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From the Pitch – "Golden State of Mind"

By CHRISTIAN DUKE, Orange County SC, 06/13/18, 5:45PM EDT

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Back on the left coast, OC midfielder has helped mold his side into a contender while guiding the next generation

Growing up, my dad would always tell me stories about San Diego.

How great it was, and how much he enjoyed living there. I remember when I was about 10 years old, I was given a proper introduction to his beloved San Diego.

He took me back to the University of San Diego campus and showed me around. Right then and there, I fell in love.

With the campus.

With California itself.

Little did I know back then, California would someday be my home, too. It just wasn’t my first choice in a destination when I was searching.

Through youth soccer and playing in college showcases, I received a lot of interest from schools across the country. The University of San Diego wasn’t on the radar.

What was on my radar, was Marquette University. Marquette had a high interest in me, so I went on a visit to check it out. I really liked the city and the area around the university, but there was something in the back of my head that made me hesitant about attending.

I think it was the cold, long winter months that came hand-in-hand with Marquette’s location in Milwaukee.

I backed out of my commitment to Marquette and went to a college ID camp at USD that my dad set up.

Goodmorning San Diego

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This is where I crossed paths with my current teammate Aodhan Quinn for the first time. He was also in the college search process and thinking about going to USD. His dad was also an assistant coach at the time.

Coach McFadden had said he’d like me to attend the university and be a contributor to his team, after performing well in the ID camp.

Later that year I went on an official visit, where I was able to explore the campus a bit more and meet some of the guys who I’d play along with. I think having a familiarity with the coach and what his coaching style was, made it an easy decision for me.

Not to mention, I’d be going to college 10 minutes from the beach and playing the game I love at a school that was known for their business school, which was something I wanted to get into.

It all made sense for me to attend. All the pieces were there and I jumped on the thought of being a Torero. However, my first semester being away from home was the hardest time.

I asked the coaches and my family if it would be smart to transfer somewhere close to home -so I could feel comfortable.  There were many factors that contributed to the homesickness I had. One factor, being away from my family, only seeing them a couple times a year was tough. A second one was I received very little playing time my first year at USD.

Going from being a leader in high school and through academy, to being the youngest guy on a college team, filled with very talented players was something that I hadn’t experienced.

It was new to me. I felt alone.

My dad and mom both kept reiterating that new experiences and a change of scenery help build character.  That being in uncomfortable situations make you a stronger person. I was told to have patience and to keep working hard. My dad asked me if realized where I was.

Returning home after my first year for winter break, Kansas City had a very cold winter. I said I have to give San Diego a chance. I was very lucky to go to school, play soccer and live 10 minutes from the beach in sunny San Diego. Listening to the advice from my family, everything got so much better and I had the time of my life.

I picked up a job in the athletic department where I built awesome relationships with coworkers. Soccer started to go really well. Once I spent four years in San Diego, I had no intentions of leaving.

"My dad and mom both kept reiterating that new experiences and a change of scenery help build character.  That being in uncomfortable situations make you a stronger person. I was told to have patience and to keep working hard."

In life, there are many decisions you make that affect your future later down the road. The decision that I made at 17 years old, to attend USD and to stick it out after my first semester, definitely impacted my life.

My experience, and the state of California itself, surpassed all of my expectations.

I was fortunate to be able to chase my dream of playing professional soccer in Kansas City in front of my friends and family after college, but I never really saw myself leaving California. I laid a foundation there and was eager to continue to build on that.

I began to build in a different way in Kansas City after leaving USD though. Since starting my professional career, I have also taken up private coaching and I can see myself making a transition to the sidelines once my time on the field comes to an end.

Part of what appeals to me about coaching is the opportunity to enhance the game through our youth; to give. In Kansas City, I built many great relationships with kids, who I still follow even though I’m halfway across the country.

The problem that I ran into with my coaching in KC was the question of, where do we train in the winter months? It’s not like California where kids are able to train all year around without those problems.

Youth soccer in KC is taking off now, but only over the last couple of years have the resources and opportunities for kids there begun to take shape  as the game continues to grow tremendously in the United States as a whole.

I was just as nervous

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When my life took a turn West, I was able to bring what I built in Kansas City back to California. This time, instead of landing in San Diego, I found a home in Orange County.

California, in my eyes, has everything — except for four seasons, but I’m okay with that. I love the sunshine. I love being able to get done with practice and go hangout at the beach. I love being able to take my dog, Zoey, on hikes in the mountains. I love that there are so many parks in Southern California with soccer fields, basketball courts and baseball fields.

Everyone is so active, and living a lifestyle that aligns with mine. That’s something that I cherish.

There is also hotbed of youth soccer players here looking to develop and get better.  

For me growing up, I had a coach in my dad that played at a high level so it was easy for me to always work on my game, because that was our bond. Some kids aren’t as fortunate, so I myself like to provide that outlet and help them develop into their best selves.

I typically spend the afternoons coaching once the kids get out of school, as our team only trains in the morning time and we as players have the rest of the day to do whatever we’d like.

I find that the technical side of the game is very important so I try to reiterate the repetition and continued practice is crucial, especially as a youth player. There are many kids that are looking to one day be in the same shoes I’m in now, as a professional soccer player, so what better way to give back than to help them try to achieve that goal?

It’s also really cool because these kids that I see on a weekly basis don’t only get to know me as a coach, but as a player as well. I joke with them before our sessions and ask them to switch roles with me for a second and critique my game based on the game they saw that Saturday night.

Building relationships is important because the soccer community is so big, but so small at the same time. And to grow as a person is to build relationships and keep those relationships as time ticks.

So when I’m able to see these kids at my games, I know that I’m playing for more than myself. I’m playing for them and the dream that they have to be playing on that field.

When I was their age, I was always outside playing with the neighborhood kids. Out here, you see that everywhere. I’ll drive by a park and see a bunch of kids kicking the ball around, playing small-sided games on their own.

The best part is that I found a solution to the problem I was having with my coaching sessions having to be indoors in the winter months when I lived in Kansas City. I just moved to California.

Problem solved.

I do miss the kiddos back in KC big time though.


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