BRIAN SCIARETTA - Sunday, April 24, 2011
When the A-League season begins this fall and Alex Smith takes the field for Gold Coast United, it will mark the rebirth of his career that has seen more than its share of peaks and valleys.
Smith, 25, was born in Windsor, England but moved to the United States when he was just one year old. After a promising collegiate career at SMU was cut short because of a mistake which cost him his eligibility, Smith spent time briefly with FC Dallas.
It wasn't long after that when Smith would find himself out of the game with no career in sight. Not knowing what his future held for him, he decided to move on with his life in Australia. It was there, however, he revived his love of the game.
After getting involved with the lower leagues, Smith has earned a contract with Gold Coast United who are coming off a fourth place finish in Australia's top league, the A-League.
"I'm very excited," Smith told YA from Sydney. "When I originally came over here, soccer was the last thing on my mind. It was more about growing as a person and seeing the world. And then, one thing led to another. I got to playing again, and played in a few of the lower leagues over here."
"I was just having a bit of fun and keeping in shape, but soon after, I was starting getting into it seriously again."
By joining Gold Coast United, Smith has put himself in position to be on a team that can contend next year for the title as the team will be returning a core group of players that are playing very well under head coach Miron Bleiberg.
"We've got a great chance, absolutely," Smith exclaimed. "Actually, they had a very solid team of key players. Miron is a good coach and likes to play soccer. It's a pretty even league and we can make a run at it for sure."
"My goal is to play as much as possible, and score some goals. I know that I can, it's just a matter of me training hard and putting the work in."
The opportunity now to play for the A-League title is a far cry from where he was seven years ago when he was a half a world away in the American south trying to make his way in NCAA soccer
"My first year of college, I went to a tiny school [Centenary College of Louisiana]," Smith recounted. "I transferred and played at SMU where Schellas Hyndman was the coach at the time. I had a really good year and scored a lot. I was all region and we went to the last 16. I did really well and got on the radar of a few of the MLS teams."
While Smith was a rising star in NCAA soccer playing under Hyndman, a mistake was made in the summer after his first year at SMU. He went back to England to train but the NCAA ruled he had lost his amateur status.
"That summer I went to go train in England," Smith discussed. "I ended up playing in a few games that I shouldn't have. I lost my NCAA eligibility as a result. It wasn't the best circumstances, but that's what happened. I've grown because of it."
After the difficult circumstances that summer, Smith returned to the United States. While he was unable to continue on with his NCAA career, he was forced to turn professional at an early age. He had offers from Kansas City but decided to sign with Dallas in 2005.
As a young player in MLS, Smith's professional career did not get off to a good start and it was over almost as soon as it began.
"After all that, I went on to trial with a few MLS clubs," Smith recalled. "I ended up signing with FC Dallas for a lot less money than I should have. I was young, it didn't work out. I was still in college and I was still going out. I was just very young and didn't really put the work into it. I was getting very burned out on soccer, and left FC Dallas after a year. I just quit playing. I was just over the whole business of soccer."
Out of the game with no intention of ever getting back into it, Smith decided to relocate and move to Australia. It was a place he previously visited and grew to love on a vacation with an ex-girlfriend.
It did not take long, however, for the game of soccer to eventually find its way back into Smith's life.
"I got done with college and didn't really want to get into the corporate America world," Smith said of the move Down Under. "So I just packed my bags and took off. I didn't know anybody. I had a bit of money saved up, and didn't plan it. I started playing again by juggling around a little with a ball just to get in shape. I ended up meeting a few people, and that's what led to everything."
After a long time away, Smith gradually found himself back in the game in a more formal basis in 2010 when he played for Fraser Park in the NSW Super League, a minor league in Australia.
Soon after Smith moved to another NSW Super League team, Sydney Olympic. His play earlier this year in 2011 is what got him noticed by the scouts for Gold Coast United. He plays just behind the forwards where he is able to create scoring chances in addition to finishing them off.
"I've been scoring some goals," Smith said of how things have been at Sydney. "You know, goals are what gets you noticed. But I like playing just behind the forwards, as kind of a number ten. I hit a lot of free kicks as well, so people always call me 'Beckham', but I don't really play anything like him."
"I win a lot of balls in the air as well; growing up playing basketball, I can jump pretty high for my height. I always tried to emulate George Best - he's my all-time favorite player."
Smith is signed to Gold Coast United but he will continue to play for Sydney Olympic until their season is over. In the fall, he will report to Gold Coast for preseason to begin preparations for the 2011/12 A-league season.
As of now, Smith is likely to be the only American in the A-League and that is something that has hit home for him recently.
"You know, I just realized that actually over the past couple of weeks," Smith revealed about being the only American in the A-League. "There's only been a couple of Americans that have played in the A-League. It's pretty special being the only one of your nationality in the league. I think a lot of Americans could do well over here. It's a pretty high standard league. It's very similar to the MLS."
Smith insists that his is a different player and a different person now than who he was when he was at FC Dallas. He is confident that his past struggles have only helped to make him stronger mentally in his approach to the professional game.
"Oh, absolutely I am different now," Smith optimistically stated. "I always had the talent but it was just about my mental attitude. I've grown so much as a person since I last played at FC Dallas. I work so much harder, put the time in, put the effort in, and it showed this year. I've only seriously gotten back into soccer for the last six months, and it's taken me that long to get a professional gig. So obviously, the work is paying off."
"I wouldn't say I had regrets about college and FC Dallas. It could have turned out differently, but I wouldn't change it for the world because it brought me to where I am today."
Where Smith is today is that he is now in position to realize his potential when he was when he was a rising college star at SMU. His rejuvenated career has seen him go from losing his college eligibility and MLS career into now being position to contribute for a team hoping to contend for an A-League title
"It's just been a great journey," Smith concluded. "Not only as a soccer player, but as a person as well."