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Chasing the dream: soccer pair go to England

Jamie Soukup

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Unlike many Whitman students hitting the road next week for spring break, when seniors Brett Axelrod and Stephen Phillips leave campus, their “vacations” will be anything but relaxing.

Last season’s two soccer captains will be spending the two-week break in England, training with different British soccer teams, as a first step to a potential professional career.

On the trip, Axelrod and Phillips will stay in Newcastle Town, near Manchester. They will train with three teams: Newcastle Town Football Club, a semi-pro team, Crewe Alexandra, a professional team and Stoke City Football Club, an English Premier League team. The Premier League is the top-ranked league in Britain and arguably the best soccer league in the world.

Stephen Phillips, '09, on Brett Axelrod, '09:
Stephen Phillips, ’09, on Brett Axelrod, ’09: “Brett is a pretty intense guy. He is definitely dedicated to things he really wants. He’s a really loyal friend and a really good goalkeeper. I hope he makes something.” Credit: Kim

The training is a special opportunity for Axelrod and Phillips, who will leave March 15 and return March 23. They will train with the hope of being invited back for the summer and eventually asked to sign with a team.

“It’s pretty cool that we can get this opportunity at a liberal arts school. It’s not like the first priority at Whitman is to go play soccer,” said Phillips.

“I’ve always wanted to play professional soccer, but it’s one of those things that you just have to get lucky about: it’s not something you can really count on,” Phillips added.

Phillips and Axelrod led Whitman to a second place finish in the Northwest Conference (NWC) and to the brink of a berth into the NCAA tournaments this fall. Axelrod, a goalkeeper, was named the NWC Defensive Player of the Year. He is the first Whitman player to have received the Player of the Year honor for either offense or defense. Phillips, a midfielder and the team’s leading scorer for the past three seasons, was also named to the All-Conference First-Team with Axelrod.

Men’s head soccer coach Mike Washington and Washington’s friend and former English professional soccer player, Ray Evans, organized the trip.
Washington began looking into possible post-graduation opportunities for the two before the season ended. He had taken the men’s soccer team to England in previous years, most recently in 2007, and contacted Evans about possibilities for the two players.

Brett Axelrod, '09, on Stephen Phillips, '09:
Brett Axelrod, ’09, on Stephen Phillips, ’09: “He’s a great soccer player. He works incredibly hard. I believe in myself completely, but out of the two of us, I would not be surprised in the least if he ends up being invited back over the summer and I didn’t. Just because he’s that kind of a hard worker. You can just sense it when he plays how hard he’s working and how talented he is.” Credit: Kim.

“I made a call to him, and he made a call to someone, and it kind of snowballed from there,” Washington said. Beginning plans for the trip were mapped out before Christmas.

Since the season ended, Axelrod and Phillips, who are friends and housemates, have been busy training.

“I actually had the flu and pneumonia in January, and that knocked out a lot of my playing time over the winter break. As a result, my stamina is really low and my energy level is still pretty low. So I’m not playing as well as I could be playing right now, but we’re doing a lot of training just try to be as prepared as we can,” said Axelrod.

On top of training, both men are also working on their senior-year major requirements. Axelrod, a sociology major, and Phillips, a studio art major, are working to meet their thesis deadlines of mid-April.

“A lot of the art majors are spending spring break here, so I’m trying to get a lot of work done before we go,” said Phillips.
Washington admires Phillips and Axelrod for balancing sports with their studies.

“I’m very blessed to do what I do with coaching. And in coaching at this level, you just get to appreciate the difficulties involved in education at Whitman and athletics. It takes a lot of dedication,” said Washington.

Washington is optimistic about Phillips’ and Axelrod’s impending trip.

“I think what you have to do is follow your dream a little bit. If something happens while they’re over there, even better. My hope is that they can just find out what level they’re at. Even if nothing more came of it, how can you regret doing something like this?” Washington said.

While both men are excited about the opportunity, they were also cautious about getting hopes up.

“Hopefully we just won’t get our butts kicked too much,” Axelrod said, with a laugh, of the upcoming trip. “I would say I expect it to be really, really intense.”

“Most likely nothing will come of it. If something happens, it’d be sweet, but being realistic I’m sure it’s pretty competitive. … I just have no idea. Anything could happen,” Phillips said.

Depending on how the trip goes, the two will consider other options. Phillips has trained with a soccer team in Utah, and Brett has looked into other U.S. teams, including a Portland squad that he trained with last weekend. Both are keeping other options open for their future, however, and are considering going into a Master of Fine Arts programs.

“I’m going to miss them, because of their leadership,” said Washington of Axelrod and Phillips. “I think both of those two will be great coaches also later on.”

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Chasing the dream: soccer pair go to England