Veteran Defender Jereme Raley Offers Versatility For Baltimore Blast

As a redshirt freshman for University of Maryland men’s soccer, Jereme Raley had a lot to prove.

After Raley sat out the 2010 season, head coach Sasho Cirovski finally gave him his chance, and the former star midfielder for St. Mary’s Ryken took it.

Raley appeared in all 21 games in 2011, starting 15. He posted two goals and four assists and helped Maryland to a 14-4-3 record. The following year, Raley was even better, playing in all 24 games and starting 10 as he helped Maryland win the ACC championship and reach the Final Four of the College Cup.

From 2011-2014, Cirovski played Raley at nearly every position on the field except center back and goalie — he even played striker a few times.

“He’s just someone that could easily adapt to a lot of different roles on a field and just always gave his best,” Cirovski said. “I mean, he’s hardly ever a person that you have to challenge to work harder or to play quicker.”

Now a veteran defender in his sixth season with the Baltimore Blast of the Major Arena Soccer League, Raley brings that same versatility to Baltimore, which has won nine league titles since 2003.

“His game is consistent. He gives everything and if he makes an error, he doesn’t need to be told,” Blast head coach David Bascome said. “You need a young man like that on your team. When he isn’t there, that’s when you miss him.”

And while Raley is a stout defender, Bascome said he wants to push him to be even more aggressive, showing some of the footwork and one-on-one capability that made him a Swiss Army knife of a player in college. That offensive mentality has already paid dividends for Raley.

Through 10 games entering play Feb. 11, he had scored one goal on 10 shots and tallied four assists. His five points already matched his total from the 2019-20 season.

“He’s got more ability than he knows, which is crazy because I keep telling him he’s a very skillful defender,” Bascome said. “This year, it’s all about getting him to come out of the back, and it’s really growing and adding to his game.”

High School Star

Raley has always demanded a lot of himself.

Growing up in St. Mary’s County, he would go to his older brother JJ’s games at St. Mary’s Ryken. Once he started playing, he never wanted to stop.

Raley spent five years with Free State Soccer Club under head coach and former Maryland standout Steve Campbell and also played for the Baltimore Bays Chelsea Academy and coaches Kevin Healey and Steve Nichols. Those three club coaches were some of the first to instill a high standard of play and were part of the reason he got invited to a few U14 camps for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

At St. Mary’s Ryken, Raley was named first-team All-County four times and earned Washington Post Southern Maryland Player of the Year honors after his junior and senior seasons.

As Raley continued to dominate for his high school and club teams, Cirovski and the Terps came calling. Raley had watched Maryland win two national titles under Cirovski in 2005 and 2008. The latter came just a year before Raley committed to the program.

“I had it in the back of my head that I wanted to go there,” Raley said. “They were always a top team with great crowds. It was the soccer program everyone talked about.”

Raley said he struggled with not playing as a freshman, but it presented an opportunity to prove he belonged at one of the most prestigious men’s soccer programs in the nation.

In his first full season, Raley blossomed as a starting midfielder, tallying two goals and four assists. Cirovski began to move him around the field as he matured, playing him at right back, left back, wingback, central defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and even striker when the Terps played with two center forwards.

Cirovski recalled being drawn to Raley’s soccer intelligence and his ability as a two-way player, something that would later be an asset in the smaller confines of indoor soccer.

“You really have to admire his skill set and adaptability,” Cirovski said. “He’s kind of a plug-and-play guy in a lot of different places and he always got the job done.”

Demands Of The Pro Game

After a successful college career that included a narrow defeat to Notre Dame in the College Cup final in his junior season, Raley sought out opportunities in the professional game.

In 2015, Raley briefly caught on with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL Championship in the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. There he met then-Blast forward Vini Dantas, who played for Baltimore from 2014-2020.

Dantas and Healey, who managed the Blast from 1998-2002, encouraged Raley to try out for the Blast in the summer before the 2015-16 season.

The Blast, then coached by Danny Kelly, was coming off a crushing defeat in the MASL championship the year before. The team was full of veterans who along with Kelly had high standards for new players.

The demanding environment reminded him of Maryland, Raley said. With the guidance of team captain Tony Donatelli and veteran keeper William Vanzela, he took on the challenge of playing indoor soccer.

In his first three seasons, Raley played in 55 games and totaled 32 points. The Blast ripped off three straight MASL championships and came within a game of playing in a fourth in 2018-19.

“It was a very strong team, so I guess from that aspect of it, it was a little demanding,” Raley said. “That’s why the Blast have accomplished what they’ve accomplished, because they expect a certain level.”

Championship Pedigree

Kelly left the team at the end of the 2019-20 season and was replaced by Bascome, a former Blast player and longtime assistant.

Bascome joined a long line of coaches dating back to Raley’s club and college days who instilled a championship pedigree in their players. Raley has welcomed Bascome’s player-centered philosophy, adding that the new coach has created a similarly demanding environment to his predecessor.

“They expect a lot from their players,” Raley said. “If they aren’t getting that standard, they are going to let you know. It’s not personal. They’ve been around the game. They know what it takes to win. If it’s something where maybe we aren’t working hard, they’ll let us know.”

While Raley has no plans to hang up his cleats any time soon — he turns 30 in July — he does have his eyes set on continuing his coaching career once he’s done playing.

This fall he will begin his fourth season as an assistant coach for St. Mary’s College of Maryland men’s soccer. He also runs a training academy for U9 to U16 teams in St. Mary’s County.

He wants to give young players on the Eastern Shore an opportunity to play high-level club soccer in their backyard.

“There weren’t really too many options around my area,” he said. “That’s something I want to change when I’m done playing.”

The high expectations he will demand of his players are, of course, part of the deal.

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran

Issue 273: February/March 2022

Brooks DuBose

See all posts by Brooks DuBose. Follow Brooks DuBose on Twitter at @b3dubose