CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – When former Grande Sports Academy midfielder Jordan Allen signed with Real Salt Lake on December 31st, 2013, he capped off a banner calendar year at the GSA home of the RSL-AZ Academy, becoming the seventh player with ties to the GSA to sign professionally in 2013 joining former teammates: Carlos Salcedo, Eriq Zavaleta, Ben Spencer, Maikon Orellana, Kainoa Bailey and Benji Lopez among the professional ranks.
Allen was a member at the GSA from August 2011-December 2012, and at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season he was named the U-15/16 USSDA Academy Player of the Year. He then joined the University of Virginia Men’s Soccer program in August 2013 and guided the Cavaliers to a 2013 College Cup semifinal appearance.
With the 2014 Major League Soccer season fast approaching, Allen has been hard at work during the Claret-and-Cobalt’s preseason and took a few minutes from his time to talk to the GSA about signing professionally, how is was playing at Virginia and how the GSA prepared him for the next level.
Grande: While you were an Academy player, you joined RSL for a portion of their preseason. This time around you are a professional. Is it any different?
Allen: “I wouldn’t say it is different because playing is still the same on the field, but what feels different is that I now have a little more pressure on myself to perform. And that is pressure I put on myself. The coaches brought me in with confidence and I’m just trying to repay them for the faith and hopefully I can keep doing that for the next few years here.”
G: What factors went into your decision to leave Virginia after one semester?
A: “Going in and during my time at Virginia I was speaking with RSL and it was always my plan to go there and hopefully make the jump to a professional environment. What made the decision easy was the coaching staff at RSL. They went through the period where there really wasn’t that much certainty on who the coaching staff was going to be, but as soon as I found out that Jeff (Cassar) took over as head coach I was over the moon. I know him well, he knows me well and it made the decision a little easier.”
G: Jeff seems to have a great relationship with the Academy players.
A: “Yeah, he was always in charge of the Reserve games last year. Anytime an academy player came up he was the guy the Academy players were talking to. A lot of guys have a good relationship with him and it is because he makes an effort to reach out to the academy players, which is important.”
G: How was your freshman year at Virginia? What did you learn, what did you take from it and how was the college cup?
A: “I had the idea that I was going to come to RSL after the first semester, but after going to Virginia for that semester I enjoyed it. The coaching staff, the players, the college life and Virginia was great. We made that run to the college cup and once you do that and you don’t walk away with a national championship you have that in the back of your mind of ‘I would love another shot at it’. That was difficult to walk away from, but overall it was a great experience and I learned a lot from it so I’m looking to take what I learned and apply it here.”
G: When you signed professionally, besides your parents, who was the first person you called?
A: “My best friend Josh. We always talk about what we want to do when we get older. We have always worked together at accomplishing what we want to do and being able to tell my best friend I made that step to the professional environment meant a lot to me.”
G: While you were here at the Academy you played RB at various times. You have been playing there during RSL’s preseason. Is it still a learning process for you?
A: “I started playing RB with the U-18 MNT and then every once in a while when I was here at the Academy they would put me at RB in preparation for a camp I was going to. Since I left the U-18s and moved up to the U-20s, I really haven’t played a lot of RB and I’m still learning the position. I’m not even sure that is exactly where I’m going to play for the rest of my time here. I can play a bunch of different positions and the coaches know that and we’re still trying to figure out where I can play at my best. We’ll see if that’s a position I end up at. If I do then that’s great and I’m going to work at becoming the best RB I can. If it’s somewhere else on the field I’m going to work hard at being a good player wherever they put me.”
G: The RSL defense has some veteran leadership. Has anyone helped you along the way?
A: “Two guys that I talk to a lot about positional type stuff are Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert. They have been here for a while, know the system well and know what the back line shape is supposed to look like. I always try to pick their brains whenever I can just to get a little perspective and learn a little from them.
G: For the people who do not know you, how would you describe yourself as a player on the field?
A: “I wouldn’t describe myself as a typical RB; I’m more of an attack minded player. I like 1v1s, getting in behind and going at people.
G: What are you most looking forward to when the season starts?
A: “I’m just looking forward to being in the professional environment and playing every single day. I would get to go down to Salt Lake for a couple of weeks at a time and whenever the weeks were over and I was heading back home I was always a little disappointed that it was over with. So now that I’m in that environment every single day I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”
G: How did playing at the Grande Sports Academy help you as a player?
A: “I think coming to the Grande Sports Academy after Residency in Bradenton (Florida) was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I improved technically, physically and got stronger. Academy coach Freddy (Juarez), I think does a good job with the players out here. Probably one of the best coaches and one of the most influential coaches I have ever had. Even when I would go home I would always speak highly of this place. I just let people know that if they are looking for good place to come then this is the best place in the U.S.”
G: A few players that are on RSL’s roster played here at the Academy. What is that like being able to now play at the professional level with them?
A: “I played with Carlos Salcedo my first year here and he went pro last year. Coming back to the Academy and seeing him in a professional environment increased my desire to be with him and now that I am it’s a good feeling knowing that I followed the same steps as he did. Now we’re both at the same level trying to accomplish the same things. It’s great.”
G: What are your goals for 2014?
A: “I would say my first one and what I’m focusing most on is become part of the 18. I came in with confidence in myself and the coaches gave me confidence that I can compete for a spot. And once I can compete for a spot in the 18 I can further my goals and really decide what I want and think I can do. But for me the first thing is being a part of the 18 and being there consistently.”
G: Good luck this season!