Matt Bersano is a Redshirt Senior at Penn State University completing his Masters degree after graduating from Oregon State this past winter. Matt will be blogging for us at The Athlete Story over the course of the next few months detailing his quest to become a professional soccer player. Find out why he chose to transfer to Penn State in his first post “My Plan."
Matt Bersano, Reno FC 1868 goalkeeper
I was going to come into the Pac-12 and make an immediate statement. I was going to be the second ever homegrown signing for Real Salt Lake in MLS (RSL had my rights because I played/developed in their residential academy). I wanted to be the guy who came into college and proved a young age didn’t matter as a goalkeeper. That was my plan. However, that plan was not my reality.
“Things do not often go as we would like them to,” we often need to remind ourselves. During the first week of preseason, my freshman year at Oregon State, I fractured my right ankle while competing in a crossing drill during goalkeeper training.
Getting injured and missing my entire Freshman season definitely wasn’t in the plans. I had the same thought running through my head over and over, “I came to college as a platform to play soccer and get to the pros, now what am I doing here?”
The fracture of my ankle, while it was a setback on the field, did help me understand some of my realities off the field. Seeing how easily an ankle can break spooked me enough to put an emphasis on some of the uncontrollables in the life of a professional athlete. So I got a head start on my studies. I didn’t want to become one of the players who turn professional without finishing their degree. I then dedicated myself to finishing my degree as quickly as possible.
Over the course of the next three years I started 54 games in goal for OSU while captaining the team in my final two seasons. In my Redshirt Sophomore season I managed to break the school record for saves in a season (101) and received All Pac-12 Second Team honors. This was all while the team recorded a 0-8-2 record in conference play. I started to feel the plan get back on track. I might not be that youngest GK ever, but MLS felt closer and closer.
Before my Redshirt Junior season I found myself almost a year ahead in school, my studies were paying off. I decided that this year would be my final college season before testing myself in the professional ranks. After three years of mixed results we finally hit our potential that season (Fall 2014) by reaching the NCAA postseason. We defeated the University of Denver in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first postseason win in school history.
I graduated from OSU that December and began the process, along with my family, of deciding the next step in my career. RSL had 3 goalkeepers signed to their first team roster (they had my homegrown rights, therefore I wasn’t draft eligible by any other MLS team), which made things tricky. They instead decided to offer me a contract with their USL affiliate, the Real Monarchs.
Again, a hitch in the plan.
I felt undervalued. I had put so much focus into getting my work done at Oregon State so I could step into my next role at Real Salt Lake that any other option wasn’t acceptable. It was a harsh reality to be associated with a club that was in no need for my position. I tried to focus on the positive that at least there was a contract on the table, even for the USL and now the ball was in my court on what decision to make.
The USL is a great league and a nice place to develop as a goalkeeper but I still had one year of college eligibility left. This wasn’t a move I wanted to make just yet. I decided it would be best for me to transfer schools for my Redshirt Senior year and use that last year of eligibility instead of signing with the Real Monarchs.
I buckled down and sent out some emails to old coaches and friends to see what was available. The two teams who were the most interested were Penn State and Indiana. They both had storied programs that offered exactly what I was looking for.
In February I took an official visit to Penn State. It was a frigid day with two feet of snow on the ground, something I wasn’t used to growing up in Arizona, but that didn’t take away from what I saw and experienced there. PSU would give me a chance to work with Goalkeeper Coach Michael Behonick and Head Coach Bob Warming. They both have shown tremendous ability to coach great college teams and produce players into the professional ranks. My mind was already made up. I committed and would be playing my final season at PSU.
The past several months have been a very humbling experience. I’ve learned that life doesn’t always go according to plan. I’ve had the dream of becoming a professional soccer player since I was a kid but I still have work to do for it to become a reality. This might not have been my plan but this is my reality and I’m going to the make the best of it.