Josh Ford leads UConn's defense
If Josh Ford listened to his parents, the NCAA would be minus one of its best goalkeepers.
Ford, the University of Connecticut redshirt senior, holds school records for shutouts (48) and matches played (80) after starting every contest for the Huskies the past four seasons. He ranks No. 1 in the country with a 0.263 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Between high school and college ball, he boasts 91 shutouts and a 107-18-18 record.
Ford owes it all to being stubborn.
"I wasn't that good on the field," Ford says about his introduction to youth soccer. "My parents discouraged me from playing, at first. But I was a stubborn kid and I wanted to play. I got stuck playing goalie so I wouldn't have to move that much."
Ford summarized his field experience as such: "I was a 'rounder' kid when I was little. So, when the ball was on one side, I'd make my way down to the side the ball was on [but before getting there] the ball would be on the other side. I was never where the ball was."
The solution for Ford was to play a position where the ball came to him, and since the age of 9, he has only played keeper.
Now the slender and athletic 6-foot-2, 175-pound Liverpool, N.Y., native laughs about the past.
Opponents of UConn, however, certainly are not laughing.
The Huskies are 10-1-4 behind a stellar defense, anchored by Ford. Only four balls have found the net against UConn this season. This past weekend, Ford recorded shutouts against West Virginia and Notre Dame. The Huskies face Georgetown on Wednesday, and a victory would give Ford a school record-tying 53rd victory.
Ford says he doesn't keep up with his individual records or statistics, preferring instead to focus on team results. While he leads the nation in save percentage and lowest goals-against average, he is noticeably missing from the national leaders in saves -- which might provide insight into to a reason behind his success.
"We've had great defenders in the past and great defenders in front of me now," Ford said. "But a lot of it is being able to organize a team -- giving it direction. I joke around with the team [after a match] and say I had a stressful day today, and they think I'm being sarcastic because I had only two shots on goal. They are like, 'Yeah, you don't do anything,' and I'm like, 'No, I had you guys do it for me.'
"It's all jokes and fun, but it's kind of serious," Ford said. "Being helpful and telling my teammates where to be, 'Hey, there's a man on your back.' Or 'There's a man on your right shoulder.' Or 'Close down.' That kind of stuff helps me, help them. And in the long run, we're not facing so many shots on goal."
Around the nation
Must-watch TV: Any result other than a tie will end a lengthy streak for either Creighton or Akron when the two clash for the first time on Wednesday in Ohio. The contest will be televised live in Akron, Ohio, and Omaha, Neb., and available on DirecTV and Dish Network. Creighton has not lost a regular-season road match since 2006 -- a streak of 22 contests -- and Akron is undefeated at home in its past 33 contests. Akron (13-0-1) is ranked No. 1 in the NSCAA/HendrickCars.com national poll and Creighton (11-2-0) is No. 9.
Moving up: William & Mary made the most significant jump in this week's NSCAA rankings, moving from the "receiving votes" category to No. 17, and it has senior Alan Koger to thank. The Tribe is riding an eight-match undefeated streak, which includes five one-goal wins and a tie. In the team's three most recent matches, Koger has scored all five goals in victories over Virginia Commonwealth (1-0), James Madison (2-1) and Delaware (2-1). Another interesting item is that the Spencer, Va., native has taken 10 of the team's 16 shots over that stretch. Koger has eight goals on the season.
Turnaround: UC Santa Barbara went winless in its first four matches [0-2-2]. Since then, it's been almost perfection for the Gauchos. UC Santa Barbara has won 10 of its past 11 matches, including seven straight. Sam Garza, a native of Highland Village, Texas, who transferred to UC Santa Barbara from the University of Denver, scored three goals in the team's 4-0 victory over Cal State Northridge. It marked the first hat trick for UC Santa Barbara since Chris Pontius in 2007.
Recruiting trail: Ian McIntyre took over as Syracuse's head coach about a month before national signing day, and that left the Orange building a recruiting class around transfer students. Now, Syracuse is starting to pick up the elite high school recruits. Four of the Orange's five 2011 recruits are development academy players, and the most recent players that confirmed their verbal commitments are midfielder Tyler Hilliard of Concorde Fire Academy in Georgia and goalkeeper Mark Stith of Match Fit Academy in New Jersey. After some thought, Len Smith of Frisco, Texas, is staying closer to home. Smith's high school coach, Rusty Oglesby of Wakeland (Frisco, Texas), confirmed Tuesday that the talented forward will sign with Tulsa. Smith originally committed to Seattle University.
For the latest verbal commitment information, visit ESPNRISE.com.
Sheldon Shealer is the soccer editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site.