Cincinnati State/XU scrimmage: A glimpse at the region’s superior soccer scene

August 18, 2015
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Cincinnati State/XU scrimmage: A glimpse at the region’s superior soccer scene
Anyone wondering why serious investors would be willing to underwrite a new minor league soccer franchise in Cincinnati might want to drop by this evening’s scrimmage game (Tuesday, Aug. 18) at the Xavier University soccer complex. It will offer some insight into just how deeply rooted the sport has become here.
At 7 p.m. two very good collegiate men’s teams – the NCAA Xavier University Musketeers and the NJCAA Cincinnati State Surge – will square off for a final tune-up before their regular seasons begin.
These are teams that are rich in local talent – and very talented.
Xavier, which finished the 2014 season with 15 wins and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, opens the 2015 campaign with a No. 19 ranking by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Cincinnati State is a perennial power in men’s soccer among two-year schools. Consider:
In three of the last five years it has played in the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament, finishing 2nd in 2010.
In 10 of the last 12 years Cincinnati State won the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference title.
This marks the 13th consecutive year that Cincinnati State will start its season nationally ranked in the NJCAA’s Top 15. 
After seeing his team open the 2015 pre-season last week with a 4-4 draw against Rio Grande – a four-year school with one of the top soccer programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics – Cincinnati State Head Coach Mike Combs said he’s looking forward to tonight’s match against Xavier.
“Xavier has a great program, and this is a terrific way for us to see where we are as a team and get ready for the season,” Combs said.
As ever, Combs has assembled his team largely from the rich pool of high school and club teams that are giving Greater Cincinnati a reputation as hotspot for homegrown soccer.
This year the Surge will carry 25 players. Of that number, six are international (four from Jamaica, two from England), two are from Columbus, two from the Dayton area, and the remaining 15 from Greater Cincinnati.
“You’re seeing the growth of the sport,” Combs said. “The roots are getting deeper and stronger.
Cincinnati is one of the top three cities in the U.S. in terms of participation.”
Combs said he appreciates the opportunity to pit his community college team against powerhouses from four-year schools. “That’s certainly getting the juices flowing with the kids, playing Rio and Xavier,” Combs said.  “It gets our kids on the maps. They certainly will use that film to transfer to other programs after they graduate.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt in that regard that two Cincinnati State graduates – Omar Cummings and Ashton Bennett – are currently playing in the MLS, and a third, Liam Doyle, now a senior at Ohio State, seems a lock to be a top draft pick if he stays healthy.
Concerning his prospects for this season, Combs said this team is one of his deepest and most explosive.
“We’re faster and much more athletic than last year’s team,” he said. “And we’re much deeper.  We will be able to rest players when we need to this year without having any falloff in our style of play.”
Much of the newfound explosiveness lies in the team’s attack.
Mohamed Thiaw, a 2014 All-American and the Surge’s leading scorer a year ago, returns to one of the forward spots. The addition of several talented newcomers – among them Omar Walcott, Rameish McKnight and Max Hale – will make it difficult for opponents to focus their defense on Thiaw. Veteran Javier Wallace and newcomer Reid Abney are playmakers who will help lead from the midfield.
The team’s strength could be at the defensive end.  There returning starters Hall Banks, Logan Bartsch, Josh Enginger and experienced Noah Kiser front talented freshman goalkeeper Jake Mutlu.
Combs predicted that newcomers Christian Quinn and Edgar Adekoya will also play significant roles.
“The energy level that our players have shown thus far is off the charts,” Combs observed.  “Our guys are so versatile.  Most are able to play two or three different positions.  They are all accepting their roles, which will hopefully continue as we achieve early success.”
The Surge’s schedule is also ramped up.  After Tuesday’s preseason match against Xavier, Cincinnati State opens the season with matches at Owens and Schoolcraft, annually the top challengers for the regional title, on Aug. 29 and 30. 
Cincinnati State ( offers more than 130 associate degree and certificate programs in business technologies, health and public safety, engineering technologies, humanities and sciences and information technologies. Cincinnati State has one of the most comprehensive co-op programs among two-year colleges in the U.S.