By: Erin Madden
BEREA, Ohio – While most collegiate soccer players spent the summer months training and getting ready for the fall season, junior forward Kurt Raney (Mentor) was chasing his dreams on a high school soccer field just outside of Dayton, Ohio.
Home to the West Carrollton High School Pirates, the Dayton Outpatient Center Stadium is also home to the Dayton Dutch Lions, a semi-professional soccer team that plays in the Premier Development League (PDL) and the team that Raney called home for the summer months.
With the Dutch Lions' first game of the PDL season approaching, Raney was unsure of what his role on the team would be. The morning of the team's first game, he found out via text message that he would be dressing and, when he got to the locker room that afternoon, it was then that he found out he was a starter. Little did he know he would play all 90 minutes and score the team's first goal of the season in the 47th minute with his parents cheering him on from the stands.
"It was probably the greatest sporting moment of my life," Raney reflects.
According to the organization's website, the PDL is "a proven development leader in North American soccer's evolving tiered structure" with 72 franchises in four conferences throughout the United States and Canada, providing collegiate players with an opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while still maintaining their eligibility.
Since 2010, nearly 70 percent of all MLS selections have PDL experience. With hopes of someday playing professional soccer himself, Raney approached Baldwin Wallace University Head Coach Reid Ayers after the 2016 season and talked about how to go about pursing his dreams.
"I already knew what the PDL was and how high of a level it was," Raney says. "I went to Reid and talked to him about it, trying to figure out if it was possible for me to get on one of these teams. He was a really big help for me getting to have the opportunity."
"The PDL in itself is a great venture," Ayers adds. "It's a chance for these guys to be put into a professional environment while still maintaining amateur status. It's a great springboard for the guys that are exceptional players and are truly committed to the game. My job is to get them an opportunity and it's their job to take advantage of that opportunity. I can't get them a contract or a roster spot – they have to earn that."
With Raney wanting to stay closer to home, Ayers used his connections and contacted Marcus Rixon, the coach of the Dayton Dutch Lions. He then sent Rixon a highlight package. Impressed by what he saw, Rixon got in touch with Ayers to arrange a tryout for Raney, who made the most of the opportunity he was given.
While his team finished with an overall record of 4-7-3, Raney tied for the team lead in goals with two and assists with one while appearing in all 14 games and playing a total of 901 minutes.
Despite playing alongside players from Division I soccer programs, Raney noted that there were still similarities between playing semi-professional soccer and playing DIII in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
"The play is faster and the players are a little more skilled, but everyone still has the same passion for the game," Raney says.
If there is one aspect from his PDL experience that the junior hopes to instill in his Yellow Jacket teammates, it's the atmosphere that surrounds the semi-professional game and its players.
"All the players there have basically the same goal as me to someday play professionally, so everybody is working to the best of their abilities," Raney says. "I'd like to bring some of that higher energy and focus to our team."
While he has the opportunity to go back and play in the PDL again next year, Raney is still weighing his options.
"The coach already talked to me about it," Raney says. "He said I am definitely welcome to come back. … I definitely love playing there, I would do that again in a heartbeat. Living away all summer is just tough."