Thursday, February 21, 2013

For the Love of the Game: Gordon Alum Goes Pro

It started out like most great sports stories do: a kid, a ball and a dream. But for Matt Horth ’11 the journey to Major League Soccer has been a series of small steps, serious sacrifices and unwavering determination. As a member of the Gordon Men's Soccer team, the newly drafted forward for the New England Revolution cultivated the skills necessary to accomplish his dream and learned life lessons that have prepared him for the journey ahead.

Matt fell in love with soccer early on. He first strapped on cleats and took to the field at age 6 in a church recreational league. Unlike most fathers who recognize potential in their kids, Matt’s dad encouraged him to play for pure enjoyment in a stress-free environment. Soccer quickly became his stress relief and enriched his life. Around age 10, the heavy yet fascinating dream of one day becoming a professional player began to settle in. Most kids eventually abandon the dream, but Matt stuck with it. He reflects, “When I turned 11, I realized how few players make it to the big leagues. So I thought, ‘What can I do on my end to make it work? Which factors can I control?’” 

He answered that question on the field in his freshman year of high school. He began to harness the realistic, embracing the demanding work ethic and saying no to parties and late nights. Jake DeClute, a professional coach for the Cleveland City Stars who coached Matt’s club soccer team, observed Matt on the field, and recalls, “The first day of training I thought to myself, ‘The tall kid could become a really good player.’”

Matt and DeClute quickly formed a close relationship both on and off the field. “He's the kind of kid who is always asking the coach for ways to improve, always staying after to do extra work, always in the office watching film, so we ended up spending a lot of time together,” says DeClute. When DeClute got the job as head coach at Gordon College, Matt followed him.

Matt dominated the field during his time at Gordon with 37 goals and 20 assists over his four years. He was voted TCCC Rookie of the Year in 2007 and he made TCCC First Team All-Conference each of his four years.

But for the Gordon team, Matt was more than just his impressive numbers; he was a leader. DeClute chose Matt as team captain his sophomore year and he remained the captain for the next three years. “As much as the team benefited from him, he benefited from them. I think he helped them to compete more, while they helped him to have a better perspective on soccer. Plus, they pushed him,” DeClute recalls.

Matt blossomed as team leader, encouraging greatness from his teammates both on and off the field; he became a role model for both character and conditioning. He took seriously the team’s theme verse from Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” “We stressed brotherhood. This meant pushing one another hard on the field but also supporting one another off the field,” he says. And on the field Matt led by example. Former teammate Ryan Coil exclaims, “I have never seen anyone work as hard as Matt. He arrived at practice early and left late every single day. He was extremely dedicated to the game.”

When fall of his senior year came round, Matt and DeClute eagerly contacted a handful of second- and third-tier professional soccer clubs and arranged tryouts. Matt performed well but didn’t receive any call-backs until his final tryout with the Atlanta Silverbacks. He showed his true potential on the field and right after practice they signed him to a two-year deal.

During his time in Atlanta, Matt honed his skills on the field, proving himself a formidable goal-scorer. He racked up 18 goals in 49 appearances and learned what it means to condition for a long season. Horth continued to push himself mentally and physically, training five days a week building his stamina and durability. His performance on the field caught the eye of Revolution General Manager Michael Burns, who invited Matt to Boston for five days last October. After several weeks of dialogue between his agent and the Revolution scout, Matt was signed to the team after Thanksgiving. “For me,” he says, “it was so much more than just signing a contract. It was 16 years of hard work paying off. It was the culmination of a journey; the sacrifice had turned into dividends.”

As he continues to grow as a player, he never forgets those who helped him get there. Matt maintains a close relationship with Jake DeClute to this day. DeClute shares,  “As good as it was to coach Matty, it has been even better to get to know him as a person.”

Horth recently became engaged to his friend of five years (and fellow Gordon grad) Jessica Figurido ’11. Jessica has remained by his side providing much-needed support during his journey. The two plan to marry next winter, just after the soccer season ends.

His faith also helped him through the hardest times along the way. He has learned many life lessons through soccer, and reflects, “God humbled me to not use soccer for personal gain and popularity, but as a gift that I must respond to by glorifying Him. He has given me a platform, and I must decide how I will use it.”

As he lets his accomplishments settle in, he stresses the importance of taking things day by day and not looking too far into the future. “This entire journey has been a series of stepping stones across a river. It is just one stone at a time. It was this last jump, the one to the other shore, that was the most difficult.”

Blogger: Mac Gostow ’13. Mac is a communication arts major from California and a student writer in the Office of College Communications at Gordon College. With a double minor in business administration and sociology, Mac has interned for CBS News in New York City, is a founder of ScotRadio, performs with the Sweaty Tooth Madmen improv troupe, and served as a show host for KURadyo in Istanbul, Turkey.  

No comments: