West leaving Va. to play pro soccer Centennial grad to sign with U.S. 'Project 40,' get chance in MLS

January 20, 1998|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

University of Virginia sophomore forward Brian West said yesterday that he will sign a professional contract with Major League Soccer through Project 40.

The former Baltimore Sun All-Metro Player of the Year at Centennial High will forfeit his final two years of eligibility at Virginia. He will be the third Cavalier to sign with Project 40 this year, joining juniors Ben Olsen and Scott Vermillon.

Project 40 is a plan by U.S. Soccer to identify the 40 most promising players in the United States and to get them playing experience at the professional level with the goal of winning the World Cup by 2010.

West, 19, will play for the Columbus Crew in the 12-team Major League Soccer. He'll leave Friday to join that team for preseason conditioning in Ohio, before the start of formal MLS spring training Feb. 7 in Orlando, Fla.

"It's a great opportunity. I want to thank Virginia for all they did for me, because without them I wouldn't be able to do this," West said. "And I want to thank God for the ability he blessed me with. I enjoyed my two years at Virginia and want to follow my dreams of playing professionally."

West will be paid $24,000 per year, plus $7,000 per year to pursue his education at Ohio State.

"I chose the Crew because they lack depth at the two positions I can play, forward and outside midfield," West said. "I have a chance to play right away, but it's a whole new environment, so I'll have to grow into it. Never in my wildest dreams at Centennial did I think I'd be doing this."

Under Project 40, if West is not good enough to be playing regularly for the Crew, he'll continue to practice with the team during the week and play against A-League competition on weekends.

"I thought Columbus would be best for me. The Columbus coach, Tom Fitzgerald, has acknowledged I'm committed to school, and if there's a conflict during the week, I'll be allowed to miss some practices," said West, an accounting and information systems major.

In 1997, West earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors, after finishing fourth on the team in scoring with eight goals and 12 assists. He totaled three goals and three assists in the postseason, including the game-winning goal against St. Louis in the NCAA semifinals. At the conclusion of the season, West was named to the NCAA all-tournament team.

"Brian has put a lot of thought into his decision to sign with Project 40," said Virginia coach George Gelnovatch. "He talked about it with me and with the people at Major League Soccer and decided it was in his best interest to become a professional. I am confident he will continue to pursue his education, and if he does, this will be a good move for him."

In two years at Virginia, West totaled 50 points on 13 goals and 24 assists. The Cavaliers posted a 35-7-6 (.792) record, won an ACC tournament title (1997) and wereNCAA runners-up in 1997.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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