In its fourth season as a club, Hartford Athletic is finding ways to keep growing the game of soccer in Connecticut. From camps and clinics, the club now has academy contracts similar to a model common in European soccer clubs.
“I just walk through the locker room, all the players are talking to me, making jokes, helping me out, telling me what things to do on the field,” said Damon Rouse, one of three players on an academy contract with Hartford this year.
He’s joined by Connecticut natives, Pearse O’Brien of West Hartford and Sebastian Pliszka of Newington. The program allows them to train and even play in games with the pro club while still maintaining their NCAA eligibility.
“I live 15 minutes away so it's a quick commute here,” said Pliszka, who is a rising senior at Loomis Chaffee. “Just getting world-class training to play with all of these top guys is just surreal."
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“I'm competing for minutes and every training session means something instead of just, you know, kicking the ball around,” said O’Brien who played one season of soccer at Conard High School before moving to Utah for a similar opportunity with Real Monarchs.
Rouse, on the other hand, drives two hours every day from Albany, New York. He just turned 17 and got a car for his birthday, so at least now he can drive himself. Miles on the car well worth it for feel on the pitch in the USL.
“My name got called to go in I was just like, ‘oh my god’ and ran on the field,” said Rouse, who has played in a few matches with Athletic. “It was just like 'Damon Rouse entering the game, Damon Rouse' and I was like. ‘oh my God, this is crazy.'”
Hartford Athletic will be back at home this Saturday to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.