By Andrew Phillips
RICHMOND, Va. – The transition from high school to college is already tough. Add that to being a student-athlete, plus being in a new country, and for some, it is almost too much to handle.
VCU Men's Soccer sophomore Juan Monge Solano accomplished all of those feats, and did so in impressive fashion with a breakout rookie campaign in 2011. The Rams' left back scored five times, and assisted on another goal to finish with 11 points. It didn't take long for his peers to notice his impact as the awards started rolling in, including several Freshman All-America citations.
"There's no doubt Juan had a strong freshman year," said VCU Head Coach Dave Giffard. "I don't think that the college game is littered with left backs who can do what Juan can do, so as a freshman he garnered a lot of attention and recognition."
With one season under his belt, Solano now knows how challenging it is to play college soccer at an elite level.
"Obviously having gone through a full season already, you know the college game and the demands of it, the timing of it, how many games you have in such a short period of time; it's very unique," Giffard said.
With a new season approaching, and new challenges ahead, VCU will again turn to Solano to be a leader both on and off the field. But this time Solano will be more prepared.
"I tell people that ask, if he was a very good defender, and you could count on him to lock down the left side, then he wouldn't be here; he'd already be off making a lot of money," Giffard said. "So that's the piece of his game that he has been working hard to develop."
Giffard is somewhat of a natural when it comes to developing players, and it's a core value of his program at VCU.
"We are about person and player development here, and that's what this level ought to be about," Giffard said. "You see players that hopefully, over their time with us, go through a large growth process both on and off the field."
In order to help with his development, Giffard sent Solano to train with a few Major League Soccer teams over the summer to learn what it will take for him to be successful at the next level.
"There is nothing better than being able to observe and play with and against guys who are at the next level to continue to help sharpen your game," Giffard said.
Becoming an honest defender is not going to happen overnight for Solano, and his coach acknowledges that. Giffard also knows that Solano has spent a great deal of effort into improving that area of his game, and the results are starting to show.
"He's getting more honest, he's becoming a better defender. He is understanding what it means to be able to be counted on in all the plays and all the moments," Giffard said. "That's the fun part of having a top program that has very, very talented players that we're hoping to develop and move on, and a team that, coming into this fall, is looking forward to accomplishing a lot of our team goals as well."
Solano will continue to have an offensive presence this season, giving himself a better chance to find his name on the score sheet.
"He's a guy that takes free kicks for us, he scores goals from the run of play, and he certainly puts a lot of balls in a lot of dangerous places," Giffard said. "For a left back, he has a tremendous impact on the game offensively."
The Rams and an improved Solano kick off their season against Bucknell on Aug. 24 at Sports Backers Stadium.