No other coach has embodied and embraced the sport of soccer at Middle Tennessee like 10th-year mentor Aston Rhoden. During his tenure with the Blue Raiders, which started in 2002, he has lifted the program to new heights on and off the field, while exhibiting his core team ideals of Pride. Passion. Purpose.
Already the all-time winningest coach in program history with a mark of 107-60-19, Rhoden added a Sun Belt Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance to his impressive resume last season.
Middle Tennessee finished second in the 2010 Sun Belt regular season standings, but when it mattered most, during the conference championships, it pulled through to advance to the national tournament for the first time in program history. Despite facing arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in school history, including a match with perennial power, defending champion and No. 1-ranked North Carolina. Middle Tennessee faced four nationally-ranked opponents during the campaign in addition to a pair of SEC road games.
Along the way, he reached the 100-win plateau while at Middle Tennessee Oct. 3, 2010, at UALR, becoming the first coach in school history to surpass the milestone. His defensive unit allowed a goal or fewer in 15 consecutive matches through the Sun Belt Tournament championship, including each contest on the Sun Belt slate.
He has seen his Blue Raider teams secure double-figure victories in eight of the previous nine seasons, including a school-record 17 wins in 2006. Middle Tennessee's team has earned the NSCAA Academic Award for nine consecutive years and was the 2008 winner of the Sun Belt Conference Team Academic Award with an overall team GPA of 3.5.
Indeed, the Rhoden era has been one of on-field accomplishments and academic achievements. The two-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year led the Blue Raiders to their first conference championship in 2004, and Middle Tennessee has strung together eight-straight winning seasons for the first time in program history entering this fall. Rhoden notched his 100th overall coaching career win in Middle Tennessee's 3-1 win against Western Kentucky (10/27/06).
Rhoden's coaching has elevated his players to high levels of success and Middle Tennessee's fast-paced, attacking style has not only resulted in a top-notch defensive squad, but fans were also awed by an offensive unit rated third nationally in scoring offense in 2006. Middle Tennessee's 17-4 record also produced the nation's eighth-best winning percentage (.810) that season. The high-octane Middle Tennessee offense established single-season records for points (222), goals (76) and assists (66) in 2006. High-scoring offenses under Rhoden are nothing new. The Blue Raiders were No. 3 nationally in scoring in 2004 and they ranked among the top 25 nationally in 2005.
The Blue Raiders also earned the program's first regional ranking in 2006. They broke into the Soccer Buzz regional ranking after a 14-2 start and finished the 2006 campaign ranked No. 14 in the final Central Region poll. In 2009, MT enjoyed a run in the NSCAA South Region's Top 10 after a stellar start on its way to tying for the third-best record in school history at 12-6-2.
Under Rhoden's direction, Middle Tennessee has proven to be a record-setting program in all aspects of the game. The single-season records for wins, shots, goals, assists, points, least goals allowed, goals against average and shutouts all have been established under his watch.
Middle Tennessee has become one of the premier teams in the Sun Belt under Rhoden, whose squads are 59-20-9 in conference play. Rhoden's solid work has been rewarded with Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2003 and 2004.
His players have excelled on the field and in the classroom. Rhoden signed the SBC Newcomer of the Year in each of his first four seasons, and Soccer Buzz rated the 2005 signing class No. 1 in the Sun Belt and among the top 55 classes nationally. Additionally, the 2006-08 signing classes were named to the top 25 in the Central Region by the online publication. Rhoden produced the Sun Belt's Player of the Year in 2004 when Debs Brereton became the first player in school history to be so honored, and 35 of his players have earned all-conference honors during the past nine seasons.
Under his watch, Soccer Buzz has named eight Middle Tennessee players to the All-Central Region Team and three players have earned recognition on the Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week. Rhoden also has had a player selected to the Central Region All-Freshman Team by Soccer Buzz, while another was selected as the NSCAA National Player of the Week. In 2009, two players (Shan Jones, Vanessa Mueggler) were recognized by the NSCAA on its All-South Region Team, the most Blue Raiders in a single season on the squads.
The honors continued to flow last season, capped by goalkeeper Rebecca Cushing being selected as the Sun Belt Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She was joined on the all-tournament team by four others after Middle Tennessee captured the crown. Four Blue Raiders grabbed all-conference accolades after the regular season, including three on the first team. Cushing also was named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week for her efforts in the conference tournament, while Mueggler added her second-straight NSCAA All-South Region honor.
Rhoden also has developed the top five all-time leading goal producers in program history as well as 15 first-team All-Sun Belt players, one SBC Player of the Year, three SBC Freshmen of the Year, four SBC Newcomers of the Year and 15 Sun Belt Player of the Week selections. Rhoden coached two players at Middle Tennessee who earned spots on the All-Time Sun Belt 30-Year Anniversary Team (Laura Miguez, Debs Brereton).
Success in recruiting has led to Middle Tennessee's elevated success on the field and to improved attendance in each of Rhoden's seasons. The Blue Raiders set a single-game attendance record when 1,309 attended the 2006 opener against Southern Miss. The previous high for single-game attendance was 1,285 against Vanderbilt in 2005.
Perhaps fans continue to flock to Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium in record numbers because Rhoden's teams have rarely disappointed on the home turf despite the challenging schedule. The Blue Raiders are 61-15-6 at home under Rhoden, including two perfect seasons (9-0 in 2004 and 10-0 in 2006). The Blue Raiders had a 23-match home win streak snapped during the 2007 season but still managed to finish 6-1-1 on the home turf.
Not only does Rhoden emphasize winning on the field and in the weight room, but he also stresses excelling in the classroom as well. Ninety-three of his student-athletes have earned All-SBC academic accolades during the previous nine seasons, and he has had five players selected to the CoSIDA/ESPN Academic All-District IV Team with a 3.3 or higher GPA. In addition, Middle Tennessee has earned the prestigious NSCAA Academic Award nine consecutive years under Rhoden. Teams must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher to be considered. He also has had three players selected to the NSCAA South Region All-Scholar Team.
Rhoden became head coach at Middle Tennessee after serving in the same capacity for five varsity seasons at North Alabama in Florence, Ala. Rhoden started the North Alabama program from scratch, playing the first season as a club team before moving to varsity status in his second year at the helm. He compiled 39 wins during his tenure at UNA, including a pair of 11-win campaigns.
Rhoden was hired at UNA after serving as staff coach for the Alabama Youth Soccer Association and as an assistant soccer coach at Randolph High School in Huntsville, Ala. He also served as director of coaching for the Rocket City Kicks Soccer Club in Huntsville and is currently a staff coach for the Tennessee Olympic Development Program (ODP) staff.
The Jamaica native received his bachelor's degree in computer science and mathematics from the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 1989. He holds a National "A" Coaching License from the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) as well as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Premier Diploma. Rhoden played collegiately at Alabama-Huntsville, where he earned numerous athletic and academic awards. Prior to his four-year playing career at UAH, Rhoden played with the youth national team of Jamaica as well as Real Mona FC.
Rhoden and his wife, Tara, live in Murfreesboro with their daughter, Ashley.