February 18, 2011
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
A more mature Kassel feels this is the right time to pursue pro career
By Michael Lewis
|Tim Kassel: "It was the right time for me to leave. I had matured enough in college and I was ready to take the next step and begin my professional career."
Photo by Michael Lewis
If Red Bulls rookie midfielder Matt Kassel shows the patience and maturity he displayed when he was turned down a developmental contract by the club three years ago, there's no telling what sort of pro career he might have.
In 2008, the Bridgewater, N.J. native had a major decision to make -- attend the University of Maryland or sign a modest contract offer as a developmental player with MLS and the Red Bulls to become the club's first homegrown player.
Kassel chose the former and the former Red Bulls Academy standout had no second thoughts about it.
"At that time I felt it was not necessary for me and know I needed I could develop and get that college experience, get that as a player there and grow and mature as a person," he said Thursday.
At the the time, Kassel said, "it wasn't something that I was coming to jump at right away."
"It was a great thing for me to actually get the contract this year. It's a dream come true. When I received the contract, it made me feel that I am ready. I went through everything with the [Maryland] coaches and stuff. Everybody felt it was the proper time for me to leave school early."
Kassel, whose father Tim, was director of stadium operations with the MetroStars for many years, left Maryland as a junior after earning All-America honors last fall. He sat down with Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski and looked at the pros and cons of turning pro.
"It was the right time for me to leave," he said. "I had matured enough in college and I was ready to take the next step and begin my professional career. I'm happy I made a decision and I'm happy I went to college for a few years to experience that. But at the end of the day, I'm glad I'm here in my home town with Red Bull New York."
He plans on finishing his final year of college, most likely online. Kassel majored in general business.
"You can always go to school," he said. "I have enough credits under my belt for now. I can always go back and finish my degree and I will go back and finish my degree. Right now it's to develop my soccer career, my professional career. This was the right time for me to leave. I am at a young age right now. I need to develop into the type player I can be. Red Bull is the right place for me to do that."
He recently returned home from his first pro training camp with the Red Bulls in Mexico.
Kassel's biggest adjustment so far?
"Getting used to pace what we play here at the next level," he said. "It's a little bit of a jump. I think it has worked out pretty smoothly. I'm looking forward to the beginning of the year."
The 21-year-old Kassel has trained with the Red Bulls' first team before, but the stakes are different this time. Three years of soccer development can be light years apart.
"I'm more mature and I'm a more mature player," he said. "I understand the game better. Obviously, there are still areas to improve in. but right now I understand the philosophy of how we're going to play this year. Hans [Backe, the coach] has been telling us how he wants us to play and it's getting used to the system being played here. I think it's a little bit different than when I was here back a few years ago training.
"It's a great group of guys. The coaching has been great. It has been a pleasurable experience."
Kassel's goals this season are simple -- find a way to dress for every game and take it from there.
"Coming in as the new guy, there's a lot of talk, but you've got to fight for yourself," he said. "You've got to prove yourself day in and day out and that's what I've got to do right now. Obviously, i want to get into the first team, dressing for the 18 game in and out. That's what I'm looking forward to now. Mexico was a good experience for me. To get some time was good. I think I'm going to adapt very well."