SIUE alumnus Matt Polster makes Olympic roster

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CHICAGO – SIUE men's soccer alumnus Matt Polster has been named to the 20-player roster that will compete in the 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship.

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"When I saw the list, I was pretty ecstatic," Polster said.

Qualifying will take place across the United States from Oct. 1-13. The U.S. will face Canada, Cuba, and Panama to open qualifying. The semifinals will take place Oct. 10 with the final and third-place game taking place on Oct. 13. The top three teams will advance to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"As a program and a University we couldn't be more proud to have Matt represent SIUE on the highest stage of world sports," SIUE Head Coach Mario Sanchez said. "We have to give (former SIUE coach) Kevin Kalish credit, and I would be remiss not to mention Dr. Hewitt who has continued to push men's soccer."

Polster, who is now playing professionally for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, was initially called up to the U.S. Under-23 team for their final training camp which took place in Manchester, England Aug. 30-Sept. 8. Polster admitted to having some nerves.

"It's my first time being called up, so there was some nervousness, but I was excited at the same time," he said. "Obviously it's a little nerve-wracking playing with best players in the country."

Polster added that he was confident in his performance during the training camp but didn't have a sense of whether or not he'd be chosen to the final group.

"It's hard to know if you've made it because it's such a slim group," Polster said of the training. "I thought I played well, and that's all I can control."

The Las Vegas native was the No. 7 overall draft choice by the Fire, has played in 26 matches for Chicago and is considered by some to be a favorite for the league's Rookie of the Year award. Polster admits he is a little taken aback by his quick success.

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"I was always focused on a professional career," he said. "I'm a little surprised it has happened so fast."

While Polster may be surprised, SIUE Director of Athletics Dr. Brad Hewitt isn't.

"Watching Matt mature into the person and athlete he was capable of becoming has been a joy and pleasure for me. So no, it doesn't surprise me," Hewitt said. "With continued hard work and commitment, he can become one of the best professional players. His passion, heart and character are what separates him from other great physical and skilled athletes. He is capable of greatness."

Polster started 79 games in his SIUE career from 2011-2014, which is fifth all-time. In 2014 he was chosen as the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year and was an NSCAA All-West Region first team selection.

He credits his experience at SIUE for helping achieve what he has.

"My time at SIUE allowed me to mature," Polster said. "(Former SIUE coaches) Kevin (Kalish) and Scott (Donnelly) allow you to mature. I think I lucked out with coaches who wanted to challenge me. Tactically, they are two of the best coaches you could have."

Hewitt mentioned recent alumni of the program are helping SIUE men's soccer to gain attention on a national level.

"Matt, Jon (Berner) and Christian (Volesky) have already and will continue to help brand SIUE Soccer as a national contender," Hewitt said. "I expect several of our current seniors brought here by Kevin and Scott to also make the transition to the professional ranks this spring and, several of the young men that Mario has brought to the program give me the same confidence and excitement."

Sanchez said there is a balance to be found.

"We want to help kids grow as players and as student-athletes," he said. "Team success leads to individual success. If we do it right we can win now and help develop these men for the future."

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