Wes Knight – NASL Pro

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Wes Knight played for FC Edmonton in the NASL (North American Soccer League) – the second tier in the American Soccer Pyramid. He played club soccer in Greenville, South Carolina was recruited to the College of Charleston where he was voted first team All-Southern Conference for his senior year. He played for USL Premier Development League team Bradenton Academics and was invited to the MLS Combine. He was signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps and played over 70 games for them before joining San Antonio Scorpions in the NASL. In 2013 he signed for FC Edmonton but was released from his contract when he tore his ACL.

I heard that you recently tore your ACL? How did you do it and how has the rehab process been?

I tore my ACL in a tackle. It wasn’t the nastiest tackle, it didn’t look weird. I didn’t know that I had torn my ACL at the time but it was one of those things where you step the wrong way and the rest is history. The recovery has been an interesting process: when the doctors went in they found a site where they needed to perform a microfracture technique, where they have to heal up a place where there is bone on bone. So with two injuries in one it has taken longer to heal than a regular ACL tear, but I have been working at a fantastic facility here in Vancouver for a year now. I turned down a contract with San Antonio in July as I wasn’t fit and ready and I want to give myself another chance to get back into the MLS at the beginning of the year. So it’s been a learning process and a challenging time but I have been working hard to get through it.

How much support do you get from your club when injured?

Well unfortunately for me my contract was not picked up at the end of the season so it was kind of a mutual agreement with Edmonton. The rehabilitation process in Vancouver was far superior to what was available there so I made the decision to stay instead of returning to Edmonton. They agreed to void the contract and to pay for the majority of my rehab but that left me without a club for a season. I do get the Free Agency title which allows me to join any team when I am ready.

What goals have you set for your return to play and the next few years?

First and foremost what I wanted to discover through this process was how to have a deep understanding of my body and the way that I move. Going forward I can learn how to protect myself from another injury. I watch and understand where my weaknesses are as a mover and when I identify them I strengthen and condition myself to deal with that. I believe that I will be more powerful and more explosive than I was in the past, which is really exciting. So my first goal was to add some longevity to my career by protecting myself, but my second goal was to appreciate the game. In the past I may have taken it for granted but being away from it for a year you really understand how lucky you are and how much work goes into being a professional athlete.

Do you worry about tearing it again when you get back?

I think like anything else you are able to break those handicaps through constant repetition and proving to yourself that you can tackle again. Through constant use you will confirm that you are not going to break again and you get your mindset into that of a warrior rather than a timid athlete. I will push myself beyond the fear where others have made the choice not to. It really depends upon the mind of the individual.

Talk us through your process for getting to the College of Charleston. Did you get recruited? Did you have other offers?

I was a bit of a late bloomer. I was a multisport athlete and I never really focused my attention on soccer or football as I call it until I was in the eleventh grade in high school. Once I made that decision it was later in the recruiting process so I was looked at by smaller universities in South Carolina and was really overlooked by the larger ones. When the College of Charleston came in it was already late in their season and they didn’t have any scholarship funding left. I was a walk on for the program when I decided that if I wanted to take this to the professional level I needed to be doing this year around. I started playing in the PDL down in Bradenton in Florida – coached by Tom Durkin who really changed my career. He took me from an average footballer with great athletic ability to athletic footballer. That was really the turning point for me. I had two and a half seasons at Charleston and got selected for the MLS combine.

How was your experience of the MLS Combine? What did you get from being there?

I was lucky to get invited to be there – only the second player ever from my school. Unfortunately I didn’t get selected. It was the one year where they didn’t have a supplemental draft – they just had the Super Draft. Fortunately I got picked up by Vancouver [Whitecaps] and played three seasons there. For a kid from a small town playing in and amongst some of the players at the combine was excellent for me. I really enjoyed the process and the chance to be around those players and coaches – people who have had long MLS careers since. I think now the process is much more professional, but back then it was a great opportunity to showcase yourself.

How did the level compare to what you had experienced at club and high school? How different was the training and game workload?

When I was in club it was three days per week, it was at night with school during the day. High school didn’t have demanding workload, but getting to college you are reliant on yourself to create your own schedule and hold yourself accountable for it. If I could give any advice to players who are leaving the next and going to college I would advise them to get on to a regimented schedule that works for them. I have found that when I get on to a routine that I can control I seem to do better. You can fit in your academic and athletic lives in that routine.

Were you able to keep up with your academic and social lives while playing? Do you think you missed out on anything by playing soccer in college?

The College of Charleston is an unbelievable party colleges – one of the top ten nationally! I went there with some buddies that I grew up with and they joined fraternities and were always out having a good time. Then there was me having to get up at 7:00 the next morning for indoor training or to go to a tournament. I wouldn’t say that I missed out, but I sacrificed a lot of social outings for the grander vision that I had in my mind was putting a jersey on for that team. You have to make a decision if you are a college player with aspirations of becoming an elite level athlete you must follow that lifestyle.

You’ve played for several NASL teams (Vancouver, San Antonio and Edmonton). How does the playing level there compare to Division 1 college?

There are jumps to every level. I think that the jump from elite college level (ACC, PAC Ten schools) to NASL is a bigger jump than the jump from the NASL to the MLS. You are going to get pressured a lot quicker than you are in college; players are more technically efficient – the ball is in and out in no more than two touches; and also players are more positionally aware of where you fit in with the club and the team. If you’re not technically sound players will make you pay. I actually think that the MLS has less pressure defensively than the NASL though because defenders in the MLS are weary of being beaten because of the quality of the players. So you don’t see them flying at you with reckless abandon like sometimes you do in the NASL. There guys can go all in because their opponents don’t always have the ability to beat them one on one in the dribble. In the MLS it is far tougher to tackle and come away with the ball against that quality of player.

Can you walk us through a typical NASL week during the regular season?

We have a game on Saturday. Sunday would be the day off, but you would be expected to get into the facility for 45-60 minutes for recovery. That might be getting into the pool for an active hydrotherapy session, a light spin on the bike or some light myofacial rolling out. Monday would be a light session with some possession-orientated games, maybe a little bit of finishing. Tuesday would then be the hard day, looking at 45 minutes of technique then some defensive work, attacking waves and so on. You would do 90-120 minutes that day. Wednesday would be another tough day but a little bit less. We would do a 75-90 minute session with lower quantity but high quality. Thursday would be another tough day, looking at tactics for the game you are playing at the weekend. Friday would be a light session, similar to the recovery sessions with some tactical awareness looking at set pieces and going over game film. Then Saturday is the game day so you do it all over again.

What do you do in the off season?

Five days each week I am doing something. I try to make it three days on the field and two and a half off it. I will have six days in the gym but I have a good mix to stay technically sharp and maintain my fitness. The offseason is a good time to identify areas of weakness – whether it is cardiovascularly getting more fit or looking to become more explosive, or getting better technically receiving on the left foot or whatever.

Do players get paid enough to just be on the team or do they have other jobs outside of soccer?

Players in the MLS have twelve month salaries. Players in the NASL have eight to ten month contracts. When I was in the MLS it was easy getting paid all year. In the NASL most guys do not have jobs within the season. In the off season if they haven’t budgeted well they might pick up jobs, but for me I tried to budget through the season so I had money to pay for a physio or personal trainer if I needed that in the off season. As I have gotten older I have realized that I need more so have started coaching. It is a good segway for me into what I might do next to stay involved in the game.

What do you think you will do after playing the game? Have you been planning for it?

I haven’t really identified exactly where I would like to go with coaching, I am just making sure I have all of my licenses done for whenever this playing career ends. It could be at the university level, or starting my own academy. I would like to put my own personal brand upon the training process. I’m not sure the professional [coaching]route is the way I would like to go, but I want to make sure that the licenses I have allow me to do that.

How much soccer do you watch in your free time? Did you watch growing up and if so who?

It wasn’t really available growing up. We didn’t have the internet and live streaming that people have now. As I got older I have gotten into it – during the Champions League games yesterday my professional day stops until the games are over. I follow Barcelona. I jumped on that bandwagon when Pep [Guardiola] added his influence there. I love the way they play the game and how the Spanish in general interpret the game with such an impetus on technique and scrambling to win the ball back within six seconds. I like Arsenal in England too for similar reasons.

Do you have experience of playing or coaching at the professional level? Comment below. 

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