BRENDAN WIMBERLY - Monday, April 16, 2012
Throughout his college career, Neal Kitson moved up the ranks. Starting his career at D-II Dowling College, Kitson was able to earn a transfer to his hometown St. Johns University following his freshman year. '
After redshirting in 2005, the Manhattan born, Little Neck, NY native split time over his sophomore and junior seasons. His senior season at Saint Johns, Kitson became the first choice keeper and led the team to an appearance in the final four.
"That was a special year." says Kitson, "Not losing at home, only losing...once in the regular season, once in the conference tournament and then in the Final Four."
Northampton Town FC hopes Kitson can bring some of that same magic over their final five games as they sit nine points clear of the drop zone, nearly safe from relegation out of Englands Football League.
In 2009, Kitson was drafted by the Kansas City Wizards in the third round of the MLS Super Draft. Following the draft Kitson was diagnosed with a sports hernia, as well as a torn labrum and a fractured pelvis and was subsequently cut. After rehabbing, Kitson signed on with the Rochester Rhinos of USL-2. Impressing in two years with the Rhinos, Kitson was given the opportunity to move to League Two Northampton in England this past winter.
"I came over the second week in January; I had signed a new contract at Rochester but I made sure there was a get out clause in it, because I'd always wanted to come over to England. I had up until the transfer window basically to find a club where I could leave on a free transfer." says Kitson of his move.
Kitsons agent was able to arrange a two week trial at Northhampton. Although Northhampton had two weeks to decide on Kitson, they didn't take that long.
"They were the only club I trialed with...the manger wanted me to come over, they were looking for a goalkeeper, and I came in. I was supposed to be here for two weeks and after the first week they offered me a contract until the end of the season."
With Northamptons number one keeper getting called back to his parent club, Kitson was called upon to start the last three games.
Thus far he's enjoyed a successful start to his career abroad, allowing one goal in each game while managing to save two penalties in clutch situations in his first three appearances to compile a record of 1-1-1. In his debut against Crewe Alexandra Kitson saved a stoppage time penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw. A week later, Kitson saved a penalty against Oxford United in a game which eventually ended 2-1 in Northamptons favor, giving his team the full three points.
Having played in the USL-2 before moving to England, Kitson said Englands League Two stacks up well to its American counterparts in terms of quality;
"Playing in the USL-2 and the NASL, I think League Two is a lot better."
Kitson didn't stop there, uping the comparison, saying he believes Englands League Two can compete with the American top flight.
"I think some of the teams I've played against, for example Crewe, I think could compete and are better than some MLS teams I've seen (while playing with the Rhinos)."
Born to an English father and an Indian-English mother, Kitson had an early schooling in the English game, growing up a Sheffield Wednesday fan. His association with a national team was never much of a question either.
"I was brought up very pro-English, very proud to be English. England is my number one team. "Obviously I was born in America, but you know I was raised to be English...When England play USA I'm always going for England," however Kitson still feels a tempered sense of loyalty to his nation of birth, continuing, "but other than that I would like to see USA win."
Although a call up to either the American or English National Teams is far away from the fields of League Two, Kitson discussed the possibility of having to choose between the two.
"Personally, it would mean more to me if the English National Team gave me a call up." Still, Kitson expressed an openness to representing the United States.
"I'd be honored if they gave me a call." said Kitson in regards to the United States. "If I had to pick, I think I would pick to be with the English side. But again, it would be an honor to be called up by the American side and it would definitely give me something to think about."
It's clear Kitson is very confident in his abilities and justifiably so. Success at the collegiate and professional levels have Kitson dreaming for more.
"Like every player, you want to play at the highest level. I'm not here to just settle for whatever...eventually my goal is to play at the highest, you know everyone would love to play in the Premier League."
His entire career, Kitson has shown that he has ability to progress. Looking the favorite to start the final five games of the season for Northampton, Kitson has an opportunity to impress in England. The fields of League Two may not be Wembley, but they aren't far from those of League One. Neal Kitson is starting to build a resume based on being resilient, putting in his work and waiting for his chance and he's been successful in doing so.