With Riley headed to Notre Dame, Danilack and Omsberg bound for MLS, men's soccer confident it will maintain identity

by Evan Morgan and Justin Kramer | 1/29/18 2:30am

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Wyatt Omsberg '18 graduated in fall 2017 and is currently training with Minnesota United FC.

by Ishaan Jajodia / The Dartmouth Staff

Former men’s soccer coach Chad Riley and the Class of 2018 shared a special connection. The ’18s were the first class Riley recruited as an assistant coach and the first group of players to enter a system with Riley entrenched at the helm after he became head coach in 2013. Three seniors — Matt Danilack ’18, Tyler Dowse ’18 and Wyatt Omsberg ’18 — started games from the get-go, and the Big Green won the Ivy League Championship every season they played on the team.

Now with Riley taking the men’s soccer head coach position at the University of Notre Dame and the departure of the seniors, including Danilack and Omsberg, who were selected in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft earlier this month — the men’s soccer team could look quite a bit different next season.

Finding Championship Form

Danilack, Dowse and Omsberg joined a Dartmouth team that finished 6-7-4 overall and last in the Ivy League in 2013. Riley, a former assistant coach under Jeff Cook, spent the 2013 helping the team adjust to his leadership. Riley was given the head coaching position after Cook, a 12-year veteran of the program, stepped away to pursue opportunities with the MLS Philadelphia Union.

The Big Green managed only 19 goals in 17 contests in 2013 while going 1-6 in the Ivy League. Dartmouth had not fared worse in the Ancient Eight since 2003; however, the 2014 season, the first for the Class of 2018, was a different story. It began on Sept. 6, 2014 against then-No. 2 Notre Dame, a familiar foe for Riley, who played midfield for the Fighting Irish under Bobby Clark. Clark coached Notre Dame in 2014 and decided to leave the program at the end of this season, opening up the position for Riley’s homecoming. Riley was an assistant coach under Clark before he made the move to Dartmouth.

In the 4-1 loss, the Class of 2018 hinted at the future impact it would have on the team. Danilack, Dowse and Omsberg were all included in the starting 11 players. Omsberg sent a late header just wide of the net, but classmate Giorgio Gorini ’18 scored the Big Green’s lone goal in the second half.

The Big Green found more success in the games to come. After another loss, this time to then-No. 12 Indiana University on Sept. 8, 2014, began an eight-match unbeaten streak in which the trio of ’18s contributed four goals, three of which came from Danilack. His first career goal came on the same day that his older brother, Hugh Danilack ’15 scored against the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Following a pair of losses, the Big Green did not drop another regular-season match in 2014. Dartmouth ended conference play with a 3-0 romp over Brown University, bringing home an Ivy League Championship and an automatic NCAA tournament berth.

The next three seasons brought more accolades to Riley and the Big Green as the role of the ’18s continued to expand. Dartmouth defended the Ivy League championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017 as Riley was named Ivy League Coach of the Year in three of his five seasons at the helm. Danilack was named to the All-Ivy League first team in his sophomore through senior seasons.

Omsberg’s stardom rose quickly after his sophomore season, when the Dartmouth defense allowed just 13 goals and Omsberg earned First Team All-Ivy honors. As a junior and senior, he began to receive national recognition. Named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, he was also selected as a National Soccer Coaches Association All-American both years.

“[Omsberg] brought an exceptional ability on the soccer field — a big presence, great in the air, all that type of stuff,” Riley said. “But I think he really just elevated that back line with his focus and that approach of every day you knew you were going to get [Omsberg’s] best or close to his best.”

The ’18s led the team not only on the field but also off of it, as demonstrated by their ability to lead each year’s incoming class and instill in them the same winning culture. Danilack, Dowse and Omsberg were tri-captains for their senior year.

“The team started to play with each other better this year, and that was because of the leadership we had this year from our three seniors,” Eduvie Ikoba ’19 said. “I can tell it’s something that definitely changed our team.”

All three ’18s were honored to receive the opportunity, humbled by the inherent respect across the roster.

“To be honest, it [was] really not a hard group to lead,” Omsberg said. “Everybody [was] motivated, talented and works hard. It [was] a great honor to be captain of Dartmouth men’s soccer, especially considering all the great leaders and players that have come before us, so we took a lot of pride in that.”

The trio of captains shared a long run of success alongside Riley to highlight their time playing for Dartmouth.

“The first Ivy League Championship we won together was very special,” Riley said. “All of them were very special, but I think that first one — whether it was the time on campus, the crowd, the night — it will be with me forever.”

From the Ivy League to Major League Soccer

Omsberg and Danilack, who became the fifth and sixth players, respectively, in Dartmouth history to be drafted to an MLS team, credited the Big Green with catalyzing their professional careers.

“I’d like to think I was pretty good when I got to Dartmouth, but I got so much better in the last four years from everyone involved with the Dartmouth soccer organization,” Danilack said. “Everyone has been so crucial to me being able to make this next step, and I can’t thank them enough.”

The Philadelphia Union selected Danilack in the fourth round of the SuperDraft.

“When you’re playing soccer as a little kid, you’re not really thinking about being a professional athlete — you’re just having fun, running around with your friends,” Danilack said. “When that dream became a reality later in my college career, it was surreal and then when it actually happened, I couldn’t believe it.”

Danilack made it clear he would not take the opportunity for granted when asked about what he is most looking forward to in the MLS.

“The idea that I get to do what I love for a living at least for a little bit, I think that’s what most people want to do in this world and to play the sport that I love for a living is beyond exciting,” Danilack said.

Omsberg entered the SuperDraft considered a sleeper by many scouts. A strong outing at the combine a week before the draft moved him into a higher position on draft boards. When Minnesota United selected the defender with the 15th overall pick, he became the first Ivy League player ever to go in the first round.

“I was with my family just watching the draft,” Omsberg said. “You’re kind of nervous, you have no idea what to expect, you have no idea when you’re going to get called, but seeing my name pop up next to Minnesota, I was really excited.”

Becoming the Ivy League’s first player drafted in the first round was particularly meaningful for Omsberg.

“It’s obviously a huge honor,” he said. “There’s a lot of good players who have come out of the Ivy League, but I think it speaks to how well the league has been doing lately.”

Omsberg was not always a first-round lock, as he was not heavily recruited coming out of high school in Scarborough, Maine.

“The coaches saw something in me and Riley did a great job in recruiting me. I’m really glad I made that choice,” he said. “The things we do in training and the everyday habits that they instill in us are really professional, and it’s helped me immensely to get ready for what’s here.”

Having already graduated from Dartmouth in the fall, Omsberg headed to Minnesota only a few days after the draft where he has been touring and training since Jan. 21.

“The biggest adjustment for me has been getting used to the pace of play,” Omsberg said. “Everybody is bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, better than what I’m used to.”

For Danilack and Omsberg, getting drafted has been a lifelong journey. Danilack was used to triumph before his four titles at Dartmouth, winning multiple championships with his top-ranked OBGC Rangers and for the Bethesda-Olney Academy in high school.

“I was always in a high level environment growing up and got used to it, and I’m looking forward to the next steps of getting to the next level,” he said.

Omsberg shared Danilack’s level of early success, raised in a family of college soccer players.

“Growing up, we’d always be playing sports and soccer was me and my brother’s favorite so we would play a ton with my dad or just by ourselves,” Omsberg said.

He led his high school team to consecutive Class “A” State Championships while garnering Maine Player of the Year, All-New England and All-American accolades.

Once Danilack, Dowse and Omsberg finally made it to Dartmouth, they worked hard to sustain their prior level of success.

“I don’t remember the three of them ever having a bad training session,” Riley said. “That’s a pretty amazing thing to do over a four-year period.”

Never for a moment did the ’18s forget to cherish their time with the Big Green.

“They wanted to win games very badly but at the same time they knew being together, training together, just being able to spend this time together was so special,” Riley said.

Danilack and Omsberg, now at the start of their MLS journeys, are reminiscent of their time donning the green and white stripes.

“Getting to be around every single one of those guys all the time created the best memories of my life,” Danilack said. “I’m never going to forget those moments.”

Reflections on Riley

Riley said establishing a team identity is the crux of any coaching transition.

“A team will form its identity with its coach, because it’s not like a coach and a team are separate,” Riley said. “They’re all altogether, and they all have their roles so that’s the piece to find.”

When Riley took the head coaching position at Dartmouth, he knew a successful transition would not come immediately.

“There’s really no substitute for time and experiencing things together, whether it’s training sessions, games or specific team-building things — really it just takes time,” Riley said.

Before 2017’s season, the team had an established identity, according to Riley and the players — a mindset Danilack called the “Dartmouth soccer culture.”

“It was a very confident team but humble at the same time,” Riley said. “I don’t think there was a game that we didn’t approach with a lot of focus and a lot of intensity, whether it was a ranked team, whether it was a league game, whether it was an out of league game.”

Riley developed close relationships with his players, according to Ikoba, who struggled with injury last season.

“He would encourage me and talk to me and tell me that even though things are hard right now my time will come,” Ikoba said. “I’m very thankful he had faith in players especially when other coaches may not have given people chances.”

Back at Burnham

Even without the leadership of Riley and the ’18s, the underclassmen are confident they will maintain their strongly solidified identity.

“I truthfully can’t see that [identity] changing because we’ve had this attitude through my whole time at Dartmouth personally, and it was the same for the class before us,” Ikoba said.

This identity does not figure to waver, even as the program searches for a new head coach.

“Now that we have a legacy of winning [four] Ivy League titles in a row, it’s not something that we’re willing to give up easily or change with the coach,” Ikoba said. “I’m sure there will be small changes in tactics or the way we approach training, but on the field we’re all going to work hard for each other and keep our streak going.”

Omsberg is confident that the school will find an excellent coach to fill Riley’s spot at the helm and continue Dartmouth’s success.

“For a new coach, I have a lot of trust in the athletics department that it is going to bring in the best candidate possible that will continue to lead Dartmouth men’s soccer in the right direction,” Omsberg said. “That coach has all of the tools that he or she needs.”

Riley outlined what steps his successor will have to take upon joining the program noting the importance of recruitment and developing players over time.

In the interim, assistant coach Ryan Fahey is managing training sessions until Riley departs on Feb 1. After that, the team will temporarily be without a coach, but Ikoba believes the team can overcome this because of its work culture.

“At a glance, people don’t really notice how much we work,” he said. “Our mentality has always been that championships are not won in November, it’s something that happens throughout the whole season.”

During the winter, the team runs three miles before every practice. It is this extra effort that Ikoba believes has pushed Dartmouth to the next level.

“We have the talent, but if you can’t work as a group to bring it together, then it will be a waste,”

With Danilack, Dowse and Omsberg departing, the team is losing much of its core from the past four seasons. However, there are options among the underclassmen to lead the next period of Dartmouth soccer. In addition to Ikoba, who was the team’s leading scorer in 2017, the Big Green will also have Ivy League Rookie of the Year Dawson McCartney ’21 and Justin Donawa ’19, who earned All-Ivy accolades from his freshman to junior seasons. As Ikoba noted, however, everyone on the team will need to work hard for the next season.

“It’s not just one person that will need to improve,” Ikoba said. “As a team, we’ll have to work harder and become leaders on and off the field.”

The faces on the field and sidelines where the ’18s and Riley once stood will surely look different next year, but the ingredients for a fifth consecutive championship are still there.

“All they have to do is keep doing the little things,” Danilack said. “Keep doing the things that they did over the last four years, and they’re going to find success no matter who the next coach or no matter any of the personnel changes.”

Omsberg followed up on his teammate’s aspirations for the future of Dartmouth soccer.

“With what we’ve done the past four years, hopefully we have set a new precedent for success,” he said. “Hopefully that success continues.”

Correction Appended (Jan. 29, 2018): The original version of the Jan. 29 article “With Riley headed to Notre Dame, Danilack and Omsberg bound for MLS, men’s soccer confident it will maintain identity” attributed a quote to Danilack instead of Omsberg. The article has been updated to correct this error.