He was once a season-ticket holder. Now, Connor Lade will become part of the team he grew up watching.
The New York Red Bulls announced on Monday the signing of the right back, who just completed his senior season at St. John’s University. Lade is a former member of the Red Bulls Academy and began playing for the team when he was in high school at the urging of St. John’s head coach Dave Masur.
“I started playing with Red Bull right before I came into college, trying to challenge myself and get better before I go into college and try to put myself into the best position,” Lade told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “From there, I continued playing with them during the summer.”
Masur’s words of wisdom worked.
His play for St. John’s – Lade started 24 games as a freshman at outside back – earned him a call-up to the US U-20 national team camp for a look. During his junior and senior seasons, Lade moved from outside back to center back, an unusual move for a player listed at 5-foot-5. But Lade didn’t let the fact that he lacks the size of a prototypical central defender deter him from making an impact at the college level.
“I feel like I’m not always seen as a threat because of my height, but I kind of feed off of that,” Lade said. “It motivates and drives me. I feel like I can compete with bigger players and I’ve shown that I have that ability. It’s going to motivate me going forward because I’m not going to be bigger than most players in MLS.”
He now gets a chance to train every day with players such as Thierry Henry, an opportunity he calls a “dream come true.” Lade’s transition to the professional ranks will be made easier by the fact that he has already spent some time with New York, not just in the academy but also practicing with the first team.
“I was fortunate enough to be brought into some training sessions after I was in college during the summers,” Lade said. “I think that just inspired me more to get better, try my best to impress.”
Assistant coach Mike Petke talked with him after one of those sessions, encouraging Lade to “Keep being tough and physical, keep working hard.”
The lessons from those summer training sessions will soon be put to the test when the Red Bulls begin readying for the 2012 season in February. And this season, Lade won’t be sitting in the stands of Red Bull Arena with his family, watching New York play. He will be out there, fighting for a chance to be on the field.
“Everyone on the field there is a very good player,” Lade said. “You have to bring everything every single session. Being a pro, it’s performance based. It’s a job, you really have to fight for your job and prove you belong there.”