Tar Heel returns home

Former UNC and Green Hope standout Michael Callahan and his Aztex will face the RailHawks in Cary tonight.

Staff WriterAugust 1, 2009 

  • Austin Aztex at Carolina RailHawks

    7 p.m. today, WakeMed Soccer Park

    Tickets: $10, $15, $20 or carolinarail hawks.com

    Bark in the Park night: Individual dog passes are $3, but the purchase knocks off $3 from the ticket price.

The Austin Aztex technically are the away team in today's 7 p.m. match against the Carolina RailHawks, but Aztex midfielder Michael Callahan likely will feel right at home.

Callahan, a Cary native, has been playing with Austin's United Soccer League Division One squad since March, and he returned to Cary for only the second time Friday.

"I'm really excited to be here, yeah," Callahan said. "I hopefully get to play in front of all my friends and family, in the town where I grew up and basically the town where I went to college."

Callahan grew up playing with CASL, went on to star at Green Hope High School and then helped lead a talented midfield at North Carolina for four years. It was part of what Green Hope coach Andrew Chadwick called "one of the most successful" careers of any of his alumni.

Chadwick coached Callahan throughout his entire three-year varsity career at Green Hope, one that included several All-State honors and a team MVP award during his senior year.

Callahan's success continued to grow when he headed to college just down I-40 in Chapel Hill. In his senior year, he was named the Tar Heels' team captain and he helped lead the team all the way to the NCAA championship game. The Tar Heels lost to Maryland 1-0.

But then the Major League Soccer scouting combine came and went, without an invitation for Callahan. Then the 2009 MLS SuperDraft came and went, without a selection, and he wasn't really sure what to do next.

"I was definitely really disappointed not to even get invited to the combine," he said. "I had hoped to give the MLS a shot right away. ... And there was a definite point when I thought it was a possibility that I wouldn't be playing soccer anymore."

But an old CASL coach working in Austin suggested that Callahan call the coaches in Austin. He contacted them and asked for a trial, and they accepted.

"And here we are now," he said with a laugh. It all worked out really well for me."

Callahan has been starting regularly in the midfield in the past few weeks, and he said he is enjoying every minute of it. Though the team is 3-10-7, he said that stems more from its youth than any lack of talent.

"We have, like, 10 games left, and, you know, our performances have been improving, which is always a good thing. Hopefully the results will follow."

The Aztex are 0-1-1 against the RailHawks this season, with both games played in Austin, and they will be looking for Callahan's home-field advantage to carry them to their first win since July 3.

This trip is Callahan's first back to the state since he returned to graduate with his class at UNC in May, but he isn't promising his fans will fill the seats at WakeMed Soccer Park -- not every seat, at least. But "my whole family, some friends -- I mean, I hope a lot of people" will come to watch his professional debut in the state, he said.

After all, Chadwick said, this return to his roots really is just one more stop in Callahan's journey.

"Mike's just a great, great kid and great player, and, quite frankly, I don't expect him to be in the USL that long," Chadwick said. "I think he's kind of doing his apprenticeship in the USL in his first year, and he's already earned time as a starter. As he gets more exposure, he'll just keep on advancing."

rachel.ullrich@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8925

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