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Being hungry for improvement has helped guide Penn State goalkeeper Ryan Aiken throughout his goalkeeping career!


Ryan Aiken Penn State men's soccer goalkeeper

From European trials as a teenager to excelling on the pitch at a top division one college progam, Penn State goalkeeper Ryan Aiken has plenty of experiences to share with you all. His time with the San Jose Earthquakes academy has spurred him on to great achievements and he is hungry for plenty more. Learn all about his journey below!


How did you get started with the goalkeeping position? What sparked your interest in hopping in goal?


Believe it or not but I actually used to play only striker until the age of 9 or so. I usually was one of the taller kids all throughout elementary school but once I hit 9 years old, I shot up even more. In addition to my height, I also played baseball growing up which helped tremendously with my diving and throwing. I then moved to a new team, Diablo FC, and the coach told me to try playing goalkeeper more. I absolutely loved the position. I had a deal with the coach that if we were up by 2 goals at half, then I could go play striker in the second half. That’s how the starting goalkeeper for the team became one of the top scorers as well. That’s the way I did things until I turned 12 when I then joined the San Jose Earthquakes Academy. Once I joined them, I only played goalkeeper and I have never looked back. 


You spent time playing in the USSDA and the MLS Next League during your youth career. How did that level of play prepare you for the college game?


Playing in the MLS Next (used to be USSDA) is almost essential if you want to thrive at the collegiate level.  For starters, most college coaches look only in the ECNL or the MLS Next for their recruits. The reasoning behind it is that these leagues are the highest possible level of soccer for kids to be playing at for their respective age. Because the  jump from academy to college is so drastic, young players really need to stand out at the highest level of youth soccer possible for them to be ready for the rigorous nature of college soccer.


Ryan Aiken men's college soccer goalkeeper

What was your college recruiting experience like? Did you enjoy the process?


My recruiting process was a long and stressful process. Here’s a little story to show you how crazy my recruiting process was. I was 3 days away from flying to the University of Washington to start school the summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college. That day, I received 3 offers to play at other universities. I quickly canceled my plans to go to Washington and then committed to Penn State.  My advice on the process is to realize that every single player will have a different story. A lot of college players also take gap years between the end of high school and starting college where they focus solely on improving in soccer and then later are better equipped for the collegiate level. Your career is only over when you decide it is. 


How did you decide on Penn State as your college destination? 


I picked Penn State for a lot of different reasons. Amazing academic university, huge sports school, great soccer program, but the one thing that I truly valued was the embedded values within the program. I later figured out that every single member of the program was part of this large and strong family that just so happened to play soccer as well. The team was something truly special in a healthy and competitive way. I can say wholeheartedly that I trust and love every single member of the program and I know that they will be a brother for life. 


Ryan Aiken spent time trialing for a few different European clubs, how close were you to going the professional route instead of college?


I have been super fortunate to have multiple different trials in Europe to possibly go pro. After my senior year of high school, I had 2 trials in France with FC Metz and AS Nancy. I actually got pretty close to signing a contract with AS Nancy to play for their u19s in the Championnat National who played against such teams like PSG, Lyon, and Marseille. However, I promised my parents that I would at least start my college degree so that I could later return if need be. Once I got some opportunities to play college soccer, I knew I was doing the right thing.


How beneficial do you think your time studying/playing abroad was for your goalkeeping journey?


Playing abroad was extremely important for me growing as a goalkeeper. Living in Germany was a truly beneficial experience that helped me a lot to grow as a person as well. The goalkeeping position is essentially sacred in Germany with a very unique and distinct form for everything they do. Living there definitely helped me pick up on some of that German style of goalkeeping and helped me become a way better keeper.


Ryan Aiken Port City FC goalkeeper

What have been the biggest adjustments to the college level of play for you? 


The biggest difference in the college level is intensity. Every training and every game has 100 times more intensity than any academy or high school game. Because there aren't as many games in the college season, there is so much more pressure to win each and every game. You truly get to find out what type of person you are under that pressure. If you are strong minded, you are going to thrive under that pressure. 


How does playing with a team, like Port City FC, in the summer help you prepare for the college season?


Playing with Port City helps a lot because I get to stay training at a similar level to that of Penn State. Each game we play, we play a bunch of other D1 players which simulates the college season in the fall. This will keep me be prepared and ready for the upcoming season. 


What advice would you give to young goalkeepers looking to play college soccer?


Committing to a college for a sport isn’t an award, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you to grow and improve on every aspect of your life. The opportunity to play college soccer is earned. If you want any chance of playing at the next level, you need to be hungry. You need to be out working your peers and your teammates in order to get a spot. If you dedicate 1 hour every day to working on your weaknesses, in 1 year's time, you have attributed 15 days straight of working on that weakness. By then, your weakness has become your strength. Be hungry. 


Who has better beaches, Wilmington or California?


Is this a set up? Haha. What I can say is that both have incredible beaches. I prefer Cali beaches to surf as there are usually bigger waves. However, I really like the Wilmington beaches as the vibe is super relaxed. I love the beaches here in Wilmington and I already have gone to Wrightsville beach every day since being here.



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