GARETH MAHER - Thursday, September 23, 2010
Chris Konopka may not have played a single minute of action for Waterford United since June, but the goalkeeper is staying positive ahead of the Airtricity League First Division run-in in Ireland.
In many ways, Waterford is a world away from New Jersey, yet Konopka feels comfortable in the Munster county as he continues to make the most of his third year playing professionally in Ireland.
The giant shot-stopper picked up winners medals during his time with Bohemians and Sporting Fingal before taking a gamble by dropping down to the First Division in the Airtricity League in order to link up with Waterford.
For the 25-year-old, the plan was to join a team where he would have the chance of playing regular first-team soccer. That appeared to be working after he made 12 starts for the Blues in a noteworthy start to the 2010 season.
Yet, it all came crashing down for the former Kansas City Wizards player when he was sent off after just nine minutes of an FAI Ford Cup tie against Longford Town in June.
"That sending off was so unfortunate," Konopka told YA. "I had started almost every game up to that point, but I had to serve a suspension from it and have been on the sidelines ever since."
"What is even more disappointing about it is that the referee was going to play on [after taking down Longford's Mark Salmon], but his assistant called him over and recommended that I be sent off," he continued. "That was a big blow as it was so early in the game and we only lost by one goal."
Konopka has not been able to break back into the first-team since then with rookie keeper Kevin Burns holding down the number one spot. Yet he remains surprisingly upbeat and insists he has no regrets about making the move to Waterford.
"I'm not bitter at all," said the New Jersey native. "My luck will change sooner or later - I just have to keep working hard in training and giving the coach something to think about. But I certainly don't regret joining Waterford."
"I made a flying start, picked up a lot of games and I feel that I have matured more as a player. It has been a great experience and hopefully I can feature before the end of the season as we are still pushing for promotion."
Even if Konopka does not break back into the Blues team for their remaining six league games, he has opened up a possible move to England by securing Polish citizenship through family ties and that makes him eligible for a European work permit.
It was work permit issues that ended his chances of landing a contract with Charlton Athletic, Cardiff City and Walsall back in 2008, but he now has a Polish passport and that could open up a route to England - where he is eager to test himself.
"During the summer I finally got my Polish citizenship sorted, which is great," he stated. "I'm not sure if it will lead to anything but I did have problems with my work permit in the past."
"I spent a week training with Huddersfield Town during the summer break, just to get myself exposed a little over in England. It was a no-strings-attached spell and Waterford were okay with me going over. I'll have to wait and see what happens once the season in Ireland finishes."
Whether he gets back into the Waterford team or not, it appears that Konopka is still making waves in his career as he makes the most of the Irish surf in Tramore and the experience of full-time soccer in a top European league.