The University of Central Arkansas’ Niklas Brodacki has been kicking a soccer ball since age 4.
Many times as a youth, he lived a fantasy of scoring the winning goal for a championship.
That came alive Sunday. In overtime, Conway’s Chris Holmes threaded the needle with a crossfield kick. Brodacki, in perfect position close to the goal on a play that the Bears had worked on off a scouting reported, shot it into the goal to give the Bears a 1-0 victory over Missouri State for the Missouri Valley Conference title. It also clinched the first appearance for the Bears in the NCAA Division I tournament (against SMU on Thursday).
"That was one of the biggest moments of my life," he said about the winning goal. "It was like a dream. It was my only overtime goal. I saved it for the right time.
"It was a perfect pass (from Holmes). There wasn’t much to do."
The goal helped put UCA men’s soccer on the map. The program reached the NCAA playoffs as an NCAA Division II team in 2001 and 2002.
But about a decade ago , after UCA joined the Southland Conference (which has no men’s soccer), the program was dropped, prompting a student uprising. It was reinstated and through some begging and pleading and assurance, it joined the Missouri Valley as a provisional member — offered to teams seeking conference affiliation because their conference doesn’t sanction a sport.
Long story short, the program has come a long way to become a highly committed member of The Valley.
As a member of a different conference than the other sports, UCA men’s soccer has been on an island. A lot of folks didn’t even know until this weekend that UCA even had a men’s soccer team.
The Bears also have one of the top players in collegiate soccer in Brodacki, who is currently the leading scorer in NCAA soccer.
"What makes him good are his instincts; he is an instinctive player," said UCA coach Ross Duncan. "Some guys just have it. He may now just get four or five chances a game at most, but he can put it away. He can execute every kind of kick and he puts himself in position to score and knows which part of the foot to use and he can score with both feet."
Duncan discovered Broadacki in Sweden through a recruiting network.
"I didn’t know much about Arkansas but I liked that it had good weather and I liked how I could fit in the system here," Brodacki said. "I’m always like soccer because it’s played everywhere and it brings together different people. It’s a team sport."
The sophomore is the two-time Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Year and was the Freshman of the Year last season. He’s the Player of the Year this season.
"I like to score," he said. "But a lot of that is a matter of timing and the way my teammates set me up," he said. "I’ve worked hard in trying to score. I tell the team that my position is designed to score."
And he’s done it in machine-like fashion.