College basketball’s main event of the year is happening this weekend and while that isn’t of any real importance to North American soccer fans there are a handful of pro soccer players who will have more than a passing interest in the outcome of the games being contested in Atlanta.
Few, if any, will be rooting for Wichita State for any reason other than rooting against their opponent or pulling for the lowest seeded team remaining because Wichita State does not field an intercollegiate soccer team (Before you hate, know that the University of Kansas is in the same boat for men’s soccer).
Louisville, the overall No. 1 seed in the basketball tournament and sentimental favorite after the gruesome on-court injury suffered by Kevin Ware in the regional final, would also be the favorites if a team of alumni were fielded among the four schools.
Six Cardinals alumni currently take up spots on Major League Soccer rosters and a seventh, Montreal Impact draft pick Paolo DelPiccolo is attempting to work his way up in the system of the Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Louisville six include 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry of the Chicago Fire, Revolution rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Ferrell, DC United’s Nick DeLeon, Columbus Crew forward Aaron Horton and the LA Galaxy’s Greg Cochrane and Kenney Walker.
Michigan has three former Wolverines in the pros, including Soony Saad of Sporting Kansas City, the Columbus Crew’s Justin Meram and Kofi Opare, the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft by defending MLS Cup winners Los Angeles Galaxy.
Syracuse, meanwhile, has claims on just one former Orange soccer player playing at the highest level in Montreal Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier.
Louisville soccer also holds the edge in conference titles with three, to Michigan’s one, but the two schools are equals when it has come to the college game’s biggest stage. U of L and Michigan both made their first and only trip to the Final Four of college soccer in the 2010 College Cup in Santa Barbara.
As dominant as Louisville looks out of the remaining four schools, when you look at the full field that kicked off March Madness last month, the Cardinals don’t even come close to matching the star power or the roster numbers. Of the tournament teams, UCLA leads the way with 23 players in MLS and abroad, Akron is second with 18 and Indiana and North Carolina each have 14. Maryland, which missed out on the main postseason basketball tournament, has 17 players on rosters in MLS and abroad.