After a successful career at Creighton University, Zach Barnes bounced from tryout to tryout in attempt to land with a professional team. He was drafted by DC United in 2014 but after being released, he struggled to find a permanent home. Zach discussed the up and down path that eventually led to a trial with Vitoria Setubal, a first division club in Portugal.
When aspirations of playing professionally develop?
I’ve always really wanted to play from when I was 11 years old, maybe. I would go to the, what were they called, the Dallas Burn? I would go to Dallas Burn games back then with a friend. When I was younger, I always wanted to be pro-anything, like any kid does, but when I was 11, 12 and going to these games I really started to actually want to do it and really put my main focus on becoming a pro soccer player.
Did you want to play MLS or overseas more? Or did it matter?
At 11, I would see Man United or David Beckham on TV but I never really comprehended the different levels or anything. I just thought soccer was soccer all over the place. So at that age, it didn’t really matter. I thought MLS was the greatest thing ever and I didn’t know anything about Bundesliga, La Liga, or EPL. As I got older and started to really watch it, to study it, not just watch it as a fan, I wanted to play abroad. I’ve been overseas several times with my club team Dallas Texans. We went over a played a few tournaments in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland and seeing all that and traveling over there and playing in those tournaments really pushed the envelope of wanting to play somewhere in Europe. So I guess probably when I was a teenage I wanted to play in Europe and the biggest stage.
There’s a little bit of debate of how well college develops a player for the next level. So what’s the biggest thing you got out of playing at Creighton?
Creighton was awesome. I mean, you can probably there a lot of colleges that don’t really develop that many players but I’d say Creighton is one of the handful of schools that actually develop talent and quality players for soccer at the next level, no matter if it’s MLS or overseas. I’d probably say the biggest thing I took away from here was just intelligence on the field. You know, the coaches here run a style I like to play: possession-oriented and hard work in defense. It was a great atmosphere all over. On the field. Off the field. I mean, they get like a couple thousand fans a game. I think, there was one game I was playing and there was 6000, maybe more fans? Pretty much, you get a small taste of what it’s like being a pro with the lifestyle and the soccer-seriousness. The coaches here do a really good job of teaching players of how to progress on to the next level.
Skip ahead to the 2014 draft. What was the impression you got about being picked by DC United? Did you have any expectations of making the team?
Honestly, I never really expected to make the team. It kind of goes without saying that a lot of players that get drafted, no matter what round, really, don’t end up signing with the club. So I wasn’t really expecting to sign with the team. I was just going to try and go and play as good as I can in [DC’s] preseason and maybe something comes out of it. I played well but honestly I don’t think I played that great to earn a contract. So, I mean, I guess my performance got what it deserved. But going into it I wasn’t really every expecting to sign with the team.
What did you hear from DC about being released? Was there any conversation about being released?
I mean, it was kind of brief. I talked to coach and kind of asked how he thought I played. He said he thought I played okay and talked about the level between college and MLS. And then he said he thought I lived up to some of the expectations he had of me going into the preseason but they didn’t have a roster spot to offer for me and that was pretty much it. They said when it comes down to it, they focus on the main guys that are on the roster that will be playing every week and, you know, for a player like me, it would take time to develop into the league and I wouldn’t be getting that much attention throughout the season. So it was a pretty brief conversation. They thought I did okay but didn’t have a roster spot to offer me.
And where did you go after that?
So from DC United I went and tried out with Harrisburg City Islanders. I had sprained my MCL on my ankle on the first day so I waited it out for two weeks. I sat in a motel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for two weeks to try to see if my injuries would heal. I’d force myself to play. I got to play in one game. So obviously that one didn’t work out, understandably. And then I went back to Dallas, stayed at home, worked a bit, got some money. I went and trained with the Austin Aztex over the summer just to start getting back into playing. And then… I don’t even remember, I want to say in September. I believe late September-early October I went to the Austin Aztex tryouts nothing came from that. I went and played a game in October with Arizona United against Los Angeles Galaxy 2. Nothing came of that. And then I went to a Louisville City tryout in January, February? And nothing came of that. And then, what I thought was my last go at playing soccer, I was at Seattle Sounders 2 for two weeks in February. When nothing came of that I called my mom and told her I was pretty much over soccer, over the stress, and didn’t want to deal with it anymore. Nothing was going my way.
How’d you end up at Soccer Viza?
I was actually driving home from Omaha, because I’m still taking classes from Creighton to graduate, and I got a Facebook message from one of the guys who works at Soccer Viza. They were like, “Hey, I know this is super late notice,” I think it was a Friday “but we’re having a combine starting in Monday in Dallas. I don’t know if you can make it but we’d love it if you could. Here are all the scouts that are going to be there. Here’s all the info…” So when I got home I talked to my friends about it. I figured, “Why not go? i’m already home in Dallas and It wasn’t like I was going to be doing much anyway.” So I went and played well, I guess, and talked to people after. And then I think maybe like four days ago or something I got all the final confirmation of what was going to happen. So it was pretty cool, in the least, of how everything turned out. One day, I was over soccer and going into a combine thinking it was going to be the same as all the other tryouts and then I get confirmation that I’m going to be trying out with a premier team in Portugal.
What advice would you give players who are in a similar position of hitting a wall over and over?
I guess, if you really want it as bad as I’m sure as everyone says the do, there’s never really a line to stop. I mean, I’m sure a lot of players have said the same thing that I said, “This is it. I’m over it. Blah blah blah.” All that. The best advice I ever got was from a friend of mine, “Don’t ever be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and just go out and play free. Don’t be afraid to do things.” So I guess my advice to players would be “Don’t ever stop thinking anything can happen.” In my situation, I was doing nothing, just sitting at home on spring break from college and I went to this combine. Two months go by and I get a phone telling me I have a tryout in Portugal. So don’t ever stop thinking positive and don’t ever think that things aren’t going to work out because a situation could happen and you go out and do your thing.
How did Soccer Viza compare against other tryouts? What did you like about it?
Well for one, the feedback was spot on. I had never talked to [Founder and Director] Joe [Funicello] before or ever seen him in my life. When I got there and heard him talk, I was like, “Man this guy is really speaking the truth because I’ve been going through the exact thing he’s talking about.” So I kind of connected a little bit in that sense. I mean, at the tryout he was constantly pulling me aside and talking to me about things. I really liked how he was for the players. I don’t know if you’d use the word” aggressive” but he was always around the scouts there to make sure things happened for players.
And where are you now and when do you leave for the trial?
I have this semester left, just like these next three weeks left. Then I go on May 11th. So I’ve just been training and getting ready. I have some time to prepare myself both mentally and physically for it. So I’m up here finishing school at Creighton and just trying to get as ready as I can for the tryout.
For more information on Zach, read the press release from Soccer Viza.