Croup’s Corner – Combat boots and soccer cleats


Photo by 354th Mobile Public Affairs Deta

Spc. Miguel Alvarez, assigned to 354th MPAD, Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, photographs the Point Park University’s men’s soccer team during a training exercise September 5, 2017. The 354 MPAD used the Point Park University’s military appreciation game as an opportunity to conduct soldier training for photography and videography. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Debra Richardson)

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

We tend to get so caught up with the little things in life that we forget the bigger picture.

Competition and the world of sports help us escape the real world. We can come home, turn on the TV or get on our devices and watch sports and connect with our favorite team to forget about our problems for just a moment.

For college athletes, sports and academics can become all-consuming, but being a student-athlete teaches skills translatable to areas of life that extend beyond the classroom and the field. Ask Army Reservist, Spc. Miguel Alvarez.

Alvarez and other members of the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) were on the sidelines Saturday for the Point Park men’s soccer game against Siena Heights.

The 34th MPAD was at Highmark Stadium for a training exercise used to give broadcasters and photographers in the squad practice in a live environment. The crew took video and photographs of the game and interacted with members of the men’s soccer team.

The occasion was even more special for Alvarez, who was back in familiar territory for the first time in five years since joining the Army Reserves.

The 2011 Point Park grad was back at his alma mater, and more importantly, back with his team. Alvarez was a midfielder for the Pioneers for his four seasons at the university, playing under head coach Jeroen Walstra.

A lot has changed at Point Park in five years. The Pioneers no longer play at Founders Field in Cheswick, Pa., but rather the professional facility of Highmark Stadium that offers spectacular views of the city and a state of the art playing surface.

The roster has certainly evolved since Alvarez was a freshman. The men’s soccer team struggled year after year to find the win column. Point Park went 4-13-1 during Alvarez’s freshman year, 1-15 his sophomore year and 8-9 his junior year.

Alvarez’s senior campaign saw the Pioneers finish 12-5. Point Park hasn’t had a losing season since.

Walstra is still at the helm of the Pioneers and reconnected with Alvarez Saturday, who has since traded his soccer cleats for combat boots.

“It was great to get to see how the soccer program has evolved,” Alvarez said in a release. “I enjoyed seeing my former coaches, and I know they were happy to see me and know I’m doing well.”

The Pioneers weren’t doing well leading into Saturday’s contest with Siena Heights, entering the weekend with an 0-2 record, losing their first pair of games by a combined 11-1 tally.

But Alvarez watched his team pick up where it left off when he left the program to enlist as a photojournalist. Point Park put on its best performance of the season Saturday en route to a 2-0 victory over the Saints.

There are thousands of troops who don’t get the chance to just come home at the end of a long day and watch football. They’re busy making sure that hundreds of millions of us can every day.

Alvarez might not play soccer anymore every day, but the lessons and skills he acquired while a student-athlete are helping him serve the greater good of the United States.

We can get so caught up with life and so absorbed in our own problems. Saturday should serve as a reminder of the bigger picture. Not every athlete that the 34th MPAD fist bumped at midfield prior to the start of Saturday’s game was born in this country.

Each and every one of them, no matter how vast their differences, can sleep well at night knowing that the men and women in combat boots and camouflage who stood alongside them as the Star-Spangled Banner played prior to kickoff Saturday are part of a large and dedicated group from around the world serving our country in various capacities so that we have the freedom to play soccer, watch sports and live life freely.

That is the bigger picture. They are the bigger picture. To them we owe our endless thanks.