BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Embarking on a professional career in sports is fraught with obstacles, challenges and uncertainty.
Making the transition from the collegiate game to MLS poses many difficulties, and drawing from the experiences of others can greatly increase the speed at which young players entering the league settle into their new lives as professional athletes.
Having a familiar face to help with the process can help acclimate league rookies to their new roles, and in Matt Polster, Chicago Fire rookie Brandon Vincent has a role model he can learn from on a daily basis.
Second-year midfielder Polster has been by Vincent’s side every step of his journey into professional soccer, joining the No. 4 pick in the SuperDraft at the US national team's January training camp in California, on US U-23 duty for the recent 2016 Olympics playoff series against Colombia and in each of his three starts for the Fire.
“Definitely,” Vincent told MLSsoccer.com when asked if having Polster around has helped in his first four months in pro soccer. “He’s a friendly face wherever I go which is nice to have. He’s a guy that I can look to, he’s been through it first year, he’s been in the same position where he’s going through these camps and I can look up to him as a role model, for a guy who has been there and done that. But he’s still young enough where he’s approachable and a good friend, so I like having him around.”
Polster, 22, made an immediate impact when he broke into the Fire’s starting XI at the start of 2015, and is now one of the first names on head coach Veljko Paunovic’s team sheet, thanks to his dynamic and assured box-to-box play. He has also captained the side in two of the Fire’s four games to date, and his role as a mentor to the club’s new rookies is one he wholeheartedly embraces.
“We talk every now and then and being through January camp together and then going to Colombia together, we’ve definitely gotten closer,” Polster said of his relationship with Stanford alum Vincent. “It’s been easy to chat with him because I’ve been with him the whole part of his professional career so far, we’re definitely building a bond and I’m trying to help him as much as possible.”
“I think they are doing very good,” Paunovic said of Vincent and Polster. “They are developing in the process so far, in college and now in the professional level I think that we are giving them a great platform to develop their full potential in the best possible way.”
Paunovic gave a start to Vincent, 21, in each of the Fire’s first three games, but he was rested for Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union having just returned from USMNT U-23 duty.
“Brandon’s doing fine and he understands what he has to deliver in order to be a better professional and to be a better player,” he added. “There is still more adjustments that he has to understand, like being more competitive, being more involved and passionate about becoming the great soccer player that we all believe he can be. They are both doing fine, but every player knows that in order to be best player he can be he needs to train well, prepare well, eat well, sleep well, have fun and enjoy the process.”
Vincent has the unusual distinction of representing his country before making his professional club debut, after playing 45 minutes of the USA’s 1-0 win over Canada at the StubHub Center on February 5.
“It was crazy,” Vincent admitted. “It was hard to comprehend at the time, to be honest, I was just going from one game to the next, just trying to make sure I worked hard and getting an opportunity to step on the field in that uniform was a dream come true for me.”