After winning an Ohio state championship in high school, Eric Stevenson impressed the staff of the Akron University soccer program and committed to play close to home in 2009. Now known as a collegiate soccer powerhouse, remember that Akron then was a team full of MLS-caliber players (Nagbe, Zakuani, Bunbury, etc.) still largely unknown to the American soccer public.
In addition, they were a year away from becoming national champions. Under the tutelage of Caleb Porter, Stevenson eventually blossomed into a starter and conference best XI.
Unfortunately, like many freshman, Stevenson was red-shirted. He debuted in 2010, playing in 13 games from a left midfield position. He played scarce minutes (averaging only 26 per game) but had two starts that foreshadowed his potential ability against fellow powerhouses, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Although Akron became national champs for the first time in history, Stevenson failed to play at all in the postseason run. Come the following year, Stevenson saw increased playing time and started 14 games in 20 overall appearances. He first experienced the left back position at a higher level, making 12 straight starts there while posting one assist.
In 2012, Stevenson was named to the All-MAC second team after starting all 22 games and recording career highs with seven goals and five assists as a left two-way winger. He made significant contributions in games against historically strong teams by scoring game winners against Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana while also scoring the decisive goal in the MAC tournament final.
His senior year in 2013 was interrupted frustratingly by chronic injuries, but Stevenson demonstrated consistency by again boasting impressive numbers for a left winger with five goals and as many assists in 22 games. The MAC awarded the steady form by including him in the conference first team.
*All information courtesy of gozips.com
Stevenson also played in the Premier Development League for the Seattle Sounders U-23 team for one summer, exposing him to a professional environment (although one can argue he already got this at Akron) and continuing meaningful game time.
Akron has undoubtedly been the best team in a weaker Mid-American conference for the past five years, so their schedule is always diluted with smaller soccer programs. In addition, Stevenson played with some of the best and humble (seriously, how nice is Darlington Nagbe?) players in college soccer (who became future MLS stars and contributors), which undoubtedly made the game easier for him.
Credit to him for earning starts and posting impressive numbers, but these two factors must consider in his evaluation. Having said all that, my prediction is that he will make the roster. I say this for a variety of reasons.
One is the fact that he was recruited by Caleb Porter. The amount of players drafted from Akron that made rosters and played important minutes in MLS is probably a trend that a statistician could not ignore. Yes, Stevenson is a local Ohio boy, but Porter must have saw potential no one else could have at the time.
The second reason is that he is versatile. His experience playing left back is probably what intrigued the Red Bulls staff enough to draft him in the late second round of the Super Draft even at the relatively old age of 23. In fact, Stevenson sounded enthusiastic after his first phone call with Coach Petke.
“(Petke) just said he was excited to have me on board and made sure I felt very welcomed,” Stevenson said in an interview with mlstransfers.blogspot.com. “He made sure I was sorted with all the details and everything I needed to know for the upcoming season.”
His highlights compilation illustrates Stevenson’s undoubted qualities as a soccer player. He possesses fantastic technique to maintain close control, has an industrious running style that allows him to go past defenders and is also a prolific long distance shooter. His former coach at Akron, Jared Embick, spoke glowingly of his talent.
“I think very highly of him,” Jared Embick said in an interview with SoccerWire.com. “Of those three guys, he’s got the most skill and the most talent. The other guys are probably ahead of him in some other areas of mental toughness [and] intangibles … but if you ask a lot of his former teammates … they all speak very highly of Eric.”
Out of the current NYRB roster, Stevenson’s skill set most resembles a combination of Connor Lade’s and Eric Alexander’s respective playing styles. The similarities stem from the ability to play fullback and outside midfield (Lade) but have the tendency to tuck inside to connect passes and shoot (think Alexander’s goal versus Montreal).
“He’s very technical, very clean on the ball, good in tight spaces,” he said. “He can get out of tight spaces with some great feet. [He is] good 1v1, can score, can assist, can playmake — all those things. He’s a very tough matchup for other teams with the way we used him, as a left winger but a guy who would overload the middle at times. If he got you isolated on the wing, he could still beat you.”
If he makes the roster, look out for Stevenson to earn playing time in cup competitions and continue the tradition of the two-way winger.