Learning to be independent...the important lessons so far for Real Salt Lake academy goalkeeper Luca
We recently got the opportunity to discuss the developmental path for one of the rising stars of the youth soccer scene in the United States. His path has taken him around the world with the development academy, youth national teams, and more. Check out everything Real Sale Lake academy goalkeeper Lucas Hatsios had to say about his past, his present, and his exciting future!
1. How long have you been playing goalkeeper? What or who got you started playing soccer and more specifically the position of goalkeeper?
My parents got me interested in soccer at an early age. I started playing soccer when I was 4 years old for the YMCA team. My twin sisters were 6 years old and I was put on the same team as them. They were not happy. After a few years playing rec soccer as a field player, I was asked to join the local club team. When I was 8 years old, our team had a tournament in Myrtle Beach. Our goalkeeper quit after the first match, got in the car with his parents and drove home. We still had 2 games left. Our coach put each player in goal and blasted a few balls at us. Unfortunately, I made the most saves and was put in goal for the rest of the tournament. We won the next 2 matches. After that ,I made a deal with the coach to play 1/2 of each game in goal and the other 1/2 on the field. I wasn’t thrilled about being goalkeeper; I hated getting scored on, still do. Slowly, the coach stopped honoring the deal and forced me to play in goal full time. When I was 11, I didn’t get selected for the club team. I was upset about not making the team, but I decided to try basketball. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the basketball team either. During this time, I was growing like crazy and added 9 inches of height during the year. I was lucky enough to be asked to train and play with the older club team in the late spring season because their goalkeeper was occupied by baseball. The next season, I made the local club team as full time goalkeeper. I was 12 years old and have only played keeper since then.
2. Did you play any other sports while you were growing up? Do you think that helped you develop faster as a goalkeeper?
Growing up I played many different sports, attempting to find which one I loved the most. I tried tennis and basketball. I was big into skiing and mountain biking. If it were not for these sports, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Standing at the top of a double black diamond run at the peak of a 13,000 foot mountain and looking down was terrifying. After successful decent to the bottom of the mountain, I developed confidence and bravery. It made me feel like I could do anything in the world. During the summers I was downhill mountain bike racing at Beech Mountain. During training and racing, I had numerous bad crashes. Recovering from the crashes and getting back on the bike made me physically tougher. Being a goalkeeper definitely requires a lot of physical and mental toughness. Bringing these attributes onto the field and not having to train them felt like I had a ‘head start’.
3. What was the step up like once you began playing in the Development Academy?
When I was 13 years old, I asked my parents to find me a goalkeeper coach. Up until then I mostly learned goalkeeping by watching Youtube videos. I had no formal training. They took me to meet Scott Schweitzer, director of goalkeeping at the Carolina Rapids. At the time, I knew nothing about the DA and was planning to play club and school soccer. Scott asked me to join the DA. After months of considerations and going to watch matches, I decided to join the academy. Training and playing with the same group of guys everyday really allows it to be like a brotherhood, a place where you can let everything out. I fit in with the guys on the team well and quickly. We all got up to speed relatively quick and I was moved up from the 13s to the 14s. After my first season in the DA, I was called into national team camp. This was a pivotal experience for me as a soccer player. Up until then I had just dreamed about playing high level college soccer. My time at national team made me realize that I had the ability to play at the highest level of soccer in the country for my age. At that point I set my sights on becoming a professional soccer player.
4. While in the academy, you got the opportunity to train with the Charlotte Independence first team. Describe how that experience helped fast track your development?
Training with the Charlotte Independence first team was a big step for me and my development because it was my first time training at the professional level. Coming into this professional environment gave me a taste of what it was like to be a professional soccer player. It gave me hunger and motivation to push me to get to do what the other players were doing as a job. Training was always at a super high level and it required me to get up to that level which escalated my game and attitude dramatically.
5. You're now in the Real Salt Lake academy; how has the transition into a new environment, both on and off the field, been for you?
After I attended national team camp, I wanted to look for opportunities at an MLS academy. I visited Orlando, Colorado, and Atlanta. All of these situations involved living with a host family and either going to private or online school. I am a good student and take academics seriously. Even though the MLS academies offered a higher level of training and play, I was concerned that my education would be affected. My dad has a very good friend who lives in Salt Lake City. I know his family well and have visited there a lot over the past 10 years. Before I left, I thought that transitioning into everything would be simple. I had never done anything like this so I did not know what to expect. Once I got there, it was extremely difficult adapting to the new style of play and goalkeeping itself. The altitude, school, living away from family, everything felt piled up. It felt like I was playing worse than ever. I had to push through and get past that block, which took longer than I thought. I needed to mentally adjust to not being the number 1 keeper. This was very tough. Even after 2 months at Real Salt Lake I wouldn’t say that I am 100% adapted.
6. Why did you ultimately choose the Real Salt Lake academy? What intrigued you most about their set up?
Real Salt Lake offers a European soccer academy model. The school, dormitories, cafeteria, and training facilities are all on the same campus. There is no host family. Currently, the U15s, U17s, and U19s stay on the campus. The setup at Real Salt Lake seemed so convenient because there are no long drives to school or training and everything is on the same campus, within walking distance. Plus I knew it would teach me how to be independent and how to take care of myself. In Charlotte I spent 2-3 hours a day, 4 days a week, driving to school and practice. I really like living with my teammates. Everything about the environment at Real Salt Lake is about professional soccer.
7. How do you balance your professional aspirations on the field with the inevitable educational obligations off the field?
My parents always taught me how to be a well rounded person and that I couldn’t just focus on soccer. They pushed me to always get my schoolwork in on time and to strive for A’s. My number 1 focus at this point is doing what it takes to become a professional soccer player. I believe that I will achieve this. Still, I have to think about life after soccer. No matter what I have had to fit my schoolwork in and keep good grades. Balancing school and soccer is not easy, but to be a well rounded individual I believe it is necessary.
8. What has the college recruiting process been like for you? Is it a process you have enjoyed? How have you narrowed down your options?
The college recruiting process was stressful because you want things to happen quickly, but you have to be patient to find the right fit. I enjoyed this process. I was able to see many top college programs and hear their specific plans for me. The first day that colleges could contact me was June 15, 2019. I immediately heard from several programs. Over the next several months I contacted and was contacted by nearly every school on the list I had created. I made numerous unofficial visits. Universally, the coaches were great at all the schools. I really enjoyed meeting them and learning about their programs. Goalkeepers seem to have much different recruiting than field players. Generally, it seems that colleges take longer to choose goalkeepers. I needed to balance education, play time, and scholarship. I realized during the process that I wanted to get an early shot at playing time, preferably not later than sophomore year. That narrowed my choices to just a few teams on my list. I received a second national team call up in October. After that, interest from colleges grew. I was lucky enough that one of my top choices was interested in me. I spent a couple of days with the coaches and players. They made me an offer which I accepted. I am really excited to play soccer at NC State for college.
9. You have a European passport and have spent time in Europe training before. Is that something that you aspire to again in the future? Did that experience really spark your interest in becoming a professional?
Playing soccer in Europe has and will always be a goal of mine. During the summer of 2018. I spent a week with Munich 1860, a week with Ajax, and 2 weeks playing with an American team in Spain and Portugal. My first experience was training with Munich 1860. I traveled to Germany with a coach and 6 goalkeepers of different ages. We stayed at a nearby hotel and trained twice a day. Between training we had time to explore Munich. Even though I didn’t speak the language, it was still awesome training with the academy. The week I spent in Amsterdam was with an American team in my age group. We trained together with the Ajax coaches and had matches against the Rotterdam and Ajax academies. We beat both teams and I played 75 minutes of the match against Ajax and had a shutout, we beat them 2-1. That still remains one of the top matches I’ve ever played in. While playing in Europe remains a goal of mine, it’s very difficult to arrange trials in Europe. At this point, I am focused on playing at the highest level I can in the US. Hopefully, this will open opportunities in Europe.
10. Last but not least, who has better hair; You or I?
You definitely take the win on that one 😊