Prep Soccer: Mercer's Souder seeks team success to go with personal success
Mercer County senior Landon Souder has already committed to play for Division I Evansville next season, and he's hoping to lead the Titans to their best season this year. "He's about as close to the complete package as you can get, especially at the high school level," Mercer coach Matt Vogel said. (Clay Jackson / August 11, 2012)
Back in middle school, when he realized that he didn’t mind blowing off basketball practice in Harrodsburg to go play indoor soccer in Lexington, he knew he wanted to be a soccer player.
Now Souder has become a soccer player like few others this area has ever produced. His years of practice and work have been rewarded, as he has enjoyed success at the club level, made a splash in a national development program and committed to play for a Division I college, all before the start of his senior season at Mercer County.
The latter of those achievements is the realization of a dream that germinated in middle school and began to grow a couple of years later when he began to realize how he could make it come true.
“Athleticism is the major point of my game. That’s what sets me apart from most players. Once I started to figure that out, I started telling myself, ‘I can do this,’” Souder said.
Matt Vogel, who has coached Souder for the past four years in Lexington FC and who takes over as Mercer’s coach this season, said there’s no doubt that Souder can do things most other players cannot.
“He’s probably one of the most athletic players I’ve ever coaches,” Vogel said. “He’s about as close to the complete package as you can get, especially at the high school level.”
Souder has accomplished much individually, and now he sees before him the possibility of doing something even more meaningful this fall. He is one of the leaders of a Mercer team that has made marked improvement during his time there and that might be the area’s best team this year, and he relishes the chance to enjoy unprecedented success alongside the friends he has played with for most of his life, beginning with their days in the Mercer Youth Soccer Association.
“The thing about high school is all my best friends play. We grew up playing at MYSA together and against each other, and now we’re all together in high school, and we’re changing what’s typical for Mercer County soccer,” he said.
Souder and his teammates came within one game — within one overtime goal, to be exact — of their first regional championship last year, and he said that defeat eats at him “just about any time high school soccer’s mentioned.”
But much has happened in the months since the Titans’ title game loss at Danville last October, both for Souder and for the team.
By the end of that fall, Souder had attracted the attention of a number of Division I coaches, both during the club and high school seasons. He got a handful of offers, and by the end of winter he had picked one of them — the first one that had taken a liking to him — to become Mercer’s first D-I player and one of only a handful ever from this area.
Souder committed in March to play for Evansville, saying the relationship he developed with that school’s coaching staff from the very beginning of the recruiting process cemented his decision.
“They were with me from the start. The first day they can contact you (in) your junior year is September 1st, and they sent me an email at 12:01 a.m.,” he said. “They saw me play during our select season that year before, and since then they’ve seen me play all through my select season.
“It was a hard choice at the beginning, but just seeing that Evansville had my major (physical therapy) and I had a great relationship with the coaching staff, I played with some of their players, hung out with their players, I felt like I needed to be there.”
Souder said Evansville, which he chose over Kentucky and Xavier, gives him the chance not only to play for a competitive D-I program but also to play against some of the country’s best teams.
“The have a long history of being good ... and one of my goals is I wanted to play for a team that played against the best teams in the nation. They play powerhouses all the time,” he said.
Vogel said he thinks Souder will be just fine at the next level, saying he will be able to steer clear of the kind of “culture shock” many athletes experience in the transition from high school to college.
“What the Division I level will force him to do is become more technical and read the game at an even higher pace,” Vogel said. “I think Landon’s adjustment period to Division I will be faster than most. I think he’ll make an impact right away.”
The early commitment was one less thing Souder had to worry about in his final select season, and his Lexington FC team won finished second in the premier division in its league and reached the state semifinals.
Late last month, he spent three days at an Olympic Development Program regional camp in Illinois. He was one of 20 players from Kentucky at the camp, and he was one of seven picked for a holdover group that would spend two more days there working out and competing for spots in a national tournament to be held this winter.
“Altogether there were probably 250, 300 people there, and (it was an honor) to get selected as one of the 34 kids held over, especially at a position I don’t normally play (center defense),” he said.
That honor comes at the end of a long club career in which he started in the Mercer Youth Soccer Association, then moved on to the Central Kentucky Soccer Club before going on to Lexington FC. He said he knows those experiences, particularly those in the four years he has spent with Lexington FC, made him a much better player.
“Not just competing in games, but competing in practices. You have to show up every day to compete for your spot, which in turn means you have to get better. You either get better or get left behind,” he said.
“The thing about him playing on that select team that he’s on is he’s got a lot of good talent to push him. He’s really blossomed in his knowledge of the game and his skill set,” Vogel said.
Souder is not the only one who has had those experiences, and Mercer is the better for that. He said one of the things that has made the Titans so much better in recent years is that so many more of them are playing so much more soccer.
“On the high school team a couple years ago, there were only two or three players that played all year long. Now there are 15 or 16, over half the team, that play all year long,” he said.
And now Vogel has taken over as the team’s third coach in two seasons — Tim Shannon, the interim coach for most of last season, remains as an assistant coach — Souder hopes the Titans can rise to new heights.
“We expect to be going to state, winning district, winning region. We expect to be doing that stuff. Those are our goals,” Souder said. “I feel like our team has gotten better with Tim last year, and now with Tim and coach Vogel, having both of them will improve us tremendously. I love waking up in the morning for 7 a.m. practices.”