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Looking Back: Life As A Pro - Chris Tsonis
Chris Tsonis was an NCAA Division II standout who had a chip on his shoulder and a desire to go pro. After attending a SoccerViza combine he was able to make his dream come true, and after spending two seasons in Iceland, he he has returned to the United States to play with New York Red Bulls II. 



By Christopher McCollum

Chris Tsonis was one of the first players that SoccerViza helped to get abroad, going back to 2012 when he performed well at the end-of-year combine and received an opportunity to trial with Icelandic First Division club Tindastoll.

“First getting over there I was beyond excited just to have a chance to become a professional.” Chris Tsonis told SoccerViza in an exclusive sit down to discuss his career.

It went well for Chris, signing his first professional contract with the club and beginning a journey that would see him play in the Icelandic Premier League, trial in Ireland, and then end up with the New York Red Bulls II where he currently is.

“It was my dream growing up and I was just ecstatic. It was an unreal feeling. Tindastoll was a good first professional club to play at. It taught me a lot of things about professional soccer, different things I have to learn such as what it’s like to actually have someone with a vested financial interest in me. That aspect of being paid to play the game changes everything so drastically in so many ways. Tindastoll helped me understand professional soccer at a decent level. It wasn’t a great level, but it was a good platform to build on.”

 

Coming out of college, Chris was a player without much of a reputation beyond his region and conference. Despite a quality college career at Southern New Hampshire University, he knew that the deck was going to be stacked against him in getting a professional opportunity. Even so, he felt that he was as well prepared as he could be.

“I had a little chip on my shoulder after leaving school just because I was Division II kid. It’s always... The stars aren’t always aligned for Division II players. You have to put in a lot of work to get to a pro level. I felt that I had done enough and my coach Mark Hubbard at Southern New Hampshire did a really good job of preparing me for the professional game. He played with the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL before he started coaching, so he knew what it takes to become a pro. I felt like I was very prepared to go over there and play.”

Chris’ debut season at Tindastoll went well, scoring seven goals and becoming known as a physical force to reckon with in the Nordic country. At the end of the season in October, 2013 it was time to move on to another opportunity though. While Iceland held options, there was also the draw of playing in Ireland potentially, but the move there didn’t work out and it ended up being one of the biggest teams in Iceland that drew him back.

“Before the Pepsi League I had trials in Ireland which didn’t end up working out. But once I found out the news about Fjolnir, I was ecstatic. The level in the Pepsi League is much higher than the first division. A lot of the first division guys and other lower leagues in Iceland, it’s their dream to play in the Pepsi League and do well and earn a move to another team in Europe. So there’s always great young talent. The level was really high at Fjolnir. There are a lot of fans at that level; there are teams in Champions League and Europa League Qualifiers. Last season when I was there, one of the other teams in the league, Stjarnan, played Inter Milan. They had home and away games at the San Siro and in Iceland. Celtic was there playing in Qualifiers. It’s a high level, and a lot of people don’t give it the credit it deserves.”

It was another successful season for Chris, scoring five more goals and notching several assists. It was a little bit of a slower season altogether though, playing mostly a substitute role for the club that produced U.S. National Team star Aron Johannsson. Despite the substitute’s role, Chris was still producing and became one of the reasons that American soccer fans started paying more attention to Iceland. Along with fellow SoccerViza alum Sean Reynolds and fellow American Pablo Punyed, there were American players in the highest level in the league, playing all sorts of roles for their teams.

“I somewhat felt it (the recognition). I never really got interviewed a lot, but I felt I was one of the main guys over there. There wasn’t as much attention as I might have liked, but I knew that people behind the scenes were paying attention. The Pepsi League has a TV show that keeps track of what’s going on in the league and we got some coverage. I couldn’t understand the language really well, but my teammates told me that the announcers were heaping praise on some of my goals.”

Despite the productive season with Fjolnir, there wasn’t an option to renegotiate for a second year with the Premier League club following the 2014 season. Chris had been entertaining the idea of coming back to the United States and trying to work his way into MLS through the lower leagues, and with the USL expanding to bring in more teams for the 2015 season.

“I really wanted to come back to the U.S. Of course, being from the States my ultimate goal is to play in MLS one day, and then hopefully go abroad again to a bigger club. There’s no palce like home though, and after living and playing abroad, you learn the true meaning of home. I was very happy to have the opportunity to come back here. I went to a couple other USL clubs like Rochester and Charlotte, but it didn’t work out. They were invite-only tryouts, but when you go to something like that and see that the coach doesn’t want you, you move right along to the next option.”

The move back home coincided with the Red Bulls II moving up from NPSL to USL PRO status, and rebuilding their roster accordingly. A lot of players were brought in, and things just sort of clicked for Chris from the get-go. He came out on fire in the opening days of the trial, scoring almost at will.

“I went to the Red Bulls II closed tryout and played really well. I scored eight goals in pre-season in three games. I scored against the first team we played against, I scored against Seton Hall, and had six goals in the second half against Monroe College. I did well in pre-season, and I was in awe of how well the trial went. After that, John Wolyniec said he saw enough in me and was ready to sign me. I felt relieved. I got to come back home. My home is three and a half hours from here, so if I ever want to drive home, it’s easy to do.”

It took a little bit of time to find his groove in the season with NYRB II, but things are beginning to click as we get closer to the halfway point of the season. While it’s been up and down with playing time, battling for positions with temporarily relegated MLS players, and trying to find his role within the team.

“MLS guys come down on loan to us which can be pretty difficult at points. One game I’ll be starting, and the next game there are eight players from the MLS squad will come down and I’ll lose my starting spot obviously. But it’s a process, and it’s about continuing to work and trying to get my consistency down. That’s my biggest problem right now, in training and in games. I have to be sharper, and that’s been coming lately. I’ve scored my first of the season, I’ve gotten some assists, and I’m fitting into that role as a hold up striker that is key to the team.”

For this whole journey over the past three years, it’s been Chris’ love for the game that has kept him going, kept him motivated to continue lacing up his boots every day. It’s living a dream that he had as a child, and being able to see the looks on his parents’ faces in the stands. Not many people in the world get to live their dreams, but Chris is making the most of his opportunity to do so. Now playing close to home and underneath one of the most popular brands in the world, it’s fuel to the fire that motivates Chris.

“I love soccer. I love seeing my parents’ faces after a game. They’re so happy with me, and they drives me, it motivates me to keep getting better because I’m not just playing for myself, I’m playing for my family and my name. That keeps me going in training, in games, especially when I’m tired. It pushes me.”

As has been noted before in the Life As A Pro series, the common thread linking players, whether they come from the top or the bottom, is the lessons they have learned en route to establishing professional careers for themselves. It’s always about professionalism and the mental side of the game, and Chris reflects the same lessons.

“I’d have to say it’s the mental part of the game. It’s not the physical part or anything like that, it’s the mental part. It’s the most difficult part of playing soccer. You have to be mentally strong, mentally fit. If you’re a player trying to go pro, you have to understand that you have to be mentally strong. There are so many things that can go wrong that you have to be prepared to deal with. You have to be tough.”

While bouncing from team to team over the past few years may have been disheartening to some, it’s just the stepping-stones on the path to success for Chris. Quitting has never been an option for the 24-year old, and he has kept his head clear through the traveling to remain focused on his goals.

“It hasn’t crossed my mind (quitting), I’m not at that point yet where I’m thinking things are too hectic. I’m doing pretty well for myself, I live in a nice house now. I haven’t thought about hanging it up. I’m sure a lot of people are saying that, that it’s time to hang it up because I’m just bouncing from team to team, but I’m not ready. I want to play at the highest level I can, whether it’s here or in another country.”

Chris has shown over the past few years that he has what it takes to compete at levels around the world, whether it’s in Iceland or in the United States. He made the most of his combine opportunity with SoccerViza to get his foot in the door of the professional world, and is now making strides with the Red Bulls organization. It’s a template for success that he’s set out for future players to follow, proving that you don’t need to come from a Division I school, or be signed straight into a professional club to achieve your dreams. He’s done it on his own, knocking on doors and taking risks into his own hands. It’s paid off, and the sky is the limit.

UPCOMING EVENTS 2015