Foundation strong for UNLV men’s soccer

When it comes to UNLV’s nonrevenue sports, men’s soccer just might be my favorite. Like most of the so-called Olympic sports, the soccer team operates on a shoestring budget. It also operates with local kids — of the 25 players on the roster, 13 are from the Las Vegas area and 15 are Nevadans.

Nowhere is it written that UNLV must play nonrevenue sports with a propensity of local players. The women’s tennis team, for instance, lists seven players, and none from Las Vegas — none even are Americans.

The men’s soccer team not only recruits local kids, it is winning with them.

UNLV last year played its way into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988. This year the Rebels are 9-3-1 after a 5-1 victory over fellow Western Athletic Conference member Incarnate Word on Sunday under ominous skies at Peter Johann Memorial Field.

There’s a chance that if Danny Musovski and the other local kids — and a couple of key players from outside of Nevada — keep this up, they might achieve their second straight NCAA berth after going 27 seasons without qualifying.

Musovski, who scored a Lionel Messi-like 58 goals as a senior at Liberty High School, has nine as a UNLV sophomore forward. (He scored on a penalty and added an assist Sunday.) He was ranked 11th in the nation in putting the spotted ball in the onion bag, as the Irish World Cup announcer likes to say, and was tied for the WAC lead in goals heading into Sunday’s match played on a soggy pitch.

TV’s “Men in Blazers” would be impressed with Danny Musovski.

But the most remarkable thing about all of this is that just four years ago UNLV men’s soccer was on the chopping block with its neck exposed.

The situation was so dire that coach Rich Ryerson and the players had taken to selling fireworks out of roadside stands in a desperate attempt to save the program.

UNLV literally was hours away from dropping men’s soccer in 2011 because of a budget shortfall when Tim McGarry, who writes checks for the Engelstad Family Foundation — and who played soccer for the Rebels in 1978 and 1979 — wrote one out to the men’s soccer program for $850,000.

Local kids who had started UNLV careers thus were able to finish them, and to finish their educations here, thanks to the philanthropy and the kindness of the heart.

So that kept the program going when it appeared it was going away. Ryerson said he could not have imagined the turnaround.

“No way,” the Rebels coach said as a nice crowd that included UNLV president Len Jessup rushed to their cars to beat the rain, or rushed to the tailgate area for a grilled chicken sandwich. “When we were selling fireworks, it was all about trying to keep the program (alive).”

Now it’s mostly about making it back to the NCAAs, and Friday’s showdown against 14th-rated and WAC pacesetter Seattle. “The biggest match around here in 25 years,” Ryerson said.

And now there’s even more support for the Rebels in their bid to attain the time-honored “next level” in men’s soccer. A men’s soccer foundation has been formed; it met for the first time two weeks ago.

McGarry’s a big part of it, but he’s not the only mover and shaker.

Here is the rest of the board of directors: Roger Tabor, managing director, Wells Fargo Investments; Tim Cashman, co-owner, Las Vegas Harley Davidson; John Sullivan, president and general counsel, Red Rock Administrative Services; Dr. Mike Thompson, owner, Kids ‘R’ Kids Learning Academies of Nevada; John Wightman, CPA, Rich Wightman & Company; Bob Caldwell, shareholder, Kolesar & Leatham; Jim Digilio, general manager and partner, Audi Henderson.

And here are the inaugural officers: Dan Giraldo, senior vice president, Bank of America; John Lucas, claims manager, Nevada Yellow Checker Star Cab Corporation; former Rebels standout Danny Barber, senior hotel manager, Delano Las Vegas; Frederick Apcar, Frederick Apcar Productions International Tax Compliance.

This lineup of supporters would give Manchester City a run for its money. If additional checks are written, Saint Louis or Indiana or Virginia or whoever the college soccer powers are at the moment had better watch their midfields.

Of course, there’s more to success than having a group of well-heeled businessmen working behind the scenes for the good of the program instead of key members of the athletic administration working just as hard to abolish it.

But this raising outside revenue thing seems to work well for the UNLV men’s golf team. The Rebels stay in nice hotels on the road, and that helps in recruiting, and that helps UNLV get up-and-down for par at the NCAA Championships. They call it being fully endowed.

It’s hard to predict how long it will take this new men’s soccer foundation to have a similar impact. But with additional cash flow, Rich Ryerson eventually may be able to recruit outside of his own backyard.

Not that the Rebels really need to.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him: @ronkantowski

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