wall but couldn’t fool Willis, who

shuffled his feet and lunged, getting a hand on the ball and sending it off the crossbar.

The rebound set off a melee in front of goal, but Willis was quick to the ball, lunging to grab it and snuff out the threat after a favorable deflection helped keep the visitors from scoring.

“I thought he played fantastic,” DC goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad said. “He had a great game.”

The second big moment came after United took a 2-0 lead, with goals on either side of the half time break. Vancouver left back Jonathan Leathers got free on the flank, and sent in a teasing cross to Eric Hassli. The big Frenchman volleyed a shot that Willis saved, this time with with his feet.

“I actually thought that the one that really kind of sealed their fate was at 2-0, when he comes across and blocks it,” Onstad said. “At 2-1 it’s a new game and they’re back into it.”

After the game, Willis clearly enjoyed the moment, earning a pie in the face from his teammates, as well as numerous congratulations for his efforts. However, he’s not going to rest of the accomplishment for too long.

“It’s exciting. But at the same time, the season’s not over yet,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do. I’ll enjoy it for now, but come Monday it’s back to work.”


Anonymous said...

Very cool.

I wonder how many schools have had alumni in MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS?

Michigan, Wisconsin, DU, Notre Dame, BC, Miami?

BooneDogg said...

DU has quietly become a strong soccer school as well. The mens team is ranked in the top 20 in preseason polls and had also brought in a top 20 recruiting class.

Damn it feels good to be a pioneer

Anonymous said...

With men's soccer getting into the top 20 and hockey and men's lax already there, DU could really start to build a spectator sports presence throughout the academic year...

Pioneer Man said...

Awesome for Joe to get his pro debut in year one of his contract.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts...

1. Great for Joe, but if he wants to get regular minutes, he can't stay around DC too long. DC's current starter, Bill Hamid, stands a very good chance of eventually becoming the top 'keeper for the USMNT. If Joe wants chances in MLS, he'll probably have to start looking elsewhere in the not-too-distant future.

2. DU recruiting and DU soccer as a whole have really improved. The recruiting classes recently have been great, and had Sam Garza not done a runner off to UCSB (I think), this squad could've made some real noise last season.

3. How does Nat Borchers not get more love here? He was great for DU, is already an MLS champion with Real Salt Lake, and has even played for his country (played for the US in winter 2010 in a friendly against South Africa in Jo'burg). Guy is a standout and deserves WAY more recognition for his contributions to DU soccer's status.

dggoddard said...

Add DU women's soccer to the list of teams becoming national powers. They were 19-2-1 last season including 11-0-0 in the Sunbelt.

They defeated Wyoming 3-1 on Saturday in an exhibition game.