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London Woodberry finds new home with New England Revolution

After a stuttered start to his professional career, Woodberry has settled down thousands of miles away from home.

Woodberry's far from his Texas roots, yet feels right at home under Jay Heaps' tutelage.
Woodberry's far from his Texas roots, yet feels right at home under Jay Heaps' tutelage.
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Revolution surgically worked possession out to the right flank in the ninth minute of a May 2015 match at Gillette Stadium. Several runners surged into the penalty area, hoping to will a cross past Luis Robles, the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper.

The away side's backline stood tall, yet Charlie Davies got the last laugh, sending a diving header into the net. A matador-like celebration followed suit, but the man who manufactured the breakthrough, London Woodberry, was nowhere to be found. And in many ways, that's just how the jack-of-all-trades defender is.

Woodberry's crossing ability was invaluable throughout the 2015 season.

Going about his business in an unassuming fashion, the former FC Dallas Homegrown Player, while not always a starter, has emerged as a defender who's equally dependable as he is versatile.

Things weren't always this way, though. Not even remotely, as the 24-year-old native of McKinney, Texas has played for three teams in five professional seasons. Woodberry acknowledged that it's not been the most straightforward journey, but those who know him best are just as quick to quip that the future is bright.

"There's some high moments and some low moments, and I think that happens to every player," Woodberry said. "One thing is everyone has their own route. You shouldn't compare yourself to any other player, because everything happens at different times for different people. Staying patient and motivated will help you get there, I've learned that."

That attitude has reaped dividends in the past one-and-a-half seasons, as the University of Maryland graduate has revived his career under the watchful eye of coach Jay Heaps. And, as Sasho Cirovski, his Maryland coach, put it, Woodberry's potential has always been there in increments.

"He loves the game, he’s a really likable young man that’s got a lot of personality and he keeps getting better." - Sasho Cirovski

A stalwart as a Terrapin, Woodberry struggled with some performance anxiety and the rigors of college soccer when he first arrived on campus. He also needed to refine his defending skills, and Cirovski said Woodberry did just that, flourishing into someone who reads the game deceptively well.

"I think he's always been able to deal with adversity in a positive way, because the kid's a winner," Cirovski said. "He's had some adversity in his upbringing, he's always found a way to overcome the adversity. What you're seeing is resiliency, a resilient young man who's prepared for his opportunity when he gets it."

That trajectory has defined his professional career as well. He signed for what was Schellas Hyndman's FC Dallas team in 2012, and spent two seasons playing for the very club he grew up supporting. Playing time, however, was sparse and Woodberry said the experience didn't meet his aspirations. Games were spread out, and if he wasn't seeing first-team minutes then he'd go a month or two without 11-on-11 action. Still, he takes the experience with a grain of salt and doesn't look back upon it spitefully.

Photo by: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Aiming to keep his professional dream afloat, Woodberry landed with Arizona United of the United Soccer League for the 2014 season, and avoided getting muddied in the third tier of American soccer. After a season full of maturation and even a few games up top, Woodberry's agent secured a trial with New England.

And as luck would have it, a preseason trial in Arizona resulted in a perfect fit.

"I actually scouted London quite a bit in college and not intentionally," Heaps said. "We knew he was a Homegrown for Dallas, but he played at Maryland, someone that we held in high regards and someone we thought would be a top [draft] pick if he wasn't a Homegrown, and so admiration started there."

"...When we brought him in for the [2015] preseason, we knew instantly he fit in personality-wise, he fit in team-wise, and was someone that we really look forward to not only nurturing, but also long term," Heaps added.

Agudelo has started three games in 2016, going 90 minutes in each.

Heaps' initial assessment was spot on, as Woodberry has started 21 games for New England since 2015. While he's vied for playing time alongside MLS veterans in Kevin Alston, Jeremy Hall and Je-Vaughn Watson, he's largely shown well in each 90-minute bout.

He credits his success to that competition, as Revolution players jockey every day for a starting role, constantly trying to get their number called on the weekend or for a rare midweek fixture. That approach has left a positive impression on Andrew Farrell, the center back Woodberry often lines up alongside.

"Whenever his name is called upon, he always steps up and plays a big role for us," Farrell said. "Last season, he had a good string of games for us and he was huge in the success we had making it to the playoffs last year. ... He's a player that we love to have, because you know you can count on him every time he's going to get in the starting XI, or in practice or whenever. He's always going to give full effort and he's a great player to have on our team."

Cirovski added that the biggest thing for Woodberry is stability, and it appears as if he's found just that. The two-time NCAA champion also said his former player can become one of the great long-term defenders in MLS, largely due to how he's matured by leaps and bounds and now understands the demands of being a professional.

"Wherever you play or come from, you can make it to the League and make an impact on a team." - Andrew Farrell

While nobody quite knows what the future has in store, Woodberry said New England's locker room is second to none, and that welcoming environment nurtures potential championships. So, has Woodberry found a new home thousands of miles away from his roots?

"Definitely," Woodberry emphasized. "Texas is a lot different than Massachusetts, but I do feel comfortable here. I like he team a lot, I like the coaches and I'm just trying to get some trophies under my belt."

And if his coach's comments reveal anything, it's that Woodberry will be a part of those efforts for years to come.

"He's got excellent feet for a guy his size and his athleticism, so we really see him, going forward, being an integral part of us, whether it's closing out games, starting the game and creating for our group from an outside back position, or doing spells at center back as well," Heaps said.