A New York Soccer Story: FC Edmonton’s Jake Keegan

IMAGE, FC EDMONTON

By JAKE NUTTING

FCE logEven though he’s only 26, Jake Keegan thinks his path to development as a youth player is a thing of the past.

While growing up in the close-knit soccer community in his hometown of Stormville, N.Y., the current FC Edmonton forward learned the sport with a single youth club — the East Fishkill Thunder  from 7 years old through high school.

“It was one of those places, and especially in the soccer community, everybody kinda knew everybody, which was definitely a cool thing,” Keegan said. “I was lucky enough that I played on the same club my whole club career.

“It wouldn’t happen now because all the better players go to academies, that’s just the way it seems to be. When I was academy age, those academy programs had literally just started. So it wasn’t a case where you play in an academy or you don’t play Division I college. It wasn’t like that yet. I had a choice, so I decided to stay and I’m obviously happy I did that”

Keegan gained recognition from colleges as a standout at John Jay High School, where he led the school to a New York State Section I title in 2008 and recorded 79 goals and 45 assists during his career. Still, he didn’t get offers from many college powerhouses. The pitch from Binghamton University Coach Paul Marco, though, was enough to make Keegan commit the summer before his senior year.

“I just loved the coach, who’s still there,” he said. “I like that it was far enough away from home, but not too far away, kinda that middle distance. The other good thing is there was no football team. My first experience going to watch Binghamton, you could see there a good crowd and there was a buzz around the team. You could tell, in the fall at least, it was the big sport on campus and I really liked that.”

As a youngster who never knew a world without Major League Soccer, Keegan had an eye on making it to the professional ranks. While England’s Premier League seemed like a fantasy to him in Stormville, breaking into MLS with a team close to home felt closer to reality. That goal never seemed within reach until the summer of 2011, when he excelled with the Westchester Flames and took the Premier Development League’s Rookie of the Year award.

“When you’re 8 or 10 years old you think you want to be a pro, but you don’t know what that means,” he said. “I was that kid. It wasn’t necessarily attainable or a tangible goal. It was a pipe dream. Between my sophomore and junior years in college, when I was with the Flames, that was with all the best college guys around the country and it was also with some former pros. When I did well there I was like, ‘wait a minute, that guy used to play for the Red Bulls.’ That was the first experience where I thought this was an attainable thing.”

Keegan flourished at Binghamton and while picking up games in the off-season with the Flames and the Jersey Express in the PDL. He established Binghamton’s Division I scoring record with 28 goals during his four years, setting the stage for him to be the first Bearcat drafted by an MLS team when the Philadelphia Union selected him.

An impressive performance in a friendly with the Express against Maccabi Haifa FC‘s youth team, however, led to a tempting, yet conflicting, trial offer with the Israeli club’s first team. Keegan couldn’t do both, so he put MLS on hold to test himself at one of Israel’s best teams.

“I wasn’t necessarily even expecting to be drafted,” Keegan said. “I figured I was going to have to go my own way and find a way to play. I had to make a decision. Go on trial, which is what it was really, with the Union or go on trial with Maccabi Haifa. I decided to go with Maccabi Haifa and it was a great experience even though I didn’t get signed in the end. I got to train with the first team pretty much the whole time and it was an eye-opener for sure. No disrespect, but going from college to Maccabi Haifa is a much bigger leap then going from college to an MLS preseason. It was a big jump, at the time probably too big a jump to be honest.”

From Israel, Keegan trained in Austria, came back to the U.S. for a stint with the Jersey Express and then made the full-time move abroad to Germany, where he latched on to FCA Darmstadt in the lower leagues. After scoring 10 goals in 10 appearances for Darmstadt, he moved Ireland thanks a friend’s connection.

Galway had experienced turmoil before Keegan’s arrival. His first season, in 2014, was the city’s first with a functioning team since the longtime team Galway United had dissolved in bankruptcy after falling out the top division several years before. The community’s excitement to see their team back in action was felt by Keegan.

“I loved playing there, the coach was excellent.” he said. “The people in Galway really took to me, they really supported me. I think in Ireland they like the outsiders more. In Ireland, the leagues are like 90 percent Irish. It’s kinda the same in Austria and Germany, but if you’re an outsider there, you have to work your way in. In Ireland they were welcoming straight away. They took to me straight away.”

Keegan at Galway United

Keegan at Galway United

Keegan rewarded the locals with 33 goals across all competitions to help the team gain promotion to the top league in his first year and finish as runners up in the League of Ireland Cup the next year.

It wasn’t just Keegan who fell for Ireland. After visiting his son numerous times, Keegan’s father Kevin is now attempting to reconnect with his Irish roots and obtain Irish citizenship, something Keegan jokes would have been helpful when he was worried about getting visas to play in Europe.

Leaving Galway after falling in love with the fans and his life there was a tough decision, but Keegan thought after two solid seasons it was time to get back to his MLS ambitions.

“I don’t have one bad thing to say about Ireland. I loved it,” he said. “When I left, it was a case where I decided I wanted to break into MLS. It wasn’t a case of me wanting to leave Ireland. I knew playing in Ireland, the better players go play in England or Scotland. I would have a very difficult time doing that, so it was more about finding something else to try and advance my career forward in Edmonton.”

Now in his second season in Canada with the Eddies, Keegan has his energy focused on finally achieving his goal of making it to MLS.

“Playing in MLS was one of the first goals in my mind and I think that’s because growing up MLS players were what you looked up to,” he said. “The Premier League came in to the picture when I was like 14, but that felt so far off. MLS felt like a real goal.”