If one watches a New England Revolution game, odds are they'll notice a blue-eyed left back with an All-American crew cut defending one-on-one, only to pick out an inch-perfect cross moments later.
That's Chris Tierney, and most people know his story, mainly because of its feel-good nature. He possesses a left foot that figureheads can't help but rave about, he's a part of U.S. national team rumblings and, of course, there's his journey from the 2008 Supplemental Draft to the 2015 Major League Soccer All-Star Team.
In every sense of the phrase, the Wellesley, Massachusetts native is a local boy done right.
"Watching his career and following him, what a great story of a guy who was against the odds," said George Gelnovatch, Tierney's coach at the University of Virginia. "There's really no other way to put it."
The highlights are all one discerns, though, because they're merely snapshots. They don't unveil what makes him tick or shed light on his leadership qualities, training ground mentality, or character. Truthfully, the 30-year-old's ascension and accomplishments are neither straightforward nor simple.
There were moments throughout the years where things just clicked, and Paul Mariner knows those instances better than most. He coached Tierney during his youth soccer days and as a Revolution assistant in the late 2000's, leading to a unique relationship.
Mariner recalls Tierney's "very, very good" left foot, but also that he struggled at times to put everything together on the field. So, when their Boston Bolts team was at a local tournament, Mariner had a few choice, but purposeful, words for a teenager perhaps in need of a reality check.
"When a player isn't giving what he has to offer, you get a bit irate," Mariner said. "After one game I pulled the team around and ripped into Chris. I said, ‘look, don't waste my time, don't waste your time if you're going to be here.' I'd like to think it fired his desire to become a good pro."
Photo by: Geoff Burke – USA TODAY Sports
The verdict is still out on that occasion, but Gelnovatch's memories of the Revolution staple reveal Mariner's words didn't fall on deaf ears. Gelnovatch always recognized Tierney's technique, engine and character as top notch, but professional soccer seemed somewhat out of reach.
Then, a switch went off in his senior season and those aspirations became a real possibility.
"The key, and I don't think Chris would even realize this, in his senior year was that little bit of change in his professional approach," Gelnovatch said. "Starting in the warmups, in the weight room and just everything that we did. Really buying into trying to get better every day and not just being a college guy showing up and going through the motions."
As Tierney's former coaches alluded to, there were signs the Noble and Greenough School graduate could forge a career out of soccer, and their inclinations were spot on. Tierney will soon enter his ninth season, and will surely add to his 11 goals, 34 assists and 176 starts – all of which have come with the Revolution.
Much like Tierney's other accolades, those numbers don't quite paint the whole picture, though. They don't illustrate how he became "a consummate professional" or someone the Revs look towards when the going gets tough.
Bobby Shuttleworth, who rooms with the veteran on road trips and said it was Tierney's openness that helped ease his transition to MLS, can't help but notice "110 percent effort" every day in practice.
"If you're at our training, you'll see he's putting a shift in and demanding that from everyone else on the team," the goalkeeper said. "As an older player, the younger players are going to see that and they have no choice but to try and match that intensity and work rate."
That approach resonates with Tierney himself, as he credits the likes of Shalrie Joseph, Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston as people he soaked up bits and pieces from when his career was in its infancy. Even when playing time was hard to come by as a rookie or second-year player, Tierney was focused on going about his business every day, confident in what's admittedly a long process.
He also credits much of his success to grinding in practice when nobody appears to be watching, as those moments lay the foundation for a prolonged career.
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"I'm just thinking about the next training session or giving 110 percent every time I play in games or practice," Tierney said. "I think towards the end my career I'll start to look back at distance I've covered, but I still think the attitude is I need to continue to work hard to have any sort of success."
While the right mentality might have been a long time coming, there's no denying it manifests itself every day now. Shuttleworth even went so far as to call him "the best left back in the league" and Mariner believes Tierney hasn't received a sniff at the national team only because of DaMarcus Beasley's own esteemed career.
As is often the case with Tierney, those plaudits don't resonate too much or serve as motivation. Rather, he's set on finding a role within the Revolution, being aware of his own limitations and honing the skills that have kept him in the league for so long.
Mariner added that it's certainly helped Tierney is a "tremendous listener" and "tremendous student of the game" who is New England through and through, but those who know him best always return to his attitude and professionalism.
After all, it's all led to a career near family and friends, his hometown and the very club he grew up supporting.
"I've taken this all very seriously because it's something I've worked for and wanted my whole playing career," Tierney said. "It's been such a huge part of my life now for the last eight years, so I really feel like I've grown up with this team and it's occupied a huge portion of my life."
"It's something I'm very proud of and really value," Tierney added, pausing briefly. "I truly care about this club doing well."