Liam Callahan harnessing fiery personality to lead Syracuse in 2016 season

first_img Published on September 13, 2016 at 12:21 am Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossman Facebook Twitter Google+ As Syracuse settled into its offseason workouts earlier this year, something was noticeably missing. It wasn’t the expected absences of Julian Buescher or Ben Polk, the catalysts of last year’s run to the College Cup, both drafted into Major League Soccer. It wasn’t the NCAA championship trophy that SU finished two wins shy of. It wasn’t even a tangible object or person so much as it was a sound — a voice.Liam Callahan helplessly sat on the sideline of spring practice, his left arm snug in a sling. A torn labrum and broken metatarsal muzzled the second-year captain who’s never had a problem speaking up. He struggled watching players show up late to practice or go half-speed in drills, unsure if he had any right to police teammates from his crippled position off the field.It required a talk from head coach Ian McIntyre to reaffirm that Callahan still had the ears of his teammates, something that’d hardly ever been in question.“At some point, everybody realizes what they have to bring to the team,” Callahan said. “(But) being out for so long, it was tough.”His voice is the one that sparks the Orange with pregame speeches. The one that’s as unforgiving as it is passionate, endlessly demanding maximum effort. The one that’s become the program’s heartbeat since the Villanova transplant arrived to SU nearly three years ago. Callahan’s now a senior, piloting Syracuse (5-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) toward another successful season in the program’s winningest years ever.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSoccer doesn’t lend itself to individual recognition unless you’re the one scoring goals or saving them. But after consecutive seasons garnered SU its first No. 1 ranking and College Cup berth amid plenty of personnel changes, there’s no question: Callahan is the lifeblood of Syracuse.“His mentality gets the most out of him and everyone around him,” defender Miles Robinson said. “You see the highest level of sports anywhere, and you know at least one guy on the team is like Liam or it just won’t work.”From his spot at left wingback, a hybrid midfield-defense position in the Orange’s unique 3-5-2 formation, he’s pushed Syracuse further than any goal-scorer or stopper ever has. Largely because he’s only one of six players to remain on the team since 2014. The lineup changes have blanketed SU with lower expectations and holes to fill, but Callahan’s addicted to competition, and the underdog mentality only fuels his craving.Those were the pillars that propped up his decision to play for the Orange. McIntyre couldn’t promise Callahan playing time upon his arrival, only a fair shake at competing with former left back Jordan Murrell in spring 2014. As Callahan would like to remember the position battle, it fluctuated kick to kick, shot to shot.In reality, Murrell was wrapped around the job. But birthed out of competition was a teacher-student relationship between the steady veteran and the fiery sophomore, and more importantly, a precedent that no job was safe. Callahan became a starter anyway, rewarded by Syracuse’s switch to the 3-5-2 formation in 2015.“We knew what Liam Callahan was,” McIntyre said, “and he was exactly what we needed.”Daily Orange File PhotoMore so than anyone else on the team, Callahan has a keen eye for laziness. For anyone lollygagging or simply not caring as much as he does. He can’t stand it. He’s fiercely loyal to his teammates, but Callahan’s bound to nothing more than winning. That’s why there’s no hesitation in lashing out at his teammates — or himself — when he has to.Callahan is as normal as anyone else off the field. He thinks up new tattoo ideas to build off the Celtic cross on his right bicep, and the family crest inked in the upper-left corner of his chest. He plays cards with his teammates, relishing in the over-the-top punishments for the loser, such as dropping a piece of paper along a wall while the loser tries to stop it against the wall with his head.But something about the soccer field, a bubble Callahan considers his sanctuary, changes him.“He might piss some guys off sometimes or some might find him annoying,” midfielder Oyvind Alseth said. “But I think it lifts the whole group collectively to have that guy on the field that just pushes everybody.”Alseth wasn’t the only one who agreed that Callahan’s persona is necessary for the team. It’s essential, even if his shouting or aggressive play can come off as self-indulging.At times McIntyre has reeled Callahan in during games, pulling him aside to calm down his most visibly frustrated player. It happened most recently against Loyola Marymount on Aug. 28, when a series of Callahan’s misplays boiled over in a small confrontation with LMU goalkeeper Collin Partee. The 5-foot-9 Syracuse wingback bumped into Partee after the whistle, drawing one of the four total yellow cards in the game.“Nobody’s perfect,” Callahan said. “I think being a captain puts stress on you to try and be perfect and be mature and take situations differently than most people would.“There’s still parts of my game and parts of me as a person that could obviously be better. It’s a learning process.”Part of that process has been reading. For his 21st birthday, Callahan’s older brother gave him the book “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life,” a collection of letters between two former Navy SEALs. Within the letters is a metaphor that’s resonated with Callahan: A chariot sits with two horses at opposite ends. Each horse tugs the chariot in opposite directions, much like someone’s emotions or impulses. If the horses are settled, they’re focused and “ready to take you where you want them to take you,” Callahan added.But if the horses continue tugging hard in opposite directions, an emotional tailspin is inevitable. That’s what Callahan has worked on avoiding to a certain extent. There’s no denying that Callahan’s helped tug the Orange higher into the college soccer landscape than ever before. He’s just done most of the heavy lifting with his voice, as unsettling as it may be, and it’s nestled Syracuse within striking distance of a championship. Commentslast_img

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