Jan. 31, 2005
By Michelle Leahy
Special to GoHolyCross.com
At Holy Cross, Elvis Comrie is well known for the tremendous job he has done as the head coach of the men's soccer team. During his 14 years at the helm, he has turned a struggling program into a dominating Patriot League contender. Now, coach Comrie is being honored for the numerous accomplishments that he achieved before ever setting foot on Mount St. James. On Saturday, January 29, Comrie was inducted into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame for his years of commitment to the sport of soccer and to the state of Connecticut.
Some of Comrie's career highlights include: an outstanding career as striker at the University of Connecticut, where his four years were topped off with a NCAA Championship Title; an equally successful career as a professional in the North American Soccer League, where he played for several teams including the Chicago Sting, which he led to a NASL Championship title; a bid to play on the United States National Team in 1984 against Italy in front of 70,000 fans at Giants Stadium; and now as head coach at Holy Cross, he has compiled the most wins of any men's soccer coach in school history, and been named Patriot League Coach of the Year three times.
What is the secret to Comrie's success? "I have always believed that if you really want to achieve something, then you have to be focused and don't let anything distract you from your goals," said Comrie. "It is a dangerous way to live, because you aren't left with many choices if you fail. Then again, if you live that way, then you don't allow yourself to fail."
Born and raised in England, Comrie began playing soccer in a country where it is not just a national pastime, but also an obsession. According to Comrie, each town has its own local team and the community religiously follows the success of that team. It was no different in his hometown of Bristol, where Comrie began kicking around a ball shortly after he learned to walk.
At the age of eight, after being inspired by a documentary on the Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, Comrie declared to his mother, "This is what I want to do. I'm going to be a professional soccer player." When asked by his mother what he would do if he didn't succeed he responded, "Then I'll be a professional bum." He wanted to make a name for himself and soccer was the way he was going to do it.
However, Comrie's soccer career was almost brought to a halt when his family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1974. Although Cliff Morgan, the chief scout for the Bristol Soccer Team, had offered young Comrie an apprenticeship to live and train with the team in England, his father declined the offered so that Comrie could stay in the United States and get an education. He did not play for a few years after the move until Sister Mary, one of his teachers at Holy Cross Elementary School, noticed his interest in soccer. She knew the physical education teacher and the soccer coach at Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge, N.Y., and she suggested that Comrie look to continue his education there. At his new school one of his fellow soccer players, Carmelo Composto, introduced him to a club team called the Brooklyn Italians and he began playing on the club's youth soccer team. The following year, at the age of 15, he was moved up to the men's team and started to make a name for himself.
Comrie's success on the soccer field earned him a spot on the New York All-City team. At the banquet recognizing the players, he was introduced to Coach Morrone, the head coach for the University of Connecticut. Morrone came down to watch Comrie play for the Brooklyn Italians and after the game, invited him to come to UConn for an official visit. Initially, Comrie was not very interested in UConn. Nevertheless, Morrone was persistent and eventually convinced Comrie to invite him to his uncle's house in Queens for a visit. Morrone brought a game between rivals UConn and Brown to show the Comrie family.
"The only thing I remember about the film was the first 10 minutes, when I saw the team walk out onto the field," says Comrie. "They walked out in a single file line and the moment they stepped on the field, the fans went nuts. The rest of the game film was boring and I think my father fell asleep on the coach, but I was sold in those first 10 minutes after I saw how much the UConn fans loved their soccer team." Comrie also saw something in Coach Morrone that he trusted, and he felt comfortable with his decision to sign a letter of intent and head to UConn to play soccer.
Comrie had phenomenal success as a striker for the UConn men's soccer program. He scored 55 career goals, second in school history, and was the career points leader with 145. During his time at UConn, he was a two-time All-American and All-New England selection, in addition to earning All-Yankee Conference honors three times. Over his four years on the team, the Huskies compiled a record of 79-18. During his senior year, Comrie helped his team capture the 1981 NCAA National Championship with a victory over Alabama A&M, and he was named Soccer America's Most Valuable Player for his performance in the championship game.
Comrie's most memorable moment at UConn was one of his final games, which capped off his amazing career at UConn, playing for the coach he respected and in front of the enthusiastic fans that he loved. His last home game as a senior was against Long Island University, and the winner of the match-up went on to the final four. "I had decided before I even went to UConn that I wanted to win a National Championship while I was there. My previous three years we had made it to the final eight, but always seemed to find a way to lose. I wasn't going to let that happen my senior year, and I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good game," says Comrie. A pretty good game indeed, Comrie scored a goal and had two assists to lead his team to a 3-0 victory over LIU. "I remember after the game, when we knew we were on our way to the Final Four, being embraced by coach Morrone with 10,000 fans cheering in the background," says Comrie. "You can't quite beat a moment like that."
From UConn, Comrie went on to play professional soccer in the NASL with the Montreal Manic. During his second year in the program, he finished second in the rookie of the year balloting and was in the top 15 in the league for goals scored. The following year the Manic team folded and Comrie was picked up by the Chicago Sting, where he led the team to win the North American Soccer Bowl and was selected as a first team all-star. In 1984 he got a bid to be a part of the U.S. National Team and had the opportunity to play against Italy at Giants Stadium in front of 70,000 fans on May 7, 1984.
After all of his success as a player, Comrie wanted to pass on his love and enthusiasm for the game as a coach. He found the transition from playing to coaching to be pretty easy, although he admits that initially it was challenging to realize that his performance on the field no longer controlled the outcome of the game. Comrie now had to rely on his knowledge of soccer to put together a system that allowed his players to be successful. He also had to find players who were individually talented but could come together and buy into the system that he had established.
One of his current players, junior Kevin Leonard said, "I would say that coach Comrie's success from being a player has carried over to his coaching because he clearly has a winner's mentality and expects his players to share the same vision. Playing for coach Comrie is constantly demanding. He expects everyone to share the same enthusiasm and passion for the game that he has. In addition, because of his winning mentality he refuses to settle for anything but perfection."
It is no surprise that Comrie has found success as a coach as well. Since he came to Holy Cross in 1991, he has recorded the most wins of any men's soccer coach in school history. In 1995, 1999 and 2001, Comrie led the Crusaders to unbeaten records in Patriot League play with marks of 5-0-1, 5-0-1, and 6-0-1, respectively. During each of these three years he was also named Patriot League Coach of the Year. In 2002, his Crusaders tallied an overall record of 13-5-1, won the Patriot League Regular Season and Tournament Championships for the first time in school history, and appeared in their first NCAA Tournament, losing to Fairleigh Dickinson on penalty kicks.
Coach Comrie has come a long way from the little boy in Bristol who idolized Pelé. He has had tremendous success both as a player and a coach. "I'm lucky because I love what I do," says Comrie. "I love playing the game and the way it makes me feel. I also enjoy teaching young players and helping to develop their passion for the game."
Here at Holy Cross, his players could not be happier for him. Junior William Walker commented, "I am glad to know that Elvis Comrie is finally getting his honor for being one the most outstanding players during his time at UConn. He has been very influential through my years on the Holy Cross soccer team. I have never had a coach who knew so much about the game and was dedicated to his players 100 percent. The whole team is proud of his induction to the Hall of Fame, and maybe now he will realize its time to hang up the boots, and no longer try to play against us in practice." Comrie does not plan to "hang up the boots" anytime soo,n and he will continue to make great contributions to the sport of soccer long after his induction into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame.