CHESTER >> When Matt Freese got the email last week, his eyes gravitated toward one line of text.
He’d seen copies of emails, addressed to teammates at the Union Academy and friends in the soccer community, inviting them to U.S. national team camps before. But this one didn’t just have the name of the Episcopal Academy senior goalkeeper on it. It included another name that raised eyebrows.
“It said, ‘upon the wishes of Brad Friedel,’” Freese recalled. “That was pretty cool.”
Freese, the 2016 Daily Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year, will get to meet a professional hero when he joins Friedel, the head coach of the U.S. Under-19 team, in a training camp this week in Sunrise, Fla.
Freese is one of eight players on the 22-man roster making U-19 debuts. It’s his first national team camp, an aspiration the Wayne native and Harvard commit professed in switching to playing with the Union Academy.
“It obviously means a lot,” Freese said last week at the Power Training Complex. “One of the biggest reasons why I joined the Academy was to get more exposure and to learn what it’s like playing in higher-pressure conditions.
Getting this call-up is one of the reasons why I joined the development academy and worked hard every day. … And now that that happened, it’s really nice.”
Freese has played in several academy showcases with the Union, for which he’s on the Under-18 team. At one in Florida, academy director Tommy Wilson pointed Freese out to Friedel, who apparently saw enough from a warmup to warrant a longer training camp look.
The fact that it’s Friedel that Freese gets to work with is quite the bonus. The goalie’s bona fides as a pioneer for Americans playing in Europe are unmatched. In addition to 82 national team caps, Friedel played a season in the Turkish top flight before 17 in the English Premier League (and one in the old First Division) for Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and Tottenham. He logged 479 league matches in England, plus 39 in European competition, as a model for players like Freese watching back stateside.
“It’s so much more special coming from Brad, who’s the most famous or second-most famous goalkeeper in American history,” Freese said.
Freese earned the right to train regularly with the Union’s first team last week as it started its preseason preparations. That arrangement began over the summer, and Freese has regularly trained with the Union and affiliate club Bethlehem Steel, offering exposure to a professional training environment before he gets to college.
The Under-19 camp is yet another step in a special pathway over the last year.
“I was planning on (the Academy Showcase in) Florida being the high point of this year, and it was definitely a high point,” Freese said. “But it’s not the same as this first national team camp. Everything led up to pretty much the biggest honor I could have, other than (training) with the Union.”