Soccer star Channell wins Midwest MVP, looks to continue career at pro level

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Six years ago, then-University of Michigan assistant coach Andy Wagstaff traveled to Carmel, Indiana for one of his first recruiting trips with the Wolverines.

After watching several matches Wagstaff then went to watch the 18U Force FC team, an organization out of the Bloomfield Hills area that Wagstaff happens to own.

While watching, a young forward from Troy Athens High School by the name of Tyler Channell caught his eye, and Wagstaff immediately saw him as the next striker at the University of Michigan. However, after talking to his Force coach, he found out that Channell already had plans to walk on at Saginaw Valley.

Six years later, the two would be reacquainted. In just one year together, Channell would earn NCAA Midwest Region Player of the Year honors, Wagstaff would win GLIAC Coach of the Year, and they would lead SVSU to one of the best seasons in school history.

“It’s easy to fall through the cracks in soccer,” Wagstaff said. “There’s a lot of very good players that do great in high school but just get overlooked, and that’s where SVSU found him.”

From walk-on to best in the Midwest, getting to this point wasn’t easy for Channell, who on top of the Player of the Year honors was the GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year, he has also received invites to Major League Soccer (MLS) combines, one for the Columbus Crew, and the other from Real Salt Lake.

“Coming into college, I wasn’t a high recruit or anything like that,” Channell said. “I ended up working for my scholarship, so coming into college, I never could’ve imagined the opportunity to play as a pro or to win these awards. It’s kind of surreal right now.”

When Channell first came to SVSU, he saw himself filling the role of a practice player, and then perhaps playing down the road. However, that all changed in a hurry.

“I worked hard that summer and ended up starting my freshman year,” Channell said.

Channell scored six goals and had five assists in his freshman season. From there, he molded himself into one of the GLIAC’s top forwards, and, eventually, one of the best in the entire country. But things still didn’t come easy. Channell redshirted what would’ve been his sophomore season to focus on academics. At certain points, he was unsure if he’d even finish his schooling at SVSU.

“Mental growth has been a huge thing for me,” Channell said. “I struggled with school, but getting through that has been so important.”

When Channell returned to the field in 2013, he was second on the team in both goals and points and proved himself as one of the top forwards in the conference. As a junior, he earned Second Team All-GLIAC honors.

After being reunited with Wagstaff, Channell was set up for a dream senior season. The new coach immediately saw what the future could hold for Channell.

This began when Wagstaff named him team captain.

“It’s a very difficult role to be a captain,” Wagstaff said. “(Channell) is a guy that everyone really likes, which can sometimes make it even more difficult because now he’s got to turn into the boss.”

After sitting down with Wagstaff and discussing the role of captain, Channell embraced the part and did exactly what his new head coach was looking for.

“He took that role of captain to another level,” Wagstaff said. “He found a way to lead the team, but also still be the guy that everyone wants to be around. Him, along with the help of a couple of other captains, managed the locker room so well that it made my job as head coach very easy, and then on the field he led by example.”

As Channell’s leadership off the field improved, so did his play on it.

He finished the season with 19 goals (fourth in the nation) and 14 assists (eighth in the nation), good for 52 points, an SVSU single-season record. Both Channell and Wagstaff attributed this success to Channell’s powerful play and unique style at the forward position.

“A lot of forwards just score a lot of goals,” Channell said. “Until I came to college I always played center-midfielder, so I’ve always looked to pass more instead of shoot more, and I think me looking to pass and trying to set up people is just different than most other forwards.”

The wins racked up for the team as well as the statistics for Channell. When postseason awards came around, Channell and the Cardinals were well represented. SVSU had several players on the All-GLIAC teams along with four guys on the All-Region team. Channell highlighted the group, winning both conference and regional Player of the Year honors. This came as no surprise to Wagstaff.

“It was an expectation,” Wagstaff said. “(Channell) and I sat in my office at the end of April and I said to him, ‘if you are able to embrace this role of being a leader and being the captain of this team, and if you’re willing to dedicate your time this summer to getting yourself in the best shape of your life, you could be the national Player of the Year.’”

While Channell will have to wait a few more days before national Player of the Year is announced, he has as good a chance as any to win that award as well.

Channell will spend next weekend in Columbus and then Salt Lake City, competing with about 20 to 30 other players in front of MLS and other professional coaches. On top of that, he also hopes to receive an invite to the entire MLS’ combine in January.

“Right now I’m just working hard and taking it all in,” Channell said. “I’m not banking on anything; I’m just hoping that if I do get a look, when I get a shot, that I take advantage of it and keep hoping for more opportunities to come.”

Wagstaff said Channell’s story is one anyone can appreciate.

“(Channell’s) story is a phenomenal one,” Wagstaff said. “It doesn’t get any better. It’s the dream. You’ve got a guy who has always been a really talented player, who maybe didn’t get the recognition he deserved in his younger years, who has just blossomed and gone from a walk on to Midwest Player of the Year.

“It’s an astronomical development. I couldn’t ask for more of a player.”