There’s a word to describe the way Nathan Aune plays soccer:
Whether the Seattle University senior defender and Arlington High School graduate is flying in at full speed for a sliding tackle on an opposing forward, or attacking a corner kick floated into the opposing penalty box, or even barking out instructions to his teammates, one knows Aune does so with full commitment.
And now that commitment is being recognized on a national stage.
The Redhawks get their 2018 season underway with exhibition games this week, and they do so with Aune having been short-listed for the most prestigious individual award in college soccer, as he was one of 31 players named to the Hermann Trophy watch list as the nation’s top player.
“I play with my heart on my sleeve, I take everything personal,” Aune said. “My goal is to not let anything score, I’ll do whatever I have to. I’m hard on the tackle and put it all out there, so I’d say ‘ruthless’ is a good word. Ruthless, but calculated.”
Aune has all the physical attributes a college coach could ask for from a central defender. At 6-foot-4 he has the height to win most balls in the air, and he also possesses the type of closing speed required to catch opposing forwards who break clear.
But it’s the ruthlessness that sets Aune apart. He has a drive that prevents him from giving up on a play no matter how hopeless the situation may seem. That could mean going on a lung-bursting 40-yard sprint to track down UCLA star and future Seattle Sounder Seyi Adekoya from behind, as he did as a freshman in 2015. Or it may manifest itself in fighting his way through traffic on balls lofted into the box to score vital late goals, like he did against New Mexico and Grand Canyon last year.
— WACsports (@WACsports) August 28, 2017
— SU Men's Soccer (@seattleumsoc) October 28, 2017
The net result was that last year Aune co-captained the Redhawks to the round of 32 of the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship and was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s a leader,” said Seattle U. coach Pete Fewing, who described Aune as a college version of Sounders defender Chad Marshall. “It’s contagious to the other players. He gets them going. You can see his energy affects his teammates in a positive way. As a leader he holds everyone accountable, and the last thing any player wants is a teammate’s disappointment or wrath. He expects guys to work their tails off on the field, and because he does it himself he can hold guys accountable.”
Aune has been that guy from the moment he arrived on campus in 2015. Aune was not a big-name recruit out of high school, in part because he divided his attention between sports — he was an All-Wesco basketball player for Arlington High School in addition to playing academy soccer with Crossfire Premier. Because of that Fewing thought Aune might need time to get up to speed in college. However, as a freshman Aune impressed during the second half of the Redhawks’ opening exhibition game against the University of Portland, and he hasn’t left the starting lineup since.
Now he’s the unquestioned leader of a team with high expectations this season. The Redhawks, who won their preseason opener against the University of British Columbia 1-0 on Monday, return a strong contingent from last year’s team, and they enter this season ranked No. 22 in the United Soccer Coaches poll.
Aune being tabbed as a contender for the Hermann Trophy further illustrates his importance to the team. Aune is just the third Seattle player ever to be named to the Hermann Trophy watch list, joining predecessors Kyle Bjornethun (a Glacier Peak High School grad) and David Olsen, who were recognized prior to the 2016 season.
“It’s a really cool honor to be named to that,” Aune said. “It’s the most prestigious individual award in NCAA soccer, kind of like the Heisman for football. It’s humbling, and it’s a testament to my team and the season we had last year and the work we put in. That being said, it’s an individual award and hard to win as a defender. My goals aren’t anything to do with that, the goal is to win as many games as we can.”
Though Aune is fully focused on the Redhawks’ season. Fewing believes Aune has what it takes to continue playing at the professional level. Aune has already dipped his toes in those waters, playing for the Sounders’ U-23 team the past two summers.
“I think you’re going to see him playing a few more years,” Fewing said. “I do some broadcasting for the Sounders, and when I travel and talk to people with other teams, there’s interest there. I know the Sounders are keeping an eye on him as well.”
And it’s wise not to bet against Aune. He’s ruthless, and when he sees opportunity he’ll attack it 100 percent.
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