Falling In And Out of Love With Soccer Before Making It My Career At Major League Soccer
I don’t really remember choosing soccer when I was younger. It almost feels like it chose me. My older sister picked up the sport at age 7 and began playing with a fierce intensity and focus. So, of course, as the younger sister, I followed along. Neither of my parents knew much about soccer, but being the devoted people they are, they studied, learned and tried to keep up.
The sport consumed our family through middle school travel teams, high school ODP, regional and national teams, and eventually the choice of a collegiate soccer program. I still excelled at school and enjoyed hanging out with friends, but everything was secondary to soccer. I mention all this to set the stage for how I fell out of love and back into love with the sport that has now become my professional career.
When I arrived at Stanford University in 2008 as a top high school prospect, I was eager to test out my skills against some of the nation’s best players. I soon found out that it was tougher than I expected. I didn’t start my freshman year, but I was able to get a few minutes here and there off the bench. Let’s just say I wasn’t a clutch, off-the-bench type of player.
Over the next two seasons, my playing time and confidence took a huge dip. I struggled with my own sense of self. If I wasn’t a successful soccer player, who was I? On top of that, I really struggled with the amount of time, energy and effort (both physically and emotionally) I was putting into the team for the lack of return I felt I was receiving. I was falling out of love with soccer.
Finally, in one of the hardest decisions of my young life, I decided not to play my senior year. Quitting was such an ugly word to me at the time. But, in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I made for myself. It opened a new world for me at Stanford—classes, activities and internships in which I now had the freedom to participate.
I knew I wanted to stay connected to Stanford athletics, so I talked my way into an internship in the athletic department helping with marketing and corporate sponsorship. I also gradually built back my confidence as a soccer player by finding fun and competitive environments to play by my own rules in pickup matches and with the men’s club soccer team.
As graduation loomed closer, I had no idea what type of career or job I wanted. My older sister was still playing professionally and like her, all I had ever thought about was playing soccer. I took the first opportunity handed to me: an internship at a publishing company focused on my area of study, Psychology. It was my way of getting a foot in the door of this adulting thing and buying myself some time to figure out what I really wanted to do.
The experience of moving across the country to New York and starting a 9 – 5 “day job” for the first time was exciting but exhausting. I still felt like an athlete and craved the daily workouts and team environment. My solution at the time was to wake up at the crack of dawn to get a run in, close my tiny office door to do a round of pushups and squats, or stay late in the city for a coed soccer game, always carrying around a change of clothes and my cleats. It had become my superhero costume, only unveiling itself in the dark, off-hours of the day.
I figured that was normal, though. Adults had hobbies outside of work. But throughout that first year of real life, the idea of a “career” hung over my head. Sure, I had a stable job that I didn’t hate, but I knew that if I was going to do anything long term and devote the type of energy and hours a real career deserved, it would have to be in sports.
Fast forward five years and I’m now at Major League Soccer in my third role, all of which have been on the commercial side of the business focused on corporate sponsorships. I still struggle to fit in my workouts or make it to coed soccer games on time, but I am energized by the ability to think and talk about soccer every day. My love for the game is no longer a costume only worn during weekends or evenings. It is encouraged and honed through my work, and uniquely positions me as an expert in discussions and strategy.
Through my job at MLS and the people I’ve met along the way, I’ve been able to give back to the sport that built me. I’ve brokered sponsorship deals between major brands and some of my former teammates (and even my sister), I’ve traveled the country bringing soccer to underserved communities and I’ve built soccer-related events from the ground up, negotiating budgets, managing teams and seeing a creative vision come to life.
Sometimes I think back to my 21-year-old self, struggling with the decision to quit the Stanford soccer team. I have this vivid memory of sitting on a bench outside my dorm and crying on the phone to my parents. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self this:
No team, jersey, starting position or even job can dictate whether you’re a soccer player or not. Like any great relationship, there will be tough times and tears. But it doesn’t take away what is in your heart and always will be. I may not have been the superstar, captain, award-winning student athlete I had imagined for my time at Stanford, but I was a student, and I was an athlete. And I will never stop being both.
As for my career, it is only in chapter one of what is hopefully a long and exciting book. I see opportunities to give back, serve the soccer community and grow my own skills in a variety of ways and places.
But the one thing I will take throughout is the knowledge that passion doesn’t have to be sidelined to pay the bills. All of the lessons in loving a sport can be used to fuel a career.