Troyes and former US Under-20 keeper has fielded yours - as well as two of his former US teammates - questions in this edition of Best XI.
I) Has Troyes discussed a possible loan situation for you next season, and what are your thoughts on that possibility? Second, how is your experience been with Troyes so far?
- Ben Clanton, Starkville, Mississippi
We've discussed it with Troyes, but it's hard to find a club willing to hand a starting spot to a young goalkeeper they've picked up on a one-year loan. Indeed, first and second division French clubs barely take a chance on a young keeper unless they trained him in their academy.
I think my best chance is to break out with Troyes as soon as possible. If the situation doesn't change in a couple of years when I'm 22, I may need to look elsewhere but for now, I m really focused on my evolution as a keeper and acquiring some patience. The only way I would go on loan would be if I had a really good opportunity. To be honest, we talked fairly recently about a loan to a MLS club, but the fact that the two leagues have such different schedules made it hard for my president to let me go. I was really excited about that possibility, but guess I'll have to wait a bit before I experience MLS.
So far my experience with Troyes has been great. They've allowed me to be a part of American national teams without jeopardizing my situation with them. They've always done what's best for me as a goalkeeper and as a man. They've brought me through the different stages of my young club career without worrying about my age as long as my performance on the field confirmed their confidence. I can't complain. I just want to keep it going. And I'll be vying for the starting position when preseason training begins at the end of June.
II) What is your greatest moment in your young career?
- Ashley Upchurch, Wilmington, North Carolina
Right now, many more good moments come to mind than bad ones – and the good moments are mostly team moments. I prefer to lay low if I play a good match or have a good series of games. I try to never get worked up because staying simple and concentrated makes the tough times easier. And there are some.
For example, getting out of the "Group of Death" undefeated with three shutouts during the Under-20 World Cup last summer in Holland was fantastic, but a few days later we took two own goals and got eliminated by Italy. Before we realized it, we got spanked and sent home. So I'm working harder every day to live better moments. And my final answer would be that the greatest are still to come.
III) What are a few of your favorite bands?
- Brian Murphy, Montpelier, Vermont
I listen to a lot of music in general. Everywhere - in my car, at home, even in the locker room, where I'm in charge - especially on game days. I enjoy mostly rap and R&B, but also anything that's sung with acoustic guitar.
I go from Nelly, R. Kelly and Wyclef Jean to James Blunt, Ben Harper and then also a lot of old school like Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and not that old like Tracy Chapman. I'm always on internet trying to see who's coming out with new records because everything American comes out late in France.
IV) How did you get the chance to play professionally and what advice can you give me as a goalkeeper that could help me achieve my goal of becoming a professional?
- Jason Roberts, Brenham, Texas
Growing up, I played with the modest club team in my hometown and was scouted by PSG when I was barely 11. Then I was selected for the Institut National de Football, the French Federation's national soccer school. Being more passionate about soccer than anything else at the age of 13 and leaving home for such an opportunity kind of sets the path. I signed with Troyes when I left the INF.
Regardless of the path, it's only daily work and love of the game - focusing on my improvement as a player and as a teammate. So many kids your age want to make it, there's no time for too much thinking.
Tips I could give you to fulfill your dream? Enjoy every single minute you spend on the field and always try to improve every aspect of your game - the strengths and especially the weaknesses. Always keep working with one goal in mind - repeating to yourself that you're going to make it regardless.
Some things you can't always control, like injuries. The less you are injured, the more you are going to make a difference. The only way to prevent them off the field is to work on your fitness every day, get regular sleep, eat healthy. And obviously drop the drink and drugs.
V) I know you have lived in France all your life, but wouldn't you like to know what life is really like here in the States?
- Patrick Ianni, Houston, Texas
I've never been to school in the States nor spent a full year there, so I can't really say I know what life in the States "really is." I do have an idea about being the son of an American father and a French mother.
I've spent most of my summers there for the past 20 years – first on vacation and then with the U-17s and U-20s. I've visited most of the country.
Anyway, I do have a feel for life in the States – it's just that I've never experienced long term. But I'm definitely planning on living there for a while, either with soccer or after soccer.
VI) How does one prepare themselves in case of an emergency inclusion and what are you able to take from the matches as a substitute?
- Michael Vann, Lexington, Kentucky
I was on the bench for all 38 of the first team league games. It was pretty new to me since I had only seen first team experience five times in the two previous seasons. I didn't feel much frustration at first, given the fact that I was probably the youngest keeper regularly in Ligue 1, even backing up.
Usually a 22 or 23-year old back up is considered very young here, and I was 19. Anyway, it was a very instructive experience. I dealt with it this way – how and why be negative? After a few games though, I wanted the pressure and excitement of being on the field. It didn't happen this year because the starter Ronan Le Crom had a great season and had no injuries that kept him off the field. So I'm waiting…
I prepare myself just the way I would if I was starting. I stay a few extra minutes with the goalkeeper coach after warm-ups to handle a few balls just to raise the intensity level so my hands, head and body are ready at any moment. I want to be ready physically and psychologically when the time comes for me to step on the field.
VII) As a young goalkeeper, I was wondering how you get scouts really to see you (besides being on a good team), and how you make such a big jump to playing in Europe at such a young age?
- Max Alatorre, San Diego, California
I was born and raised as a soccer player in France, with one of the best leagues and soccer cultures in Europe - a place where soccer is the national sport, where anybody that sees a bit of potential in you wants you to become the next Zinedine Zidane.
I was lucky enough to get spotted early in a small club, and afterwards there were scouts everywhere we played. You know, you may not be seen when you play for a good team - it's when you play against good teams that keepers get spotted.
The INF is probably the place where the most scouts come looking because after the three-year cycle, pro clubs interested in you propose a contract in their academy. That's what happened to me and 18 other guys out of the 22 in our promotion. So being in France and the INF helped me considerably at the start of my career.
VIII) Do you see yourself moving on from Troyes in the next few years to get more first team soccer? If so, would you like to remain in France or move abroad, perhaps to MLS or England?
- Gus Delaporte, Far Hills, New Jersey
I definitely see myself moving on from Troyes sooner or later, but right now it looks like it's the best place for me to be. I have a coaching staff and a president that have shown a lot of confidence and trust in me. They've proved they have a plan for me ever since I got into the academy at the age of 16. They want me to become the #1 keeper in a near future. That's why they signed me to a four-year deal right after the World Championships in Holland.
I want to grab that opportunity, play early and get that priceless experience as young as possible. I want to prove them right and do the job. So I'm in no big hurry to leave Troyes soon - as long as we remain in Ligue 1. But sure - once established as a Ligue 1 keeper, I do want to experience other top leagues - in Spain, England and sooner or later MLS.
IX) While at the Under-20 Championships I always noticed that your hair was so perfect, even during dinner and team meetings. How do you keep it so stylish?
- Brad Evans, Newport Beach, California
Well it's nice you remember it that way, but you really couldn't have paid that much attention because except for matches, I didn't fix it. It's just that my hair took the shape of the Mohawk, so it kinda makes it look like I work on it everyday when really I don't. I guess I just have to thank the gel companies for making such good products that shape very, very fast.
X) What do you think it will take to break into the USMNT line-up down the road?
- Fritz Cournoyer, Kendall, Washington
Playing time with the first team in Troyes. Then, of course, I need to perform and prove that I can represent my country at the highest level. But that begins by breaking into the French Ligue 1 - one of the top leagues in the world.
Playing against teams like Lyon, Marseille or Paris is always exciting. It gives you a feel of what the top level really is. When I signed with Troyes at 16, I was the #7 keeper. Three years later, I'm #2. Right now my only focus is to become #1 and get the playing time necessary to maybe be considered for the full team one day.
But anyway, first there's the Olympics...
XI) Could you talk a little about what being both French and American has meant for your soccer development?
- Henry Willmore, Berkeley, California
Actually, I really think that if I'm a professional today, it's because of my development both in France and in the US. I always try to take what's best for me as an athlete and a keeper from both cultures and honestly think that if I hadn't made the choice of playing internationally for the US youth teams, I wouldn't be in my situation today and wouldn't have developed as quickly.
Playing 40 to 50 games for the past three years both with the US and Troyes has given me a lot of experience fairly young. Playing all these matches as I grow into the professional world has helped me considerably. I think Troyes released me for the U-17s and U-20s with that in mind. And I'm grateful.
My brother Sam was called once into a U-15 camp a few years ago, but it didn't work out a well as we'd hoped. He's tried out for a couple of pro youth teams here and played with the ODP team in Germany. Right now he's the playmaker and team captain of one of the best U-18 club teams in the Paris regional league, coaches a youth squad and is pursuing his university studies.