Josh Phillips will admit that it was intimidating to walk into the New England Revolution locker room as a trialist. Weeks earlier, Phillips was playing for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC of the USL while running food at a local restaurant. Now he was rubbing elbows with U.S. National Teamers Jermaine Jones, Juan Agudelo, and Lee Nguyen.
"Jermaine Jones is one of my favorite players in the United States," Phillips confessed. "When I walked into the locker room, it was definitively a ‘try and act like I’ve been there before’ type of moment but really I almost wanted to go ask him for his autograph or something like that."
While it was intimidating to train alongside some of best players in MLS, Phillips knows that it's where he belongs.
The 24-year-old defender graduated from Gonzaga University in 2013. Despite being named West Coast Conference Defender of the Year as a senior, Phillips didn’t garner much interest from MLS teams. Following a couple of unsuccessful trials in Germany, Phillips joined PDL-side FC Tucson.
With his sights set higher, Phillips was on the move at season’s end, eventually linking up with the Switchbacks. Though he was the team’s fifth-ever signing, Phillips wasn’t handed a starting spot. In fact, he was only named to the starting XI after a teammate got injured.
"I went in there and we won," Phillips remembers. "I played well and from then on I didn’t come off the field. It just about working as hard as I could and waiting for my opportunity. When I got it, I made the most of it. "
Phillips’ play soon caught the attention of many, including a couple of agencies. The center back was making regular appearances on the USL’s Team of the Week, an encouraging sign that he was ready to make the jump to MLS.
Now equipped with an agent, Phillips began to explore his options. One opportunity that presented itself was the chance to trial with the Revolution. Spending a week training in Foxborough was a great experience for the youngster, who went to dinner with Jones and accepted advice from the team’s veterans.
"Jose [Goncalves] talked to me in the locker room," Phillips said. "He talked to me about taking a deep breath after the first day and going out there tomorrow and focus on a couple of things. That was helpful."
Phillips took Goncalves’ advice to heart and felt more comfortable with each passing day. By the end of the trial, Phillips felt he had shown that he was MLS ready. Phillips’ thoughts were seconded by Kelyn Rowe, a friend who he once carpooled with as a kid.
Still, Phillips will have to wait to see if he gets a preseason invite from the Revs or any other MLS team. For now, Phillips is with his family in Olympia, WA, preparing for whatever comes next. While Phillips hopes that he’ll be on an MLS roster next year, he could also envision himself back in the USL.
"A lot of people that I’ve talk to, that I trust, say that it’s not a bad thing to go back and get another 30 games in the USL after the progression that I showed this year," Phillips said. "It’s good to hear them tell me that if I went back and played another 30 games then I could come out of the USL next season and not just make an MLS roster but be somebody that MLS teams want."