Real Salt Lake: Connor Sparrow advances soccer dreams while maintaining RN license

Real Monarchs goalkeeper Connor Sparrow was signed by Real Salt Lake on Monday and will be promoted to the first team. Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake.

Sandy • Connor Sparrow always wanted to be a professional soccer player, but his mother convinced him he needed a backup plan when he entered college.

He found his answer on a service project at a hospital his junior year of high school: nursing.

“I got to see what nurses do firsthand,” he said. “I really liked the work they did, the connections they made with people and the way they were able to help people back to health.”

Sparrow, whose signing Real Salt Lake announced Monday, is now both a professional goalkeeper and a registered nurse. RSL’s match against Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday will be his first on the RSL roster, but he is expected to finish the season with the playoff-bound Real Monarchs.

Sparrow dived into nursing right away in college rather than choose a less strenuous major to balance out the demands of collegiate athletics.

PORTLAND TIMBERS AT REAL SALT LAKE <br>Where • Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy <br>Kickoff • 7:30 p.m. Saturday <br>TV • KMYU <br>Radio • 100.7 FM <br>Records • Portland 12-9-8; RSL 10-14-5 <br>Last meeting • RSL won 4-1 (July 19 at Providence Park) <br>About Portland • The Timbers have scored in 15 straight matches to hold the longest active streak in the league. … Diego Valeri enters the match on a seven-match scoring streak, tied for the all-time MLS record with three other players. … Diego Chara is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. … Gbenga Arokoyo (Achilles), Chance Myers (ankle) and Marco Farfan (ankle) are out with injuries. … Fanendo Adi (hamstring), Liam Ridgewell (quad), Jake Gleeson (hamstring), Jeff Attinella (shoulder), Vytas (shoulder), Dairon Asprilla (illness) and Darren Mattocks (knee) are questionable for the match. <br>About RSL • RSL scored four goals in each of its past two home games. … Winger Joao Plata scored two goals in RSL’s last match against Portland. … RSL is 6-4-4 at Rio Tinto this season. … RSL’s Jordan Allen, Omar Holness and Chad Barrett remain out (knee surgeries). ... Demar Phillips and Marcelo Silva (hamstrings) are questionable for the match.

He spent his freshman year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before transferring to Creighton University for the next three years of college.

“I wanted to keep pushing myself as a player and to see if I could keep making it to the next level and a higher level,” Sparrow said. “I felt like at UMKC I wasn’t being pushed enough, and I felt like I had to get out. I thank UMKC for everything they’ve done. That was one of the reasons I got to Creighton, was my performances at UMKC.”

He rose to star status in goal at Creighton. He started 49 matches and kept 23 clean sheets over three seasons. He earned the starting spot his junior year and went to rank second nationally in goals-against average (0.49) that season. He helped lead the Bluejays to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals two years in a row.

That performance drew the attention of Real Salt Lake, which selected him in the fourth round (65th overall) in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.

All the while, he was studying to become a nurse.

“The nursing staff at Creighton really helped me out a lot,” Sparrow said. “They were super accommodating. I never missed a game, and I would rarely miss practice.”

After his first season with the Monarchs, Sparrow returned to Omaha to complete his preceptorship, which he said included 220 hospital hours over six weeks. He worked in the cardiac unit of the Creighton University Medical Center.

“Seeing people come in sick and seeing them leave healthy was a really big thing for me,” Sparrow said. “And then on the other side, seeing people not leave, that also stuck with me a lot. So it’s tough, and it really helped me respect the profession a lot more.”

Those rotations brought out a different side of Sparrow than the one he exhibits on the pitch.

Sparrow’s intensity and explosiveness in the net have helped him work his way up to MLS.

“You wouldn’t recognize me,” Sparrow said about his personality as a nurse. “… On the nursing floor, I try to be as calm as possible because you don’t want to add to people’s anxiety. So calm, collected, soft voice, just super compassionate.”

Until he’s seen through his soccer dreams, however, Sparrow plans to put his nursing career on hold. He has to continue to log hospital hours to maintain his license, but he said he’ll forfeit nursing for now if it gets in the way of soccer.

He will finish out the Monarchs’ season then hopes to compete for a role on the first team next year.

“Every time that he’s come in to train with us,” RSL goalkeeping coach Todd Hoffard said, “I’ve been very, very impressed by not only how clean he is, his technical ability, but how much he’s willing to learn.”