The 2012 MLS season is officially in the books and most players across the league can finally look forward to some much-needed rest and relaxation.
New York Red Bulls rookie defender Connor Lade is not one of those players.
On the heels of signing a new contract with the Red Bulls after a solid rookie campaign that saw him finish fifth in MLS Rookie of the Year voting, Lade is set to join La Liga club Sevilla for a training stint that runs from Dec. 13-23. The training stint will serve as a way to expose the 23-year-old Lade to the European game while also keeping him sharp and in shape during the offseason.
"They're a huge club with huge history and I'm just going over there to play with great professionals from one of the best leagues in the world," Lade told MLSsoccer.com. "It's going to be a huge challenge and that's what I want to keep doing: continuing to challenge myself and make myself better. It's going to be a great experience and I'm going to take whatever I can from it."
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Lade's training stint with Sevilla will be the latest milestone in a blossoming career, but that is not the only piece of good news he received in recent weeks. In late November, the versatile defender signed a contract extension with the Red Bulls after a sit-down meeting with sporting director Andy Roxburgh and head of global soccer Gérard Houllier.
Both Roxburgh and Houllier see plenty of room for Lade to grow and the diminutive defender agrees.
"I wasn't necessarily overly pleased with the way I finished out the season," Lade said. "People can say towards the end of a rookie year can be strenuous, but I don't want to leave any excuses out there, and I think there's always room for improvement."
Lade will have a chance to further fine-tune his game next week when he joins Sevilla for offseason training, and that will mark the latest achievement in a year that has seen him go from a student athlete worried about college exams to a professional player that is considered an integral part of his club's future.
"You have to constantly stay fit because there's a lot of great opportunities ahead of me right now, and I'm trying to make the most of them," Lade said. "I feel very fortunate to be in the spot I am and just hoping for more good things in the future."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com