Until January 8, Brandon Vincent likely had every intention of heading to Baltimore to hear his name called live at the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
Plans changed when the impressive Stanford product, already in Florida to participate in the MLS Combine, was added to the U.S. Men’s National Team January training camp roster by Jurgen Klinsmann. As a result, he instead tuned into Thursday's online broadcast from U.S. training facilities in California as Commissioner Don Garber announced his selection by the Chicago Fire:
Though speechless in the moment, Vincent later managed to put into words his thoughts as he embarks on his professional career.
“It’s a huge honor for me, very excited to get going,” he said via teleconference. “Being part of an organization that values honor and tradition, I’m excited to be part of that and have that opportunity. (I’m) looking forward to getting to know the fans in Section 8, making them proud and being part of the city.”
Vincent remained in top playing form throughout his senior season in Palo Alto, which culminated with eighth-seeded Stanford’s dominant 4-0 win over No. 2 Clemson in the 2015 NCAA College Cup on Dec. 13. After a brief respite, the SoCal native (Valencia) headed to South Florida to showcase his skills in the MLS Combine, only to make a quick return to the West Coast following his surprise call-up to national team training.
The camp includes several representatives from the U-23 side facing an upcoming playoff with Colombia for the right to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Vincent, however, was not previously a part of the U-23's qualifying campaign.
“Being in camp and surrounded by some of the best players in the country and around the world, being able to compete with them is awesome for me,” Vincent said of his national team experience thus far. “Heading into the Fire, I’m looking to have the same attitude where I come in and compete for a spot. I’m not expecting anything, just the opportunity to work for a spot.”
Of course, two of those world-class players against whom Vincent is cutting his teeth in training camp are Fire midfielder Matt Polster -- part of that U-23 contingent -- and goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who were the first to welcome Vincent to the Fire family in person:
“It hasn’t been too in-depth yet, it’s just been all congratulations, it’s sort of been a whirlwind,” Vincent said of debriefing with his new club teammates just hours after his selection. “I’m sure I’ll get to know them more as the camp goes on and we’ll be able to discuss more.”
After beginning his college career as a centerback to expedite his opportunity for playing time, Vincent transitioned to his natural left back position ahead of his junior campaign, during which he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year while also impressing in the attack with a team-best six goals.
“Transitioning back to where I was used to playing was cool because I had the experience of a centerback now under my belt, positioning on the field and views and stuff like that,” said Vincent, who studied economics in the classroom. “So I could work that into my game at the same time I was getting forward and working to get in the attack.”
Though only able to play in the MLS Combine's opening day of matches, he fortuitously found time to meet with the new Chicago Fire technical staff. His game, his maturity and his winning mentality caught the attention of GM Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic.
"Brandon is clearly an uncommon individual," Rodriguez said. "He's very intelligent, very thoughtful and he loves soccer. This is what he's prepared himself to do for many years. I believe there was a real strong mutual attraction right away, and I believe he's going to be a steadying influence in the locker room, even as a rookie."
“They had the mindset that they want to completely change the way the organization worked and instill a winning culture,” Vincent said of the Fire leadership. “I was a part of that at Stanford and I want to do the same thing here.”