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The Dirty South Soccer Interview: Sam Cronin

Cronin is a key part of the 2016 success of the Colorado Rapids

Toronto FC v Colorado Rapids Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Sam Cronin has been an instrumental part of the Colorado Rapids’ turnaround in 2016, leading them into a fight for the top seed in the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield. The 29-year-old midfielder was originally born in Atlanta before moving to Winston Salem, North Carolina when he was thirteen.

A stellar four-year career at Wake Forest saw him drafted second overall in the MLS SuperDraft by Toronto FC in 2009. Cronin has played over 200 MLS games in his career, becoming one of the league’s stalwarts in central midfield.

(ed. note- DSS would like to thank Sam for his thoughts about his home town and we would also like to thank Diego Garcia with the Colorado Rapids’ Communications Department for the use of his cell phone right off the practice pitch… we seem to be making a habit of that…)

Jon: So, what’s this season been like with you being “the chased?”

Sam: The chased… Right! It’s been great! Obviously, the top of the league is where you want to be… having teams come after you, giving you their best shot every game… we have been able to hold on to that and stay close or lead the whole season.

JN: To stay there and get to where you want to be by the end, what do you think you have to do?

SC: I think, when we play with great energy, our results have been good this season. And next time out when we play, if we can pick up three points, we’ll be on top of the league. And that’s what we’re aiming for...

JN: What about in the playoffs, because the Western Conference is a street fight?

SC: That’s exactly what it is. It can be a street fight when you play anyone in the league. Especially now in the Western Conference, it’s tight as we get toward playoff time. But we’ve already qualified for the playoffs. We know the games come down to seeding, reputation, and you can throw the regular season records out the door. So, it’s another street fight and we’ll have to be ready for it. Every team is capable of beating every other team, so we’ll have to be on our game.

JN: For someone who hasn’t seen a game at your home stadium (one of the more intimidating paces to play this season in MLS), what’s it like?

SC: It’s been electric all season. It really has. I have been talking a lot recently about the relationship between the team and the fans. We’ve been performing with good energy and we’ve been performing well at home. That energizes the crowd and they energize us back. It’s great energy between the two and it’s one of the big reasons we haven’t lost at home all season.

JN: What’s it like having ‘That Bearded Guy’ between the sticks…???

SC: He’s not as good as everyone says, I’ll tell you that! (laughter) Seriously, though, he’s been absolute world-class. He’s been great for us. Obviously, he has a great reputation with everyone he’s played for in his career, so we’re lucky to have him. He keeps us in games, so down the stretch come playoff time, he’ll be the key player for us that he’s been.

JN: Now a question about Pablo Mastroeni… What makes Coach who he is when it comes to his style and how do things translate from the practice pitch with what he teaches to game time?

SC: For me, personally, he played my position. So, here’s a guy who has played in multiple World Cups and played at the highest level. Here’s a guy who has tons of knowledge and game experience to give to me personally. And, then in general he’s the leader of our team. He’s a great motivator and he cares about people, too. Sometimes, when he gives one of those halftime or pregame speeches, it raises the hair on the back of your neck.

Everyone feels that and he’s a coach you want to play for and you want to run through a wall for him.

JN: Since you opened this door… since you share the same position, what’s the best lesson he ever taught you about what to do?

SC: It’s just little nuances. The main thing, I think, has to do with spacing. Offensively, it’s about where to pick up the ball, still play forward, and find an attacking player. Defensively, it’s about finding little angles to position yourself and lessen your workload and play a little bit smarter- especially when it comes to positioning. He’s done a great job helping me as a player and helping me with that aspect of my game, I think.

JN: How’d you get interested in playing the sport in the first place?

SC: I have three older brothers that all played. I was the youngest brother that followed the older ones around and did whatever they did. So, when I was young I got beat up. But I wouldn’t change a thing. They made me a good competitor and, I guess, a feisty competitor. I thank them for that and that’s how I got started.

JN: What’s your first Atlanta soccer memory? A lot of folks might go back to the Chiefs, the Ruckus, or the Silverbacks? What’s yours?

SC: Mine goes back to the Ruckus… I actually had a Ruckus poster in my room growing up. I couldn’t tell you any of the players who played on the team at this stage, but I had a poster of that team. And as I go through my memories, I just think it’s great for kids these days to have a team that they can aspire to be a professional player for and to have significant professional teams in their market- whether it’s an LA or Denver or a place like that- to have Major League Soccer in their cities and use them as role models.

JN: So, then, can you compare each stop that you’ve been at along the way and how they embrace the sport…

SC: My first stop was in Toronto. They’re on a complete spending spree these last couple of years. And it shows how significant and meaningful that team is in that market. They’re adding onto the stadium all the time, so that’s a really healthy market that’s being supported very well. Then, I went to San Jose. It was a little bit of a smaller market for soccer. When I was there, we didn’t even have our own stadium.

But the fans have embraced the team there and it’s doing really well for soccer and well in the South Bay. They haven’t been in the playoffs the last two years, but they now have this beautiful cathedral for soccer in San Jose.

And, now, here in this market… we’re having a great season. Historically, I think the team has been viewed a little bit as an underdog. I think we’ve turned some heads this season. People have gotten a lot from what we’ve done this season and there are those who are experiencing the sport for the first time. Hopefully, we keep winning and they keep coming back. That’s the goal.

JN: And with Atlanta coming on line here, does it blow you away how the sport has grown since you were here?

SC: Yeah, and that’s why I think Atlanta United is big starting up next season. I think you need a Major League Soccer team to start the trickle-down effect with all the other clubs in town. You’ll have all the big stars that Atlanta United will have and then, all the other stars that the other clubs will have coming into town to play- performing on Saturday nights and have the community come out and get around it. You’ll have this trickle-down effect with the academy and the whole community will be excited about it.

You’ll have all these different groups of people that have never played soccer before being exposed to it and that adds to the trajectory and the path that soccer has taken throughout North America. At that point, everything picks up steam.

JN: So, you’re “Boss For A Day,” how do you make sure that soccer continues to grow here in Atlanta over time?

SC: I focus on, very meticulously, putting a winning product on the field. You bring in American players and, then, you bring in superstars that will generate a good buzz in the community. If you have guys like David Beckham (or those kind of players), the effect they will all have as a group will be astronomical. You bring in star power and then put a winning product on the field with a good foundation of American players.