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Brendan King Blog: Once a footballer, always a footballer - This is my story

Brendan King Blog: Once a footballer, always a footballer - This is my story

MLSSoccer.com

Brendan King played for Notre Dame and was drafted by the Portland Timbers, but he took the challenge to play in Europe. This is the first post of his bi-weekly blog.

First I want to say hi to all of you friends of Goal.com! This is the first post of my blog, and I'd like to take the chance to introduce myself and share part of my journey.

Since I was three years old, I've always wanted to be a footballer. I grew up with a ball at my feet and a Man United or U.S. national team shirt on my back. My dad was a professional soccer player for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL and has since created a very successful career for himself in the sport. From a very young age I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps and enter into the “family business.”

My motivation to do so has come from a host of experiences that has fueled my passion for the sport. I have been extremely fortunate to see some incredible things in my lifetime pertaining to soccer, and I sincerely thank both my parents and God for giving me those chances.

I was there in 1994 when Roberto Baggio skied his penalty to give Brazil its fourth World Cup title. I sat in the Stade de France two days before Bastille Day in 1998 and watched France claim its first World Cup. I was in Barcelona in 1999 as my beloved Manchester United won the Treble in epic fashion. I was in Moscow in 2008 to again watch the Reds clinch a Champions League title. I got chills as Nelson Mandela was carted onto the pitch in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the 2010 World Cup final to chants of “Madiba, Madiba!” I sat in awe inside Old Trafford as Wayne Rooney scored his famous overhead kick goal in the Manchester Derby last season.

Not only have I witnessed some incredible moments in the sport, I have been involved in some moments of my own. I have been fortunate enough to represent my country at the U17 and U20 levels. I played in a U17 World Cup. I traveled all around the world with youth national teams and I have had my eyes opened to how strong the passion for the sport is.

All of this being said, these experiences have created a burning desire within me to achieve success in this sport. I would love to play on the biggest stage possible, and I intend to push myself as hard as possible to go as far as I can in soccer. My journey to get to where I am at this point has been extremely memorable. It has been a long path from playing in backyards in Naperville, Ill., to playing in the Irish Premier League, and then moving north to Alta, Norway, where I currently play. Where the journey goes from here I do not know, but it has nonetheless been an incredible ride.

"If you want to achieve something in life you have to ask yourself the question: what I am willing to give up in order to achieve what I really want.”

- Brendan King


I grew up in Naperville, a relatively affluent suburb of Chicago. Soccer was a pretty widely participated-in sport around my area, and from a very young age I played in local leagues. I joined my first serious club at the age of 12. If you were a serious player in Chicago you either joined Sockers FC or the Chicago Magic. I chose the Magic, and under the direction of coaches John Hannan and Mike Matkovich, I began to develop as a player. I was fortunate to play with some great players in my time there. My best friend to this day is my former Magic teammate Bryan Gaul, who now plays as a defender for the LA Galaxy. Bryan’s house in Naperville was less than a mile from mine, and together we would spend countless hours in our backyards, basements, or driveways perfecting our craft.

It had always been a goal of mine to be involved in the national team, but moving away from home at the age of 16 is no easy task. Despite fears of homesickness, I packed up my bags and moved down to Bradenton, Fla., leaving behind friends, family, and a “normal” high school experience. If you want to achieve something in life you have to ask yourself the question" “What I am willing to give up in order to achieve what I really want?” Now, I’m not trying to paint myself into a martyr or anything, but I’ve given up a lot to get to the point where I am in my career. I moved away from home at 16. I never went to prom. I never partied or anything in high school. While my friends from home were enjoying their senior years of high school, going to parties, dances, and all that, I was waking up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym at the IMG Academies.

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My teammates at Notre Dame would give me stick about not having a “childhood,” but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being a part of the U17 Residency program was monumental in shaping me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am without the experiences I had as a part of that group. In two years, we traveled to Japan, England, Belgium, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay and Korea, playing against youth national teams and professional clubs from those countries. The experiences and memories I gained from those two years are invaluable.

At the end of my time in residency, I had to make a decision on school. A lot of guys from that U17 group went immediately into the professional ranks. Some have done well and some have struggled. For me, I knew I had to go to school. I would have jumped at any real opportunity to play professionally at that age, but it just wasn’t in the cards. There were no real options on the table to go pro at that stage in my career and, to be honest, at 17 I wasn’t good enough to play in Major League Soccer. So I chose to attend the University of Notre Dame and became the program’s first early enrollee at the age of 17. Education has always been of extreme importance to my family, so I made my decision to go to ND. I wanted to go to a school where I could play at a high level and earn a degree that I could use somewhere down the line.

Playing college soccer presents a unique challenge to guys who want to go on to play after college. Your season is 20-some games packed into three months. Three months is all you have to play in competitive games. That leaves nine months of the year without any real competitive, meaningful games. Additionally, you have the big distraction of school. At Notre Dame, classes are pretty challenging and taxing, and as any college athlete knows you have to manage your time well. I did well at Notre Dame academically, but that’s not to say I spent all my time in the classroom or bent over a book into the late hours of the night. I never took my eye off of what I really wanted to do with my life.

I spent four memorable years at Notre Dame. On the pitch we always came up short, but we never lacked in talent. I was fortunate to learn from a lot of good players at Notre Dame. I looked up to guys like Matt Besler, Justin Morrow, Jeb Brovsky, Michael Thomas and Greg Klazura. Some of those guys have gone on to do really well for themselves in MLS. At the end of my time at Notre Dame, things began to heat up for me. I was invited to the 2012 MLS Player Combine, along with the individual combines of Real Salt Lake, New England Revolution and the Seattle Sounders. These invites were really just the culmination of years of hard work not only in college but in high school as well.

The MLS Combine is a really exciting and nerve-wracking experience. I remember walking into the hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where the Combine is held, and just being awestruck. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was just chilling in the lobby when I walked in with my buddy Gaul and we just kind of looked at each other with wide eyes. Funny to think Arena would be Bryan’s boss in a few short weeks!

The Combine is a really well-organized event. Everything -- the food, accommodations, medical staff, coaching staff and adidas gear -- is top-class. Going into the Combine, I probably wasn’t the first name on anyone’s mock draft, but leaving Ft. Lauderdale, I was fairly confident I would go in the second round of the SuperDraft. I thought I had a really good showing down there, scoring the first goal of the event and putting in a few decent shifts in each of the games.

The two days in between the Combine and the draft are just the worst. There’s so much speculation and anxiety running through your head. Gaul, of course, was with me through all of this. Pretty funny that two kids from the same neighborhood would end up being invited to the Combine and even funnier was the fact that we were on the same team. Draft day came and I was drafted in the second round, 27th overall, by the Portland Timbers. I didn’t see that coming at all. Portland wasn’t one of the teams I had talked to prior to the draft, and it came as a big shock to me.

So it was off to Portland, Rose City. I spent a good five weeks with the Timbers, and I really enjoyed my time with the team. Toward the end of that five weeks I came to the realization that staying in Portland wouldn’t really be a feasible option for me. Roster spots had filled up quick. When you’re drafted, you’re kind of at the mercy of the situation you’re thrown into. Some teams might only have one or two roster spots available with 10 guys all in camp competing for one of those spots. I was frustrated I wasn’t going to be staying in Portland, because I had a really good showing of myself in preseason camp.

Literally the day after I found out I wasn’t going to have a roster spot at Portland I was on a flight to Dublin, Ireland. I had a trial lined up with Ireland’s most successful club, Shamrock Rovers. I really didn’t even have time to think about what I was doing or why I was doing it, I just jumped on a plane and was off to Dublin. I remember calling my best friend and roommate from ND, Mike Rose, and asking him, “Hey, man, should I go to Dublin tomorrow and go on trial with this team?” He just kind of laughed and was like, “Yeah, man, why not?” That was all I really needed, and I was off.

I did well with Rovers. I played in a few trial matches and performed really well. I was unlucky to not score what would have been one of the best goals of my career. It was one of those shots that hits the underside of the bar and bounces down. I’m convinced it went in, but the referee didn't agree. Nevertheless, I discovered I wasn’t going to be offered a contract with Shamrock Rovers; however, they still seemed keen on me and wanted to get me in with another club in the League of Ireland.

So I signed with Bray Wanderers in the League of Ireland Premier Division on July 1, the opening day of the summer transfer window. I had been in Ireland for only about two months when an offer from up north came my way. I’m not talking about Northern Ireland or the country that’s directly north of there, Iceland. I’m talking about even further north, in the Norwegian city of Alta.

So, again, I packed my bags. I had always wanted to play in Norway after spending about a month there the summer before my senior year. I had a good week of training with Molde, the top club in Norway at the moment. Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the manager there, and it was amazing to play in front of such a legend, especially after years of being a United supporter. I think I did well enough in my week there to make a decent impression on the “Baby Faced Assassin” and his staff, and I think that really helped in getting me up here to Alta. You never really know where you’re going to end up in life and this holds especially true in soccer. A good word from someone can go a long way and that, combined with a good trial in Alta, got me a contract with the Adeccoligaen club.

That’s really my story up until now. I’ve gone from watching World Cup games to playing in a World Cup of my own. I’ve spent hours and hours with a ball. I’ve trained with a handful of clubs across Europe. I’ve had a lot of ups, and I’ve had a lot of downs. I’ve had some incredible experiences, and I’ve also given up a lot to get to the point I am at now. I’ve always asked myself the important question all athletes ask themselves: “What am I willing to give up to achieve what I want?” I’ve left the U.S. for now to pursue something overseas. Where that decision will take me I don’t know, but its all part of the ride and I’ve loved every minute of it so far!

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