October 16, 2018

Alex Whalen trains with Kansas City Major League Soccer

Alex Whalen, freshman forward on the Webster University men’s soccer team crosses the ball into the penalty box in a preseason game against Southwestern Illinois College. PHOTO BY MACKENZIE WILDER

Alex Whalen, freshman forward on the Webster University men’s soccer team crosses the ball into the penalty box in a preseason game against Southwestern Illinois College. PHOTO BY MACKENZIE WILDER

Alex Whalen, freshman forward on the Webster University men’s soccer team, trained with the Sporting Kansas City Team of Major League Soccer (MLS) before settling as a Gorlok.

Whalen played at Parkway Central High School in St. Louis. He watched professional soccer games at home and he said he felt like he could go out and play against those guys.

He got the chance to play after signing up for an open tryout for Sporting KC in May 2013.

Whalen and his mom traveled to the two-day tryout in July, but Whalen said his mom didn’t expect much from the tryout. However, he made the cut as one of the top 44 players out of 200, and was invited back for day two of the tryout. The players were told at the end of the tryout that if spots on the team open up, players would be called back.

“I did pretty mad and scored a bunch of goals,” Whalen said.

Sporting KC contacted Whalen about two weeks after the tryout and the team paid for his flight to train with the team. He said he believes the callback was his opportunity at a pro contract.

Whalen lived in a hotel in Kansas City, Mo., for one week in July with Saul, his roommate, who was also trying to earn a professional soccer contract.

Whalen said he was thrown into drills and competed against first team players. He said coaches scrutinized his performances more than the Sporting KC players.

“If we messed up (coaches) would say ‘come on man, what the f***’,” Whalen said. “When (starters) messed up they would just say ‘come on bud.’”

Whalen said he has experienced coaches yelling at him throughout youth soccer. His first soccer coach often yelled at him when he played from ages seven to thirteen. But he said hearing the criticism from a professional coach sounded more demanding than his youth coach.

He shared the field with Sporting KC defender Matt Besler who was named to the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“That week of soccer was playing with the best players I’ve ever played with,” Whalen said. “It was a lot of fun, fast and high tempo games.”

A different Sporting KC player would pick him up everyday and drive him to training. One day he rode with 2012 MLS goalkeeper of the year, Jimmy Nielsen who Whalen said drives a Mercedes worth about $80,000.

This was the sixth year the team has tried an open tryout, Sporting KC Team Administrator Rick Dressel said. Contracts have been offered to multiple players who tried out. Dressel even remembers one player that came from a “small Division III college” like Webster.

Saul and Whalen were the only two players invited back for a five-day training session with the team. Whalen said they competed against the first team in drills on two of the days.

A Sporting KC coach asked Whalen what the biggest difference between the level of play with the professional team compared to the level they are used to. The speed of play made it the most difficult, Whalen said.

The coach told Whalen and Saul that the team did not have an open spot at the time, but team scouts would keep an eye on them this season.

Whalen said he keeps in contact with Saul, who plays in New York for a semiprofessional soccer team.

Whalen said he wasn’t disappointed that he wasn’t offered a contract. He said the opportunity to play professionally will always be there as long as he improves each year.

“I’m still a kid,” Whalen said. “I’ll wait until I’m 21 or 22 when I’m actually strong enough to play with these men. It gets intense and if I made it now then I would get hurt.”

Whalen said he plans to travel to another MLS tryout every summer if Sporting KC doesn’t call him back.

“Why wouldn’t I check out another team,” Whalen said. “KC isn’t the only option.”

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