“You did well. But we’re going to have to let you go.”
And just like that, Alex DeJohn’s dream could’ve been over.
It was late winter, the air cold as he stepped out of Jay Heaps’ office and off to the next step in his amazing soccer journey.
DeJohn grew up playing all different sports, as most normal American kids do. It wasn’t until late in high hchool that he began to realize soccer was the sport he had to choose to achieve a pipe dream of his and every kid, to be a pro athlete.
Part of this realization came with finding a true and permanent position.
“When I went to play with the regional team they put me at center back for one game and I did really well and then I just started to play center back from there ever since.” DeJohn told SoccerOverThere.com from Norway.
His play went on to earn him a spot on a Division I college roster at Old Dominion University. As has been the case ever since for Alex, the six foot tall defender couldn’t be kept off the field. By midway through his freshman year he was starting at right back. By sophomore year he was one of the starting center backs, and that never changed the rest of his time on campus.
He ended up with 61 starts in his four years in Norfolk, gaining the experience necessary to succeed in the center of defense.
By his junior year the thought finally crept in that just maybe he’d be able to make that idea about going pro a reality.
The fall after his senior year he attended a three day camp with the New England Revolution. His performance sticking out enough that the Revs took DeJohn with the 42nd pick in the 2013 Supplemental Draft.
Training camp ensued, a preseason tournament in Arizona, and finally the inevitable cuts that come every year.
Right before the season was set to start, head coach Jay Heaps called him in for the conversation.
As DeJohn describes the talk, “He pulled me into his office and said ‘Alex, you’re a really good player, you did really well. We knew it was going to be a hard roster for you to make. We wanted to bring you in here, see what you did. You did well. But we’re going to have to let you go.’”
It’s a moment we all deal with at some point, whether at work or in our personal lives, rejection. New England already had the likes of defender’s Jose Gonçalves, AJ Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Andrew Farrell, and Darrius Barnes in the squad. With a deep list of either experienced or highly touted prospects, there was never really any room for him with the Revolution.
DeJohn could have handled the cut in one of two ways, positively or negatively. He chose the former, “I definitely didn’t second guess myself. I’m not a guy to ever give up, especially on my dream.” He continued assertively, “It just motivated me more.”
So here he was, a hard-nosed New Jersey kid with the first real setback of his soccer career.
With Heaps’ words as fuel and an agent with ties to Finland, DeJohn would soon find himself roughly 4,000 miles away from home for a chance to continue a dream.
His first stop overseas, EIF in Finland’s third tier. Apparently his agent’s ties to the country run VERY deep. The beginning of his time in this new place wasn’t always roses for Alex, “The first couple weeks I was there second guessing myself.”
EIF sits in a small Finnish town and at that third division level isn’t always the most professional of atmospheres. Despite the situation being less than ideal, DeJohn describes it as one he put his head down and worked through because it was necessary to achieve his goals.
In the end he got exactly what he needed, playing time.
26 appearances, all of them starts, later his successful season did enough to impress an assistant at an affiliated Finnish top division club.
When that assistant moved clubs to TPS, he made sure the team secured DeJohn’s services.
With year one a success, it was time for the former ODU Monarch to prove it in Finland’s big time.
He noticed an immediate step up in quality, as expected, and continued to adjust to the different style of play Finland offers from what he’s used to. “You (could) tell the players in Finland were a bit more technical and a little bit more tactical. Compared to the play in the college level where there are obviously technical players but it’s fast and physical,” he explained.
Once again he had no problem holding his own, remaining one of the club’s starting defenders the entire year.
While it may have been a successful year personally, the same can’t be said for the club as a whole. As DeJohn describes, “(the club) had some financial problems so we had a lot of young players, who it was also their first year playing in the league. We fought, we tried, but we wound up getting relegated.”
As a result DeJohn would not return to the club. Now without a team and after positive start to his European career, he was at a crossroads.
He knew he wanted to move once again to that next level, which meant leaving Finland for a country with a higher quality league.
The soccer world is a big one, with it impossible for clubs (let alone smaller ones) to be able to scout every player. In today’s day in age the most valuable tool for the undiscovered players like DeJohn is a short highlight tape on YouTube.
It’s how the 23-year-old is now a member of IK Start in Norway’s top division. He describes, “(my agent) sent a couple people my highlight tape, and that’s when he got a call from some guy at Start that wanted me to come.”
It all sounds much too easy but it’s the way many of the leagues outside the top level work.
Going off of roughly four minutes of tape the Kristiansand based Norwegian club that has seen Clarence Goodson and Hunter Freeman through its doors welcomes yet another American.
Now entering his third season as a professional, DeJohn looks forward to his newest challenge. Norway is universally considered a stronger league than Finland, and is perhaps the strongest in Scandinavia outside of Denmark.
He has already noticed the rise in competition, “it’s been good so far, definitely a big step (up). Everybody at the level is a lot higher, everything’s a lot more professional.” Quickly adding, “I’m excited to be here.”
It’s another step up, another step towards proving the Revolution that the club was wrong in letting him go. In the end, it’s another step in reaching his goal of playing at the highest level possible.
“I would love to play in Italy or one of the big countries.” able to hear the excitement in his tone. DeJohn continues, “I’m working on getting my Italian passport now which would be big.”
For now DeJohn keeps his feet on the ground, knowing he still needs vital playing time to continue to develop. All signs point to that not being a problem, “I have a good feeling. We’ve had four preseason games and I’ve started and played every minute.”
Back in 2013, as the conversation inside Jay Heaps’ office was winding down; DeJohn remembers one other particular statement the coach made. He looked at the Marlboro Township native and told him he thought he could “play at this level.”
All the Start man has done in his short career is prove Heaps right. At 23-years-old, about to embark on the next step in his young career, the question is how high will Alex DeJohn go?