"I was never considered the best goalkeeper or even a starter for some clubs I played for growing up; it made me work harder."
We recently had the amazing opportunity to chat with MLS goalkeeper John McCarthy about his amazing journey that has led him to realizing his dreams of playing for his hometown team, the Philadelphia Union. Read all about it below!
How did you get started in soccer? What made you decide to become a goalkeeper?
Soccer has been in my family. My dad is a big fan of soccer and got me involved at a young age.
The coach for my team when I was about 6-7 years old asked the team if anyone wants to give it a shot. I told my dad I want to and haven't stop playing since. But like all goalkeepers. We are strikers at heart lol.
How was your recruitment process in high school? More specifically, how did you decide which college would be best for you?
I went to Northeast Catholic high school. When I was in high school I didn't have too many division one colleges recruiting me. There we a couple division two & division three schools but I only wanted to play division one. For me, it was between Seton Hall & Lasalle; Rutgers came into the picture really late with recruitment. I ended up going to Lasalle because I thought it gave me the best opportunity to be a 4 year starter. Also my dad, aunts, uncles and some cousins went there along with my younger brother who is there now. It just felt right going there.
I'm sure you had dreams of being a professional goalkeeper when you were younger, at what point did you realize that dream could become a reality?
During college; playing pdl for ocean city and reading united during the summers; is really when I knew. There was never a specific time frame for me, but playing for those teams I knew that would put me in the best position to achieve my dream. Mainly around my junior and senior year of college the belief of being a pro was more likely than ever before. I always believed that one day I would have a chance to play professional soccer.
What was your first professional preseason like? How did you prepare for the jump up from college to professional?
My first preseason was kind of a double preseason in 2014. I went into preseason with the Seattle Sounders for a full month and broke my finger towards the end of preseason and was released from the squad. Then 3 weeks later I was in preseason with the Rochester Rhinos. They were both great experiences for seeing how soccer was after college. They weren't easy by any means because college preseasons are 1-2 weeks long. USL and MLS preseasons are one and a half months long. All I knew going in for preparation was to be in shape and as sharp as possible. I went for runs and played soccer as much as possible to prepare.
You had a successful rookie season with the Rochester Rhinos winning goalkeeper of the year, how do you think gaining that experience in the USL for a year prepared you for the MLS?
Coming out of college, I wanted to get on an MLS roster and get loaned out to a club where I would be able to play and get games. So after being released from Seattle, Rochester signed me. It seemed like it was meant to be. Rochester had a great staff and group of goalkeepers to train with day in and day out. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity the Rochester Rhinos gave me. I learned a lot and made a lot of mistakes in games at the same time. But I was only able to do those thing because I had the chance of getting in-game experience as a young professional. It shaped me into the person and goalkeeper I am today by gaining crucial experience as a younger professional goalkeeper. .
Talk a bit about your role with the Union and how you have grown since your first year with the team?
Playing for my hometown team is a dream come true. I knew that when I signed with the team I was a backup but saw a small window of opportunity backing up 2 international goalkeepers. If one was injured or went away for national team duty I was in a great spot to get into the 18 man roster and possibly play. Those things happened my first year and I got a handful of games. In my first year I played close to 15 games with the first team (MLS & Open Cup). During my first year I had a lot of ups and downs. My second season with the union was a big one. I needed to prove to the staff I deserved to be there. I was able to get a good 10-15 games with Bethlehem Steel and another run of Open Cup games. My third season I was able to get about 5 games with Bethlehem and I knew I would get a minimum of 3 games with the first team. I ended up getting about 10 games with the Union. Over the last 3 seasons I've had time as a starter and backup with the Union. Both came with positives and negatives but being able to learn from the negatives and grow to make me a better player has helped my game immensely.
#HardWorkPaysOff is a phrase you use often on social media, what special meaning does that have for you?
I am a firm believer in #HardWorkPaysOff. It has been my motto my whole life with anything I do. I was never considered the best goalkeeper or even a starter for some clubs I played for growing up; it made me work harder. Looking back from grade school, high school, club ball and college I had the opportunity to play with a lot of talented players. A lot of these guys always talked about playing professional soccer but that's all they did. They never put the extra rep in, skipped a night out with the boys, or a party, but had no problem acting like they did the extra work. My mind set is simple; there is always someone out there better than me. If I don't work hard enough I will never get where I want to be. That's why #HardWorkPaysOff is my motto!
Who have your biggest influences been both on the field and off, goalkeeper-specific or otherwise?
My biggest influence is my dad. He would do anything for me on and off the field. He made sure that my dream of playing professional soccer was going to be possible at a young age; driving me to practice, games, goalkeeper sessions. You name it, he was there. I know it always wasn't easy for him having to pay for my soccer teams and that I am forever grateful for; hopefully one day I'll be able to pay him back and then some. He's poppa Mac; no matter what, I know at the end of the day he has my back.
What goals do you have for the rest of your career? I know it's a long time down the road, but what do you envision post career?
I want to play until my body shuts down or can't handle it anymore. If I had to guess an age range I would say 38-40, hopefully. I want to be an MLS starter for many years. I want to give Europe a try with a top team in a top league if the opportunity came knocking. I would love to get a shot with the U.S. Men's National Team. And like any pro, I want to lift as many trophies as possible. Post career if I'm lucky enough to retire because I made millions during my playing career that would be amazing lol. If not then I would like to be a coach. But let's hope for the millions.
What advice do you give to up and coming goalkeepers aspiring for the professional ranks?
Hard work pays off. Literally. If you believe you can be a professional, go out and do whatever it takes to be one. Mistakes are going to happen at any and every level of a goalkeeper's career; you can be angry about it but most importantly you have to learn and grow from your mistakes. Let the haters hate. If people doubt you; good. People still doubt me today. Doubters will always exist. Most importantly enjoy the game.
I know you're a big sports fan, will you ever see a professional sports team from Philadelphia win another major championship? If so, then who?
Yes I will definitely see another championship lifted. Give the Union, Sixers, Flyers, Phillies and Eagles championships over the next 10 years. I don't know who will be first or last but trophies will be lifted in Philly. And being blue collar people that we are in Philly, the hard work will pay off.