Union goalkeeper Brian Holt has spent most of his young life proving naysayers dead wrong

How hard work, dedication paved a bright future for Brian Holt

Holt vs. Columbus preseason

Photo Credit: 
Don Montague

Brian Holt’s road to an MLS contract did not coincide with a monster announcement.

There was no introductory press conference, no jersey presentation, no hordes of media clamoring to catch a good quote.

After being announced as the third goalkeeper on the roster, Holt called his parents and explained how the culmination of a year of training and sublime patience paid off as the Union offered an MLS apprentice contract to the 25-year-old former NSCAA All-America from Creighton.

“Coming in [Union technical director/goalkeeping coach] Rob Vartughian and the coaching staff gave me a great opportunity to come out and train with the team, to develop individually and to help the other guys around me develop as well,” Holt said following a recent practice. “It was one of those things that really in essence gave me the correct training and the opportunity to work with coach Rob to develop individually and train every day.”

But to do so Holt would have to leave the comforts of his hometown of Omaha, Neb. and move to a new town, different coast with different traditions and values. Unsure of exactly where once he arrived, the Union afforded Holt a home in the team hotel on a short term basis. It was a refreshing change of pace from previous spots Holt said he rested his head on a road to a professional contract.

“I could tell you some stories that would blow your mind on some of the places I’ve stayed, but you probably don’t have enough time,” Holt joked. “But in this situation I was very lucky. The coaching staff set me up in a place in downtown Philadelphia. That worked out very well. I was able to stay there, show up each and every day and work out with the team. I actually moved out to another [team hotel] in the Glen Mills area and stayed there for a while. But it was coming to the point where I would have to find housing on my own based on contract situations. Thankfully I was given somewhat of a host family, out in the Media area.  They were great people and took me in right away. It worked out perfect for me. It was a good location, good family, good people and a spot where I can get to and from the stadium extremely easily.”

It was in this situation, living in the house of complete strangers that Holt dutifully came to train every day, and steadily became a guy who everyone respected and many looked at as more than just a practice player.

Debunking the myth

The prototypical goalkeeper: tall, lanky, big hands.

Brian Holt: short, stout, normal hands.

For much of his life, Brian Holt has been told by “experts” that he won’t fit the mold to make it to the next level as a goalkeeper. And at every level, Holt shattered those notions. At Creighton, Holt recorded perhaps the most decorated season in the history of the program during his senior year (2011), setting an NCAA record with a 0.207 goals against average complete with 17 shutouts. He was named Missouri Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the Year and was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the college player of the year.

His stints with Union developmental affiliates Reading United (2011) and Harrisburg City Islanders (2012) were notable. In 2011, Holt played in every match for Reading and in 2012 was instrumental in helping the City Islanders reach quarterfinal play in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. 

Still, his MLS future as a goalkeeper remained in question.

“Everybody is going to have their own perception of what a keeper should be. The same thing with the players, everyone likes a certain style. Not every field players is the same, not every goalkeeper is the same. Everybody plays to their own strengths. For me I never even thought of height or certain capabilities hindering me in anyway. For me at the end of the day it’s all about keeping the ball out of the back of the net and playing to my strengths – using my quickness and my ability to put myself in good spot and come up with the save. So for me, it has never really crossed my mind.”

It certainly was never a factor for Vartughian, who before coming to the Union was the goalkeeper coach at the University of Maryland, one of the NCAA’s most celebrated programs.

“Everybody immediately points to the fact that he is [five foot, seven inches],” Vartughian said. “I mean the first article that comes out about the kid is that he’s the shortest goalkeeper in league history – and that’s all fine. I think you make the comparison to [other diminutive goalkeepers like Real Salt Lake’s] Nick Rimando and [San Jose’s] Jon Busch and the success that those guys have had, the reality is that Brian has never been given an opportunity [on the professional level] because of his size. . “He’s one of the best shot stoppers that you will ever find and any guy in our locker room will tell you that. He earned his opportunity. He spent the better part of a year with us, fighting for a contract and for us where it was a situation where you need to reward a guy like that.”

But it’s not just what he does to make himself better day in and day out, but what he does to force other players to compete at their best.

I think his size obviously isn’t what it needs to be to be a goalie, but his qualities are what definitely make up for it,” said Union forward Jack McInerney. “He’s very quick, he gets off the line quickly and he’s not afraid to get in the air and make a save. He’s quality in training and really makes everyone better.”

Vartughian added:

 “If you were to ask any player on our team if we were to play a 6v6 or 7v7 game who would they want as their goalkeeper I think it’d be Brian.”

Saving up for the future

Ask him and Holt will tell you there is much more he’d like to accomplish in his career. Just being on the Union roster every day isn’t enough. There is no point to come this far and be satisfied with just being there. All the nights sleeping in hotel beds or in the beds of strangers he hopes will culminate in one day earning an MLS start and the notoriety that comes with it.

It’s just not in his nature to think that way.

I am a very competitive person. For me I want to strive to as high as I can reach. I want to make sure I’m showing up each day and proving myself individually so I am getting better and better. I want to put myself in a good spot to have a successful career. So right now it’s about showing up each day to make sure I am pushing the guys around me, making sure I am pushing Zac, making sure I am putting myself in a good spot so I’m ready to go. If my names called, I want to be ready to step in and prove myself right away.”

What Holt has already proved is that it truly isn’t fair to judge a book by its cover; that hard work and determination can get you to where you want to be in life and that any other cliché saying normally dismissed for what it is does hold a tremendous amount of validity in his case.

“For us, week in and week out it’s pretty incredible to watch some of the things he can do,” said Vartughian. “He’s earned the respect of the locker room, every player on this team loves him and he deserves it. You look at a kid that was willing to make the sacrifice to chase a contract and that all well and good, but it comes down to are you good enough and for us [as coaches] when we evaluate him alongside other guys, I don’t know how we could’ve honestly said that some other guy was better.”

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com