Even in his wildest dreams, former University of New Mexico soccer standout Kyle Venter never thought he’d be playing in front of more than 86,000 fans in the Rose Bowl or lining up across from one of the English Premier League’s best teams.
But last month, he did both. Unfortunately for Venter, that unimaginable accomplishment lasted just a few minutes before turning into a nightmare.
In a July 23 friendly between Venter’s Major League Soccer squad, the LA Galaxy, and EPL powerhouse Manchester United, Venter entered the game in the 61st minute as a sub and soaked in the crowd of 86,432 and in Pasadena, Calif.
“That was pretty incredible,” Venter said. “To play in front of 86,000 and play against such a historic club, was definitely something I’ll remember.
“Obviously everyone has dreams as a kid and some are more realistic. Becoming a pro was never out of my mind but having that opportunity didn’t really come into my mind so it made it that much more special.”
A few minutes after finally getting in a game with the Galaxy for that special moment, Venter’s rookie season was over.
Venter, who was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the Galaxy in January’s MLS SuperDraft after a stellar career with the Lobos, suffered in injured labrum – a recurrence of a college injury – 3½ minutes after getting on the field against Man U.
“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotion,” Venter said. “There was some frustration from not being able to get on the field and when I finally get on the field and have it cut so short, it was interesting but it didn’t really take away from the experience.”
That experience was Venter’s very first appearance for the Galaxy this season and, after undergoing shoulder surgery Wednesday which will keep him sidelined for about six months, it was also Venter’s last.
During his four years at UNM, the 6-3, 190-pound Venter appeared in 86 matches, scoring eight goals, including a career-best five in 2011, and four assists.
Last season, Venter was named the Conference USA Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year
Venter helped the Lobos reach the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years in Albuquerque and is the Lobos’ all-time leader in minutes played.
“He was a leader and he was a warrior,” UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “He was a huge part of our success.”
After playing and winning so much for the Lobos, Venter struggled to adjust to spending so much time on the sideline with the Galaxy.
“I’ve taken it day by day and taken it as a learning experience,” Venter said. “I try not to get frustrated and more just taking each time as a chance to get better. There’s been some times of frustration but I keep in perspective and don’t get down on myself. Overall, it’s been a good experience so far.”
According to Fishbein, that attitude toward his lost rookie season is exactly what Venter needs in order to come back and make an impact in MLS.
“He knew he was going on to a very good team and there’s not a lot of rotation as a center back, so I think he went in knowing that he had to be patient,” Fishbein said. “But knowing and coping with it are two different things for a guy who played every minute here. He’s a smart guy and a confident player and he knows his time is going to come.”
Before joining the Galaxy, Venter made nine appearances and scored one goal for the LA Galaxy II, which is not another Hollywood sequel but the Galaxy’s reserve team in the USL Pro league.
Los Angeles is the only MLS team to own and operate its own USL Pro squad, which Venter said was helpful in his development this season.
“It makes things really easy for the club when they want to get players experience and playing time and you can just send them off to another practice field instead of a different state,” Venter said. “As far as playing with them, it’s been awesome. The coach down there, Curt Onalfo, really takes pride in developing players. It’s been a great experience learning from him. That’s been a big part in my development.
“I’ve been kind of bounced around between the first team and the USL team. It’s just whoever needs me or whoever wants to use me, but I try to learn what I can from everybody.”
While with the Galaxy, Venter was able to sponge some knowledge and advice from some big names in U.S. soccer. The Galaxy’s head coach Bruce Arena is the former head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. LA’s Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez both have experience playing for the USMNT in the World Cup.
“It’s been pretty special to be able to learn from them,” Venter said. “We have a great locker room, great coaches, everything is just top-notch and World class here.”
Like any soccer player, Venter hopes to someday add national team experience to his resumé, but first he has plans to crack the rotation with the Galaxy next season and make a name for himself.
“First and foremost, I just want to get healthy from this shoulder surgery, to get back as strong as I can,” Venter said. “Next season, I hope to earn a spot in the 18 on every gameday and if certain things align, the starting 11. Long term, just to have the best career I can. I know soccer isn’t going to last forever but my goal is to make the most of it and work hard everyday and be someone people can look up to and be proud of.”
Venter’s old college coach is confident that the 23-year-old center back will do just that.
“Kyle is going to be a very good player,” Fishbein said. “If he chooses that this is the path he wants to continue to take and is patient, he’s going to find a lot of success.”