Meet the Trialists: Matt Kassel

Former Red Bull homegrown stud is first in our three-part series

Matt Kassel Red Bulls

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

To come on trial with a team is an evaluation. It’s an invitation a coaching staff extends a player without a guarantee of making the team. During the PDL season, its players are in and out of various MLS locker rooms and after the USL-Pro campaign wraps, many of its standouts look for greener pastures in MLS. In addition, many players that may have once been in MLS or some other league and are looking to get back on the radar, workout and vie for a spot on a club’s roster.

Trialists come and go, but three have managed to make it here in Philadelphia. Whether it’s for a fresh start, a prodigal return or a proving ground, Matt Kassel, Ryan Richter and Lucky Mkosana have been a constant in the locker room.

This week, philadelphiaunion.com will convey the backstories of all three.

 

Ask him, and Matt Kassel will be quick to tell you that it’s pronounced “Kassel.” With a “K.”

“Yeah it’s with a K, not like the quarterback,” Kassel affirmed just seconds into an interview with philadelphiaunion.com. “

Like the NFL quarterback who bares the same name – except the Kansas City Chiefs star spells his with a “C,” the soccer version currently on trial with the Union is trying to separate not just his name with this chance to start fresh in Philadelphia.

For Kassel, it’s a chance to separate from all that was perceived he’d become – somewhere else.

Matt Kassel’s resume is similar to a host of American players that make it in MLS. Nationally ranked high school player…NCAA champion when he helped Maryland win the 2008 national title alongside current Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath…Academy standout with New York Red Bulls.

Invariably, that success made Kassel – groomed in the youth system of the Red Bulls since they were called the MetroStars – a hot commodity in New York. On Jan 25, 2011, the club signed Kassel as their third homegrown player.

It was supposed to be the start of what Kassel believed would transcend into a long, happy career with New York.

Except…

“The beginning of this preseason I got released and I had been scrambling around to find a team,” Kassel said. “I ended up playing in Pittsburgh with the Riverhounds [of the USL]. I had a good year there and came down here and have been training since.”

When the Red Bulls released Kassel on Feb. 17, it began a spiral of frustration and self-doubt, something the 22-year-old had never experienced in his pro career. Though he knew the business pitfalls of playing a professional sport, he never saw his release, one from the club that groomed him, to be so swift.

“When you come in as a homegrown product and you leave college early, you really expect to be there for a couple of years,” said Kassel. “I mean the whole point of the homegrown system is to develop your players and at New York, I guess they have a little bit of a different philosophy.”

But as Kassel continued, you can see that today, eight months into the future he believes it all was for the best.

“At the end of the day yeah, it’s obviously hard to take in especially being a hometown guy,” said Kassel, who hails from Bridgewater, N.J., just an hour and a half trip up I-95 to the Red Bulls’ home base in Harrison. “But at the end of the day it was probably the best thing for me. Getting out of there, the situation was actually good that I was able to get games in Pittsburgh, to get form and get better and I was able to bring all that here.

So I am just hoping that I can get on and develop here.”

The issue with being a trialist is that there is no guarantee that you will latch on to a club. Kassel has set up shop here in Philadelphia for the latter part of a month and Union boss John Hackworth has noted that he’s impressed with Kassel’s play.

But for now, it’s still a grind for Kassel, much like his name, still with aspirations of separating himself.

Difference now is that with Philly, he believes he’s already a leg up.

“Coach Hack and the coaching staff here are top class,” Kassel said.  “They talk to you; they tell you how you are doing what’s going on. Communication is big, not just in my career but for any athlete. You want the coaches to tell you what they like, what you need to work on. I wasn’t getting that at some of the other places I’ve been. I get that here.”

Contact Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com. Follow Kerith on Twitter @sprtswtr