When Aaron Lewis took over the Corban Warriors men’s soccer program he inherited a team that, while not struggling per say, was having difficulties in raising itself from good-but-not-great to a top-tier national program.
In the year prior to Lewis’ debut 2013 campaign, the Warriors hadn’t won more than 11 matches since 2003, and hadn’t finished higher than third in their conference since 1998. Despite Paul Meehan earning the program’s first two winning seasons since 2006 in 2011 and 2012, Lewis was brought in to escalate those gains into true success.
It’s difficult to argue with the results. Since Lewis took over in 2013, the team has won 12 or more games in each of his four seasons in charge, including two regular season division titles and three conference tournament titles. The team also advanced to the NAIA National Tournament’s Round of 16 in 2016 and made the tournament in every year of Lewis’ tenure. Despite his enormous success in a very short period, Lewis remains humble and quickly credits those like Meehan before him who helped set the program up for its current success.
“I was very, very fortunate in the first year or two to get players that were talented and bought into the team system,” Lewis told USLPDL.com. “It really set a great foundation for our culture and that culture led to some success. Now, we’ve got more options and people are wanting to get involved in a program that is not only successful but is also well supported. I think we currently lead the NAIA in attendance. It’s just an exciting place to play, a great environment, and those kinds of factors bring in players year in and year out now and that’s where we want to be.”
Photo by Corban Athletics
One of those players Lewis was fortunate to have at the beginning of his tenure was a young freshman goalkeeper by the name of Jordan Farr. While many coaches, particularly ones just starting at a new job, lean on veteran talent as the core of their roster, Lewis proved unafraid to trust his young recruits. From day one at Corban, Lewis handed Farr the keys to the goalkeeper position, and that faith has been repaid over the last five years.
Farr has been a rock at the back for the Warriors. Five years into his tenure, with one year unfortunately missed due to injury, Farr has recorded 40 shutouts, best in Corban’s history, and sits just four away from the all-time NAIA record at 44. In 2017, he’s posted a stunning 0.78 goals-against average and hasn’t surrendered a goal in the last 315 minutes of play en route to three straight shutouts. Like his coach, Farr remains humble, pushing praise onto his teammates and coaches.
“I think the main thing is the team’s cohesion,” Farr told USLPDL.com. “I think we’ve hit a good run of form defensively because the commitment to defending runs through our team, and that starts with coaching and practice. For me personally, it’s kind of just taking it minute by minute, not getting ahead of myself. You can get a lot of time to think in goal, so focusing on the little tasks in the game is the most important factor to me personally. Also, the ten guys in front of me have really committed to defending, and I wouldn’t be able to get shutouts if it wasn’t for them.”
“He’s been really, really crucial,” Lewis said of Farr. “He’s been here for five years, he got hurt one year, his second season, and if you look at our seasons, we’ve had a lot of success over the last five years, but the one year he was out due to injury was the year we struggled the most. We probably had more losses that particular year than all the other years combined. I think he’s truly one of the best goalkeepers in the country, if not the best goalkeeper in the country, at any level. Just having a special player like that is critical.”
Photo by Corban Athletics
So confident is Lewis in his goalkeeper that no doubt remains in the Corban coach that Farr will reach the professional level after the conclusion of his senior season. Lewis would know, as the former Warriors player was the first-ever soccer player drafted in program and NAIA history in the MLS SuperDraft, as he was selected 35th overall by the Dallas Burn in 1999.
That level of confidence is high praise from your coach, and Farr shows an obvious appreciation for the way Lewis has guided and prompted his development into a top-tier goalkeeper. The mutual admiration and respect in the long-time player and coach connection has elevated both men’s performances in their roles, and has boosted Corban to great new heights.
“I think that he will get drafted,” Lewis said.” I think he’s done it for a sustained period of time. He’s put together a career where he still has a chance to set the all-time record in the NAIA for career shutouts, so he’s done it year in and year out. He’s also, through his PDL experience, proven that he can do it against any level of college soccer players, so the success wasn’t just sustained over time but over every level as well. Whether that’s leading the NAIA in goals-against average in 2016, to helping the Timbers U23 go from last place to first place in 2017, he’s done more in college than I did.”
“The thing I’ll point to the most that Coach Lewis has given me is confidence,” Farr added. “He’s really just had a belief in me since day one, especially when he came in as a new coach to Corban, and I was a freshman as well. It takes a lot of gumption to start a freshman like he did with me and stick with me like he did through my freshman year. Since then, he hasn’t really let me take a day off. Not even just with practice but with things like being on time to meetings, taking care of my body and grades. He’s very persistent and encouraging, and it’s hard to fall behind when you have someone who is so dedicated to you and your teammates. This year, it’s been cool having him around the entire time. Normally, I wouldn’t see him for three months during the summer, because I’m playing somewhere else usually, and being around him is a constant encouragement that’s really been helpful for keeping this train rolling.”
Photo by Portland Timbers U23
As Farr mentions, this year was the first that he played under his collegiate coach in the offseason, as Lewis took over head coaching duties at the Portland Timbers U23 during the summer in addition to his role at Corban. Previously, Farr had played in the Premier Development League in North Carolina as a member of the 2016 Charlotte Eagles. In 2017, he opted to remain closer to home and closer to his coach in Portland.
In both cases, Lewis and Farr have emerged with a strong opinion that the PDL played a crucial role in Farr’s development. Each cites Farr’s seasons with the Eagles and Timbers U23 as major factors in improving his physicality, mentality and conditioning leading into the fall collegiate season.
“He played at Charlotte and led the PDL in goals-against average while there in 2016, and then we got more involved with the PDL here in Salem and wanted to keep him here,” Lewis said. “Having that speed of play and quality of finishers against him really prepared him well for the college season. He’s not going to see a team or attackers at that level consistently in the college season that he saw in the PDL.”
“The PDL is gathering the best college players, putting them in competitive environments and is challenging you to stay sharp physically and mentally over the summer,” Farr said. “Most people are looking to take time off, or take a break, but the PDL challenges you to perform even better in the offseason. The coaching, the stadium atmosphere with the U23, I can’t really see a better way of preparation for a more elite level of soccer.”
Photo by Portland Timbers U23
Not only have the Timbers U23 had a major impact on Farr as an individual player and Lewis as a coach, but the team has also had a significant impact on the city of Salem in its first season away from Portland proper, as well as the collegiate scene surrounding it. Lewis believes that while his objectives at the Timbers U23 and Corban differ and so his approach differs to each, the relationship between the two programs has been a positive-feedback loop of growth that, in turn, helps develop a special relationship with Salem.
“Well, they have to stay separate in the fact that when I’m coaching the U23, I have to find the best players for our organization and our team,” said Lewis. “It just happens that Corban continues to grow as a program that we have players now who can participate at the PDL at that level. I think that the guys who participated with the Timbers U23 this summer absolutely earned it, not because they played for our particular college program but because they’re that good. Jordan being one of those guys proved that by being named an All-Western Conference player. But then in turn, for those guys to come off of a Division Championship team like they did with the Timbers U23 and then come into Corban, their confidence, their speed of play, their maturity, really exploded over the summer. Now, they’re continuing to pass that stuff on to the other players, it really reverberates through our group at Corban.”
“The Timbers U23 finding a home and having the city of Salem really embrace them was fantastic,” he added. “We’re about an hour south of Portland and while people from Salem go up to the first-team games, they just really embraced our team as their own and that’s a really special relationship that’s grown very fast.”
Photo by Corban Athletics
While Farr shares his love for the Timbers U23, he’s also quick to recall how his time with the Charlotte Eagles molded him into the player and person he is today.
“The Charlotte Eagles are such a well-oiled machine of an organization that represents more than just soccer,” Farr said. “Being with the Eagles showed me what an organization looks like that has been established for many years and has been successful for many years. The summer I spent with the Eagles challenged me in ways that I’ll never forget because of the impact it had on me. The PDL has been really good to me, and I thankfully had the honor of playing for two of the best PDL teams in the nation.”
“It’s no wonder the Eagles won the PDL Championship this year. Their coaching staff is so professional, they recruit great players, and they really know how to build a team.”
Photo by Corban Athletics
Now, after five years, as their time as coach and player come to a close, Farr sits on the cusp of achieving the professional dream he says he’s held since any time he can remember. Coach Lewis has watched him work towards that dream over his tenure at Corban and with the Timbers U23, and emerged from that experience, as well as his work with the Timbers U23 from 2010-2013 as part of the Timbers organization, with the belief that the PDL will continue to play a vital role in the development of collegiate players nationwide.
“It really has separated itself as what the name is, the Premier Development League,” said Lewis. “The best players in the country at this stage of their careers want to play there. That in itself speeds up development when you’re playing against and with the best. That’s probably one of the biggest factors. Then, just the way that the league and organization has been able to market and promote prospects and help push people forward into the professional or even international ranks provides different kinds of opportunities that no other leagues do.”
As for Farr, he’s working hard to ensure a bright finish to his Corban and NAIA career. After two summers of PDL play and five with Coach Lewis, he’s prepared to tackle even greater challenges at the next level, wherever that may take place. His family might have a few things to say about the location, however.
“I’ve asked my wife, she would love anywhere with the sun,” said Farr. “But she’s the most supportive woman on the planet and we’re both ready to tackle whatever challenges God has for us in the future.”