You’ve seen them on the pitch playing for Ottawa. We’ve cheered them on together in the stands. We want you to know what they’re about. Where they’re from, where they’ve been. What shapes them as a player. As a person. Everyone has a story and we want to tell theirs. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the players and ask them about how they got here and I’m excited to share their stories with you. –Kendra Lee
Can you describe the town where you grew up?
Yeah, um, it’s outside Philadelphia. My parents and grandparents grew up around there too. Well, my dad and my grandparents on my dad’s side grew up there. My mom’s from northern New Jersey, and they still live there now. I went to William Tennent High School and I went to La Salle University, which is also in Philadelphia. And that’s where I started my professional career too. So you know, I still go home there in the offseason and that’s always gonna be home. And probably in the future that’s where I’ll end up settling down once my career’s done.
How big of a role did sports play in your life growing up?
I mean they were huge. I played soccer, baseball, basketball growing up, and in high school I just played soccer and basketball. You know when I went to college it was still not really clear if I was going to play soccer or basketball in college. I made the decision my senior year in high school that I was going for soccer not basketball. And obviously now, I’m glad that I made that decision, but at that time I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to try and do. But I’m glad that I made the decision to play soccer. But I’m still a huge fan of teams in every sport and huge basketball fan, huge soccer fan obviously.
Was that how you decided what university to go to?
Yeah, I went on a scholarship to play soccer. I met the coach of La Salle when I was a junior in high school and I guess he liked me as a player enough to offer me a scholarship to go to school there. And when it came down to my final decision I had a scholarship from two other schools but at the end I choose between La Salle, Temple University, Delaware and Iona. It was the best decision of my life to choose La Salle.
How did that contribute to your development as a soccer player?
It was huge. I mean, I think the college game gets a lot of flack for not really developing players, but right now in North America I still think it’s the best system that there is for development. I wish there was more games, but it’s training everyday for 4 years and you know, 30 games a year. For me it was great. I found a coach that really believed in me and thought that I was a good player, a good enough player that he could make me become a professional. And he really helped me and I still speak with him once every couple of weeks and we still have a really close relationship. So for my development as a person and a professional, I don’t think I would have gotten it at another school like I did at La Salle.
You were quite a strong player on the team. What did you learn about leading a team from your experience there?
I had kind of an up and down career. My first year we had a pretty good team and I was playing a lot as a freshman. At that point it was kinda more about, you know, I was happy that I was playing every game. I didn’t realize how important the results were or how much it meant to, especially some of the older guys on the team. My next two years we didn’t have that great of a squad, and then my senior year we actually ended up having one of the youngest teams in the league. We started, like 5 freshmen and only 2 seniors. So I like to think that I had a big role in leadership that year. I was the captain my senior year and we had a lot of young guys on the team and we were able to have a pretty good season. We lost in the championship but it still was one of the best seasons for the soccer program, and that was my senior year. So looking back on it, I think some of the kids that were freshmen when I was a senior went on to have good careers, and I like to think that they took a little bit from what they saw me doing every day when I was a senior.
After you finished university, you were drafted into the MLS to the Philadelphia Union. Can you describe that experience?
I mean, that was pretty incredible. Because I had a decent senior season, so I thought that I would have the chance to be drafted. But the fact that I was drafted by Philly was pretty incredible and pretty special. And it was nice to get that kind of attention, especially from everyone at school. Everyone I grew up with was pretty excited for me, and that was pretty cool. Unfortunately, on the field it didn’t work out the way that I wanted it to. But still, to have played there and to have had one season there, it was really special to me and my family.
What was your best experience with the Philadelphia Union?
My best experience? I got the chance to play against Real Madrid in the Lincoln Financial field, Eagles stadium. There was 70,000 people there, it was pretty cool! So I have some pretty cool pictures going up against Kaka and Ronaldo, two World Players of the Year in their prime. It was a pretty exciting experience especially cuz I was going up against Ronaldo for the second half one-on-one pretty much the entire time! So it was pretty cool. You know at that time he was reigning World Player of the Year so it was a pretty incredible experience! I still have some pics from that game that my parents keep hanging up in the house!
Did you guys talk to each other while you were playing?
(Laughs) No, I didn’t really exchange too many words with him. I was a bit star-struck if I have to admit it! It’s not exactly like going up against an NASL winger but…(laughs)
Amazing! So from Philly you went to Charleston Battery. How did that come about and how did you decide to go with Charleston?
Yeah, I went down there for a couple of days and I really enjoyed it. I mean, it’s a beautiful city! You know, at that point I had just come off a year in Philly where I didn’t really play much, and I was kind of at the point as a professional where I was like, “I wanna play the games, I don’t really care where I end up. I wanna make sure I play every game of the season.” It ended up being a great choice to go to Charleston. I met some of my teammates now down there. I played with Nicki (Paterson) and Colin (Falvey) and also Tony (Donatelli) from last year. And we ended up winning the Championship in 2012. That was my only Championship as a professional and it’s something that you know, I’ll always have USL Champion on my resume. It was a pretty good year, a pretty exciting year.
What was that experience like for you?
It was really cool. My parents and my wife (she was my girlfriend then) came down for the game and it was actually pretty cool cuz it was Wilmington/Charleston in the final and that was kind of our rival. They had a bunch of fans there, we had almost a full stadium and then it was a pretty fun party after! It was pretty cool to win a Championship and something I definitely have to do again in my career.
After that you went to Toronto FC. How did that come about and how did you decide to go with TFC?
So that season, I went to preseason with DC United and they kept me around till right before the season started and then told me they decided they weren’t gonna sign me. So I was pretty heartbroken after that because I was pretty sure I was going there. So then I ended up driving to Charleston, actually going back to Charleston, and the day that I got down there, I got a call from Toronto that they wanted me to come. So I went to Toronto for a few days, ended up signing there, I flew back to Charleston, drove straight from Charleston to Philly and then two days later flew into Toronto. So it was pretty interesting how things work. You know, I was at a point where, since I didn’t sign with DC, I was kinda wondering where things would go after the season, and two days later it changes that I’m back in the MLS. So it was pretty crazy how things worked out. And obviously I loved my time in Toronto, but those couple of weeks there, I was going up and down in my head, wondering what I was going to do in my career.
How was your experience in Toronto with TFC?
I loved it! You know Toronto is an amazing city, first of all, but I didn’t really know what to expect going there. I had been to Canada only a few times. I expected it to be a lot different than it is. It’s not really any different from home for me. But my time at Toronto, you know they have a really good organization and a lot of people who will do anything for the team to do well. It’s just pretty insane that the team has never actually done well. Because some of the facilities that they have, the people that work there, all the resources that they put into the team is everything that you want to succeed as a player. So it really is interesting that team has never done well because they do so many things right, that in my opinion they deserve to do well.
When you were with TFC, you came to Ottawa on loan and I was just curious, how does it feel to be with one team and on loan to another, what was that like?
Well, I wasn’t playing much in the beginning of the season in Toronto, so actually I went to the coaches and said, “Can I go on loan? I wanna go somewhere where I’m gonna play games.” And I was talking to Nicki (Paterson) and telling him I was looking to play. I think he spoke with Marc (Dos Santos) and I got a call from Marc a few days later. I knew the first time I talked to him, that this was the guy I wanted to play for. So then when I ended up coming here, it was actually right before the summer break last year. So I had to wait a couple of weeks before I played a game. But I just knew as soon as I came here that this was a place where I fit in, a place where I thought that I could do well. I was at a point in my career in Toronto where things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, so coming here really helped me a lot. And I knew halfway through my time last year that at the end of the year I was gonna sign full time.
That’s so great!
It really is true though! I mean I knew once I met the coaching staff, the way they operated, the way they treated me, and I think that things were working out for me on the field as well, and with everyone in the locker room, everything was great. And you know as a player, when you’re supposed to move on from one situation to another and I made that decision the first time I came out last year.
Do you see difference in the United States and Canada as far as soccer is concerned?
Well I think as far as in the community, people are actually more aware of what’s going on in the games. In the States it’s kind of like, you know “we have a team, lets go to a game, we’ll support them”. Where as in Toronto and Ottawa, people expect you to produce and know what they’re looking for in a game. So to me, it’s pretty knowledgeable fans in Canada, about their sport and about their team. And that’s a good thing. That’s what you want. You know, I’ve been some places where people are cheering when the other team gets a yellow card louder than when someone plays a great ball or makes a great tackle. Here it’s more, people know what they’re looking for and that’s something that you really respect as a player. When you make a nice play, you might not get a goal, but you make a nice play and you get a hand from the crowd. It’s really something special and it’s kind of more of a European environment.
Do you have any goals for this year?
I think that if you ask anyone on the team, they’ll say playoffs. I think we made that pretty clear that’s where our goal is this year. We kinda had a tough start to the season, two away games…but we got some points this weekend so you know, we’re on our way. But that’s our goal as a team, to make the playoffs and then once you get to the playoffs anything can happen from there. It’s two games where, if you look at last year, Fort Lauderdale barely made it into the playoffs to make it to the final. So right now we set our goal at making it to the playoffs and then we’ll re-evaluate once we achieve that goal. But really, I’m just excited to be in Ottawa and I’m excited for this season.