The Reluctant Keeper - Edwards Grows into His Role in Net
Earl Edwards, one of the top prospects on the U-17 Men’s National Team since arriving in Bradenton in the fall of 2007, was not always a goalkeeper. For that matter, he wasn’t always a soccer player.
Growing up in East Stroudsburg, Pa., about two hours from the youth soccer hotbed of Philadelphia, Edwards was constantly surrounded by all types of athletes – everyone from lacrosse players to basketball players to American football players. His father, Earl, Sr., was the Director of Athletics at East Stroudsburg University until Earl, Jr. was seven years old.
After moving to San Diego about 10 years ago when his father became the Athletic Director at UC-San Diego, Earl Jr. began taking soccer seriously. He started playing for Nomads SC, one of the area’s most well-known soccer clubs and now a member of U.S. Soccer's Development Academy.
As it happens with a lot of goalkeepers, Edwards reluctantly stepped into goal at age 12 when his club team was without a ‘keeper.
“When I was 12 years old the goalkeeper for my club team quit during a practice,” he said. “My coach was a former goalkeeper, and he worked with me and then put me in there. I’ve always been big for my age, which might have had something to do with why I was thrown into goal, but I think it also had to do with my athleticism at the time.”
A year later, a 13-year-old Edwards was considering quitting soccer altogether.
“I actually thought about quitting the next year during the State Cup tournament. It wasn’t fun for me to not be busy during a game and not feel like I was contributing.”
In the semifinal of that State Cup tournament, Edwards had a turning point in his career as a goalkeeper. Tied after extra time, the game went into a shootout. Edwards saved four shots to lead his team to the final.
“After that I was invited to the ODP tryouts, and I started thinking that I might have some potential.”
That potential turned into time with the U-15 Boys’ National Team and eventually an invitation to the U-17 Residency Program. Though excited by the opportunity, the stoic ‘keeper hesitated to accept the prestigious opportunity because it would mean he would have to give up playing competitive basketball – his first love.
“I played basketball my whole life until I left for Residency,” he explained. “I loved it, but I eventually realized that I had more potential as a soccer player. I actually was hesitant to come to Residency because I knew I would miss basketball, but I finally accepted. I still miss it a lot but I think I made the right decision.”
Now, at six feet two inches and still growing, Edwards has become one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the country.
He earned two shutouts in his first two international games at the U-17 level – an impressive feat to be sure, but considering that they came against Russia and Brazil, live on national television, only adds to the accomplishment.
Though Edwards enjoyed playing in those games and other friendly matches against the likes of Argentina, Spain and France, the goalkeeper knows that him and his teammates have been building toward the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. This is when the games start to count.
As Edwards and his teammates look to continue the USA’s streak of being the only team to qualify for every FIFA U-17 World Cup, he is confident in his team’s abilities. While supporting his teammates from between the pipes, Earl Jr. will have the support of his family in the stands.
His Mom, Dad and brother will all be taking in games just a short drive across the border from their home in San Diego in support of their favorite goalkeeper.
“They don’t get to see me play as often as they’d like,” said the younger Earl. “The last time they saw a game of mine was in Lancaster (Calif.) in December. My Mom tries to make up for missed time by being the loudest person in the stands. Everyone in the stadium will be able to hear her!”
Edwards and his teammates kick off the CONCACAF U-17 Championship on Tuesday, April 21, at 4 p.m. PT against Cuba. Fans can follow the action live in the U.S. exclusively on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.