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Life After PC – The Cowl
February 8, 2007

Feature story from Providence College’s newspaper The Cowl, on former Jersey Shore Boca standout Chris Konopka

Life after PC
In America or overseas, opportunities await Konopka

Erin Redihan ’08
Posted: 2/8/07

Where was Chris Konopka when he got the call saying that he had been drafted to play Major League Soccer with the Kansas City Wizards?

“Doing laundry in Mal Brown,” said Providence’s senior goaltender. “My agent called me when I was in the basement doing my laundry.”

Anyone who thinks that doing laundry is boring certainly has not talked to Konopka lately.

The phone call from Konopka’s agent set off a new and exciting chain of events for the Providence star. He had almost no time to pack up and find his way to Kansas City, where training for the 2007 season has already begun.

“I sort of had to finish up school in less than a week because I had to report out to Kansas City by the following Friday,” said Konopka.

The team began its 2007 workouts on the site where the Kansas City Chiefs play. This week, the players travel to Florida to continue their spring training. After a month in the Sunshine State, it is off to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for some preseason matches.

So what is spring training like in Major League Soccer?

“Right now we have one-a-days, practice in the morning from like 10:00 until around 1:00,” said Konopka. “Then you have time to relax in the afternoon or do your own thing.”

It’s a far cry from a world filled with studying for civ exams and trying to cram in reading amidst both team practice and conditioning sessions in the weight room, as the typical athlete at PC must find time for each day.

Some things are not so different from the college life, though-like living arrangements.

“All of the players are put up in a hotel and we have time to mingle and relax,” said Konopka. “We can all meet each other because we all come from different backgrounds. I only knew one person on the team coming out here, so it’s nice to meet a couple of new players.”

But the excitement does not stop there for Konopka. After training for a few weeks in Kansas City, he is on the move again, currently in London on trial with Charlton Athletic, one of the English Premier League teams based in London.

“There’s actually a lot of interest in Europe right now,” said Konopka. “They’re flying me over for a week or two to see how I do. Maybe they’ll pick me up or something. Europe’s not out of the question, but I’m definitely not canceling anything right now.”

There are many options still on the table for Konopka, including an exciting opportunity to play in Britain. Since he has impressed European scouts with his recent play, Konopka’s next step will be to obtain a Polish visa in order to increase his chances of playing overseas. In European soccer, each team is allowed five roster spots for non-European players. Since this is a fairly strict limit, it might have prevented Konopka from playing for a top team. The visa would remove this restriction, making him more marketable to the elite teams.

Cardiff City, another team from English soccer (though it is based in Wales), is prepared to talk contracts if Konopka is able to procure the coveted passport, following a strong showing in a try out with its staff earlier this week.

Given the choice, where would Konopka like to play?

If he were to stay in the United States, a couple of teams stick out in his mind.

“Me being from New Jersey, it would have been something to be drafted by the Red Bulls,” Konopka said. “But I wasn’t really too worried about anybody. Obviously, with David Beckham going to Los Angeles, it would have been nice to play with him. Any team’s a good team in the league; I’m just happy to get picked up.”

With Europe looking like a good possibility, Konopka has interests particularly in Great Britain.

“I’m not too keen on a lot of different languages,” he admitted. “I know a little bit of Spanish, so obviously England would be a great choice for me. And that’s actually where a lot of the interest has come. The English Premier League is probably rated the best league in the entire world, and I’m lucky enough to have a trial with a team in that league coming up.”

While luck is an important part of any athlete’s career, it is far from being the only factor in one’s success. The adage “practice makes perfect” rings true when it comes to playing soccer at the highest level. Hard work and dedication are crucial to making it to the majors, and Konopka is no stranger to either of these.

He began playing soccer at a young age in New Jersey youth leagues, usually as the goalie. Growing up in Toms River, Konopka played other sports, but soccer was always at the forefront.

“I played basketball,” he said. “But that was mostly to get me through the winter until soccer started up again. And I surfed in the summer. I actually brought my board out here the last two years, but that’s not something I can do in Kansas City.”

By the time he reached high school, the focus had shifted entirely to soccer. The recruitment offers began to trickle in starting during his sophomore year. By his seinor year, Konopka had received offers from several schools such as Seton Hall, West Virginia, American University, and Monmouth, to name a few. From the start, however, there was only one school that mattered.

“Everything about Providence I fell in love with,” Konopka said. “The coaching staff, the players, the atmosphere. I felt like it was the perfect fit for me. Once I stopped up in Providence and came for recruiting trips and met with [Providence Head Coach] Chaka [Daley], I didn’t feel like I’d like any place except Providence.”

As any PC soccer fan will tell you, the Friars were very lucky to score a recruit like Konopka. He played four years in goal, including every minute of the 2005 season. Over four seasons, Konopka had 12 shutouts and a career .777 save percentage. He also played in three Big East Tournaments over four seasons.

In 2006, he played a key role in Providence’s school record seven conference wins and helped the Friars to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, one of his proudest accomplishments.

“A lot of people don’t realize what a big deal it is to play in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “It’s just such a huge deal to get there, to be nominated to play in the tournament. It’s a whole different experience. The stands were packed; it was standing room only when we were playing Hofstra. The crowd stormed the field. We broke down the fence when we won. It’s an entirely different atmosphere than during a regular game.”

Hard work does not go unheralded. For his efforts, Konopka was named to the Second Team All Big East and was one of five goalies invited to the Adidas Major League Soccer Combine in January. The Combine is made up of players who have a realistic shot at being drafted. The players are selected by Division I soccer coaches across the country.

There, he played in hopes of impressing the scouts and being selected in the MLS Drafts on Jan. 12 and Jan. 18, a feat that he was able to accomplish when the Wizards chose him as the 29th overall pick in the MLS Supplemental Draft.

“When you’re in high school, your dream is just to keep on playing,” said Konopka. “And the next place to play is college. Once you get to play in college and you’re finishing up, you just have to hope you can play at a professional level.”

Right now, Konopka is well on his way to that next step, the one that many young soccer players aspire to but only a select few will reach. The coming weeks should be exciting as he finishes his try out with Charlton and waits to see where his next home field will be.

Regardless of whether Konopka hangs his cleats in Kansas City or somewhere in Europe, his future will doubtlessly be filled with many new experiences that will add to an already eventful soccer career.

Editor’s Note: Throughout the course of the semester, the Sports staff will examine the prospects of several former Friar athletes in a feature we like to call “Life after PC.”
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