Russell Payne will lead a red-hot Army team against Navy this Friday at PPL Park

Army coach feels PPL Park restores academies' soccer rivalry

Russell Payne Army

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Army Athletics

It’s a scenario that makes Army coach Russell Payne very happy.

On Friday when his Cadets take on the Midshipmen of Navy at PPL Park, it’ll be a clash against two of the top soccer teams in the Patriot League. Army, like Navy, boasts an undefeated mark in conference play (6-0-1) behind a team effort that has seen 13 different players on Payne’s 24-man roster find the back of the net.

But the second installment of the Army-Navy Cup, to again be hosted under the lights at PPL Park (7 p.m., purchase tickets) will be another chance Payne feels for the two sides to showcase that the service academies know a thing or two about how to be the class of college soccer as well.

“Well first of all I think it’s great that Navy much like us is having the year they are having,” Payne told philadelphiaunion.com. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about athletics at the academies and especially about soccer at the academies. For some reason, people think that soccer and the academies are not synonymous, check that…’beautiful soccer’ and the academies are not synonymous. There really is no reason for that misconception. At the end of the day, you’ve got two coaches that believe in playing the game the right way. We want to keep the ball on the ground, we want to build out, and we want to play attacking, free-falling, passing soccer, possession-based attacking soccer. That’s it.”

Payne would know a thing or two about collegiate soccer powerhouses, having played and coached at the University of Maryland; the same school that produced current Union players Matt Kassel and starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Additionally, Payne also coached alongside Union technical director Rob Vartughian, as both served under longtime head coach Sasho Cirovski. As a collective, the trio helped the Terrapins capture an NCAA title in 2008.

Now in his third season as the head coach at Army, Payne is looking to bring that same brand of success to West Point.

“I believe that we are winning the right way this year, in terms of the way we are scoring and the way that we are defending,” Payne said. “But what you also see is a greater understanding of the team aspect, of successes and the importance of individual contributions towards the team first. Both [academies] have really embraced that, but I know for ours in particular, that has been the backbone of our success this year. We have had goals from thirteen of our players and we have a 24-man roster, more than half of our team has scored goals.”

It’s also special for Payne to have the play of his group celebrated in front of what is expected to be one of the biggest crowds for Army-Navy soccer in recent memory. This marks the last game before conference playoffs and hopefully a run in the NCAA tournament, so it’s special that this will serve as precursor to what is sure to be an exciting time for both academies.

“The fact that we were able to have this game at PPL Park and that PPL Park is behind it shows what we can grow Army vs. Navy back to in college soccer,” Payne said. “There has been an unfortunate trend away from larger events and showcasing soccer at this level. I think [hosting this annual showdown at PPL Park] helps us restore that.”

Payne added:

“Our student-athletes are going to remember this for the rest of their lives, playing in front of what I’m hearing is expected to be quite the crowd. Chester and the city of Philadelphia is the right back drop…it just makes more sense to have it there. There is already a tradition [thanks to the annual Army-Navy football game] and the fans of Philadelphia are fantastic, some of the best in the country as far as how they get behind their team and sports in that city. But I’ll go back to it again and say I am a huge fan of the fact that this game is bigger than just Army-Navy; this game is actually big in terms of college soccer.”

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com