FRISCO, Texas – The best he can remember it, Alex Bruce has always enjoyed his time under Eric Quill. Before reuniting at North Texas SC, the two won the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy title together in 2017, then members of Texans SC Houston.
Things were different back then. Bruce was just a young kid trying to make it big in the sport he’s loved since he was a child. Quill was the head coach, but still a couple of years away from leading North Texas SC to the inaugural USL League One title.
“I just remember all the trainings we had and all the running,” Bruce said. “At the time, I did enjoy it, but it was tough. Looking back, it was a great experience.”
When asked if Quill had changed at all over the years, the answer was simple.
“In the academy, he wanted perfection from his players, and it is exactly the same now,” Bruce said, laughing as he reminisced on the time the two spent together. “He has not changed one bit.”
So, how did Bruce get to this moment? The forward’s early career has taken him around the country and the world, for that matter. It is in Newcastle, England, where he grew up, where the story truly begins.
“Every weekend, I’d get to go see the Newcastle team with my dad, brother and granddad,” Bruce said. “I just remember watching, always being at the front trying to get autographs and pictures with the players and just falling in love with the game.”
Watching his idols on the field confirmed what Bruce knew for quite some time: He would work as hard as he could to bring his childhood dreams of being a professional player to reality.
For those who may not know, football – soccer as we like to call it – is not just a game for many in other parts of the world. It has defined generation after generation and makes up a large part of the proud cultures you can find around the globe.
“[The sport] is everything to everybody. That’s what everyone looks forward to,” Bruce said. “You work from Monday through Friday and then on the weekends, it’s football. It’s a time for people to relax. It’s a time for them to enjoy their team, the sport and have a good time.”
When Bruce moved to the U.S. before his freshman year of high school, the journey took a new twist. As time progressed, he ultimately found himself playing as a forward, the position he now graces today. It was not always that way, however.
“Funny story: I started out as a sweeper, which is at the back. But I always went up and scored goals,” Bruce said.
For some context, think of a sweeper as a hybrid between a center back and a full back. The sweeper is often the last line of defense when an opponent breaks through the main defensive third.
When I was growing up on the pitch, our team’s sweeper was also our fastest player. His crazy speed allowed him to cover quite a lot of ground at the back and make darting runs up the wing to assist our outside backs and wingers. Once you reach the higher levels, though, the position almost always disappears.
“If we were tied in the last minute, they’d put me up and we’d always end up getting a goal somehow. Then, when I moved over to the States, I played as a six, but it was the same,” Bruce said. “I still ended up scoring goals. It was actually my high school coach who said, ‘Let’s have a look at this guy up top and see what he can do.’ I think the first game he put me up top we ended up scoring four goals. As time went on, I learned more about the position.”
In 2018, a year after winning that memorable title with Texans SC Houston, Bruce found himself at San Antonio FC. He scored three goals in 13 total appearances for the USL Championship side that year. It marked the true beginning of his time as a professional.
Last season, Bruce represented Lansing Ignite FC in USL League One. He scored three goals and provided two assists over 23 appearances.
“Player-wise, it was not good. I feel like I underachieved,” Bruce said. “I always set goals before the season [and] they weren’t reached. At the same time, it motivated me to be better every day. I met some good guys in Lansing and I still keep in touch with a few of them.”
Things soon came full circle when Bruce signed for North Texas SC. The opportunity to link back up with his former academy coach continues to inspire Bruce to aim for new heights.
“I was honestly really excited,” Bruce said. “Training under Eric is different. He demands the best quality and he demands [perfection], which is what you want as a player. When I heard I was going to play with him again – I know he wants to win and so do I – [I knew] it was a perfect match.”
So, while the outbreak of COVID-19 may have complicated the early days of the forward’s life in North Texas, one thing is for certain: Bruce and his teammates are ready to conquer any challenges they may face when the league eventually resumes play.
“We want to be champions again. In training, we can all see that,” Bruce said. “Right now, there is a hold with the league because of the virus. We just have to keep the right mentality, do our own part off the field and then once we get back on, we go again … I think it will be a good year.”