Why have the Philadelphia Union added a scrimmage against Florida Gulf Coast University, of all places, to their preseason warm-up tour? With approximately 12,000 students including post-grads and a "notable alumni" list that consists of a professional monster trucker and Don Carman (retired Philadelphia Phillies pitcher from the 80's), what put the FGCU Eagles on the radar?
Short answer: It's a small world. If you've ever found yourself musing over how intricately social circles seem woven together through soccer, perhaps you'll be interested in how a 3rd-year Major League Soccer team noted for hosting the likes of Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic, Chivas de Guadalajara, Everton FC, and Real Madrid comes to be connected to the men's soccer program of the fourth largest university in Fort Myers, Florida.
Florida Gulf Coast University assistant coach Danny Cepero was a standout goalkeeper at the University of Pennsylvania, and his 23 shutouts from '04-'06 set a Quaker record. The New York Red Bulls snagged the All-Ivy net minder late in the 2007 Supplemental Draft - the same year Real Salt Lake used the 4th overall pick in the SuperDraft to select Chris Seitz - and signed him to a developmental contract. After a season without seeing any action, he trained briefly with PSV Eindhoven and was loaned to the Harrisburg City Islanders. His performance with the USL club was so strong, he was recalled and given the chance to start several games for Juan Carlos Osorio's MLS Cup Final-bound squad.
Cepero stepped in and made waves immediately against the Columbus Crew (when Media's Jon Conway and Downingtown's Jeff Parke were serving a banned substance-related suspension), scoring 83 minutes into his league debut on a free kick. The game-winning goal, which made him the first 'keeper to score in Major League Soccer history, found its way onto ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays... probably not what Brian Carroll or Alejandro Moreno care to remember from their time with the Crew. They'd much rather talk about their meeting with Cepero a month later, when Carroll went full 90 and Moreno scored in the Crew's 3-1 2008 MLS Cup Final victory over the Red Bulls. Union play-by-play specialist J.P. Dellacamera led the broadcast team that day.
Danny returned for a second stint with the Harrisburg City Islanders after New York released him in 2010. Fate intervened, and Cepero found himself keeping a clean sheet against his former club in the 2010 US Open Cup Round of 16, knocking the Red Bulls out of the competition in overtime. J.T. Noone went the distance for Harrisburg in that match and Sheanon Williams contributed a solid 101 minutes before being subbed off. A month and a half later, the Union had taken advantage of their affiliation with the USL side - Noone had been signed, Williams was training ahead of his signing, and Cepero was on the bench at PPL Park as Chris Seitz's emergency backup against Real Salt Lake (Brad Knighton was serving a red card suspension and Brian Perk had just been waived). Following the 2010 season, Danny Cepero retired from professional soccer and took the FGCU coaching position he holds today.
Florida Gold Coast University head coach Bob Butehorn was an assistant coach at UPenn for five years, including three seasons that featured Cepero in net. Prior to Danny's arrival, Bob shared space on the Quaker coaching staff with up-and-coming goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian (who went on to coach Seitz, Zac MacMath, and Thorne Holder at the University of Maryland, work with Peter Nowak's U-23 National Team ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, and become goalkeeping coach for the Philadelphia Union). Bob and Rob go back even further, as Butehorn was head coach of St. Bonaventure University from '95-'99, with Vartughian between the pipes from '96-'99.
As if that weren't already stretching it enough, Bob Butehorn was an assistant coach at Maryland from '89-'94. That means not only did he, Danny Califf, and the rest of the Union-Terps mentioned above spend part of their soccer careers under the guidance of highly successful head coach Sasho Cirovski, but Bob was also a key part of the game planning process to break down a Wake Forest Demon Deacon back line that featured John Hackworth in '91 and '92.
So... in addition to the February 11th match with the Philadelphia Union in Orlando, what paths crossed to help Florida Gulf Coast University land a scrimmage with the Chicago Fire and an exhibition match between the Fire and DC United? Apart from their proximity to Bradenton, was their impressive record and upset of 5th-ranked Ohio State enough score the invite to compete in friendlies with the United States U-17 Men's National Team and Tampa FC of the NASL? Can the lone Canadian on their roster really account for the upcoming visit from Canadian U-20 Men's National Team? What about their April fixture with NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers (who may have shed Eduardo Coudet and Cristian Arrieta, but still have Toni Stahl on the books)? Don't really know, don't really care.