If you ever happen to wander by the new Rec Cen Field in the middle of the afternoon, odds are the proverbial shit will be the topic of discussion if the men’s soccer team goalie is in action.
“Three hours of practice and you finally score a goal, congratulations,” he yells at senior goalmonger Neil Jones.
Maybe it’s because senior goalkeeper Danny Kennedy has been following the Lakers his entire life, but while Kobe and Shaq’s bickering was just plain unproductive, Kennedy’s jawing is merely a tribute to his intensity.
“We’ve got that competitive nature about us,” Jones said. “I like scoring on him and he likes blocking my shots.”
Unlike the rivalry between Bryant and O’Neal, Jones and Kennedy’s is only friendly. Jones is one of Kennedy’s biggest supporters.
“He’s a strong person … he’s a big lad and he dominates the box,” Jones said. “He’s a great shot stopper. I hate playing against him in practice because I know on a cross ball or a shot I’m gonna get hit.”
At the crossroads of his athletic career Kennedy had to decide whether to pursue basketball, his first love, or soccer. Because of his less-than-ideal height for basketball, at 6’1″, he chose soccer. All he’s done since is become the most prolific goalkeeper in UCSB history. Earlier this year he passed his goalkeeper coach Ryan Sparre in the Gaucho record books by setting a new record for both career shutouts and minutes.
“It’s funny, because Sparre has taught me so much,” Kennedy said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to pass him.”
Sparre isn’t the least bit surprised at Kennedy’s accomplishments.
“The plan was that he would, by the time he was done, have all the records in the record book,” Sparre said.
The selfless Kennedy attributes much of his success to the defense in front of him. Last weekend against Fullerton, Kennedy was credited with a shutout, although statistically speaking he didn’t record a single save.
Aside from being immensely talented, he also is the field general who yells and gets Santa Barbara’s vaunted defense into position.
“I just try to make sure to know who the other team’s best player is. As long as I can keep them marked up I can keep them out of scoring situations by communicating to my defenders,” Kennedy said. “Where they’re at, where I think my defenders need to be – it solves the majority of problems.”
Kennedy didn’t even fully commit to soccer until eighth grade, when he picked it back up just for kicks. During his freshman year of high school he played in summer leagues for both soccer and basketball, and actually made a higher team in basketball than in soccer. Despite going further in soccer, Kennedy credits his basketball days with helping him improve at soccer.
“Basketball is so much cross-training for goalkeeping,” Kennedy said.
While it doesn’t appear that he will play in the Staples Center any time soon, he has high prospects of making it professionally in soccer.
“Hopefully we do well enough in the playoffs so a couple of guys on the team can put ourselves into position to get drafted into [Major League Soccer],” Kennedy said.
He is also open to playing professionally overseas and has looked into going to Holland, Germany or England.
Sparre agrees that Kennedy has good prospects of making it in either MLS or Europe.
Never one to get too far ahead of himself, Kennedy’s main goal remains and has always been to bring a national championship to the Central Coast.
“It would be an absolutely fairy-tale ending,” Kennedy said. “We came here together, and this group of seniors pretty much put our hearts on our sleeves.”
The four-year starter hopes that he and the other graduating seniors can cap off their Gaucho tenures by accomplishing what they initially set out to do.
“The stars are lining up, [and] the championship is down there at the Home Depot Center in Carson,” Kennedy said. “That’s about as close to home field advantage as you can get in a final four.”
Jones is convinced of their title prospects while Kennedy is in between the pipes.
“We’ve got all the ingredients this year … we’re confident we can go all the way this year,” Jones said. “Especially with Danny in the goal.”
Oh, and as for those battles between Jones and Kennedy in practice, you might be wondering who has come out on top over the course of four years.
“I definitely have,” Jones said. “I’ve scored way more goals than he has saved mine.”