By AARON GRAY (Daily News Staff)
Published: March 23, 2011

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2011:01:21 11:12:43

Daily News Photo by CRISTIAN SIMESCU Yohannes Worede will coach the University of the Virgin Islands’ new soccer program on the St. Croix campus.

Starting a college sports program from scratch can be a daunting task. Starting a college sports program with a brand-new facility to dangle in front of potential recruits makes it a little easier.

University of Virgin Islands athletic director Peter Sauer announced a men’s soccer team will be added to the school’s athletic program and three new soccer fields will be built behind the St. Croix campus.

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«Adding a sport like soccer to UVI is just a great thing,» Sauer said this week. «And building soccer fields on campus is going to add to everything. We’ve hired a coach, we’re buying equipment and we’re just very excited to move forward with this.»

Sauer tapped Country Day School soccer coach Yohannes Worede, 49, to head up the UVI men’s soccer program and if everything goes as planned, construction on three new soccer fields will start in May.

Preliminary plans call for one FIFA-certified soccer pitch, which will be the site for home games, Sauer said. Two smaller practice fields that will be 220 by 325 feet in dimension, will also be built behind the tennis and basketball courts on the south side of the St. Croix campus.

«It’s going to be a first-class championship field,» Sauer said. «After it’s completed, we’re hoping to attract soccer teams from the States to come down for exhibition games and camps.»

School officials said the project costs approximately $300,000 and will be paid for with the $600,000 in federal stimulus funding awarded to UVI through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a federal spending bill passed by Congress to stimulate the economy during the country’s recession.

The men’s soccer team hopes to compete within Liga Atlética Interuniversitaria (LAI), which consists of 20 college soccer teams from Puerto Rico. It’s the same league the UVI men’s and women’s basketball teams compete in, along with the school’s volleyball, tennis, cross country, swimming, track and field and table tennis squads.

The LAI soccer season starts in late August and usually wraps up in early November, but plans for UVI to compete in the league this year have not been finalized yet.

«We’re going to start out as a club team, but we definitely want to participate in the fall,» said Worede, who has lived on St. Croix since 1984 and has been very active in the local soccer scene at the high school and club levels. «We have an important meeting Thursday with school and league officials, so hopefully more questions will be answered by then.»

Said Sauer, «During that first year, we’ll probably have to play a lot of away games. Field or no field.»
Worede started the interview process for the UVI coaching position last summer and was hired in September. He has not placed any recruiting calls to players and said during the early stages he will rely on soccer talent that is already attending the school to form a team.

«It’s a little late in the game to start recruiting right now so this first year will be a transitional year and I’ll be on the lookout for current students,» said Worede, who grew up in Holland before becoming an All-American soccer player at Berry College in Georgia. «By next year, we will have a field in place and one season of competition under our belt.»

In a few weeks, Worede will start his fourth year coaching at Country Day – the Tigers have won two straight St. Croix IAA titles – so he has a good feel for the prep talent coming up in the territory.

Worede is also a player-coach for the Rovers, who compete in the St. Croix adult men’s league, and coaches an Under-14 travel club team associated with the Rovers. He has also coached the USVI women’s soccer team on-and-off since 2002.

«One thing I’m hoping to accomplish with the UVI program is to keep it regionally-based,» said Worede, who was born in a part of Ethiopia that is now modern day Eritrea. «We want it to be regionally based from the Caribbean, but locally embraced by the Virgin Islands.»

Getting the community behind the program is Worede’s main objective. He has started to reach out to former high school players he’s coached, the numerous American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) teams on St. Croix and wants future UVI teams to be a springboard toward the USVI soccer team.

The team will not be made up purely of St. Croix students, Worede said. Travel arrangements to get St. Thomas and St. John players to St. Croix for regular practice sessions still need to be discussed.

«That’s the ultimate scenario,» said Worede, who is married and has two daughters. «We want our kids to stay here. They can get a great education and then we can get them some exposure while playing against schools from Puerto Rico. They have 4.5 million people and the state of soccer over there is on an upswing right now.»

Puerto Rico currently has a well-established semi-professional soccer league. The Puerto Rico Islanders is a professional club based in Bayamón that plays in the North American Soccer League, which is one tier below Major League Soccer.

During a planned ground-breaking ceremony for the UVI fields, Worede said he would like to have an exhibition game between the UVI team and a local high school All-star squad. He also expects to start official preseason practices as soon as possible.

«This is a small community that has a passion for soccer,» Worede said. «There have been kids that may have dropped out of academics and bringing a soccer team to the school will only motivate them to come back. It will give them something to aim toward. It is a blessing.»

– Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 774-8772 ext. 352 or e-mail agray@dailynews.vi.

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