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Looking ‘Sharp’ Western Michigan star taking advantage of situations and leading Broncos


BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork


KALAMAZOO, Mich. – There was once a time where Charlie Sharp didn’t make a soccer team.

During his freshman year of soccer, Sharp did not make the cut for the Michigan Wolves U-15 U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy side. He played high school soccer that fall in 2015 at Brighton High School, making the junior-varsity squad for the Bulldogs.

Someone very well-known didn’t make a roster as a ninth-grader either. In similar terms, Michael Jordan did not make a basketball roster whatsoever while a freshman in high school at Wilmington (N.C.) Laney High School back in 1977.

That didn’t deter the now 23-year-old Sharp from rising to the occasion during his stellar career. The Brighton High School alum and current senior at Western Michigan University has been not only the top player in the Missouri Valley Conference – WMU’s new home for men’s soccer – but one of the top players in the entire nation in the NCAA Division I circles.

“It was more of a commitment to my school than anything,” recalled Sharp of not making an Academy roster in high school. “Most of my friends played high school soccer and I still played for a really good Michigan Wolves club team coached by Dave Hicklin. I still had a lot of success there and still got some exposure.”


Sharp did not make an U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy roster in ninth or 10th grade – it’s now MLS Next Academy since 2020 – but this did not deter his chances of becoming a really good player at the high school, club and collegiate levels. Sharp took the non-Academy route to greatness.

Chad Wiseman, Western Michigan University’s veteran coach and a former in-state All-State player in high school, loved Sharp’s drive, size, ability to score, his character and humility enough to offer him a scholarship back during the summer of 2018.

“It’s kind of funny, but Charlie got cut from his Academy a couple of times back in high school but still worked hard and became a very good player coming out of high school. We loved him and we were excited when he committed to Western (Michigan),” noted Wiseman, whose team is 58-19-13 since Sharp joined the roster in August of 2019. “Before his senior year (of high school) one of the Academy coaches called me and asked me to talk Charlie into playing Academy his senior season. He was already committed to Brighton High School and was having a really good career there and was very successful playing (MPSL/ECNL) club with the Michigan Wolves. We are thankful he chose Western Michigan.”


Photos Credited to Western Michigan University Athletics

One couldn’t tell that Sharp, now a fifth-year senior at NCAA Division I Western Michigan University, never participated in the Academy system. He’s been one of the most feared forwards in all of college soccer, especially this season. That is all fuel to the fire for Sharp, who takes full advantage of every opportunity he is given in life – whether that be in school, sports or anything else.

“I just try to work as hard as possible and take advantage of every opportunity that is given to me,” said Sharp, who also played basketball through ninth grade and ran cross-country and track and field in middle school. “This is the path I decided to take.”



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CLIMBING THE RANKS

Last winter Sharp – who will exhaust his college eligibility this season – was selected 61st overall in the MLS Super Draft by Toronto FC and he will report to a preseason camp in January with hopes of making an MLS club or at the very least end up just below the MLS ranks on the soccer pyramid in either the USL League I or Champions League, the two levels just below the MLS.

He already has earned plenty of postseason accolades this 2023 season and more will follow. None of this success surprises Mark Howell, Brighton High School’s veteran boys soccer coach. Howell still keeps in touch with Charlie Sharp and is not surprised that his former player has carried his game to new heights in recent years.

“Charlie Sharp is such a uniquely talented young man. He is that player every coach dreams of having the opportunity to coach, and an absolute nightmare to think about playing or coaching against,” said Howell, who led his high school team to the Division 1 state runner-up slot this past season but still credits his former star as being one of the best players in school history. “He plays the game with an incredible level of energy and passion that breeds belief and confidence.

Photos Credited to Western Michigan University Athletics

“For someone so dangerous and talented to consistently showcase a work rate that is second to none, he makes it nearly impossible to account for him for a full 90 minutes and it's so deserving to see the level of success he has had on the field,” continued Howell. “That approach to the game will and has served him at every single level and in every aspect of life as it's a major reason he continually improves every single season at every single level he has played.

“That's only to be outdone by the man he is off the field, as being a great student in the classroom has always been a top priority for him, and the time he makes for youth that look up to him for his on-field success is very special” added Howell. “The humility to be reaching the level of success in the sport that he has and remain connected to his beginnings just showcases the level of character he has. I love and respect the heck out of that young man and am so proud of him. I may be a former coach of his, but I like to consider myself a Charlie Sharp fan as he is a special young man doing extraordinary things.”

Sharp and his Broncos – ranked 16th by the United Soccer Coaches, No. 13 in the college RPI and No. 7 by Top Drawer Soccer – will play in the NCAA Division I Sweet 16 this weekend, taking on United Soccer Coaches No. 4 and host Notre Dame at 5 p.m. Sunday for the right to advance. And Sharp has been a key cog in the Broncos’ success story both in 2023 and during his five-year college career.



SCORING PROMINENCE

This season Sharp leads the nation in both goals (19) and points (46) and is in a 15-way tie for 26th overall with assists (eight). He scored three goals in the NCAA pre-regional win over Green Bay. His team has outscored the opposition 51-16 with 11 shutouts entering the Sweet 16/regional semifinals. Sharp and the Broncos have averaged 2.43 goals a game but that is not a surprise.

Western Michigan is in the Sweet 16 for the second straight season and third time since 2017 and has 12 players on the roster that are either seniors or graduate students – and many will be ending their eligibility after this season. It is that type of experience that has aided the Broncos’ rise to prominence.

“Charlie not only leads the nation in scoring, both goals and points, and has a good number of assists, but I think he should be up for the Hermann Trophy and should be an All-America player,” boasted Wiseman. “But we have several players that should make some (postseason lists). Dylan Sing is also top five in the nation in scoring and beyond those two there is a gap (in total points). No one else has two top players (with 46 and 38 points, respectively).”

Jonathan Robinson (13 assists), Carson Hodgson (10 assists) and Tom Cooklin (eight assists) are also in the top 50 in the nation in assists, while defensively the 11 shutouts and team 0.77 goals-against-average are also top 25 in the nation. Carson Hodgson (22 points) is also top 50 in the country.



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DYNAMITE DUO

Sharp has teamed up with fellow fifth-year grad student Dylan Sing to form one of the nation’s top scoring tandems in all of college soccer. Sing, who comes from in-state Stevensville-Lakeshore High School and the Kalamazoo Kingdom club team, has added 15 goals (third in the nation), 38 points (second in the nation) and eight assists (26th in the nation) and has been equally dangerous on the pitch. The two together have haunted coaches, defenses and goalkeepers all season long and in recent years altogether.

“I think we both play off each other very well and always know where each other are out there,” said Sharp, who has played in 19 of 21 games this season, missing two games with an injury. “It helps that Dylan and I are close friends. We know each other very well. He’s been my roommate for three years. So having two of the top goal-scorers in the country from one team is very special. I’m glad to call Dylan my best friend and I’ve enjoyed playing with him these last few years.”

Wiseman said that few in life are as competitive as Charlie Sharp.

“Charlie is not just a great soccer player but a great person and is the ultimate competitor,” said Wiseman. “It doesn’t matter if he’s playing cards, video games, playing golf – it doesn’t matter but Charlie always plays to win. You can’t teach that. He has that (x-factor) that you can’t teach. He’s so competitive in everything in life and I think that what helps him to become the player that he is today.”

During the summer months, Sharp has also played in the USL League Two amateur league for college players or recent college grads, and in the summer of 2022 teamed up with Dylan Sing to play in New Hampshire for the Seacoast United Phantoms. He also played a couple of years with the Flint City Bucks and in the summer of 2023 suited up for the AFC Ann Arbor, where he was the team’s leading goal scorer.




PREP DAYS

In high school, Sharp was a three-year starter on varsity, earning numerous postseason honors along the way.

As a sophomore he made his way onto the Division 1 All-District, All-Livingston County and All-KLAA lists, while as a junior he added to those three honors by also being named to the Division 1 All-Region team and Division 1 All-State Honorable Mention squad.

As a senior he more than had a breakthrough campaign, scoring 28 goals with eight assists to earn All-District, All-County, All-KLAA, All-Region, Division 1 All-State First Team and to the 11-member All-State Dream Team as one of the best high school players on the state. He led his team to back-to-back district championships in 2017 and 2018.

On the national radar, Sharp was way down the spectrum, even though his Michigan Wolves ECNL/MPSL club team won three state cup titles, reached the Midwest tournament three times, captured one Midwest championship in 2018-19 and eventually qualified for the national tournament in his age group in 2019.

“I wouldn’t go back and change a thing,” said Sharp, who grew up playing club soccer for the Michigan Alliance through the eighth grade. “I still had a great time playing soccer when I was in high school and had a lot of great memories.”


BY ALL MEANS UNDERRATED

Sharp wasn’t recruited by many schools, mainly NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and NAIA institutions. Western Michigan University was the only NCAA Division I program that gave serious attention to the goal-scoring prospect and Sharp gladly made an oral commitment to Wiseman and his staff to suit up for the Bronchos in 2019.

Entering Western Michigan University in August of 2019 as an underrated recruit, Sharp began to prove himself more and more and like a slow-moving single on the Hot 100, began to climb the charts and gain some traction. That included the Covid 2020 season that was delayed and actually contested in early 2021. Sharp fought through some injuries during that abbreviated campaign and beforehand was away from the pitch, his friends and teammates.

“That was a strange time,” said Sharp of 2020. “I did get out and kick the ball around, went on runs, juggled the ball but in terms of being able to train with my friends it was tough being a way from them. I really started to get into mountain biking, going down some trails out there at some big parks. It is a great workout. But there’s nothing like getting out there training and playing soccer. It’s been such a big part of my life.”

Sharp has come a long way since playing rec soccer near the town of Hamburg southwest of Brighton.

“I started playing (organized) soccer when I was around 6 years old and love every minute of it,” he said. “In some ways it seems so long ago.”

As a freshman at WMU, Sharp provided seven goals, two assists for 16 points and made the All-Mid-American Conference Freshman Team and All-MAC First Team. During the Covid 2020 season – actually played in early 2021 – Sharp fought through some injuries and only provided one assist to the Broncos attack and played in just 11 games.

In 2021, Sharp returned to his old self and scored five goals with three assists for 13 points and again made the All-MAC First Team for his efforts.

But it was in 2022 and 2023 that Sharp really arrived on the national scene as a collegiate scene.

The 2022 campaign was a collegiate breakthrough in terms of prominence and being a pro prospect. Sharp scored 11 goals with eight assists for 30 points and also netted four game-winning goals to earn All-MAC First Team accolades. He was the All-MAC Tournament MVP, First Team Scholar All-American, CSC Academic All-District, USC All-Region First Team and CSC First Team Academic All-America for his efforts on the field and in the classroom.




HERE AND NOW IN 2023

Before the 2023 season, Sharp was listed as United Soccer Coaches Forwards To Watch List. He has lived up to that hype and more. He has helped the Broncos to a top-20 ranking and put up some bigtime numbers.

Regardless what happens down the stretch, Sharp says he has no regrets and has loved his journey down the soccer turnpike and his pathway to success.

“It’s sad that it will come to an end soon,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of friends and made a lot of memories at Western Michigan and we’ve had a great run. We’ve made the Sweet 16 the past two years and that has never happened in back-to-back seasons until now. Sure, we would love to beat Notre Dame and make the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Western (Michigan) made the Sweet 16 in 2017 before any of us were here and we’ve advanced to this level two years in a row. But I think we would love to get further than any other team in school history.

“I’m really looking forward to what’s next,” added Sharp about his professional prospects. “I will head to Toronto and see what I can do. It’s exciting and sad that one chapter will close and another will begin soon. But that’s part of life.”

While growing up, did Charlie Sharp think all of this was possible?

“When thinking about it – no, not really,” he laughed. “Sure, you dream of playing college soccer one day and dream of playing in the NCAA tournament. But actually doing it is another story. All of this is a dream come true. Regardless of what happens in the Sweet 16, I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.”

Sharp has also picked up the game of golf in college. He loves to hit the links and escape for a few hours with his friends.

“A lot of us golf in our spare time. I love to just go out there and play golf and have a good time. It’s for fun,” said Sharp. “But nothing is better than stepping out onto the soccer field. It’s been such a huge part of my life.”



‘SHARP’IE BY THE NUMBERS ON THE WHITEBOARD

2023

(Entering Sweet 16)

Goals – 19 (No. 1 in the nation)

Assists – 8 (tied for 26th in the nation)

Points – 46 (No. 1 in the nation)

Game-Winning Goals – 7

2022

Goals – 11

Assists – 8

Points – 30

Game-Winning Goals – 4

2021

Goals – 5

Assists – 3

Points – 13

Game-Winning Goals – 0

2020

Goals – 0

Assists – 1

Points – 1

Game-Winning Goals – 0

2019

Goals – 7

Assists – 2

Points – 16

Game-Winning Goals – 3

Career

Goals – 42

Assists – 25

Points – 109

Game-Winning Goals – 14

Total Shots – 243

(Dan Stickradt is Web and Content Editor for the Michigan Soccer Network and a 30-year veteran in the Michigan journalism circles. He can be reached via email at stickradt@michigansoccernetwork.com. Follow on Twitter @MiSoccerNetwork or @LocalSportsFans and on numerous other social media platforms.)


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