Not one, but two former EDP Soccer standouts have been named semifinalists for the 2020-21 Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy. That talented duo includes James Madison University senior defender Tom Judge and Stanford University redshirt junior forward Zach Ryan. They are among 15 men's players who have been shortlisted for the prestigious honor.
As a testament to the players' talent and teams, both sides qualified for the NCAA Division I men's soccer tournament - aka the Men's College Cup.
The semifinalists will be trimmed down to three finalists, with the winner recognized at a press conference and banquet in St. Louis, Missouri on May 27.
A quick look at the EDP Soccer semifinalists:
The one-time Marlboro SA Warriors and CTR Soccer standout in EDP Soccer has excelled at every level in which he has participated. So, it was not surprising he turned heads as a left back for James Madison, becoming the first Dukes player to be named as a semifinalist.
"Definitely a little surprised," Judge said. "But really just excited and thankful to the people, whoever's on that committee, who saw that I deserved to be on that. It was really exciting."
Just playing again with JMU was more than enough for the 6-1, 175-lb. Judge as the 2020 Fall season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"After not having a Fall season, I think we were all just really excited to be out, be able to go out and play soccer, to just be able to go out and have a real game against another team that wasn't an the inner-squad scrimmage or anything like that," he said. "Just getting back into that competitive atmosphere, myself, all my teammates were just really excited."
Big things were expected of Judge this year, especially after he was chosen by Nashville SC as the 36th selection (ninth choice in the second round) in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft in January.
Judge lived up to the billing, coming off another outstanding year for JMU. He helped the team to a 5-1-3 overall mark and a 4-0 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, in a season that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. He helped anchor a backline that conceded but four goals in those matches. The Dukes registered six clean sheets and finished with a goal-against average of 0.417, which is third in the country. For the second successive year, the Freehold, N.J. native secured CAA first team honors, although he was forced to sit out two conference playoff games because of a sprained ankle and bone bruise on his foot.
"That was the first time for me not playing in the conference tournament games that we were in," Judge said. "But it was kind of a different sense of happiness, being able to watch my teammates, watch from the side and still see how good the team was able to do," Judge said. "That was definitely a different viewpoint for me, but it was really awesome to see a lot of the young guys out there playing so well, so it was really cool."
Judge scored three goals and added four assists over 63 games in his four-year Dukes career.
After taking his final college exam — Judge majored in sport and recreation management — he traveled to Nashville earlier this month to begin what he hopes will be a pro soccer career in MLS. He had to go through COVID-19 testing and a quarantine period before he could train.
"At the end of this it'll be about two weeks of complete rest, which has been very, very nice," he said. "Much needed. So, I'm really excited that I had that time and now I can go in fresh, ready to go."
Ryan, who started his youth soccer career with STA-MUSC in EDP Soccer, has continued a unique streak for the Cardinals, which has placed at least one Hermann semifinalist for the sixth consecutive year.
He is trying to become the second men's player in program history to win the award, following in the footsteps of midfielder-forward Jordan Morris, who earned the 2015 national award. Morris has gone on to greater things, starring for Seattle Sounders FC (Major League Soccer) and the U.S. men's national team.
"I've seen other guys receive that honor and it seems at the time a big deal," Ryan said. "For me, it's kind of a strange feeling because it felt like I was kind of on the end of a lot of really good soccer that we were playing this year. It's weird to think about it."
"It's a strange feeling because I didn't ever feel in the moment of the season like I was doing anything particularly special. I was trying to go about things the right way every day and being with such a quality team with quality players around us just pushed you to be better."
Still, there is little surprise as to why Ryan is one of the 15 players vying for the trophy. As the Pac-12 player of the year, the Chatham, N.J. native has been vital to Stanford's attacking success this season. He leads the team with 10 goals (four game-winners) and three assists, while finding the net in nine of the Cardinal's 13 contests through Tuesday's action.
There is little doubt the 6-foot, 175-lb. Ryan is a money player, having connected on four game-winning goals this season, including one seven minutes into extra time to lift No. 8 Stanford over the sixth-ranked University of Washington, 1-0, to win the Pac 12 crown on April 17.
Ryan, who is majoring in management science and engineering, has scored 26 goals and assisted on eight others in 55 career matches.
Ryan hails from an athletic family. His father Frank was an All-American wrestler at Syracuse University. His uncle, Tom Ryan, is the Ohio State head wrestling coach, having directed the Buckeyes to the 2015 NCAA Division I championship. His cousin Jake also wrestled at Ohio State and was an NCAA qualifier in 2016. And his great-grandfather, Tony Passaro, was a professional boxer as the No. 1 flyweight contender in the world during the late 1930's.
Yet, Ryan decided to turn to soccer, at which he has excelled.
"I grew up wrestling," he said. "My parents always just taught me to do what I loved. I just liked wrestling, but I love soccer more so. It was do what you love. ... It's definitely been a huge blessing because the perspectives of people who've competed at a high level can push you in that way, which a lot of people don't have and so for me that was a huge privilege."