The Path of an Undrafted Goalkeeper
Ever wonder what it’s like when your professional dreams hang in the balance? Find out from two USL goalkeepers that lived it.
At the beginning of 2018, there were 23 Major League Soccer teams and 33 United Soccer League teams in the second division. That’s 56 professional teams in the United States and Canada offering the opportunity to make a career playing the sport that so many people around the world love. For a specialized position such as goalkeeper, the options are slim. Every January, draft eligible goalkeepers watch and wait patiently, hoping to hear their name called at the MLS Superdraft. But for most, those dreams are quickly dashed and the first question that comes to their mind is: What do I do now?
Assuming most teams sign three goalkeepers to their roster, there are roughly 170 jobs at the professional level. Considering there is more than three times that number of collegiate soccer programs in this country full of professional hopefuls, making it to the professional level is an extremely tough feat. I spoke with a couple of rookie goalkeepers about their journeys to the professional level and the resilience needed to succeed.
Navigating the new goalkeeper pathway
Scott Levene dreamed of playing professional soccer since he was 5 years old. He attended UConn because of the rich soccer tradition. He also knew their professional pipeline could help him reach his ultimate goal of becoming a professional. Levene had a successful senior season which saw him record eight shutouts. He also put himself in a statistical stratosphere with some UCONN greats including Andre Blake and Josh Ford. He then set out to achieve the next step in his career: become a professional soccer player.
Scott attended multiple MLS team invite-only combines, including the New York Red Bulls winter combine and the Houston Dynamo goalkeeper combine . He ultimately didn’t receive the invite most college seniors are hoping for: the MLS Combine invite, an opportunity to showcase your skill-set in front of every MLS coach, general manager, and figurehead who will be making decisions on which players to draft just a few days later. As we discussed with Canadian International & Ottawa Fury goalkeeper Callum Irving in this Prime Focus Goalkeeping interview, the MLS Combine isn’t always the best opportunity for goalkeepers to fully show their abilities. The lack of goalkeeper-specific training during the combine is one of the major issues. There are a variety of avenues to securing a professional contract, but persistence and timing are key. Instead of letting these setbacks deter him, Scott decided to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him.
“There were definitely times where I thought if this process was something I wanted to go through, but I knew I owed it to myself to keep trying and thinking positively. I had devoted my life to soccer and this dream. I wanted to pursue it for as long as I could until it was physically impossible.” -Scott Levene
Betting on yourself
Faced with a tough decision about his soccer future, Scott decided to take a gamble in order to start on the path he envisioned for himself. Although he had a USL contract offer from another team on the table, Levene decided to take the opportunity to join the New York Red Bulls in the preseason. He wanted to compete for a job with an organization he saw as “one of the best development clubs in the United States”. It’s a decision many people wouldn’t be able to make given the certainty of a contract offer in front of you, but it’s always important to weigh your options. You’ll never regret having confidence in your abilities and gambling on yourself, but if you don’t take those risks, you’ll rue the missed opportunities.
Nothing has been easy for him since signing with New York Red Bulls II. Despite that, it’s an opportunity that Levene intends to take full advantage of. Being a member of a Major League Soccer affiliate can have its advantages and disadvantages. Levene has been able to train with the first team on several occasions. This affords him the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of the first team coaching staff on a regular basis. The pipeline from the second team to the first team, especially in an organization like the Red Bulls, is a valuable path for many young players. But like any situation in life, there are challenges. Playing time can be scarce given the organization’s ability to loan players down from the first team. Even though you may be playing well, your number may not be called very often.
“Being part of a USL team connected to an MLS team means first team players often get priority with playing time. Regardless, the experience I have gotten has been great. I knew the first year would be tough and would come with transition periods. It makes me even more determined to push on and learn as much as I can.” -Scott Levene
Trial and error
The uncertainty of being a preseason trialist, whether it’s in MLS or USL, can be difficult. Having to compete at a new level, for what can be a life-changing job, can’t be taken lightly. Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Ben Beaury knows all too well the uncertainty of being a trialist in professional soccer. The former Division II standout with Lemoyne College gained 4 years of valuable experience before embarking on his professional journey. In just a few short months after finishing his senior season, Beaury attended various tryouts and combines in hopes of catching on at the professional level. Eventually, the opportunity to attend preseason in Charlotte presented itself and Beaury wanted to take full advantage.
Unfortunately, sometimes playing well on trial isn’t enough to earn you the opportunity you want or feel you deserve. Timing is everything in professional sports and for Beaury, the timing wasn’t quite right for him in Charlotte. After impressing throughout preseason training and games, he was cut at the end of preseason. It’s never easy to feel your dreams slipping away from you. It’s about how you respond to adversity that shows you exactly what kind of person you are. Instead of allowing the setback to derail his professional ambitions, Beaury headed back to upstate New York with a renewed vigor to reach his goals. He spent the next few weeks training on his own. He contacted clubs to inquire about openings and patiently waiting for his next opportunity to come around.
“I went home to Albany, NY and I talked to my parents about what I should do. For me, the dream was still to play professional soccer. I continued to train daily, but it was difficult to maintain the level I was at when I left Charlotte.” – Ben Beaury
As fate would have it
As the saying goes; if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Less than two months after being cut in preseason, Beaury received the call he had been waiting for. The team that just recently cut him was now offering him another shot to achieve his dream. Ben headed back down to Charlotte with the aim of working hard and learning as much as possible. The goal was to earn his first professional contract. After about a month of pushing himself in training, Beaury signed on to officially join the Charlotte Independence.
“I realize it’s difficult for keepers to get a break because there are only a handful of jobs. Guys are good and they stick around for years, but that’s okay with me. I’m willing to work and my parents, coaches and friends back me and give me support.” -Ben Beaury
Beaury made his professional debut against Liga MX champions Santos Laguna just a few weeks later. In the span of six months, Ben went from trialist hopeful to full-fledged professional. The journey is full of ups and downs. It will test your will and desire, not only as a soccer player but as a person. The ones who are most successful are the ones who see their setbacks as opportunities rather than failures. The opportunity to improve as a goalkeeper and prove yourself when the next call comes. The growth of soccer in the United States is providing more chances than ever for goalkeepers at every level. Not every tryout or combine is the right opportunity for you, individually. You must believe that the right one will come along so be ready for it.