By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Grand Rapids Christian senior Tommy Visser had a difficult time deciding which aspect of soccer he enjoys the most – scoring goals or distributing.
The question wasn’t easy considering he does both equally well.
“Obviously scoring goals is a ton of fun, but at the same time setting other people up and seeing their reactions when they score or leading up to it is fun,” Visser said. “I think they are pretty equal. Assisting and scoring is a lot of fun.”
Midway through the season, Visser is already in double figures in both goals (11) and assists (15) while helping lead the Eagles to an 11-1 start and No. 2 state ranking in Division 2.
Grand Rapids Christian’s only loss is to top-ranked Forest Hills Northern.
Visser, a four-year varsity player and returning all-state first teamer, is one of the most highly regarded in the state and the catalyst of a veteran Eagles squad that boasts 14 seniors.
“He definitely meets all the hype,” Eagles coach Bruce Pobocik said. “He’s one of the most athletic soccer players I’ve had the privilege to coach, and he’s just a very committed competitor. He has just worked his tail off year after year to become one of the most skilled players, hands down, in the state.”
Visser, who recorded 17 goals and 15 assists as a junior, possesses qualities that set him apart from other players.
Vision, quickness, unselfishness and playmaking abilities are just a few of the attributes that have opposing coaches scrambling to find ways to contain him.
“I’ve had him since his sophomore year, and each year he has continued to get faster, stronger, more technical and more creative with his abilities,” Pobocik said. “He’s our captain, and really is the glue that connects the defense and offense. All play goes through his feet, and he’s a two-touch player who makes the guys around him better.”
Visser is constantly marked by other teams, but he takes it in stride while finding opportunities for his teammates.
“I just continue playing and not worry about it too much,” Visser said. “I have to change up my runs and move positioning, but I think it’s been good because it’s helped me grow as a soccer player. It gives more space and time for my teammates. They have more time to get the ball and attack.”
Pobocik points to Visser’s affinity for spreading the wealth as a reason why he is so hard to stop.
“He looks to connect with his teammates and put them in positions to be successful,” Pobocik said. “And I think that’s why he’s so dangerous. He’s not a player that is going to try and take everyone every time. When he’s double teamed, he’s going to make you pay by putting others in dangerous spots.”
Visser was a highly-recruited college prospect and attracted the attention of several Division I programs.
He received scholarship offers from Michigan State and Western Michigan University, and also considered Calvin College before committing to Butler University.
“For me, Butler was a great fit because it’s a combination of strong academics and a strong soccer program with a coaching staff that I liked,” Visser said.
Visser isn’t thinking about his college future just yet – he’s focused on helping the Eagles make a deeper run in the MHSAA tournament.
Last season, Grand Rapids Christian lost to eventual champion Holland in a Division 2 Regional Final.
“Last year really motivated us to not be satisfied,” Visser said. “We want to go big, and I think it really pushes us to continue working hard each practice and try to get better throughout the season.
“We all get along great and have played together for a while. We have a lot of different players that can impact the game, and all parts of our game are solid.”
While the offense is generated through Visser, the Eagles also have a stout defense behind a superb backline and two capable goalies in senior Daniel Wonder and junior Grayson Parks.
“We knew what we had coming back, and we had big hopes,” Pobocik said. “So far they’re exceeding expectations. Guys have really stepped up in their roles and are playing great team soccer. We’ve had some surprises with guys we didn’t expect to be contributors that are, and that’s been fun.”
The Eagles are two-time reigning Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold champions, but have their sights set on more.
“Losing last year (in the Regional Finals) has us hungry to extend beyond that,” Pobocik said. “They have clear eyes as far as our vision of going deep in the postseason.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Tommy Visser keys the Grand Rapids Christian offense as a scorer and distributor. (Middle) Visser works to get past an opponent this fall. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Christian boys soccer program.)
For Sebi Roy, there’s definitely been no place like home.
Just as last season started, Roy moved back to his hometown of Clarkston to play high school soccer after spending roughly 1½ years training with Major League Soccer’s Cincinnati FC as part of the MLS Next program.
Going from training with a professional organization to high school soccer might seem like a major downgrade to the average soccer follower, but it hasn’t been the case at all for Roy.
“It’s great to go from a super high skill ceiling where every touch matters, to something a little bit more free,” he said. “I know a lot more people and it’s a great way to get confidence. I didn’t get a whole lot of training in Cincy, and back here I get so much more individual training in general. Getting the touches and getting development was crucial.”
Ever since Roy came back to Clarkston last year, opponents have certainly wished he stayed in Cincinnati.
It’s especially been the case this year, as Roy, a center forward, has been just about unstoppable.
The 6-foot-3 Roy entered Thursday with 15 goals and five assists over 11 games despite being the constant focal point of opposing defenses and playing in arguably the state’s toughest league, the Oakland Activities Association Red.
Against 2022 Division 1 champion Rochester Adams, Roy scored five goals in a 7-3 win.
Clarkston head coach Ian Jones said he hadn’t even met Roy before last year, then heard rumors from others on that team he was coming back in town.
Still, Roy showed up after tryouts had ended, so Jones had Roy go through a personal two-day tryout.
It obviously didn’t take long for Jones to realize Roy was too good to not have on the team, and that was reinforced during the first game last year when he scored a goal on his first touch of the game. Roy went on to make the Division 1 all-state first team as Clarkston finished 16-5-2 and reached the Regional Finals.
Jones, who has professional experience playing in England and has coached for more than 20 years in the United States, said Roy definitely has the tools to be a professional player.
“I’ve never seen anything like him,” he said. “He’s got unbelievable touch. He’s left-footed and right-footed. He’s got vision and strength. It’s fun to watch him, forget coaching him. You find yourself watching him in games because he’s so good.”
Roy’s father is Travis Roy, who in 1991 won the state's Mr. Soccer Award playing for Livonia Stevenson before going on to play in college at Wisconsin.
Also on the Clarkston team this year is Roy’s brother, Fagan, who is a freshman.
Sebi Roy said his dad started him in soccer “as soon as he could walk,” and he has loved it so much that he hasn’t dabbled in any other sport.
Despite already getting a small taste of what professional soccer would be like, Roy said he prefers to play in college and is still in the process of determining the best spot.
Asked if there’s any top professional player he likes to emulate, the answer was a hard no.
“I want to be my own person,” he said.
Thanks to Roy’s production and a core of other talented players who could be playing at the next level, Clarkston earlier this month achieved a program first – the No. 1 ranking in Division 1.
Clarkston (9-1-1) is down to No. 4 this week after losing its first game last Thursday, a 2-1 decision at now-No. 2 Oxford.
There could soon be a rematch, as Clarkston and Oxford are in the same District in the upcoming Division 1 tournament.
If the teams meet again, Oxford will know the main player to stop – and Clarkston will know the main player to ride as it pursues what would be a first state title in boys soccer. (The Wolves were Division 1 runners-up in 2007).
“He’s the most dangerous player we’ve seen by far,” Oxford coach Adam Bican said. “His size, his athleticism, and his IQ is off the chart. He’s so dangerous, and he has one of the better shots I’ve seen. He’s a pure finisher.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
(Photos by Keith Dunlap.)