MJ Kuczura about to kick a ball
Photo: Lianne Garrahan ’25
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MJ Kuczura ’24 is the youngest player to serve as captain in Bison men’s soccer history.

Looking Upfield

by Andrew Faught
When MJ Kuczura ’24 first bumped a soccer ball around the playing fields of New Hope, Pa., at age 4, the professional game was mostly an afterthought among American sports fans.

But Kuczura found something meaningful in the sport: joy.

“When you’re on the field, you don’t have to worry about anything except what’s going on in front of you,” says the economics major, whose mother played competitively at Temple University. “You get out there, clear your mind and have some fun with your buddies.”

It’s an attitude that contributed to Kuczura’s selection as captain of the Bison men’s team his sophomore year — making him the youngest player to serve in the role. While the 2021 team endured hardships — the squad experienced coaching turnover and the arrival of a dozen new players, en route to a withering 4-10-3 final record — Kuczura remained fixated on the big picture.

“My goal was to keep everyone together, to keep everyone focused,” he says. “The team knew what they had to do. It was definitely a big responsibility, and I had a lot of fun doing it.”

He kept players motivated, not by emotional locker room pep talks, “but by checking in on them off the field, hitting them up with a text message or going to lunch together. I wanted to make sure everyone was good.”

Kuczura, a defender who plays right back, was optimistic about the 2022 campaign, which started in August. The team “gelled” after last year’s adversity, he notes, and it will be bolstered by new recruits and transfers.

“We’ve got some promising first-year players coming in, and we’re really looking forward to meeting them and getting to work,” Kuczura adds.

For his part, the lithe 6-foot, 155-pound Kuczura will be back on the pitch doing what he does best — crossing the ball (making medium- to long-range passes) and attacking opponents. Head coach Dave Brandt has challenged soccer conventions, asking defenders like Kuczura to work offensive elements into their duties.

Mostly, Kuczura runs. Last season, he played all 90 minutes of regulation five times, putting to work his intense conditioning regimen. Defenders, he says, are some of the fittest players on the field. Kuczura trains six days a week during the season with numerous 30-minute sessions of “hardcore running” in addition to weight training and ball handling exercises.

Kuczura, who was recruited to play soccer at Bucknell after playing with two youth teams in Scotland, and for the FC Delco academy club from 2011 to 2016, plans to hang up his cleats after college. He spent the summer taking a remote class in microeconomics through the London School of Economics and Political Science, and he’s considering a financial career.

Soccer, meanwhile, is surging in popularity. Last year, the game supplanted hockey to become the fourth most popular sport in the United States, according to Gallup, and players are quickly gaining celebrity status. Kuczura was even recognized by a fan while grabbing a bite to eat at Chipotle in Lewisburg.

“It’s just crazy to see how big the game has gotten,” he says. “When we played Penn State, they had tons of fans there. Our game with UNC was live-streamed on the ACC Network. Back in the day, that stuff didn’t happen. It’s great to see.”

Instant Replay

Proudest accomplishment
“Being elected captain my sophomore year.”
Running, running and more running
“When I was younger, I’d go, go, go, and get burned out. I pick my moments and catch my breath. You definitely work the entire time.”
Evolution of the sport
“I play a ‘modern right.’ Twenty years ago, defenders weren’t attacking or guarding up the field.”
Striking a balance
“There’s a perfect balance of academics and soccer. I wanted to challenge myself, and Bucknell is definitely the place to do it.”