The best and only description for my rookie year is a “roller coaster”. There's actually one ride in particular that matches the course of my year: the Superman Ride of Steel located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
The ride begins instantly with a steep incline. As quickly as the incline occurs, the car does a 180-degree turn from heading to the sky to racing straight towards the ground. After the drop, the ride has a long lull with a couple of curves but things seem to pick up the pace around the low banked turns. Then out of nowhere, the car goes over a few quick, thrilling hills before the car returns to the station, ending the ride.
Draft day was the second best personal accomplishment of my soccer career. It was a dream come true. All those hours of practicing, car rides up and down the east coast with my parents, missing social events, etc. were all worth it. I would go through all those experiences again in a heartbeat to become a professional soccer player.
Hopefully my parents would be willing to drive all those hours again. I still have a little brother and sister playing in the Development Academy, so the whole process is repeating already.
A few days after the draft, I was in Frisco. The next few weeks were full of new experiences from meeting the players and coaching staff to living in a new city and traveling to Argentina for preseason training.
There was one game against Estudiantes, in particular, in Argentina that I vividly remember. It was the last game of the trip and I played well. The roller coaster ride continued to ascend. I really felt like I was part of the team and was getting respect for my play within the club.
After Argentina, the season began and I was making gameday rosters and traveling with the team to Panama and LA. Then, the best personal achievement of my soccer career arrived in Kansas City: I made my professional debut. The lights seemed blindingly bright. The stands seemed a mile high. The game was a blur and went by so fast, but I was proud of my performance and achieving a huge milestone in my career. At this moment, I thought this ride would rise all the way to the sky forever.
Unfortunately, this is when the ride turned straight to the ground.
After my debut, I didn't make any gameday rosters for months. I suffered a slight injury that forced to me miss a week or so of training. That’s not much time “in the real world” but for a soccer player, it felt like eternity.
After months without playing, the coaching staff met with me to tell me I was going on loan to Tulsa, Okla. to play with the Tulsa Roughnecks in the USL. Initially I was scared to be loaned out. I didn't want to play in Tulsa. I wanted to be getting minutes for Dallas.
Inevitable questions started swirling in my head: Does Dallas want me anymore? Am I good enough to play in MLS? Is this a punishment?
These led me to believe this loan was a negative thing. As it turned out, my trips to Tulsa were anything but. Getting games for the Roughnecks was the best thing for me at this time in my young career and prepared me for what lied ahead.
That playing experience with Tulsa prepared me for my home debut against the New York Red Bulls on September 5. These were my first big minutes since March against Kansas City. I went into the game wanting to prove to everyone - coaches, teammates, fans, the whole league - what Jacori Hayes was capable of doing.
The game was going well. I was intercepting passes and winning the ball back. I was completing passes. I felt comfortable and in total control of the game. Then I got a little carried away. I received two yellow cards in the first half.
I was crushed watching the remainder of the game on the television in the locker room. I was proud of the way the team battled to earn a point that night, but remorseful that I put them in that situation. After the game, the coaching staff and my teammates congratulated me on how I performed. They said that I was unlucky to be carded a second time but I definitely need to learn from the moment.
I wish I could go back in time and not lunge for that ball which led to the second yellow card. Unfortunately, that’s not possible (I’ll get my physics friends to work on that). The only thing I can do is to analyze the positives and negatives of that game in order to improve my performances in the future.
The first-year roller coaster was a great ride, but I'm looking forward to an even better one next season.
- Jacori Hayes