TCA’s Needs aiming for a special goal

BROOKHAVEN — Evan Needs vividly remembers the conversation three years ago.

Fresh off a successful if not overwhelmingly prodigious freshman season, Needs sat in the office of Christian Academy soccer coach Brian Dennstaedt. He heard his skipper regale him with his playing experiences, racking up 99 goals in five seasons at Annapolis Christian in Maryland, as a device to illustrate the potential contained in Needs.

Right then and there, the quiet yet focused Needs established a goal in his mind.

“We talked about what it would take for me to do that,’ Needs said Wednesday. “Ever since that day, that’s what was set out to be, and I planned on beating him and getting that 100th goal.’

Almost three years later, even if the soft-spoken senior rarely articulated his ambition, Needs is on the precipice of that milestone. Through 10 games this season, the two-time All-Delco has netted 21 goals, putting his career tally at 95 and vaulting him into rarefied air in Delco soccer history.

Should Needs bag at least five more goals this season, he would become just the third recorded player to hit the century-mark in a career, joining Haverford School grad Kevin Silva (100) and county-record holder Kieran Keelan of Delco Christian (115).

That echelon of players is so select, in fact, that when Dennstaedt unwittingly issued the challenge that has defined Needs’ high school career, the coach didn’t know it was possible. And while Dennstaedt doesn’t recall the meeting with Needs with quite as much definition as his pupil, he always attached a great deal of belief to the lofty potential Needs possessed and the determination that would see him ascend those heights.

“When I told him that, I honestly didn’t know if that was ever something that’s attainable,’ Dennstaedt said. “That’s a lot of goals to score in a four-year career. I knew that he was a unique talent; I knew he was a good player. The difference in Evan from other players I’ve coached is that he has the drive and the want to be a great player. That’s the biggest thing that I set forth for him, and I knew that if he wanted it, he could get it.’

Success on the pitch wasn’t always a guarantee for Needs, though. The Wilmington, Del. native followed a family path to soccer, one that older brother Robbie and younger siblings Luke and Scott also traversed. That started at Concord Soccer Association at the age of six, and by the time he was in his teens, Needs had realized that it was the sport for him, pursuing the game through the club ranks.

But included in that journey was a two-year hiatus from the club scene, a chance to recalibrate and stave off the impending burnout of such a burdensome time commitment. It wasn’t until he participated on the eighth-grade team at TCA, a school he’s attended since kindergarten, that the passion for the sport was reignited.

“It sort of hit me,’ Needs said. “I’m really good at soccer, this is what I really like. I love it, and I’ve missed it this whole time.’

From humble beginnings in his 11-goal freshman campaign, Needs exploded as a sophomore, tallying 37 goals. About that time, there was discussion within the Needs household as to whether a larger athletic stage than TCA might best suit Evan’s needs.

But through it all, the loyalty to Dennstaedt and the faith in his ability to develop Needs’ talents prevailed.

Among the most valuable recent lessons has been managing the psychological aspect and coping with the expectations heaped on the shoulders of the Crusaders’ star forward.

Needs has long-since lost the element of surprise. For the better part of two seasons, opponents have geared game plans toward muting his impact, either by constant double-teaming or assigning a omnipresent shadow to man-mark Needs.

He admits to an adjustment period with that level of attention, as evidenced by his goal total slumping (by his standards, at least) to 26 last year.

The fact that he’s found the back of the net 21 times already this season is evidence of his adaptation.

“My dad always tells me to go out there and play hard and make the most of your chances,’ Needs said. “That’s something I always tell myself before the game, you know, that I need to go out there, I need to hustle, I need to work my butt off and then the success will come.’

A byproduct of teams attempting to limit Needs’ scoring is a flourishing of other aspects of his game. He provided seven assists last season and is nearing double-figures this campaign. The attention paid to Needs has strengthened the on-field bond between he and running mate Brit Haseltine, Needs’ primary facilitator the last two seasons. Haseltine scored 18 goals last season and is up to 16 this season, forming a potent 1-2 punch.

It’s only through the increased scrutiny Needs has garnered from opposing defnders that has illustrated what he’s capable of as a complete soccer player.

“That’s something I was doing as proof that I can play all-around soccer instead of just putting the ball in the back of the net,’ Needs said. “I want to be that player who can take the ball, drop it to a teammate, look for that give-and-go and let them look for the run on to the goal, just do whatever it takes.’

“He’s taken it as a mission knowing that he’s going to be a marked man in our league that teams are really going to be centered and focused on trying to stop him,’ Dennstaedt said, “and he’s going to get other people involved.’

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