UP alum Ryan Kawulok returns to Merlo

By The Beacon | October 3, 2012 9:00pm

Portland Timber Ryan Kawulok makes the trip across the river to support his former team against San Francisco after being a star defensive player for four years

Portland Timbers’ Ryan Kawulok visited UP after being a star from 2008-2012 on Merlo Field. Kawulok is only the second player in UP history to win WCC Defensive Player of the Year (Katie Dunn | The Beacon)

By Kaite Dunn, Staff Writer dunn16@up.edu

Newest Portland Timber Ryan Kawulok returned to UP Sept. 28 to check out his former team and relive some of his favorite memories on the grass of Merlo Field that he played on just last winter.

"I love the campus up here, I love Portland, I love the city, I love the people," Kawulok said. "To be picked up [by the Timbers] was unbelievable."

Kawulok was a center back and two-year team captain at UP, playing in all 82 games and scoring 10 goals during his four years. He was named to the WCC All-Freshman team and was one of only six freshmen to start all 20 games. Kawulok was named to the All-WCC First Team his junior and senior years and was the 2011 WCC Defensive Player of the Year. He is only the second UP player in history to be given this award.

The Timbers drafted Kawulok 8th in the Supplemental Draft in January. He was home in Colorado when he got the news.

"It was like a dream come true." Kawulok said. "When I found out I was on top of the world that something came through for all my hard work."

Kawulok has always loved the Timbers and it was his first choice of any team he could have been drafted by. Kawulok played with the Portland Timbers summer club team while at UP, and scrimmaged against the pros in the offseason. His involvement allowed the Timbers to grow fond of Kawulok and his ability, and gave Kawulok a chance to learn from the best and hone his skills in the offseason.

Men's soccer head coach Bill Irwin agreed that it was more meaningful that Kawulok was drafted by the Timbers.

"We have a good relationship with the Timbers and it's nice to see they have a lot of confidence with our players," Irwin said.

Switching from a collegiate season that lasts about four months, to the professional season, which is about ten months long, requires Kawulok to have a positive attitude. Kawulok was shocked by the difference in atmosphere between college and the professional level.

"The Timber's army is an unbelievable group of supporters, you won't find a better supporting group throughout the whole league," Kawulok said. "Those guys make it worth it. The fans are everything to that franchise and we are so thankful to have them."

Kawulok has played soccer since he was a little kid, constantly using the excuse of "I can't because of soccer" and dreaming of playing professionally one day. This dream became more and more of a reality as the years went on at UP. Kawulok took with him to the pros the level of physicality that he learned while playing in the WCC.

"The coaches did a really good job preparing me for the day in and day out discipline and mindset it takes to be a professional," Kawulok said. "The school did an unbelievable job preparing me and they gave me everything I needed from being fit to the ins and outs of the game and I'm very thankful."

Irwin trains his players to be professionals and in the past 10 years at least one has gone on to play professionally every year. Kawulok's skill set and physical ability is there. Irwin hopes Kawulok will get some good playing time and believes that he just needs to stay patient.

"Ryan deserves it. He's just taken what he learned from here to the Timbers and doing the same thing there," Irwin said.

Kawulok loves all the aspects of the game, but his favorite thing about the sport is the competitiveness.

"I love being part of a team," Kawulok said. "I love the quick movements, the running, the passing, the goals. I just love everything."

Kawulok still keeps in touch with some of his teammates and the people in North Portland. Coming back to The Bluff was big for Kawulok and for Pilot fans.

Kawulok has some advice for anyone who wants to be a professional:

"Stay focused and keep working hard. It all comes down to what you want to put into it. If you come in every day with a positive attitude and the willingness to work hard and give everything you can to your team then sky's the limit for anybody."