EDITORIAL – Behind the broad smile and high-energy demeanor, there’s a real grit to Jared Stroud that doesn’t take long to show itself. The 24-year old was acquired by Austin FC as part of the 2020 expansion draft to be a squad player; at least, that’s the media narrative that appeared to accompany his arrival. That’s not how Stroud saw it.
Man On: With Austin FC’s Jared Stroud
When fellow right-winger Rodney Redes picked up an injury in preseason, Stroud was ready to go. “To be honest, I thought I was being picked (by Austin) to be a starter and play every minute.” His confusion at why he wasn’t protected by New York Red Bulls (from the draft) after playing the majority of games last season and being a creative force, is evident and understandable. There’s not a hint of arrogance in his voice, though, just a healthy self-belief.
And as he told Last Word on Soccer, his competitive spirit can be traced back to his formative years.
LWOS: What are your earliest memories of playing soccer?
Stroud: I was maybe six or seven just juggling in the backyard, probably getting an ice cream every time we got 10 juggles, that was probably the earliest memory. Or playing in the basement, just on concrete, we’d always do the two middle brothers (of which Stroud was one) versus the youngest and the oldest brother. That’s probably where I got most of my skill set. And yeah, it got scrappy, you know, some things got broken down there for sure!
LWOS: So where did that love of the game come from?
Stroud: My Dad is English, so that’s where the love of soccer came from. And then I think I got my competitive nature from my mom, and probably her athletic skills, too, to be honest. She’s just one of those people, she can’t get passed on a bike, she can’t lose in tennis, you know, she’s just so competitive! And in a house with four boys, when you’re not playing soccer you’re watching it, it’s just always on the telly. We weren’t like a normal family that would travel or anything it was more like we just play soccer, even when I’m home on vacation. We pretty much play every day just because that’s kind of our thing.
LWOS: So now soccer truly is your life, which takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice. What do you think are some things supporters don’t appreciate about what it means to be a professional athlete?
Stroud: I mean, it’s a huge grind honestly. It’s definitely one of those things where it’s every day, it’s every minute, you have to think about it all the time. I think diet is a huge one for me personally. We have games on the weekend all the time and it’s hard to socialize and eat whatever you want and not worry because you have to train hard every day. You know you need optimal sleep. You have to show up every single day and there’s no red light or slowing down or any in between. I grinded through the USL (with New York Red Bulls II), that was really hard. I grinded through last year with Red Bulls, trying to get playing time ahead of high-paid players. Being a young American guy, I’d say, makes it even harder. So, yeah, it’s tough, every week is tough. But it’s all worth it and at the end of the day whatever you put in, you do get out. There’s a lot of patience involved in waiting for your turn, though.
LWOS: You spent your entire college and pro career in the North East, so what was that like being told you were heading to Texas?
Stroud: I didn’t have any say over that, like, I had no idea it was gonna happen. It was hard for me to pick up and just move and leave my family and all my friends who are in New York. I didn’t know a single person here (in Austin). So that’s also a side of the game that people don’t think about. It’s like, ‘Oh, we acquired Jared Stroud’, but you don’t think, oh, he doesn’t know anyone in Austin and has never even been to Texas before! But it’s been amazing, which I’ve been fortunate about because that doesn’t always happen with players. Not everyone can get picked to a good team or traded to a team that they want, so I got lucky.
LWOS: You’ve scored some goals in your career, but you’re really known for your assists, setting records at the college level, and even putting up impressive numbers as a pro. For you, are providing assists as much as a buzz as scoring a goal?
Stroud: Yeah, I think so. It’s always been a part of my game. I had seasons at Red Bull where I scored a lot of goals, too, and I’ve already had a lot of shots here and think the goals will start coming, it’s just a matter of time. Actually, I’ve basically had more shots so far than all of last year, and playing under Josh I think I’ll score a lot of goals as well. But I think I’m just a good passer of the ball. I watch a lot of soccer and some of my favorite players are good passers like De Bruyne and Mahrez, players like that, so I don’t know if that has something to do with it? Even if I’m defending a little further down on the pitch and get the ball, I have good vision and can see plays from there.
LWOS: You’ve certainly made your mark on the team already, gaining a lot of fans in the process. What would you say to the young fans out there who, like you, are keen to pursue a career in soccer? What advice would you give them?
Stroud: I’d say, just enjoy it. You’ve got to love the game. I think that’s always the most important part at a young age, enjoying your teammates and having fun off the field. Beyond that, I would just say keep working, keep innovating, always trying to figure out ways that you can make yourself better. Watch games online and see situations that you can try to replicate in training. And train as much as you can as long as you’re enjoying it. I always love training because I love working out! Even if I wasn’t training or playing soccer, I’d be working out so it’s like, I always see soccer as the most fun way to work out! As a kid, I used to play barefoot with a volleyball and just rip it with my brothers and my friends – that’s the best part about soccer, you know, not everyone has to play pro.
LWOS: And ask your parents to clear the basement, right?
Stroud: Yeah, ask your parents to cement the basement up so that you can just destroy it, or so that you can’t destroy it!
Photo courtesy of Austin FC.