By Terry Jacoby, FUEL Soccer Contributor
Tomas Hilliard-Arce was the 2016 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, anchoring a Stanford Cardinal defense that finished fourth nationally in goals-against average (0.56) from his spot at center back. Stanford’s goals against average tied for the second-best mark in program history.
An All-Pac-12 First Team selection, Hilliard-Arce finished second on the team in goals with four and fourth in points with 10. He became Stanford’s eighth First-Team All-American a year ago.
He was called in by U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog for the first College Identification Training Camp in early August 2015. Hilliard-Arce also played every minute for his club’s U-18 team in 2012-13 and was named the club’s Player of the Year in 2013.
A 2014 graduate of Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., Hilliard-Arce played club soccer for Charlotte Soccer Academy Predators (2010-14).
Your father (Andy) played ice hockey at Denver University. What are some of the things he taught you growing up?
“He’s a super competitive person so growing up with him my whole life I kind of have that in me as well.”
How did you end up deciding to go across the country to Stanford?
“I wanted to go to a school that would challenge me academically, as well as in soccer. I narrowed it down to Stanford, Georgetown and UNC. I visited Stanford first and was around the coaches and the players and saw that competitiveness that I was looking for and this was before Stanford rose to where it is now in soccer.”
You have won back-to-back NCAA National Championships at Stanford. Which one was tougher, the first one or the one with the bullseye on your back?
“I think it’s easier to say the second one was tougher because the ending was a little more dramatic with the PKs. And it was tougher not having Jordan Morris up top who can change the game at any given moment. This past year everyone had their own defined role, and if they didn’t take care of their role then we weren’t going to be successful.”
Going professional was certainly on the table after your junior year. Why did you decide to stay at Stanford for your senior year?
“I didn’t consider going pro even for one second. I have a different outlook than other players. I’ve dreamed my whole life of becoming a professional soccer player, but I realize the importance the degree will have later on in life. You only get to be in college one time, and I want to finish what I started.”
- Hilliard-Arce was a force at Stanford as soon as he stepped on the field his freshman season. He was NSCAA/Continental Tire All-Far West Region Third Team and All-Pac-12 Second Team. He started all 19 games on Stanford’s back line, scoring twice: vs. UC Santa Barbara (9/9) and vs. Gonzaga (9/26). Stanford’s Pac-12 championship defense allowed just 17 goals, its lowest total since 2007, and led the Pac-12 with a 0.85 goals against average.
- As a sophomore, Hilliard-Arce was a Top Drawer Soccer Best XI Second Team and All-Pac-12 Second Team selection after anchoring a defense that surrendered just 15 goals, its lowest total since 2001 (13). The Cardinal finished sixth nationally in goals against average (0.62), the sixth-best mark in program history. Hilliard-Arce started all 23 games at center back and tallied his first career brace in a 3-1 win over San Francisco (9/18) with headers in the 20th and 36th minutes.
- Hilliard-Arce had an outstanding junior season at Stanford after starting all 23 games at center back alongside Brian Nana-Sinkam. He was an NSCAA First Team All-American, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was NSCAA All-Far West Region First Team. A member of the College Cup All-Tournament Team, Hilliard-Arce also was All-Pac-12 First Team.
- How good was Stanford’s defense last year? Record-setting good! The Cardinal did not allow a goal throughout the entire NCAA Tournament and became the third program to win a title while posting a 0.00 postseason goals-against average. Stanford’s 0.56 goals-against average was fourth nationally and tied for the second-best mark in school history. They ended the season with 13 shutouts and a shutout streak of 548:29.
- Hilliard-Arce and teammate Foster Langsdorf were both added to the 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. The two All-Americans are among 31 players on the men’s watch list, which is compiled by the United Soccer Coaches Men’s NCAA Division I All-America Committee, based on analysis of returning All-America and All-Region players, as well as any prominent newcomers.
- Before even stepping on the field for his senior season at Stanford, the awards and accolades were piling up for Hilliard-Arce. He was named to the 2017 Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Best XI First Team, the 2017 College Soccer News Preseason All-Amerca First Team and the 2017 All-Pac-12 Preseason Team. He stepped into his senior season as one of the top collegiate players in the country.
HEAR THIS QUOTE
“Those early years are about finding out what type of player you want to be and what you’re good at.” – Stanford Defenseman Tomas Hilliard-Arce
A native of Matthews, N.C., Hilliard-Arce played club soccer for Charlotte Soccer Academy Predators (2010-14).
“It wasn’t an MLS academy and I think you can look at that with some pros and cons,” he said. “You don’t get the type of attention you would get that you do at an MLS Academy, but at the same time I think you get a more personable coaching approach. I feel like I grew up knowing my coaches, so they knew as I developed what I needed to do and work on rather than focusing a lot of attention on wins and losses. My coaches were really focused on us developing as players.”
Before U-15, Hilliard-Arce and his Predator teammates were certainly a competitive soccer club. “We won two State Cups,” he said. “Those were important days in my development. Just to see the talent around the state and how you compare to them. Those early years are about finding out what type of player you want to be and what you’re good at. It also is a fun time where you are really enjoying playing the game.”
Hilliard-Arce earned two letters in soccer as a freshman and sophomore at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C. He was named All-State as a sophomore and was a two-time all-conference selection.
Players don’t get to where Hilliard-Arce is without an incredible drive to succeed. He credits his dad for his competitive spirit, but there is something in his wiring that makes him want to be the very best at what he does – whether on the pitch or in the classroom.
It all starts with training and preparing the best he can to play the game he loves. And he has some advice for younger players looking to make their mark.
“Don’t limit yourself to just the normal practice hours,” he said. “A lot of people who are successful here at Stanford do their own things when it comes to getting better. Most of our practices are geared toward making the team better so it’s up to you to do the things to get better and make you special.
“My weak foot was bad coming into college. So I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on that in order to make me a more rounded player. It’s important to challenge yourself to be among the best when it comes to fitness on your team. Putting in the extra work is very important.”