Howland’s Capellas new addition to Akron’s staff

At high school football games across the country, kids wear their schools’ jerseys on Friday night, dreaming of one day getting to wear those jerseys in a game.

Carl Capellas was no different with one exception: He wanted to play soccer.

His father, George, started the Howland boys soccer program in 1980, and his older brother, Jim, played and graduated before Carl entered high school in 1989.

“Those were the guys that were my heroes – the Howland players,” he said. “Watching my dad coach those teams to watching my brother play for them, that was to me the most important thing in the world when I was a little kid – being able to wear that jersey some day. So, I spent a lot of time going to their practices and spent a ton of time myself at either Howland Park or the junior high school just playing.”

Twenty years later, it was time for his father and brother to look up to him.

The Howland graduate joined new Akron men’s soccer head coach Jared Embick’s staff Monday, as the Zips move on from the Caleb Porter era. Capellas coached the Hiram men’s program for the previous nine seasons before Embick offered him the job Jan. 2.

In the seven years under Porter, the Zips recorded unprecedented success, going 119-18-17. The team reached the NCAA Tournament five times, was runner-up once and earned the university’s first-ever national championship in any sport during the 2010 season.

The Zips won the Mid-American Conference regular season crown every season and the conference tournament crown four times. The program also had 18 players become professionals, setting a new record in the 2011 MLS Superdraft for most selections from a single school in the first round (five) and in an entire draft (seven).

This doesn’t scare Capellas in the slightest. Instead, he’s relishing the chance.

“It’s something that I’m very much looking forward to,” he said. “For me, I’m a competitor. I’m always looking for that next challenge. Really, there’s no bigger challenge than the one when you’re taking over a program from a guy that was really the best coach in college soccer during his time.”

Along with his coaching duties, Capellas takes over Embick’s job under Porter: recruiting coordinator.

The Marshall University graduate will work for and with Embick in identifying the best talent in the world and trying to convince those players that Akron will help them reach their goals.

This may not be easy on the international front. Many professional teams have youth academies with U9, U12, U15, U17 and U19 teams that help identify talent at an early age, develop them and deem whether those players are professional caliber. Teams sign the ones who are at high-school age, and many do not make it.

Despite this problem, Capellas said that Akron and other universities can offer international players a unique opportunity.

“The attraction to an international kids is that college soccer doesn’t really exist overseas in the form that we have it,” he said. “We have something unique to offer, plus the records and the number of kids who turn (professional) are unprecedented.”

In terms of American players, college soccer faces a similar problem.

Many of the most talented American youth players are opting to join the professional ranks, be it in MLS or in Europe, instead of going to college. MLS teams are putting more stock in their academy systems, with 15 of 19 franchises having a system and the other four having connections with local youth soccer organizations.

On top of this, MLS adopted in 2006 a “Home Grown Player” rule, which allows teams to sign players away from college and keep them out of the MLS Superdraft if the players participated in at least 80 games and practices for their youth teams and at least 30 games and practices while at college. Recently, MLS clubs have taken advantage of this rule.

The Zips lost two such underclassmen this year to this rule, as sophomore DeAndre Yedlin signed with the Seattle Sounders and sophomore Wil Trapp signed with the Columbus Crew.

Capellas has no qualms that Akron will still attract some of the best talent in the United States, focusing his argument on playing time and further development.

“A lot of the top kids still need to get their games and get their training,” Capellas said. “If they come to college, they’re going to get that. Whereas sometimes if you’re one of these top kids and you sign with a pro team, you might get lost a little bit in the shuffle, where you’ll be training some but not getting into games. Sometimes the top kids aren’t quite ready for the pros.”

No matter the difficulties in recruiting, Capellas is excited about the opportunity, as is his family.

While at Hiram, his brother, father and mother supported him at many games. That won’t change, considering Akron is also within driving distance.

His brother, meanwhile, can blend in with a fanatical crowd of 5,000 or so people instead of standing out in a smaller group of spectators.

“I think my brother’s most excited because he used to come to Hiram games and be the loudest fan there,” Capellas said. “Sometimes, the referees might give a little look to him because he’s a fanatic. He called me and said, ‘At least I don’t have to worry about getting kicked out of any games because there’s so much noise nobody will be able to hear me.'”