A few hours before every home game, Jordan Murrell zones everything else out and focuses on a different kind of game before he steps onto the soccer field.
After a 10-minute run and dribbling warm up, Murrell sits in his apartment and zeroes in on the TV screen. Eyes locked in, fingers in place, he goes to work as music by Trey Songz, Usher or Chris Brown plays in the background.
It’s Call of Duty time.
“People ask me why I do that,” Murrell said. “It just calms me mentally. I’m not too bad. I try to keep up with the rest of the world that plays all the time.”
So far this season that pregame preparation has worked for the sophomore Murrell, who has excelled as a defender for Syracuse. Murrell has anchored an Orange defense that has held opponents to nine goals on the season. He has also chipped in with some timely offense, contributing two goals and five assists.
Shining on a soccer field is nothing new for Murrell, who was born and raised in England. Judith Murrell, Jordan’s mother, said her son was wearing shin pads at 18 months old and became infatuated with the game when he watched his older brother, Joel, play.
One day, Joel was taking a team photograph and Jordan got a little jealous. He saw an opening and quickly darted into the picture, going as fast as his 18-month legs would motor.
“We knew then that he was focused and driven about playing soccer,” Judith Murrell said.
Murrell continued to hone his game on the streets of England. He said players ranged from 3 to 25 years old, so he got accustomed to playing against stronger, faster opponents at a young age.
He used to come home from school, grab his soccer ball and head out to the streets for hours.
“When I could walk I got a ball put in my feet,” Murrell said. “I used to play outside in front of my house from when I got home from school until the lights went off and I had to go inside.”
At the age of 12, Murrell left his life in England to move to Ontario, Canada. His stepfather, who was originally from Canada, decided the move would be the best way for Murrell and his two younger sisters to get a superior education.
When he arrived in Canada, Murrell continued to improve on the field and elevated his game to the next level. He joined the Unionville Milliken Soccer Club, where he played under Filipe Bento.
Bento recalls one game where he drew up a play in a frenzy to try to tie the score in the waning minutes. He called Murrell over and gave him quick, last-second instructions on how to take the free kick.
Worried that he didn’t provide Murrell with enough details, Bento was blown away when he executed the kick to perfection. Murrell sent a perfectly placed pass toward the goal and a teammate found the back of the net for the decisive goal.
“He was always very intelligent,” Bento said. “We could see that he had promise and a future in soccer. He had something different that the other kids didn’t have.”
That intelligence and talent has translated to two successful seasons at Syracuse, and he has his eyes on a Big East championship and an NCAA tournament berth this year.
Against formidable conference foes Rutgers and Louisville, Murrell ignited the Orange with three assists — all of them coming off corner kicks.
Against Rutgers, Murrell lined up for a corner two minutes into overtime. He zeroed in on teammate Lars Muller and lofted the ball toward the goal.
Murrell hit Muller in stride and the forward’s header beat the keeper, giving Syracuse a win in its first overtime game of the season. Earlier in the game, Murrell set up Jordan Vale beautifully on a corner and Vale timed it perfectly for a score.
Head coach Ian McIntyre moved Murrell to left back because of his on-ball defense and ability to move forward and attack after making a stop. That strategy has worked flawlessly as Murrell has stopped defenders with poise and confidence.
Though Murrell played well for Syracuse last season, McIntyre has seen considerable improvement from the sophomore, who has grown into a vocal leader on a team that has done a 180.
“I think he’s more consistent and mentally tougher,” McIntyre said. “He has more resilience to his game. We’ve moved him to left back because of his quality on the ball. As he showed the other night, he’s got a very sweet left foot.”
Published on October 17, 2012 at 2:54 am
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