ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Jeff Michaud knows his soccer journey is far from over.
A month-and-a-half ago, his future in the sport was anything but certain.
Now, the West Palm Beach, Fla., native is less than a month away from kicking off his first season as a professional with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League.
“I went to (the University of Central Florida) and got into some trouble off of the field,” said Michaud after a Rowdies’ training session Thursday afternoon. “I ended up not being eligible for Division I soccer anymore so I took a year off.”
After spending some time away from the game, the 21 year old attended Eastern Florida State College, but returned home after just a semester. While he was at home, a former coach called about an opportunity to get back into playing competitively.
“I went back home and was asked (by high school coach Eric Arbuzow) to attend an invite-only trial with the Rowdies,” said the William T. Dwyer High School graduate. “They liked what they saw in me and offered me a contract.”
Arbuzow was the first one to tell him that soccer could take him somewhere.
“When I was 14, Arbuzow was my club coach,” said the NASL rookie. “He told me I had that something special and that I could make a living off of this game.”
Despite the paycheque, the first-year pro approaches the game with the same jovial attitude he had as a six year old.
“Coming out here, playing on this green grass every day instead of sitting in an office, it’s what I love to do,” said five-foot-10 attacking midfielder. “It’s awesome when I’m out here. It’s all smiles. It just makes me happy.”
It hasn’t taken long for Michaud to make an impression on the coaching staff. During a post-training scrum, Rowdies head coach Thomas Rongen touched on the makeup of the team heading into the regular season.
“Eight guys have claimed their stake, but there are some young guys right now, in particular Darwin [Espinal] and Jeff, that are really emerging,” said the Tampa Bay skipper. “If they beat out an older guy I have absolutely no problem starting those players.
“I want to start the best 11 regardless of age.”
Michaud is excited to gain experience this year in the NASL but he doesn’t plan on staying permanently.
“The other day, [the MLS’ New York FC] was playing Orlando City and there were 65,000 people there and that’s where I strive to get,” he said. “Hopefully I am able to play in front of a crowd like that one day.”
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