New England Soccer Today

Don’t call him Mr. Irrelevant

When the New England Revolution selected William & Mary forward Alan Koger with the 54th and final selection of this year’s MLS SuperDraft, Revolution Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns attempted to call the club’s newest face to congratulate him of his selection.

Alan Koger was taken by the Revs with the final pick of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft (54th overall). (Photo Courtesy College of William and Mary)

There was only one problem: Koger wasn’t picking up. In fact, the Spencer, VA native, who hadn’t been invited to the MLS Combine the weekend previous, wasn’t even close to a computer, smart phone, or TV to follow the draft day developments.

“I was actually with my girlfriend snowboarding at Wintergreen Resort (in Roseland, VA),” said Koger. “It wasn’t until she got a text saying ‘Tell Alan, Congratulations’ that I knew something was up. She looked at me and asked me ‘What that’s about?’ I had no idea.”

After Koger’s girlfriend sent a reply text to find out more about the mysterious message, the news of his selection by the Revolution finally began to materialize.

But even after the news slowly started to reach the resort, Koger remained incredulous. No way did an MLS team take him in the SuperDraft. After all, how often does a player who isn’t even mentioned in the league’s draft day media guide get his name called at the podium?

“I was like ‘I don’t believe it, there’s no way. It must be a mistake,'” said Koger.

Once his doubts gradually gave way to reality, he rushed back to the resort lodge to find his cell phone. Because the resort sits along the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, his phone’s reception was spotty at best, which only made the confirmation of his selection that much harder to attain.

It wasn’t until around 5pm – about an hour and a half after Burns initially called him – that he finally found a strong enough signal on his cell phone that he was able to retrieve the voice message from Burns asking Koger to call him back. Naturally, Koger hurried to call back Burns not only to confirm the rumor, but to apologize as well.

“I told him ‘I’m sorry, I’ve been snowboarding all day,'” said Koger. “So he said ‘I don’t know if you know this, but we just drafted you.’ I was kind of in awe and shock. I had no idea that I was going to get drafted.”

The fact that Koger, a 6-2 senior striker who tallied 29 goals and 10 assists in his four seasons in Williamsburg, wasn’t even invited to the Combine is somewhat surprising given the impressive stats he put up at William & Mary. Granted, he may not have played in the ACC or at a school with a storied soccer program, but when a player’s resume and reputation point to success, it’s difficult to fathom the oversight.

Koger scored 9 goals for William & Mary in 2010. (Photo Courtesy College of William and Mary)

Interestingly, one of the reasons why Koger may not have received an all-expenses paid trip to Fort Lauderdale was because the William & Mary striker often times worked tirelessly to help his fellow teammates, rather than pad his goal total.

“He really works hard for the team,” said Tribe men’s soccer head coach Chris Norris. “He puts (opposing) defenders under a ton of pressure, really does a lot of work off the ball, and tries to make chances for other players. He’s not one of those guys who just stands around and waits for guys to give him service and doesn’t put alot of work in off the ball.”

Although he could probably get away with being a selfish player given his imposing stature, the big target forward – who classifies his weight as “closer to 190-195” than the 180 he’s listed at in his player bio – not only uses his size to hold the ball for onrushing teammates, but also utlilizes his surprising athleticism to add support to the attack.

“He’s a very, very good athlete,” said Norris. “He’s very strong. He’s terrific in the air. He’s a very good hold-up forward.”

With the Tribe employing a 4-3-3 formation against some of the stronger clubs on their schedule, Koger often found himself in the classic center-forward’s role. When the situation called for a switch in tactics, the Norris’ charges often went with a 4-5-1, with Koger as the lone striker. It was a role he thrived in.

“He works extremely well in those situations,” said Norris. “He’s very much a traditional, back-to-goal forward who can hold the ball and compete extremely well in the air. He can also play in a 4-4-2 and play off of another forward very comfortably.”

Despite his impressive form up front, Koger wasn’t afraid to fill in elsewhere on the pitch. In addition to finding time on the wing, Koger also found himself at center back a few times early in his collegiate career.

“We didn’t train him there,” said Norris. “But based on his physical qualities and instincts, he could be a pretty effective center back because of his athleticism and toughness.”

That athleticism served him especially well during his senior year. After getting cut down by a vicious tackle from behind early in the season, the striker’s right ankle was badly damaged. With the pain of a bone spur digging into his Achilles too excruciating to even shoot the ball, the naturally right-footed player started to rely on his left. And almost immediately, began to score his with his left.

“I have two older brothers who played soccer, and we always worked on my left foot when I was younger,” said Koger. “After that injury, I became very limited in terms of my right foot. I didn’t want to have surgery on it, so I ended up having to shoot with my left for the rest of the season.”

The results: nine goals (third best in the Colonial Athletic Association), 20 points (also third-best in the CAA), not to mention College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer National Player of the Week honors for the week of October 25, as he scored all four of the Tribe’s goals against James Madison and Delaware.

Needless to say, Koger doesn’t operate under the pretense of a me-first forward. Rather than expecting the team to revolve around his abilities, the gritty goal scorer’s mentality revolves around his team. And it’s that attitude that has his former head coach confident about Koger’s chances in making the Revolution roster.

“Alan has a blue-collar mentality,” said Norris. “He’ll work extremely hard. He will understand his role and understand the kinds of things that are important for him as a young player, to give himself the best opportunity to make the roster and do what’s most important for the team and hopefully score a few goals for the team.”

Norris also believes that a team like the Revolution, who struggled mightily on set-pieces last season, will allow his former ballwinning breadwinner all the opportunities to salvage a spot on the roster.

“His ability in the air at both ends, the attacking and defending, will be something that will standout,” said Norris.

Although Koger would love to become a standout player in the coming weeks, his ambitions heading into his first professional preseason on Monday are somewhat more modest.

“I just want to be as competitive as possible and work as hard as I can to get a roster spot,” said Koger. “I want to get up there and impress the coaches.”

The Tribe striker also realizes that a player like him, one who doesn’t come from a powerhouse conference or school, doesn’t often bring the requisite star power that allows some higher-drafted players to slowly ease into their roles.

“I’m not a big name,” Koger admitted. “I don’t come from an ACC school or anything like that, so I’m going to have to come in and prove myself right away and show the coaches that I want to be on the team.”

Mention the “Mr. Irrelevant” title afforded to the last pick of the SuperDraft, and that sizable chip on his shoulder looms even larger.

“I looked online after the draft to see what people were saying,” said Koger. “And people were saying ‘Who is this Alan Koger guy?’ and this and that. But, I’ve always welcomed the role of the underdog. I look forward to the challenge.”

If history is any indication, it’s a challenge that Koger will not only rise to, but overcome as well.


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