With a resume that included two successful years at Creighton University and caps with the US under-17 and under-20 teams, Tyler Polak had a lot of potential when he joined the New England Revolution in 2012. Two years later, the Nebraska native exited with only one first team appearance. Polak has now joined Minnesota United of NASL in search of playing time and a fresh start.
Polak had long aimed to be a professional soccer player and even trialed in Germany before attending Creighton. During his time with the Bluejays, Polak started 44 games and was a two-time NSCAA All-Midwest honoree. In 2011, he was a member of the record-setting back line that only allowed five goals all year and 2.8 shots on goal per game.
Stout defending helped bring Creighton to the semifinals of the College Cup in 2011. After a scoreless 110 minutes, UNC Charlotte topped Creighton 4-1 in penalty kicks. With talented players like Greg Jordan, Ethan Finlay and Andrew Duran graduating from college, Polak thought it was time to once again explore professional options.
This time Polak stayed domestic, signing a coveted Generation ADIDIAS contract. He officially became a MLS player when he was selected by the Revs with the 22nd overall pick. Polak made his debut in the season opener against the San Jose Earthquakes when he replaced an injured AJ Soares in the 60th minute.
"It was kind of a teaser in some way," Polak reflected. "I thought I was going to get a little more playing time."
Polak didn't play another regular season minute during his rookie campaign. Regardless, he remained committed during practice and absorbed the advice of veterans like Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis and Chris Tierney.
Polak returned to the team in 2013 but found himself in a different situation. The Revs had recently partnered with the Rochester Rhinos of the USL Pro and were sending four players, including Polak, on loan. While Polak would've liked to have been earning time with the first team, he found the loan to be helpful.
"It was a good experience," Polak commented. "I thought it was overall a good thing that they did that because they'd have, what, eleven players sitting aside just watching the games. Instead, we're getting in games, getting ourselves better and hopefully getting our teammates better as well."
The loan to Rochester also allowed Polak to experiment more. While typically a left back, Polak sometimes lined up as a midfielder while with the Rhinos. This was a valuable experience for him and something that probably wouldn't have happened if he had stayed in New England.
"I hadn't played midfield in a while," Polak said. "It felt good being in the midfield and being able to get forward knowing that you had people behind you that, if you do lose the ball, would recover the ball back. You get more freedom in the midfield."
Polak maintained regular contact with the Revolution coaching staff, talking on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. He was also recalled by the Revs to play in US Open Cup games against the Rhinos and the New York Red Bulls. Polak would rejoin the first team on a permanent basis at the conclusion of the USL Pro season.
While Polak wasn't brought back for a third year, he's grateful for his time with the Revs. The experiences he had and feedback he received were instrumental as he started the quest for employment.
"Regardless of whether you're going to be playing with the first team or not, you want to get the most out of the environment and playing with top players," Polak said before naming Reis, Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene. "Going under their wings and taking as much information and knowledge that they have and just try to learn from it and take what you can from it."
In need of a new team, Polak, who was told that he might get invited to come to the Revs' preseason camp, once again ventured to Germany.
"I think it's good to go to different clubs and see what they have to offer," Polak commented. "[It's] just a totally different atmosphere between MLS and NASL clubs and German league teams. Just getting the experience of going overseas and seeing that atmosphere."
When nothing materialized from the trip overseas, Polak returned stateside, earning a trial with the Red Bulls. Polak entered camp fully prepared after enduring three training sessions a day in Germany.
Polak earned preseason minutes and an extended stay after impressing coach Mike Petke. In the end, he wasn't offered a contract as the Red Bulls decided to sign Cameroon defender Ambroise Oyongo.
Polak's next stop put him in a more familiar situation as he trialed with Minnesota United, the team that features his brother Nate. The siblings play on the opposite sides of the pitch since Tyler is a defender and Nate is a forward. Playing with his brother was both comforting and encouraging.
"We're going to be pushing each other because we want each other to be the best players that we can be," Polak said. "I think that helps out a lot. We're going to communicating off the field and letting each other know what we did wrong and what we can do better."
Polak signed with Minnesota United on April 4th with the belief that he finally found the right fit. Polak will start the season behind Justin Davis, but he looks forward challenging the experienced defender and hopefully earning playing time. More than anything else, Polak is happy to have a fresh start.
"I think it's a clean slate," Polak stated. "It's something that I need at this point. I think it's going to help me and hopefully I can make this team better."
At 21 years old, Polak is still young and still has a lot of potential. His transition to life as a professional soccer player has been rocky, but Polak has learned a lot of lessons along the way that will help make his time with Minnesota United successful.
"Failing is one thing in a person's career, everyone is going to do it," Polak remarked. "It's how you're going to react to the failure, the stumbles and falls. It's good to get feedback from people, regardless of whether it's negative or positive. I've gotten a lot of feedback throughout my career and I've taken it and turned it into positive things."