Two years ago, Tony Pratico was fast approaching the end of his high school career. He had two choices for college- Temple or Rider University in nearby Lawrenceville, N.J. Pratico chose the latter of the two and wasn’t pleased with his decision.
As a freshman at Rider, Pratico was redshirted. He spent the entire season on the sideline watching another highly recruited goalkeeper play a bulk of the minutes for the Broncos.
After that one disappointing season, Pratico decided to leave Rider and give men’s soccer coach David MacWilliams’ program at Temple another look. The sophomore agreed to enroll and has relished the change of scenery ever since.
“At first, I thought I didn’t want to go to a big school like Temple,” Pratico said. “Once I was at Rider, I saw things I didn’t like about the school. Things they didn’t have at Rider, they had at Temple that I had passed up on. I kind of made a wrong choice there.”
Although Pratico has seen limited playing time as an Owl, he has posted solid numbers. In four appearances, including three starts, Pratico has made eight saves, holding opponents to just one goal in 213 minutes in net. He also earned Atlantic Ten Rookie of the Week honors earlier this season.
While playing soccer for more than a decade at F.C. Coppa, a soccer club in Philadelphia, Pratico laced up alongside three of his current teammates at Temple, junior defenders Joe Brocker and Tom Greer and midfielder Tony Donatelli. Pratico credits his success to his familiarity with his new teammates.
“I kind of clicked better with the kids I had played with before,” Pratico said. “At Long Island University in my first start, I was pretty nervous. Those three guys I knew out there helped me out a lot. They made things very comfortable for me and it all came natural once I was in net.”
On the Owls’ depth chart, Pratico is the No. 2 goalkeeper behind reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year and all-American standout Patrick Hannigan. Even so, Pratico has turned some heads in his first season as an Owl, including his head coach’s.
“In most other programs, Tony is the type of keeper that would probably be a starter,” MacWilliams said. “That’s to our advantage that we have two quality keepers like Pat and Tony to complement one another. He has plenty of upside to him.”
While most inexperienced players would mope over time spent on the bench, Pratico hasn’t. He thinks of Hannigan as his most valuable learning tool. Pratico said he has struggled with his free kicks in parts of the season. He said Hannigan has pulled him aside in practice on several occasions to show him how to improve his free kicking, among other fundamentals.
“Pat is an established goalkeeper around here,” said Pratico, a Philadelphia native and Archbishop Ryan graduate. “When I’m on the field or around Pat in practice, I try to do the things that he does to get better. I have been changing some of the things that I struggle with that he doesn’t. He’s helped me throughout the season on things like that.”
Pratico’s size makes him ideal for the keeper position. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, he has the ability to leap for drop shots and lay out for balls on the ground.
“I’m a big guy so nothing comes easy,” Pratico said. “Being big teaches you that you have to work harder because you’re not as quick.”
MacWilliams believes Pratico’s size is a great advantage.
“Tony is a real big kid,” MacWilliams said. “His size is of great importance for a keeper. He holds onto the ball extremely well in addition to reading the game. He’s very vocal, too. If someone is out of position or wandering around, Tony isn’t afraid to shout at his teammates. I think he gets that from Patrick.”
With a sweep of two conference games at Ambler Field this weekend, the Owls (8-6-2, 5-1-2) are currently in third place in the A-10. With the top six seeds advancing, the top two seeds earn first round byes. Although he doesn’t think Pratico will be seeing much action in postseason play, MacWilliams knows how vital Pratico is to the future of Temple’s program.
“Right now, Tony is our No. 2 keeper,” MacWilliams said. “If something happens to Pat, I’d feel really comfortable putting Tony in. He is only going going to get better with more experience next year.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.