Tim O’Donohue grew up watching the Army-Navy football game on television and was impressed by the show of patriotism.
“The only connection I had was an admiration from afar,” he said. “I have a great admiration for the Naval Academy. Like everyone I watched Army-Navy football and had a great respect for everything it stands for.”
Then as the head soccer coach at Division III Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey he twice took his teams to Army West Point for friendly matches in the spring.
Now the first-year Navy men’s soccer coach will get to experience an Army-Navy event in person when the two teams meet Saturday in Chester, Pa., at Talen Energy Stadium.
O’Donohue, a graduate of Muhlenberg in Pennsylvania, took over the Navy program after he spent five years on the coaching staff at Connecticut as the associate coach.
His first game on the sidelines for the Midshipmen certainly wasn’t a pushover, as Navy opened this season with a 1-0 loss to Maryland.
“Maryland is such a power; it is such a respected program,” O’Donohue said. “I learned that the guys could compete. Maryland certainly had the run of play for large portions. Our guys fought and played well. We have some players who can play at that level. I realized I had a good group.”
While O’Donohue is prepping for his first Army-Navy contest, Cadets head coach Russell Payne is no stranger to the rivalry. In fact Payne, part of the U.S. national coaching staff, helped bring the event to Chester in 2012.
“Most people don’t realize we have a program that dates back to 1921,” Payne said. “There is a really strong history here” with Final Four appearances in the 1960s.
russell-payne-army-croppedtim-odonohue-navy2The former University of Maryland goalie is in his seventh season on the sidelines at West Point.
“A few years ago I had the idea to put an event on down (near) Philly,” Payne said. “I got the support of the administration here and from (former coach) Dave Brandt at Navy.”
With very little promotion the first game in Chester drew about 4,000 fans, Payne noted. The game drew about 10,000 on a Friday night in 2014 and about 9,500 last year on a Tuesday night. Payne hopes the match this year attracts about 10,000 fans.
“It is a good soccer game. It also has been an attractive soccer that is played at an attractive venue,” Payne said of the home of the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. “It is more than just the soccer, but the soccer happens to be very good.”
Senior captain and all-Patriot League player Tanner Vosvick was injured against Air Force on Aug. 26 but returned to action Sept. 13 against Siena.
“We suffered some injuries in the preseason. We have been missing some key guys and our results show a little bit of that,” Payne said.
Navy is 2-3-1 overall after a 1-0 win on Sept. 17 against Saint Joseph’s. Navy has been outshot 86-40 this year.
Thus the Midshipmen have needed strong play from junior goalie Mac Burke, who is from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md.
“He has been under more pressure than we would like,” O’Donohue said. “He has made big saves. He is a great stopper; he has been a really pleasant surprise. He made big saves against Maryland and kept us in the game.”
Army beat Navy 2-1 last year in the Army-Navy Cup IV while the Midshipmen lead the all-time series 40-28-14.
David Driver is a freelance writer based in Cheverly, Md.