Matt Reda has a dream. And he also has a plan.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to play professional soccer. When I was little, I pretended I was David Beckham,’’ said Reda, 21, who graduated from St. Louis University High in 2010 and who is set to begin his senior campaign at NCAA Division III DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. “Getting a chance to play professionally is something I’m very passionate about. I have no idea how things will work out, but I’m determined to take it as far as possible.’’
To this point, Reda has managed to combine academics and his love of soccer into a series of once-in-a-lifetime adventures. At SLUH, he played varsity on top-level clubs in 2008 and 2009.
“My junior year, we were ranked No. 1 and lost 2-1 in penalty kicks to Chaminade in the district championship,’’ he recalled. “The next year, my senior season, we lost 1-0 in the state title game to CBC.’’
Reda headed off to the University of San Francisco, where he planned to play soccer and study international business. But it just did not work out.
“I did well in school, made some great friends and loved the city,’’ he said. “I was set on playing Division I soccer, but it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t going to happen. San Francisco is a program that recruits players from around the world and those are the guys who get the scholarships and the playing time. I was basically told by the coaching staff that I probably wouldn’t get a chance to play until I was a senior.’’
So Reda, who red-shirted that season, eventually made his way to DePauw, a school that had recruited him in high school.
“At that point, I was just looking for a place where I could play soccer and get an education and it’s worked out great,’’ he said.
The Tigers, of the North Coast Athletic Conference, have gone 14-2-2, 16-3-1 and 14-2-5 over the last three seasons. They have won back-to-back league titles and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last fall.
“We return 13 guys who’ve been together for the last two years,’’ said Reda, noting that the DePauw roster also includes senior midfielder David Large from Marquette and sophomore goalkeeper Christopher Yount from MICDS. “We’re all pretty pumped about this season.’’
Reda’s passion for soccer was re-ignited recently during a semester abroad. Studying in Segovia, Spain, he was able to train regularly there with La Gimnastica Segoviana, a third-division squad.
“The overall experience was incredible,’’ the history and Spanish major said. “My host mom didn’t speak any English so if I wanted to communicate, I had to speak Spanish. The first week, I’ll admit, was pretty rough but it got much easier from there. Aside from the language, I think the biggest adjustment was the pace of life in Spain. From 2 to 3 in the afternoon, everything shuts down and everybody heads home for the big meal of the day, which is followed by the siesta that everybody talks about. You nap or relax for half an hour and then go back to school or work to finish out the day. Then, at the end of the day, 10 or so at night, there’s another meal.’’
Monday through Thursday, Reda followed up on four hours of school work with two hours of soccer workouts.
“They played games on Sundays, but I wasn’t able to participate; if I’d played, it would’ve ended my college eligibility,’’ he said. “It’s actually the fourth level of pro soccer in Spain, but we’re talking about some very good soccer players. Here, the game’s about being physical and athletic; there, it’s more a game of skill and finesse. The players there all have incredible touch on the ball and everything’s based on a short-passing game. I can’t wait to see if I can incorporate what I learned into my game this fall.’’
After graduating next spring, Reda is looking to join the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy in Yorkshire England. There, he also plans to work toward his master’s in international business at Leeds Metropolitan University.
“That’s the Plan B to keep my parents happy, knowing that I’m not focusing everything on the soccer dream alone,’’ he said. “It’s a program I learned about from John Roeslein, my Olympic Development Program coach here and one of their North American scouts. You train and compete against academy teams from other pro clubs in England. It’s an opportunity to play and develop your game while being exposed to scouts from all over the world. I realize it’s a long shot, but it’s also a chance to take a shot at something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember.’’
SLU makes history
Top-seeded St. Louis University lost its first game in the Atlantic 10 tournament but came roaring back to win five games for the league baseball title and an NCAA Tournament berth. In regional play, the Billikens lost 7-3 to host South Carolina and 10-2 to 17th-ranked Clemson and finished 41-21, matching a school record for victories.
For the first time in school history, SLU captured league tournament titles in soccer, basketball and baseball during the same school year. Over the last five years, the only other programs to match that feat are Creighton (2011-12) in the Missouri Valley Conference and New Mexico (2011-12) in the Mountain West.