On the first day of classes this semester, a professor asked senior soccer player Bryan Gaul what he planned to do after graduation. Gaul said he wanted to play professional soccer and the professor laughed off Gaul’s remarks.
But nobody’s laughing anymore after Gaul has helped Bradley to a top-25 national ranking and a 4-0-2 record heading into this weekend’s Hotels at Grand Prairie Classic at Shea Stadium.
Gaul has led the Braves on the field with five goals, two assists, 12 points and three game-winning goals, in addition to being a leader of the team off of the field.
“Since I was about nine or ten, I’ve really wanted to go pro,” Gaul said. “I’ve been playing for so long and putting the time in and time out of soccer.”
Although it is difficult to reach the professional ranks of any sport, Gaul’s coaches believe he has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“He does that thing that all great players do, make the players around him better,” said coach Jim DeRose. “When he gets the ball, he is just as electric as they come.”
Gaul, a forward from Naperville, has already been named a preseason All-American and national player of the week by CollegeSoccerNews.com and TopDrawerSoccer.com.
“Anytime, it doesn’t matter what sport, when you have a big-time scorer, he draws the attention of other players and confines their own games,” DeRose said. “He draws focus but still produces points.”
Gaul led his high school, Neuqua Valley, to a state tournament runner-up finish while earning all-state honors from both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun. He decided to play at Bradley after it earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament win and advanced to the national quarterfinals.
“I chose Bradley because I loved the stadium, I liked the team, they had a really good tradition and I wanted to be a part of it,” Gaul said.
Gaul expects his team to expand on their NCAA Tournament berth from last year and earn their first NCAA Tournament win since the 2007 season.
“We are building off of last year,” Gaul said. “We were really good last year but I think we are very good this year. We have more chemistry and just have a better team.”
Although Gaul has led the team in many statistical categories, he is also leading the Braves in numerous immeasurable ways.
“He’s willing to change his game if people are trying to take him out of the game,” DeRose said. “He’s not selfish to the point where he always wants to go be a ball magnet, he knows to drift away and take players away.”
While Gaul has created many highlight reel plays and scored game-winning goals in Bradley’s fast start to the season, coach DeRose’s favorite memory of Gaul hails from the team’s spring trip to Barbados.
“When you see the little kids go ‘oohh and ahhh’ and they watch him with the ball and all of a sudden – he was wearing number seven in Barbados – and you can hear all of the Bajans go ‘number seven,’ ‘number seven’.”