The Chicago Fire Soccer Club will begin a new era in goalkeeping Saturday when second-year keeper Andrew Dykstra receives his first start between the sticks against the New York Red Bulls. The Honolulu-born keeper found himself thrust into the starting role Monday after the Fire waived veteran Jon Busch.
“I was surprised Monday and shocked on Tuesday,” said Dykstra after Thursday’s training session. “Jon was a mentor for me – he taught me a lot and I owe him for the help. I’ve taken the whole matter in stride, recognizing that it’s part of the job and something you have to live with and move on.”
Born to a military family in Honolulu, HI, Dykstra is a self-described “late bloomer” when it comes to the game of soccer, beginning as a recreational player in local leagues wherever his family ended up: Hawaii, California and Japan.
“It was when we got to Virginia that someone told me I was good enough to play on a travel team. I played as a forward originally but when I got to high school I switched to goalkeeping and never really looked back.”
Dykstra split his scholastic years playing both soccer and football, lining up at wide receiver for Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, VA. Excelling in both sports, he had scholarship offers on the table, including one to Virginia Tech to play on the Hokies football team.
“Coaches from both sides would tell me I was going to progress at their sport once I gave up the other. I finally decided on soccer and went to Virginia Commonwealth and here I am playing professionally.”
With a long tour planned for Fire preseason, Dykstra’s experience was up-and-down, as he fell victim to a shoulder injury soon after arriving in Phoenix on the first leg of the club’s tour. He eventually returned to Chicago for rehab while the team continued on to Guadalajara, Mexico.
“The injury was tough because I wanted to impress in preseason. I kept playing until I could barely lift my shoulder anymore, sat out a few days, then tried to come back early, but Carlos [de los Cobos] and the medical staff wouldn’t let me. It was a good decision in the long run. I came back here to recover and rejoined the team 10 days later in Mississippi.”
Rested and refreshed, Dykstra put his best foot forward upon his return, doing enough for de los Cobos hand him a preseason start against Houston. The VCU alum did well to impress his new boss.
“It was kind of trial by fire at that point,” said Dykstra. “I’d missed a bit of preseason and I’d only played in one match about a month before [February 15 against the Vancouver Whitecaps], but I did well in training and Carlos gave me the start. I felt I did well in the game, I came up with some big saves and the feedback from the coaching staff was positive.”
The performance along with his top form in training since the match, inspired the former El Salvador boss to name Dykstra the starter after the team waived Jon Busch on Monday. At Wednesday’s Season Kickoff Luncheon, the manager explained the move and drove home the confidence that he has in Dykstra starting the season during the event’s “Fire Side Chat”.
“It meant a lot for Carlos to sit up there and tell the fans in attendance that he believed in me. Without that confidence a keeper is maybe afraid to play and always looking over their shoulder. He gave me a Mexican saying this week, ‘Don’t trip over the same stone twice’, meaning if you make a mistake learn from it and move on. His faith has given me a lot of confidence going into Saturday’s match.”
Despite receiving an onslaught of media attention over the past few days, the 24-year-old keeper has continued his mental prep work for the team’s 2010 opener at Red Bull Arena, putting into practice a mantra he learned from his predecessor.
“I’ve been in the spotlight a bit and I’ve talked to a lot more media than normal over the past few days, which is something to be expected. Jon would say that he approached every training session with the mentality being, ‘Make today perfect’ – that’s something I’ve always tried to do but have taken to heart much more recently. I come away from this week prepared for this weekend.”
Dykstra won’t yet escape the spotlight. Saturday night’s match will be televised nationally on ESPN, as the Fire help the New York Red Bulls open their brand-new, self-named Arena in Harrison, NJ.