In the 50-plus-year history of University of Vermont men’s soccer, the program has had a string of prolific scorers, players from Peter Baldwin to John Koerner to Mike Mason to Jamie Farrell. But the Catamounts have never had a one-two offensive punch like Brian Wright and Bernard Yeboah.
The senior strikers are on the cusp of setting school records for the most goals and total points by teammates in a single season. And they are the biggest reasons the Catamounts have powered to a 9-2-1 record and are gaining national recognition.
“It does help you sleep at night,” laughed Vermont coach Jesse Cormier of his dynamic duo. “With Brian and Bernard, you know you are always going to be presenting danger to an opponent. It’s a luxury, for sure.”
UVM’s best combination of goal-scoring came in 1977 when Koerner and Geoff Greig each had 10 (Mark Stevenson added nine) in a 12-3-1 season. The top two point totals came from Mason and Roberto Beall, who both had 24 in 1989’s 19-3-1 campaign.
Heading into Friday’s America East showdown with Albany, Wright already has seven goals and an NCAA best nine assists. Yeboah has scored nine times (tied for sixth nationally) and assisted on three other goals. With 23 and 21 total points, they rank third and sixth in Division I.
“There is such a chemistry and an understanding between them that they’ve developed over the years,” Cormier said. “The commitment and dedication they have to each other is the most amazing part.”
Wright arrived four years ago as a prized recruit from Ajax, Ontario and was named the conference’s rookie of the year. After scoring nine goals as a sophomore, he led America East with 27 points as a junior. Wright has 32 career goals and 86 career points, trailing only Koerner (45 and 116).
“I remember telling Brian in his freshman year that he actually could be one of the best players in the country and I don’t think he believed that,” Cormier said. “He does things that I’ve never seen and I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. He has tormented our defenders in training for years.”
Yeboah, who was born in Italy, carried a lower profile as a freshman out of Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. He was named to the league’s all-rookie team but scored a modest two goals and two assists. By his junior season, he had become a trusted running mate to Wright.
“When Bernard was at Worcester Academy, I saw a player who was a very powerful athlete and leader,” Cormier said. “It took him a while to get beyond being an underclassman and being in Brian’s shadow. But what I saw back then is being replicated now at the Division I level and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Beyond being teammates, Wright and Yeboah are best friends, not afraid to speak truth to power when dealing with each other.
“Right off the bat we were paired together in our freshman year,” Yeboah said. “I’ve lived with Brian the past two years and every road trip we room together. We know how to talk to each other and if one of us messes up, the other isn’t afraid to say it.
“We criticize each other all the time but it’s constructive. We know we have each other’s best interest at heart.”
Wright’s offense has been no surprise but the flood of assists, six of which have been on strikes by Yeboah, has been a bit unexpected.
“My role hasn’t changed but as I have gone on in the program and the older I’ve gotten I’ve had more responsibility,” Wright said. “Of course I’d like to score goals as a striker but assists are very rewarding. I’m just trying to do my part. At the end of the day, did I help the team win? That’s the important part.”
Yeboah’s goal-scoring burst has been fueled by a change in his off-season regimen. Instead of concentrating on training, he played in a summer league in Boston with many top college players.
“I usually wouldn’t play over the summer and it usually would take me a little bit during the season to warm up,” Yeboah said. “This year, because I played so many games I gained game fitness and hit my stride early.”
Wright said Yeboah is also making harder and more precise runs on the attack.
“Bernard is still Bernard but over the years of playing together we know where to find each other on the field,” Wright said. “He knows if he gets in position in the box I’ll find him when he gets there.”
Yeboah said this chemistry works both ways.
“We’ve both identified what we’re good at,” he said. “When I have the ball sometimes I don’t even look. I just hit it to where I assume Brian is going to be and usually he’s there.”
For Cormier, Yeboah’s ability to rise to a challenge throughout his career has been gratifying.
“In the biggest games when the program has taken a step forward, Bernard has been involved in the goals,” Cormier said. “He’s always a guy who takes on that responsibility to be involved in the moment that decides a game.
“Bernard has always been the guy next to Brian, sort of in his shadow at times, especially early in his career. But I think Bernard has really grown into being a full partner.”
Equally satisfying for Cormier is the manner in which Wright has evolved into a more complete player.
“He has more dimensions to his game now and has adjusted his game,” Cormier said. “It’s not just about Brian Wright scoring the game-winning goal. Bernard knows that if he gets himself forward in a dangerous position, Brian will find him.”
Asked which of the two is the better finisher, Cormier deftly avoided making a choice.
“It depends on the situation,” he said. “On breakaways, I think Brian is pretty cutthroat. Bernard may be a bit of a better finisher off a cross or a ball that’s whipped on the ground. Right now I’m happy with where both of them are.”
Opponents have tweaked their defenses in an attempt of derail Vermont’s strikers, playing a deeper back line and bringing their goalie out to take away space and through long passes.
“We also have seen both of them being man-marked and that’s pretty rare that a team will completely break up their formation and their system,” Cormier said. “What it does is put a little onus on other guys in the program and creates situations where they have to step up.”
Seven Catamounts have at least one goal this season and Yeboah emphasized the UVM attack is not just a two-man band.
“We have 13 seniors and while it seems Brian and I have been carrying most of the load, our team has actually played very well,” he said. “Our two wingers – Shane Haley and Stefan Lamanna – are on fire right now and have really picked up their games.”
Cormier believes Wright and Yeboah’s on-field success obscures the pair’s over-arching value to the program.
“The piece that I think is totally understated is their impact as people. You have two young men of color who have become guys that everybody respects, “ Cormier said. “It can’t be understated how the team has responded to and embraced them.Their meaning to this program is going to go a long way beyond the score sheet or a result. The legacy they’re creating is going to resonate for many, many years.”