Clarence E. Goodson IV can tell you that getting kicked in the groin hurts, but not as much as getting kicked out of school.
This time last year, Goodson sat on his couch alone and watched the College Cup on television. Plenty of other players, confined to their living rooms, wished they were in Columbus, but few felt further away than Goodson.
''I didn't even have a chance of being there,'' he said. He was stuck doing damage control at Northern Virginia Community College after failing out of Maryland in his first year.
''It was being young, being a freshman, being stupid and being confused,'' he said.
As part of the regular forward rotation, he finished second in scoring among the injury-riddled Terrapins in 2000. But his choices cost him a chance to move up the depth chart.
''I could tell he had really lost track of things because we didn't even get along,'' said his father, Clarence III. ''Every kid goes through that phase, I suppose, but I expected it much earlier, between 14 and 18.''
During the spring semester of his troubled freshman year, Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski summoned father, son and club coach Gene Mishalow together for a meeting on the bleachers at Ludwig Field. The intervention opened Goodson's eyes and kick-started his reformation.
Goodson earned a 3.5 grade-point average at NOVA and regained admission to Maryland, joining the team as a non-scholarship player.
In a preseason scrimmage against D.C. United, Cirovski experimented with Goodson in central defense. Maryland lost, 1-0, but Goodson was not lost at all.
''At first, I was shocked he would play me there,'' Goodson said. ''I had been a forward for 10 years. But as a forward, I know what forwards are trying to do.''
The 6-foot-4, 150-pound beanpole developed into the revelation of Maryland's season.
''Sure, it hurts not scoring goals as much, but I get my opportunities on set pieces,'' he said. ''Hey, I'm playing 90 minutes a game; you can't beat that.''
For Clarence Goodson, the College Cup is reinforcement. He is on the right path now.
Miles away from his living room couch, Goodson proved difficult to beat in the NCAA semifinal. He repeatedly snuffed out UCLA's top scorer, Tim Pierce, in one-on-one situations. At one point, the Bruins' Cliff McKinley stomped on his midsection; Goodson got a yellow card for instigating the tussle. An 82nd-minute penalty kick sank Maryland, but his father watched with pride from the stands.
Says dad: ''Just recently I asked Clarence if he was concerned that he didn't get very much recognition. He said, 'Don't worry, Dad, I just have to keep doing my job, and if I'm good, people will notice eventually.' All of a sudden I was wondering who was the dad and who was the kid. He told me, 'Keep your chin up.' ... It's just one example of how much he has matured.''
Mike Tranchilla has been meaning to call his pal Brian Mullan for some time now. Mullan, who teamed with Tranchilla and Keith Sawarynski on a forward line that led Creighton to the 2000 NCAA final, is now a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
''I've got lots of questions for him,'' Tranchilla said.
For Mike Tranchilla, the College Cup is a platform.
He saw how a solid showing under the national spotlight elevated Mullan from fringe prospect to first-round draft pick.
Yet until Stanford's hulking defender Chad Marshall nodded home a Mike Wilson cross and eliminated Creighton in overtime of a semifinal, Tranchilla did not give much thought to the professional game.
Instead, he focused on scoring goals. He amassed 55 goals and 140 points in his college career, ranking him second in program history behind Keith DiFini - but ahead of current MLS players Brian Kamler, Mullan, Richard Mulrooney and Ross Paule and Johnny Torres, a Hermann Trophy winner.
Professional soccer became Tranchilla's primary goal as soon as Major League Soccer kicked off during his sophomore year of high school. He chose not to leave college before his senior year because he wanted the safety net of a degree. He plans to forego his final semester and finish his marketing degree with part-time coursework.
In the 2000 semifinals, Tranchilla set up Creighton's regulation goal against Indiana and then scored the winner in the third overtime period. This time, there were no such heroics. Stanford's towering defenders stifled Tranchilla, who converted the Bluejays' lone goal on a penalty kick after freshman Mehdi Ballouchy went down.
''Obviously, a goal would have been nice. A penalty kick isn't ...,'' Tranchilla's voice trailed off briefly. ''I had my chances, but they had seven guys back there all the time, so it was really hard to create.''
During the postgame press conference, he winced thinking of the one play he'd like to have back.
''In overtime, I got in and saw [Julian Nash] all alone,'' he said. ''The guy's legs were just wide open, but I hit his leg, and we lost the game.''
Should he have shot? How much will the loss count against him? Was that performance enough to clinch a first-round selection? These questions might torment Tranchilla without the knowledge that MLS scouts saw him a few other times this season.
''If they only come to one game and you play bad in that game, you're screwed,'' he said. ''But Coach [Bob] Warming has told me that he thinks I'll get drafted, and I trust him.''
Coming up short again left Tranchilla a tad sullen, but he realizes it's time to start thinking about his pro career. Soon he'll hire an agent. He'll start handicapping the draft. He'll play in the MLS combine in January. But first he will call Brian Mullan.
Darren Fernandez began to grasp the significance of Stanford's success midway through this season. But while sitting at the formal dinner for the teams on the eve of the semifinals, it astonished him.
''When I was a freshman last year and we went to Columbus, I pretty much expected that's what you do,'' Fernandez said. ''But this year I realized how hard it is. When they announced at the banquet that 212 teams started this season and now only four remain, I was, like, 'That's crazy.' It's fun, though. It's a great accomplishment.''
For Darren Fernandez, the College Cup is gravy.
Fernandez appreciates his mere presence on the Stanford team because of his perspective.
Born and raised in South Africa, Fernandez came to the United States four years ago for a soccer tour and ended up with a scholarship to Choate Rosemary Hall, a private school in Connecticut. Scouts pointed him out to Bobby Clark, who recruited him to attend Stanford.
His mother Wendy, widowed in 1991, encouraged her son to accept the offer because of racial, political and economic issues troubling South Africa.
''Part of it was getting an education,'' Fernandez said. ''But it was also a chance to get out of South Africa and do something abroad.''
In the process, Fernandez has been to two College Cups. Last year's ended in the semifinals against North Carolina in overtime. This time UCLA scored the lone goal of the final with 62 seconds left.
''The worst part was that it was UCLA,'' Fernandez said. ''We lost to them twice already, and both times we had so many opportunities but just couldn't score. It was the same this time. ... I feel terrible for our seniors because they are incredible players and they deserve a championship.''
His brother, Rowen, is a goalkeeper for Kaizer Chiefs, one of the South Africa's top pro clubs.
''He's doing very well,'' Fernandez said. ''He's only 24, and he just bought a new house. I'd love to play professionally, but if that didn't work out, I just want to get a job earning [American] dollars, so I can take them home and help out my Mom.''
Fernandez has not declared a major yet, but he is taking prerequisites for an economics degree. The day after the final, he departed for one of his two visits a year to South Africa.
''Sometimes I miss home, and sometimes I wish I could do what my brother does, but I'm at one of the best colleges in the world,'' Fernandez said. ''I'm doing something I love - playing soccer. I feel like I have another family here as well. I'm very lucky.''
Ryan Futagaki wagged his tongue and grinned as he took the field for the second half of the NCAA championship match. It had been a tense first half; the closest thing to a goal was his 23-yard blast off the post. The next 45 minutes would be the last of his college career, yet Futagaki was loose.
The vast majority of college players never play in front of a crowd again after their senior season ends. They never compete at a level as serious, they never wear another jersey with as much meaning.
It may be no different for Futagaki, even though he's done everything right in assembling a soccer resume.
He played for the elite Pateadores club in Mission Viejo, Calif. He played in two sectional championship games at Fountain Valley High School, losing both. He was a Parade All-American. He played on the U-20 national team at the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria. He captained a legendary college program. And he still is considered a long shot to make MLS.
''I'm going to enter the draft; I might try things overseas,'' he said. ''Right now, it's a mystery.''
For Ryan Futagaki, the College Cup is a pinnacle.
While the lost championships in high school motivated Futagaki, the memory of his father, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in June, prevented him from playing tight or afraid to lose.
''If you don't have fun, what's the use in playing,'' he said.
With 15 minutes left in Futagaki's season, Stanford finally began penetrating UCLA's stalwart back three of Scot Thompson, Tony Lawson and Leonard Griffin. A goal seemed imminent, and Futagaki made it so.
Taking a free kick from about 35 yards out near the left sideline, Futagaki purposefully swerved the ball into the box at waist height to avoid the heads of Stanford's tall defenders. Bruin stopper Aaron Lopez redirected it for the gamewinner.
As soon as the final whistle sounded, Futagaki tore off his shirt and sprinted to the stands to find his mother, Shirley. Referee Brian Hall inexplicably halted the celebration to replay the final three seconds, but Futagaki's joy could not be bridled.
''It's every kid's dream to win the national championship, but especially since I dedicated the season to my father and it's my last year here ... it's awesome to go out like this. I can hardly speak right now.''
For Ryan Futagaki, the 2002 College Cup is a treasure.
by Soccer America Senior Editor Will Kuhns in Dallas