By Danny Martin – NewsMiner.com
FAIRBANKS—Liuvu Bird’s eyes are always open to opportunities in professional soccer.
The former West Valley Wolfpack goalkeeper has yearned to earn a paycheck for playing soccer, particularly since his collegiate career recently ended.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play at that level,” Bird, a 2008 West Valley High School graduate, said last week at the News-Miner. “Unfortunately, there are millions of other kids in the world who have the same exact dream as I do. So it’s not quite as easy as that.”
Bird, though, had no second thoughts about being in Casa Grande, Ariz., on Nov. 29-Dec. 2 to participate in a tryout camp for Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer, the highest professional level in the United States.
The 21-year-old, who was a senior keeper this past season for Seattle Pacific University, one of the storied men’s programs in NCAA Division II, applied for the camp after seeing it posted on Real Salt Lake’s website.
About 1 1/2 hours after he applied , Bird received an e-mail from a Real Salt Lake team official.
“He said book your (airline) ticket, come down here and we’ll take a look at you,” Bird said. “It was one of those things where I wanted to give it a shot and see what happens.”
Bird had no regrets after he paid the camp’s $375 registration fee and spent $200 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket from Seattle to Phoenix.
“I figure it’s worth a shot while I’m still young enough to do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the guy sitting in a sports bar watching a game on TV and thinking, ‘Well, if I had tried, maybe that would have been me.’
“I always told myself I was going to give it a shot,” he said. “At the end of the day, if I give it my best shot, then I really can’t ask any more of myself.”
Bird had everything to gain and nothing to lose at Real Salt Lake’s Grande Sports Academy after playing in only two games in as many seasons for Seattle Pacific after he had been a starter in 2008 and 2009 for Highline Community College in nearby Des Moines, Wash.
He had played soccer in Fairbanks since he was 5 years old and he was never was cut or didn’t get playing time.
“Usually, I was the only goalkeeper on the team and good or bad, they had to play me,” Bird reflected.
Seattle Pacific was different for the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder.
“I played both years when I was at Highline and then I came to SPU, knowing it was a really good program and obviously, they’re going to have good players,” Bird said. “It’s a Division II school, it won five national championships and I knew it was going to be tough to break into the lineup.”
Bird accepted the reality that he wasn’t going to be the Falcons No. 1 goalkeeper but he made the best of his two seasons with the program, ending his career with two games played, a 0-0-0 record and one goal allowed.
“I took on the role of more of a behind the scenes kind of guy,” the communication major said. “I worked as hard as I could in practice and I just supported the guys in anyway that I could.”
Particularly starting keeper Zach Johnson, a 6-foot-3 junior.
“We’d go into practice and I’d say, ‘How are you feeling today? Do you need me to take more shots?’ “ Bird said. When Johnson needed a break during practice, Bird stepped between the posts.
“It would help me a lot because I would get the extra repetitions and I would be as sharp as I could be, even though I wasn’t playing,” he said.
Bird was sharp at Real Salt Lake’s tryout camp, where he was among seven goalkeepers and about 35 total participants.
Many of the drills at the Grande Sports Academy were no different than what he had experienced as a youth player in Fairbanks. They were just more intense.
“The difference was the level they expected to go about doing them,” Bird said.
For example, instead of bobbling the ball to secure a save, he had to catch the shot cleanly.
“And your footwork has to be perfect every time and the service (clearing kick) is always sharp,” said Bird. “There wasn’t much of a break mentally or physically in any of that.”
He met with Real Salt Lake goalkeeping coach Jeff Cassar at the end of the camp and was told what he expected to hear.
“He told me I’m a good goalkeeper but I’m not quite MLS ready yet,” Bird said. “He just gave me some advice about what I should do next, where I should go to try to play and take that to maybe eventually get to the next level.”
Since that tryout in Arizona, Bird has been working with an indoor soccer team in Bremerton, Wash., across Puget Sound from Seattle, and he’s hoping to try out next summer with the Kitsap Pumas, a member of the United Soccer League, which is a step below the MLS.
Brian Meredith, a former Kitsap keeper, was proof to Bird that there’s hope as Meredith signed a contract in September with the Seattle Sounders of the MLS.
Soccer is in Bird’s blood, too, as his mother, Corina, had an uncle in Romania who played professionally.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been kicking a ball around.”
“I’ve been trying to improve as a player and I keep working hard,” he continued. “The way I look at it is if I keep improving every year, I’m still on track and there’s no reason to give it up.”
CAMPUS TRAILS: Post University junior forward Michael Stepovich, a Monroe Catholic graduate, scored a season-high 17 points and collected six rebounds Monday in a 79-78 victory over the University of Bridgeport (Conn.) in a men’s basketball game in Waterbury, Conn. Post senior guard Josh Lopez, a Service grad, contributed 12 points, five assists and three steals. … Freshman guard and West Valley alumnae Jasmine Yarde grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, scored eight points and dispensed three assists for the Peninsula College (Wash.) women in Saturday’s 76-75 loss to Southwestern Oregon Community College in the Clackamas Crossover Tournament in Oregon City, Ore. Peninsula’s top two scorers were Alaskans — freshman center and Juneau-Douglas graduate Taylor Larson with 20 points and freshman guard and Skagway alum Jesse Ellis with 14 points and six rebounds.
•Sophomore and West Valley grad Drew Vandermeer anchored the Colorado Mesa men’s 200-yard relay to a fourth-place finish of 1 minute, 24.16 seconds in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Winter Invitational swimming and diving meet on Thursday through Saturday. Colorado Mesa freshman and fellow West Valley grad Savannah Craft placed 12th in the women’s 1-meter diving with a 193.20 total and finished 15th from the 3-meter board (190.85).
PRO NOTES: Forward and Juneau-Douglas grad Carlos Boozer led the Chicago Bulls with 24 points Tuesday in a 93-85 win over the Indiana Pacers in an NBA preseason game in Indianapolis. … Cornerback and Bartlett grad Zackary Bowman had two tackles for the Chicago Bears in a 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s NFL game in Chicago.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at email@example.com or 459-7586.