Reaching the professional ranks tends to mean the world to aspiring soccer players. For Napo Matsoso, there may be even more meaning, especially considering his journey to this point.
In fact, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a story like the midfielder’s from the University of Kentucky, who the New England Revolution selected Friday in the second round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. The reason, it turns out, is Matsoso left behind Lesotho, his home country, as a 15-year-old in search of a brighter tomorrow.
Years later, the 22-year-old stands tall as an NSCAA Second Team All-American and, perhaps more importantly, with a bid of faith from the Revs as the 31st overall pick.
“I’ve come a long way and hard work pays off,” Matsoso told The Bent Musket in an exclusive interview. “Every athlete out there knows how much work they put and that it’ll hopefully pay off. I’m so thankful to the game, the Revolution, and I’m really excited to put in the work in.”
The body of work the 5-foot-6, 150-pound midfielder accumulated for the Wildcats across four season raises eyebrows, too. He wrapped up his career with 19 goals and 20 assists to his name, emerging along the way as one of the most-vaunted creators in Conference USA play.
That sort of resume, alongside scouting at this past week’s MLS Combine in Los Angeles, California, caught the eye of head coach Jay Heaps.
“We’re excited about his versatility, but more importantly his technical ability,” Heaps said. “A real good, crafty player. Someone who we followed in college, but wanted to see him with the players at the combine and thought he really did well to stand out.”
As Heaps alluded to, the biggest draw with Matsoso is his precision on the ball, a trademark that’ll serve him well should the Revs again opt for the 4-4-2 diamond formation. For Matsoso himself, he’s excited to show his worth alongside the likes of Xavier Kouassi, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen in more in the center of the park.
“I like to bring 50/50 balls and keep possession when the team has it, because I like to have fun on the ball,” Matsoso said. “Everyone enjoys soccer more on the ball than off the ball – keeping the ball and getting everyone involved on the team.”
While Mastoso of course still has to earn a spot on the Revs roster for the 2017 season, he couldn’t help but reflect on the significance of being drafted. After all, he’s come from the humblest of beginnings and now has the chance to make an MLS roster.
“The best memory that sticks out to me is when I was a little kid in Africa I didn’t know anything else, I just wanted to play soccer all the time,” Matsoso said. “It was the only thing I did every day of my life. Going to play soccer in the streets, barefoot. Thinking about it right now is just amazing. “
So, what does the future have in store for Matsoso? He, much like dozens of other MLS hopefuls, will head to preseason at the tail end of January and fight to make a roster.
When that time rolls around, Matsoso will simply try and soak up the experience, all while impressing the coaching staff.
“I’m just going to try and get along with the team,” Matsoso. “Get to know the staff members and understand everything the staff members ask for and listen and take note of the meetings and practices. Be positive and active, learning from all people.”
TBM: You made quite the leap in going from Lesotho to Kentucky. Was it the right choice?
Matsoso: “It was the right decision when I left my family back home. They were excited about me coming to the U.S., but they knew I could be strong even though I didn’t know much about the US. I didn't know any English and they told me to be strong mentally and physically.”
TBM: How would you describe yourself as a person off the field?
Matsoso: “I’m a friendly person. I like to smile all the time and I like to see everyone happy all the time and just be fun around people. Make them laugh, and enjoying every single moment of my life.”
TBM: What’s it like to join Major League Soccer ahead of its 22nd season?
Matsoso: “It’s unreal. I don’t think it’s hit me, but when I step on the field when some of the great players in the league, it will be amazing feeling. Learning from all players, everyone with their experience and enjoy every single moment.”
TBM: Any thoughts on the Revs players who will soon become your teammates?
Matsoso: “Some really, really good players and it’s going to pay great when I step on the field with them. I just have to learn from them and ask questions. They’ve been through this before, so I’ll ask for help and hopefully I can do my best.”
TBM: Lastly, do you have any message for the fans?
Matsoso: “Just that I love the fans. Keep coming to the games and enjoy the beautiful game. Every player wants to do everything for the fans, because they spend their money watching us do what we love.”