Dribble. Pass. Run into space. Touch the ball down. Shoot. Score.
Soccer always came easy to Chris Albright. Maybe it was because his dad and all of his uncles played soccer. Whatever the reason, placing the ball in the back of the net was like breathing to him.
Growing up in the Juniata Park area in Philadelphia, Albright always had a soccer ball with him. When he was younger, his dad would go take him to the local park and let him kick the ball around with some of the other kids in the neighborhood.
“It was one of those fields where the fathers would walk and get the glass off so us little guys could run around,” said Albright. “My uncle and my older cousins lived right around the corner from the park so a lot of my earliest soccer memories are with them.”
With soccer being in his DNA, Albright found that when he started to play in competitive games, he was faster than everybody. Being faster than everybody helped him stand out on his teams because he was able to run behind the defense and slot the ball into the back of the net. He soon realized, like a lot of professional soccer players do, that he was far and away the best player on all the teams he played for.
However, that didn’t stop him from working hard and practicing by himself.
“I practiced a ton with just me, the ball and the wall across the street in the schoolyard,” Albright said. “Hard work was something that my parents instilled in me and never something that had to be pulled out of me.”
As Albright got better and better, he was careful never to forget where he came from. Even when he moved to New Jersey when he was 12, he continued to go to school in Philadelphia. Albright eventually attended the William Penn Charter School in North Philadelphia and was a star player for the team.
While he was the best player on his team, it never occurred to him that he could be one of the few who were able to make a career out of soccer. It wasn’t until he played in the Nike Cup on Memorial Day Weekend as a teenager, against some of the top club teams in the country at the time, that he realized playing in college, and possibly professionally, was an option.
“I wound up scoring some goals and we ended up winning. I think that was the tournament that got me identified to go in with the U.S. Men’s National Team,” Albright said. “That was the moment when I realized I might be able to play in college, with the national team and maybe more.”
As it turns out, the decision of where to go to play in college was one of the toughest decisions Albright ever had to make. It came down to playing for Sigi Schmid at UCLA, who was his U-18 national team coach, or going to the University of Virginia, the soccer powerhouse on the East Coast. Albright ended up choosing to go to Virginia and played for George Gelnovatch for two years before going pro.
It was around that time in 1999 that Albright started to get called up to the national team at the senior level, playing with stars like Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel. This was also his first exposure to the defensive side of the game, as head coach Bruce Arena subbed him on at right-back as opposed to his preferred forward position.
This change foreshadowed a move later on in his career, when he changed to a defender full-time as a member of the LA Galaxy. The switch from forward helped to revitalize Albright’s professional career after his slow start as a forward for D.C. United. As a defender for the Galaxy, Albright helped to fortify the backline that won two MLS Cup titles and a US Open Cup trophy, while also being selected as an MLS All-Star in 2005.
The highlight of his career though was his selection to the United States’ 2006 FIFA World Cup squad. Albright made it onto the team as a last minute alternate after Frankie Hejduk tore his ACL in training.
“It was an incredible event in Germany, which is an awesome country. My entire family was there so that was cool,” said Albright. “To be in the environment of the World Cup and even be on the sidelines warming up, it was an incredible experience.”
After the World Cup, Albright stayed with the LA Galaxy until 2008, when he was traded to the New England Revolution, where he played the 2008 and 2009 seasons before being sent to the New York Red Bulls. After his time with the Red Bulls ended in 2011, Albright returned home to Philadelphia to play in front of his hometown fans.
“It was always a dream to play in my city, in front of my family,” Albright said. “Unfortunately it didn’t happen until the end of my career when my best days were behind me. The Union weren’t around until 2010 but after the Red Bulls, the timing kind of worked out to where we were able to set it up.”
Albright may not have been at his best while with the Union but being able to play in Philadelphia was worth it. For him, walking out into PPL Park was just like walking into the local park as a kid, back when he was just some kid from Philadelphia, kicking a ball up against a wall.
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This story is part of AAA’s “Start Your Journey” campaign, an effort – in partnership with the Union – to help celebrate families’ journeys in support of their young athletes…the long road trips, all-weekend tournaments, and the special bonds that are formed from the extensive time on the road. Each month, the Philadelphia Union and AAA will select an individual within its soccer network to develop a feature story on their path to success in association with the game of soccer. Additionally, fans are encouraged to share their own stories via social media using #ShareYourJourney.