Ryan Cupolo is a senior and one of the captains of the Fordham men’s soccer team. Cupolo has been a steady part of the Rams’ lineup since his freshman year, starting all 21 games for the squad last year. Playing at center back position, the Astoria, New York, native has been a communicative leader for the Rams’ young defense, while also scoring three goals in his Fordham career thus far. Recently, Cupolo moved into the midfield to suit the team’s needs and will look for opportunities on the offensive end in his final season as a Ram.
The Fordham Ram: How did you get started playing soccer?
Ryan Cupolo: My parents played sports in high school, and my dad has always been a huge sports fan. When I was five or six years old, I began playing football, basketball, baseball and soccer. I was on a local travel [soccer] team until I was 12, and we became pretty well known. At that point, I was playing travel baseball and soccer, but soccer was getting more serious for me and I had to choose. I played overseas in the Nationals Cup in France, which had 32 teams and that was an amazing experience. From that time, I stuck with soccer because I loved it and being at the level I was at, I wanted to make a future out of it for myself.
TFR: Describe your early playing career and recruiting process.
RC: Recruiting was really exciting. I was [recruited] the last year that we were allowed to play in high school and at The Academy — my club team that played in an elite league. College coaches would come watch Academy games. I captained my U16 and U18 teams at The Academy because the coach had known me and my capabilities. The best thing about the Academy was that we went to showcases. I was 16 at my first one, and you could see all the coaches on the lines, which was exciting, but nerve-racking. I had a really good showing at my first showcase, [but] my parents had not been through the process before. We kept our options as open as possible because we didn’t know the protocol for how to interact with the coaches.
TFR: Why did you choose Fordham?
RC: Fordham happened to be one of the first schools along the line. At first, it was so close to home — I went to The Beacon School near Columbus Circle and I would pass the Ram Vans every day — and I didn’t know that I would end up here. It came down to three schools: Northeastern in Boston, California Polytechnic State University and Fordham. I knew I wanted to work in New York eventually, I’m close to my family and also didn’t want to be a plane ride away. Boston is a [great] city but nothing compares to New York. Now that I’ve been here, I like being close to home. I can go visit my mom in the city and my parents can come to all the home games.
TFR: What was the adjustment from high school and club soccer to college soccer like? How did you have to step up your game?
RC: In terms of skill level, it is a natural progression from the Academy level to the college level. You come in as a freshman, and you’re not as physical as everyone. When you get to college, you have guys who are way older than you. You’re lifting weights and trying to catch up with the competition in terms of physicality. The skill level at the Academy wasn’t too far [behind that of] the college level though, and it helped me keep up with the pace of the game.
TFR: You have played center back for the entirety of your Fordham career. Why the switch to the midfield this year?
RC: We had a really strong defense last season, and we didn’t lose any of the back four this year. So all of us expected to play together. But we had graduate student Lars [Zimmerman] come in, and he said that he could play either center back or center defensive mid. But he came in injured, and when he started playing at center defensive mid, his injury was a deterring factor for him to enter the midfield. Gabe [Stauber] asked me if I wanted to join the midfield instead. I like the position because you can control the game from where you are and be more creative. It’s been a learning experience, but once you get your positioning down, you can settle down and play your own game.
TFR: Describe the team’s run at the end of last season, and into the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship.
RC: Last year was an up and down season for us. But what remained the same throughout was the positive energy and team chemistry. No matter a win or a loss, no one would get down on themselves because everyone wanted to fight for the seniors. Having not made the [Atlantic 10 Conference] tournament in the two years prior, we wanted to get there for them. And once you make it, anything can happen. Getting that first win against VCU on their home field gave us the confidence to say that it was anyone’s tournament. We pulled out a couple of clutch goals, and the next thing we knew, we were moving on to the finals. In the final, there’s this desperation where you say ‘there is no way I’m stepping off the field without the trophy.’ We didn’t want it to be all for nothing. It was momentum, and a phenomenal team chemistry that brought us together to have the win.
TFR: How have you taken on more of a leadership role this year as captain?
RC: When you wear the captain’s band, I think it is a privilege. From the moment you come onto the team and as a player who plays a lot of minutes, you are always trying to put yourself in a position to mentor the younger guys. It’s just when you are a senior, it’s easier for them to look toward you. If we have a tough game and the younger guys are down, someone has to put a hand on their shoulder and say we have another game coming up and we need you. We have a good core group of seniors this year that can all play the leadership role.
TFR: What do you think you guys need to do right now to change momentum and get back to that spot?
RC: We have to keep our team morale high and [continue] moving in the right direction. We have some younger guys that are playing and they don’t realize that it is a long season. The non-conference games aren’t unimportant, but they are a stepping stone to building momentum going into conference play. Now that we have gotten here [to conference play], we recognize we had a tough time and had a slip-up at Lehigh. But it is nothing that is not fixable with a good week of training. In soccer you have to learn from your mistakes, but also move forward after a bad result and recognize the potential the group has.
TFR: Do you have a personal favorite moment on the field that stands out to you?
RC: There are definitely two for me — the two goals I scored last year in the A-10 Championships. When we went to penalties [in the game against VCU], we hadn’t decided the order. Four guys volunteered and we needed a fifth, so I did it. Our guys did a great job of burying every single one before me. And when you’re the fifth, you can’t put your finger on the feeling when you step up in that pressure moment. When it went in, that was an incredible feeling because I’ve never been in the situation to score a game-winner. It was such a big moment. I didn’t even have time to process it because, in the next game against St. Louis, I scored off a corner kick. Out of the air, I swung my foot at it and it just connected really well. Looking back at tape, both of those moments still give me chills.
TFR: Have any plans for after graduation?
RC: I know that I want to work in the advertising world, but I’m keeping my options open. I worked in national broadcast media buying this summer, but I’m just not sure if I want to be on the buying side that I worked in or the creative side, which would require some graduate school. It’s a decision I will come to in the spring.