Randi Patterson didn’t see it coming.
He had just returned to his girlfriend’s apartment after kicking the soccer ball around with her and a friend when he noticed that he had missed a call on his cell phone from his college coach, Michael Parker.Wondering what he wanted, Patterson called him back right away. What he heard didn't seem possible.
“He asked me what I was doing and I said I was just kicking the ball around,” said Patterson, a sophomore forward at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. “He was like, ‘Good, you need to.’ I didn’t know why and then he told me that (U.S. Under-20 head coach) Sigi (Schmid) had called me up to the national team. I couldn’t believe it.”
Patterson had worked hard and put up big numbers during the college season, but get a call up to the Under-20 Men’s National Team? He hadn’t even fathomed the idea.
“I didn’t know that was ever going to happen,” said Patterson, who was invited into the final U-20 camp of 2004 at The Home Depot Center. “I had a good season, but didn’t know it was that good to get called up. So, I was just running around my girlfriend’s apartment, calling everybody. It was just surprising.”
It might have been so surprising for Patterson because he can remember not too long ago practicing with him mom. Now, he’d be playing with Freddy Adu and Eddie Gaven, some of the best young talent in the United States.
When Patterson was just two years old his father, Earl, died in a car accident, leaving his mother, Brenda, to take care of their only child in Teaneck, N.J. For Brenda that meant taking on both parent roles and his mom didn’t shy away from helping out her son in anything he was interested, including soccer.
“My mom always helped me out with soccer and one day she wanted to play goalie when I was young,” said Patterson.
While his mom wasn’t doing a Kasey Keller impression, diving and stretching out for shots, it was a gesture that Patterson said he really appreciated. And she enjoyed helping out her son, well, at least when he was younger.
“It wasn’t that bad when I was young, but when I got to high school I kicked too hard,” said Patterson. “She would just stay in the goal and sometimes I would (hit) her on accident. Next thing you know, she’s like, ‘I’m not coming out anymore.’”
His mom wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to be in goal when her son was shooting by the time he got to Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey. Patterson decided to go to Bergen Catholic to follow in the footsteps of Alecko Eskandarian and he did just that, helping his team to a 1999 state championship and collecting numerous accolades, including two first-team all-state selections and twice being named the Bergen County Coaches Association League Player of the Year Award.
After his stellar career at Bergen Catholic, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro came calling and in two years he has thrived at the Southern Conference college. After gaining a starting position his freshman year, Patterson worked hard in the off-season and came back even better for his sophomore season.
This year, Patterson lead the Spartans with 46 points (19 goals and eight assists) as they claimed the No. 1 ranking for three weeks during the year and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament before falling 1-0 to eventual runner-up UC-Santa Barbara. For his astonishing point total, Patterson was selected a First Team All-American by the NSCAA.
With all the accolades this year, Patterson said he was still shocked about getting the call to the national team for its December camp, calling it his most rewarding soccer moment so far.
“I was really nervous before coming into camp with Eddie Gaven and Freddy Adu being there,” said Patterson. “I just couldn’t believe that I was coming.”
While battling nerves during his first camp, Patterson also had to adjust to the high level of play at the national level.
“My main concern was the pace,” Patterson said. “A lot of these guys play in the MLS and you have to think quick in the league. Coming into the first camp the pace was so fast, but I got adjusted to it after awhile and started to learn from other people on the field. I’m just trying to become as good as they are.”
While Patterson said he still has a lot to work on and that there’s “always room for improvement,” he has made Schmid and his assistants take notice in the December camp and he was one of the 22 (out of 30) players invited back in January. Schmid will reduce the 22 players in camp down to the final 18-player roster for the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament, which takes place on Jan. 12-16 at The Home Depot Center.
He calls the game he played against the California All-Stars as his best moment during the December camp. During that game, a 4-1 victory, Patterson was involved in all four goals, drawing a foul in the penalty area for a penalty kick, assisting on two goals, and scoring one of his own.
“I think it is a great honor to be one of the 22 selected,” said Patterson. “I learned from Freddy and all the MLS players, and the coaches. They taught me a lot of things I’ve never even thought about working on. I’m just looking forward to continuing to work with them.”
With less than a week before Schmid announces the final roster, Patterson is doing everything he can to stay around. Even if that means playing on defense, which he did in a scrimmage this week, playing at right back.
“Making the qualifying roster is definitely my biggest goal right now,” said Patterson. “There are a lot of good players out there, a lot of good talent and I’m just looking to play the best I can and just have fun out on the field. I really like forward, but it’s such a big honor to play on the national team and I’ll play anywhere as long as I get to play.”