Army-Navy is one of the most anticipated college football games of the season. But what about Army-Navy fútbol?
On Tuesday at 7 p.m., Army West Point and the Naval Academy will face off in the fourth Army-Navy Cup at PPL Park, home of the MLS team the Philadelphia Union. Navy leads the series 2-0-1.
"It's an incredible event for both programs, especially the student-athletes in particular, getting a chance to play at a venue like this, with this type of crowd," Army head coach Russell Payne said. "For us, for me, and for all of my program, I think that it's obviously the highlight or one of the major highlights of the year, and, hopefully in college soccer, it's one of the highlights of the year."
With only three matches between them, the Army-Navy rivalry on the pitch has a long way to go before matching their rivalry on the gridiron. (The football teams have played each other 115 times.) But interest in the soccer matches has grown quickly. Only 3,700 fans attended the first game, held in 2012. Last year, that number grew to 10,168.
"It was the third-largest crowd in the country, I believe, last year, and I think for an Olympic sport, like college soccer, that's a big crowd," Navy head coach Dave Brandt said. "But, I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: I think there are a couple things that have come together to allow this game to become what it's become, and one of them just is that both programs play good soccer and they're good college soccer teams right now."
The Midshipmen have come out of the gate strong this season, with a 4-4-1 record so far. The team has only won once in overtime this season, although they have been strong post-90-minute competitors in previous years.
Senior forward, defender, and team captain Derek Vogel has been a star on the team since his freshman year. This year has been no different — he has scored two goals so far this season. Other Navy players to watch include forward Thomas Shiiba, freshman forward Daniel Kwon, and goalkeeper Jackson Morgan.
The Black Knights, meanwhile, have slumped a bit in 2015. They began their season with a loss to the Air Force academy, and they have built a 2-4-2 record. But the team has some promising players, including sophomore forward Spencer Goldstein, junior defender Christian Clark, and junior forward Nick Williams.
Another Army asset has been senior goalie Chris Britt. He has been on the team since his freshman year as a backup goalie, but this season was the first time he appeared in a match.
For some senior players on both teams, an MLS career could be possible in the future. Playing in an MLS arena like PPL Park will certainly fuel those dreams. But students at West Point and the Naval Academy are training to be in the armed forces. So before anyone goes pro, they must fulfill a five-year commit to service after graduating.
In this way, Army-Navy soccer has a lot in common with Army-Navy football. The players aren’t going hard to dazzle pro scouts. They’re playing against other men who are driven by a love of competition and the game. And that sense of working as unit and winning, or losing, as a team above all else makes the games more exciting — for players, coaches, and fans.
"I think it's become something that's really special in college soccer, and I think the Union and PPL Park have done a phenomenal job with it," Brandt said. "I think both programs are a long way from where they were five, six years ago. Both teams have contributed to make it something special."