Path To Professional Ranks Paved By Hard Work For de Vries
At the age of 18, Francis de Vries left his home in Christchurch, New Zealand to pursue playing football in the United States. Just over 8,800 miles apart, de Vries left home to see out opportunities in America.
Like many aspiring footballers, he began down a path of many unknowns. But one thing was clear, he had opportunities in the United States, beginning with pursuing a degree in Psychology while playing college soccer at Saint Francis in Loretto, PA.
Racking up 36 career points in addition to earning conference Defender of the Year honors his junior season, de Vries had a very successful collegiate career which lead to his next opportunity with one of the most successful amateur teams in modern history, PDL side, Michigan Bucks.
Between 2014 and 2016, de Vries appeared in 32 matches for the Michigan Bucks and played a key role in both the 2014 and 2016 PDL Cup Championships for the club.
After the 2016 campaign with the Bucks ended, de Vries garnered serious interest from professional clubs, opening a path for him to take the next step in his career. As interest grew, he found himself preparing for what seemed to be a promising 2017 MLS Superdraft.
One of those preparatory stops included his participation at the inaugural Midwest Pro Soccer Combine in December of 2016. Just like many of the potential players looking to hear their names called at the Superdraft, Francis didn’t want to leave anything to chance. This meant training every chance he could, and showcasing his talents for as many MLS scouts as possible.
“The highlight of the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine for me was getting a chance to compete against some of the top level players in college soccer. Many players are not afforded this opportunity consistently during their time in college and getting the chance to measure yourself against, and learn from, some of the best in college soccer was a very valuable experience,” said de Vries.
With the combine’s proximity to the MLS Superdraft (less than a month apart), it not only afforded selected players to physically prep themselves for the next level, but also a chance to improve their stock or make naysayers believers in their ability.
He added, “It is another chance, and a great chance at that, with how many scouts and coaches of professional clubs show up, to showcase your footballing abilities. Of course, nothing is guaranteed out of these combines, but by showing up and giving it your best effort with a positive attitude, you give yourself the best chance you have of making the jump to the professional level.”
It was far more than just one combine that prepared him for the moment to hear his name called on draft day, but participating in the MPSC was symbolic of his approach to never miss a chance to train, or improve himself- both on, and off the pitch.
For a young footballer, de Vries brings a level of maturity with him that many young players lack. For some, this truly can be the missing ingredient in pushing on to the next level. The 22-year old already has a set of rules he follows that seem to be those of a seasoned veteran. He said it best, adding, “Try to remove your ego from the situation as much as possible. Work hard on developing strengths and harder on making your weaknesses into strengths.”
With the 7th pick in the 2nd round, Francis de Vries heard his name called as he was selected by the Vancouver Whitecaps. But as many true professionals understand, his journey was far from over.
“It’s an interesting feeling, accomplishing my goal of becoming a professional footballer. There’s a lot of emotions within it; satisfaction that a lot of your hard work paid off, gratitude to all of those that helped you along the way, pride that some of your loved ones can watch you play professionally now and that you persevered through the hard times, restlessness about the constant pressure you put upon yourself to get better and about making the jump to the next level of professional football. It’s a very joyous feeling but also conflicting because you don’t want to be content with where you are now, you want to keep getting better and maybe get an opportunity to play at an even higher level as a professional footballer,” said de Vries.
Now playing for Vancouver’s USL side, Whitecaps FC 2, de Vries has his sights set on making the Whitecaps MLS roster. Although we will have to wait and see if he’s successful in that next step, one thing is certain, he won’t stop working until he reaches his goal.
Read the complete interview with Frances below:
MPSC: Every footballer has a journey and a story to tell about their journey. Now that you've reached a milestone in your career by signing a pro contract, what would you like to share with aspiring players to help learn from your mistakes and obstacles
Francis: Here are the most important lessons I have learned in football so far from my mistakes and obstacles:
- Always have a growth mindset (learning and improvement are the most important things)
- Listen to your coaches, mentors and close friends/family
- Try to remove your ego from the situation as much as possible
- Work hard on developing strengths and harder on making your weaknesses into strengths (most people do not want to train on their weaknesses, make it a point too)
- The mental side of the game is the most important (take time to visualize, write down your goals, plan how you are going to improve)
- Always be there for your teammates to support them
- Find meaning outside of football in things such as friends, giving back, studying or nature
MPSC: Now that you've had time to get acclimated a bit, tell us more about your current setup. What is your typical training day like? What has been the biggest surprise about being a pro? What has been your best football moment for your new club so far?
Francis: A typical training day here starts at 9am when we all report to the club’s training facility. We all eat a quick breakfast together and then players who need treatment go into the physio’s room for that and some other players go through prehab work. Training starts at 10am so we usually head out around 10-15 mins early and start a couple of 5v2s before our warm up. Training usually goes from 10 – 11:30 or 12. Post training some guys get treatment again and we eat lunch together. Sometimes we have a gym session in the afternoon, otherwise you are done for the day around 12:30, 1pm.
The biggest surprise for me as a pro has been how much you must concentrate on your fundamentals. I knew I would have to learn and adapt to play at this new level but I never thought so much of that would be focused on fundamentals such as footwork, body shape, communication and playing passes to the correct foot of the receiving player.
It is hard to isolate a best moment for me at the club so far. I’d say there have been several, and they all include being able to learn from more experienced pros, guys that I have looked up too for a while and am now getting a chance to learn firsthand from.
MPSC: What do you hope to accomplish with your current team and what are your goals as a footballer down the road?
Francis: With my current team, I hope to have a successful season, culminating in us making the USL playoffs in the Western Conference. Along the way, I’d like to make some great, lasting relationships and continue to improve on all aspects of my game.
Down the road some of my goals include; to make it onto Vancouver’s MLS roster, use my experiences within the game of soccer to grow as a person and give back to the communities around which I am playing soccer.
MPSC: How did the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine better prepare you for the pros?
Francis: The Midwest Pro better prepared me for the pros in several ways. Firstly, the combine was very tough physically which builds mental toughness (concentrating through fatigue etc.). So far, I’ve noticed in the pros, you might get your chance (like starting your first game or getting an opportunity to train with the MLS team) when you are not in your top condition. You might be fatigued from a tough week of training or had a hard run of games and then the call comes. You need to have the mental tools to deal with this, something that you can begin learning at the Midwest Pro. Secondly, the Midwest Pro brought in a couple of pros who spoke about their experiences entering and participating in professional soccer. This was extremely helpful as hearing these accounts firsthand is something that you rarely get to experience. If you want to optimally prepare yourself to go into a pro environment, having some knowledge on what it is actually like from current pros is very helpful.
MPSC: What was the highlight of the 2016 Midwest Pro Soccer Combine for you? Would you recommend aspiring footballers to participate?
Francis: The highlight of the Midwest Pro for me was getting a chance to compete against some of the top level players in college soccer. Many players are not afforded this opportunity consistently during their time in college and getting the chance to measure yourself against, and learn from, some of the best in college soccer was a very valuable experience.
I would recommend aspiring footballers to participate. It is another chance, and a great chance at that with how many scouts and coaches of professional clubs show up, to showcase your footballing abilities. Of course, nothing is guaranteed out of these combines, but by showing up and giving it your best effort with a positive attitude, you give yourself the best chance you have of making the jump to the professional level.
MPSC: Think back to the first moment when you realized, you dreamed of being a pro footballer. Now that you've accomplished that dream, what does it feel like?
Francis: It’s an interesting feeling, accomplishing my goal of becoming a professional footballer. There’s a lot of emotions within it; satisfaction that a lot of your hard work paid off, gratitude to all of those that helped you along the way, pride that some of your loved ones can watch you play professionally now and that you persevered through the hard times, restlessness about the constant pressure you put upon yourself to get better and about making the jump to the next level of professional football. It’s a very joyous feeling but also conflicting because you don’t want to be content with where you are now, you want to keep getting better and maybe get an opportunity to play at an even higher level as a professional footballer.
MPSC: Do you have any mentors, supporters, family or friends who you'd like to thank?
Francis: Sure, I’ve got a few and will list them below:
- My parents, Evelyne Baumgartner and Bram de Vries – I owe it all to you really, you know why.
- My brother, Marcel de Vries – for constantly inspiring me to become a better human being.
- Fred Simpson – for being the first soccer coach to believe in me and giving me some outstanding training and advice in my younger days
- Rob Sherman, Giovani Fernandes and Andy Smith – for giving me my chance at APFA, without that I doubt I would be in the position I am now.
- Michael Casper – for taking me under his wing at Saint Francis University and developing me into the player and human being I am today.
- All of the professors and admin staff at Saint Francis University – for helping me find meaning outside the football pitch in fields of knowledge I did not know existed before I came to SFU.
- Demir Muftari, Gary Parsons and Dan Duggan – for giving me three summers of unbelievable improvement, on and off the pitch with the Michigan Bucks.