Real Salt Lake: John Stertzer seizing his long-awaited moment
Sandy • A shoulder dislocation stalled the start to a long-awaited professional soccer career. But after the pain of that May 20 day a year ago, after the necessary shoulder surgery that put John Stertzer out for the remainder of the 2013 season, the notion of embracing a fresh start soothed nerves. This 2014 campaign was just another avenue to lace up the boots for Real Salt Lake’s 2013 first-round draft pick.
When former assistant Jeff Cassar turned head coach in the wake of Jason Kreis’ departure to New York, Stertzer said the new boss told him to forget 2013. Forget the struggles adjusting to the speed of play and the shoulder injury that punctuated his rookie season.
About John Stertzer
Age » 23
Position » Midfielder
Hometown » Fairfax, Va.
Pro » RSL (2013-present)
College » Four years at Maryland
Transaction » Drafted by RSL 12th overall in 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
Games played » 2014: Seven matches played, three started; 2013: Two matches played.
So as young players usually do at Real Salt Lake, Stertzer, now 23, trained to the best of his abilities and watched the established midfield talent the club has had for quite some time. He watched Javier Morales direct traffic. He watched Kyle Beckerman stop traffic. Then he noticed how Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil man the outside positions in the diamond midfield formation.
It’s paid off. The stars aligned, so to speak, along with Stertzer’s further knowledge of the position. He’s started three matches so far in 2014 — most recently in back-to-back spots at home against New England and at L.A. — and has earned his spot as a viable replacement should RSL need a boost, no matter what the scoreline reads.
"I think that’s what’s really helped me in maybe making this little breakthrough here and now," Stertzer said, "but at the end of the day, like I’ve said before, my main focus is just to keep working hard and pushing the guys in front of me."
During his collegiate days at Maryland, Stertzer was a box-to-box midfielder, a style that demands help from those outside midfield spots with RSL. Entering this season, the depth chart was a bit crowded as Grabavoy, Gil, Luke Mulholland and Sebastian Velasquez had proved their abilities.
"It’s tough breaking into this team with so many guys that have had minutes in those positions and have done an unbelievable job," Stertzer said. "Just really fortunate early in my career to be able to learn from a lot of these kinds of players."
But Stertzer deserves credit. He’s been lively in his last few appearances, engaged on both sides of the ball.
"He’s done really well with the opportunities that he’s gotten," Cassar said.
Grabavoy has noticed Stertzer’s efforts in training this year and said the consistency of succeeding in training leads to more opportune moments down the line.
"I think how you view players in training and their work ethic and the things that they do are all important," Grabavoy said. " I think you never know what you have until you give [players] a chance."
Regardless of how the depth chart settles itself in the coming weeks, Stertzer’s outings have shown he’s capable of providing necessary efforts. He’s only a year removed from that day in the reserve league match that resulted in his career starting off on a funky start. But he’s just waiting to hear his number called and going from there.