From Brandeis University Athletics
Two members of the Brandeis Judges men's soccer team are taking their preparations for next season to a whole new level.
Senior Josh Ocel of North Attleboro, Mass. and junior Christian Hernandez of Revere, Mass. are suiting up to practice as many as four times a week as members of FC Boston, team in the Northeast Division of the Premier Development League (PDL).
Only a handful of Division III players compete in PDL, which has produced nearly 500 professional soccer players. Beyond that, Ocel and Hernandez get to play for Boston FC alongside former New England Revolution midfielders Andy Dorman and Shalrie Joseph, who have a combined 20 seasons of experience in Major League Soccer.
The Judges midfield duo, which helped Brandeis accrue an 18-3-1 record as well as a top-five national ranking last season, have taken their opportunity in PDL very seriously. They're also learning a lot from the MLS legends on their team.
"Shalrie is always giving us advice, after practice and games, hints of what we can do better," notes Ocel. "I've been getting so much help from Shalrie and Andy, now I'm going to try to pass it on to my teammates [at Brandeis]."
So far, Ocel and Hernandez, who are also playing alongside Division I prospects from schools like Northeastern, Providence and Boston College, have both averaged more than 40 minutes per game, earning six starts between them.
FC Boston's coach, Brian Ainscough, has been one of Hernandez's mentors. In fact, Hernandez has known the FC Boston coaches since he was about 15, as he played in coach Brian Ainscough's youth program. In addition, Judges assistant coach Gabe Margolis, who worked closely with Ainscough as a former coach of the FC Boston Bolts, helped open the door for both Hernandez and Ocel to join up with FC Boston, which is in its first year participating in the PDL.
"The PDL isn't as fast-paced as college soccer, it's more about playing soccer than being in an athletic battle," Hernandez says of the difference between playing for FC Boston and Brandeis.
Brandeis' central midfield duo hopes to integrate the style they are playing this summer when they return to the pitch for the Judges in the fall. They will look to impart their increased soccer IQ to teammates, playing Coven and Margolis's possession-based game on the field, making quicker passes. Hernandez can see where the summer experience will come into play. "Hopefully, the game will seem slowed down for me when I come back," he said.
Boston FC's schedule takes them around the Northeast, with games in Maine, New Hampshire and Long Island. The practice and game schedule will keep them busy and fit headed into preseason at the end of August, while their time on the pitch will help improve their chemistry. "It's like an extra season we get to play together," says Ocel. "We'll know each other's tendencies that much better."
Ocel will look to build on his success last season, when he earned second-team All-America status from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and from D3soccer.com. He joined brother Sam '13, who was an All-American in 2012, as the second pair of sibling All-Americans in school history, along with Kellie '89 and Pam '90 Vaughan in earning that distinction.
Off the field this summer, Ocel and Hernandez have kept their pre-workout days busy. Hernandez, who plans on double majoring in business and International and Global Studies, is working on campus in the Office of Research Administration.
Ocel, a biology major with an anthropology minor, is also working part-time in a dental office. In the future, he hopes to continue to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who is headed for a career in dentistry, by attending dental school.
But for now, both Ocel and Hernandez are focused on improving their technique on the soccer field. The PDL will help them get some exposure, open the possibility that they'll continue to play after Brandeis.
"They say you should play as long as you can, so I would love to give it a shot," says Hernandez.