FRISCO, Texas – The pathway to pro soccer in the U.S. has become more streamlined over the last decade. The route from youth soccer to a development academy to an MLS reserve team to an MLS first team is well-trodden.
But there are still plenty of exceptions and FC Dallas SuperDraft pick Lucas Bartlett is among them. Born in Kansas City, the 6-foot-3 center back opted to play for his high school instead of joining an academy. His decision was, in part, because development academy rules would’ve prevented him from pursuing his other sporting interests (golf and basketball) alongside soccer.
“My high school was very good at soccer, it was kind of known for that. So I was fine with that level and I was able to play varsity as a freshman,” Bartlett said. “Obviously, it's not as technically good and the development in high school soccer is never as good as it is in the academies.
“But I'm really individually driven so it didn’t set me back too much because I felt that I could go on my own and do extra sessions. I worked out every day outside of soccer practice, plus everything that I did in other high school sports. That definitely helped me get where I am today and helped me maintain my individual development on my own. That's kind of the uniqueness of my story. I wasn't an academy guy.”
Bartlett’s four-year varsity career was enough to earn him offers from three D1 college programs. He chose to accept Loyola University’s offer in Chicago, mainly due to its strong academic reputation. After redshirting his freshmen year, Bartlett started all but one of the Ramblers’ 18 games in 2017. But a disagreement over his lack of scholarship opportunities meant the 20-year-old decided to seek greener pastures at Drake University. Bartlett earned his undergrad and an MBA in business administration at Drake while playing 31 games over three seasons.
But after graduating in May of 2021, Bartlett was at a crossroads. An untimely trial at Atlanta United yielded no fruit as the club fired head coach Gabriel Heinze midway through and Bartlett was told there would be no player signings until a permanent appointment was made. With the MLS SuperDraft still months away, Bartlett “gambled on himself” and decided to enroll in his third collegiate program in five years and (temporarily) pursued another graduate degree, this time at St. John’s University in New York.
“It was three months of just trying to prove myself to the scouts that I could be at the next level,” Bartlett said. “It was a crazy route. No one's probably ever had that route in the history of MLS. Three different colleges, taking an extra year because of COVID. I’m a 24-year-old rookie. But I feel like, maturity wise, I’m ahead of the game and ready to be a good pro hopefully.”
Barltett’s gamble paid off. After further impressing scouts at the MLS combine with his speed and physicality, Bartlett was taken sixth overall by FC Dallas in the 2022 SuperDraft and signed his first pro contract shortly after preseason began. But Bartlett knows there’s still plenty of work to be done to prove himself at the MLS level. And at 24, his window may be shorter than the average incoming rookie.
“The pressure is real, because – regardless of what people say – you do have that monkey on your back and you’ve got to perform in a short time now,” Bartlett said. “As you know, it is a big transition, the pace of play, like reading the game in tighter spaces. That's something that's definitely new and I'm trying to evolve to it.
“I know it’s gonna be hard for me to really break into the team until an opportunity arises. And hopefully it’ll be a case of preparation meets opportunity. So, that’s kind of what I'm waiting on. Just need to keep working hard every day and hopefully I can prove that I can play and be impactful in the team.”
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