One Minnesota native will have a lot of eyes on him in the upcoming MLS Combine and the MLS SuperDraft. We caught up with a young defender you may not have heard of (until now) to talk about his college career, future prospects, and the state of soccer in Minnesota.
Among the invitees to the upcoming MLS Combine, one name stood out to us: Tyler David, of Saint Louis University and originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. While several Minnesota youth products have received US youth national team call-ups and the resulting hype and attention, David has flown under the radar. But after a stellar four-year career with the Billikens, David is ready to show his stuff at the professional level.
The 6’2” tall, 185lb central defender was #49 on Top Drawer Soccer’s Super Draft “Big Board”, and will be hoping to see his stock raise after the January 7th combine, where 59 players will take part.
Great to speak with you Tyler. Let’s start off with yourself as a player. Where do you like to play, and how do you like to play?
Tyler David: I actually was a midfielder in high school, but due to injury and opportunity, in college, I’ve been a center-back. At center-back I think I bring a different aspect to the way that most defenders play—because I’m so used to playing midfield. As a defensive midfielder, I’m more defense oriented, but I’m more of an attacking defender. I am more comfortable on the ball. I like to play, I don’t like to just kick the ball and defend. I can do other things. I’m always looking to see how the team can do other things on offense, beyond worrying about my defensive responsibilities.
Let’s go back to your time in Minnesota. You played for the Minnesota Thunder Academy. What did you take from your youth career?
TD: That was a great experience. I started with the Academy before it was known as the Academy, it was still Bangu Tsunami. I was brought up until the U-17s with Alex Bunbury. I learned a lot from him, from getting technically better, mentally tougher—just coming up I had a couple rough years where I was wondering if this was what I wanted to do, and just fighting through that with the support of my family and friends was really huge. I got mentally strong enough and physically strong enough for the next level.
Then following that, my final years I was coached by John Lowery and Donny Mark with the Academy, and they, with all their experience and knowledge helped give me a different outlook than I had over the past years with Alex, and they helped show me the confidence to be able to be successful at the next level.
As far as playing is concerned, the academy showcases where you can show your talent to all the college coaches. But as far as what I took from the youth level, I think the number one thing was my confidence. I was really confident when I was young, there were a couple years where my confidence wavered, and when I got to sixteen or seventeen, I really grew in confidence each time I played.
It’s funny you should mention Alex Bunbury, he was so recently named to the all-time Canada Best XI, it must have been pretty special to learn from a player of his caliber.
TD: Yeah—I have a really close relationship with him and his family.
So after graduating high school, you opted to play for Saint Louis University. What drew you to St. Louis?
TD: Saint Louis was the first school I visited, and I visited there when I was very young, around fifteen or sixteen. And it was one of the only schools I visited when school was actually in session. I think that was a little bit different, when you get a feel for what the school is actually like when there are students going to class and doing other activities. There were some other schools too, which actually reached out to me, but there seemed to be a fit with St. Louis. I really liked the coaching staff, and they seemed to be changing the program around. My freshman year, it really showed. We were a great team my freshman year, and the program had really returned to what it once was. It was just one of those situations—I know everybody says this, but it was a really good fit and it seemed like the right move.
Tell us about your college career. You were recruited as a midfielder and transitioned to defense…
TD: Yeah, I was recruited as a midfielder and I got to college early, I took summer school so I got to train with the guys a couple months before we started, which was one of the best moves that I could’ve ever made when it comes to being comfortable playing college soccer, when it comes to the school, and adjusting to a new environment.
Then it was the second preseason game at Akron, and that was the first time I had every played center back in my life basically. And that was interesting, because Akron are a really good team—household names like DeAndre Yedlin who I remember playing against. So that was a good eye opener, I played half of that game. Then I started the first game vs IU, who is St. Louis’ biggest rival of all time. So we had almost 6,000 people in the stands and I was at center back. So basically I had to grow up really quick and stop being scared. Of course there was a learning curve, but at the same time I just had to go and be confident and aggressive and just do my thing, because there was no other option, I just had to be ready to go. I know a lot of people put into a situation like that, you either can embrace it or you can shy away. And I really embraced it.
Now that you’ve graduated, you’re preparing for a professional career. What’s that like, what are you focusing on?
TD: You’ve got to have the talent to make the next level, but also the knowledge and the confidence. Basically showing that I have the attitude and I have the mindset to be a professional. I’ve been to a couple combines already, obviously the MLS Combine is the biggest one obviously, starting on January 7th, but I think that the biggest thing for me going into that are to play confident—as confidently as possible, and if I get the opportunity to interview with teams or speak with different coaches, show them the kind of person that I am and the type of professional that I can be. To show them that I am mentally tough and that I’m strong enough to get through ups and downs, because obviously it’s not always going to be positive, going into a professional environment. I just think it’s about showing them who I can be as a person.
What parts of your game do you think you’ll be challenged in? Where will you be most successful?
TD: Definitely my biggest weakness in my game is my quickness, moving laterally I’m not the fastest player. I think I make up for it more with my mind. But that’s something I’m working on every day with strength coaches back in school, and when I’m home—just working on my footwork and my quickness.
I think athletically you can always get better. I think everybody can always get better tactically. I mean from high school to college there was a really huge change tactically, you need to understand the game a lot better, and I think from college to the professional level it’s going to be the same. The tactics themselves may not be completely different, but you’re going to have to be smarter because you’re playing against better, faster, smarter guys. Just learning the game more and more each day.
In a sense, you’re coming into the league a year too early, because of course Minnesota will be joining MLS soon, quite probably next year. What are your thoughts on Minnesota’s move to MLS? And might we see you someday playing professionally here?
TD: Well, Minnesota is clearly a very talented NASL team, so as far as the competition and competing in MLS, I don’t think they have anything to worry about. As far as the stuff behind the scenes, I don’t know anything about that, how it’ll all change for them from NASL to MLS. But I think it’s a great opportunity for them. I would definitely not be opposed to the idea of playing at home someday. I think it would be really fun to be back here playing and I expect Minnesota will embrace the opportunity and be a very good club in MLS.
You don’t have to answer this, but are there other cities or teams that have caught your eye? Perhaps it’s better to ask, what would you like to have in the team that selects you?
TD: Everybody asks me “what’s your ideal situation?” I really like the idea of playing for an MLS team that has their USL team stationed right where they are. I think that could be a huge opportunity for me, and something I would really thrive in as a player. But I really am up for playing anywhere. I just want to get my foot in the door essentially, and wherever I go, whatever happens, I’m going to keep working hard, keep putting in the work every day, because this is something that I plan on doing for a while.
As you said, the full-blown MLS combine is on the 7th, but from the other combines you’ve been to, what have you taken from the process and how do you think you can stand out at the big event?
TD: One thing—and I think this is true for tryouts, regardless of whether it’s a professional combine or you’re trying out when you’re ten years old—getting the nerves out right away is one of the most important things. You want to try to be as loose as possible. You’re just going to play better if you’re not so stressed. Another thing is to know that the first day is always the roughest, people are trying to show what they can do, but they’re also getting their legs under them, feeling out who their teammates are, ect. So I think that it’s important to get everything out as quick as possible and then just go from there.
One thing I focus on at combines is trying to be as vocal as possible. Be heard. Let the coaches know that I’m someone who can communicate and who is looking to communicate. I like to play simple personally. I think playing simple and showing you’re a team player goes a lot further than a lot of people think. There’s always players who are trying to do too much, or trying to show off too much. But just play within yourself and play to the best of your ability.
What you say one on one to an MLS GM to sell yourself as a player?
TD: I would say one thing—and I don’t know how this gets valued in the professional ranks—but I’m a team guy. As I was saying earlier, whether I’m starting in the first XI or the last guy on the roster, I’m going to come to work everyday willing to give my best effort to help the guys in the first XI or to help the guys who are looking for a chance at playing. I’m going to get better each and every day and help the team.
Moving away from yourself a little bit, the Minnesota Thunder Academy has had a couple players who have recently made some waves. Obviously Mukwelle Akale is off at Villareal and Jackson Yueill has earned good marks in his first year at UCLA. Did you play with those guys? Any thoughts on their prospects?
TD: Well I know those guys really well. With Mukwelle, I didn’t really expect anything less from somebody like that. I think his dad Ralph has been a great guidance to him as well and he has a lot of people supporting him. But there’s no question in my mind that he will be a successful player and has already been a success in that system. We should definitely see him with the US Men’s National Team fairly soon, with the way things are looking. As far as Jackson is concerned, it probably was a bit tough for him being on Mukwelle’s team, but he’s gotten a lot of time at UCLA this year and I’m sure he’s being considered for a Generation Adidas deal. I don’t know personally, but he’s had a very successful time with UCLA and the U-20 national team already. He’s got nothing but a bright future ahead of him, whether he stays in college for three more years or doesn’t stay for any more at all.
It’s a good time for Minnesota soccer as a whole, you have Eric Miller entering his third MLS season. And while he wasn’t with MTA, Cody Cropper is off at MK Dons. What’s with this new Minnesota wave of players?
TD: You know, I think Minnesota is a great place for soccer. It’s obviously cold here, we play indoors all the time. But I think there’s a ton of talent, just focused on the academies, they have some great coaches over there and some great players over there that I’ve seen recently. I think we’re just helping to be the stepping stone in the right direction for a bunch of more players in Minnesota. I think it’s just the start to giving confidence to all these kids in Minnesota—especially with the MLS team coming in—that their dreams can become a reality. There are people around them that they’ve seen everyday that have made that happen.
That’s all we had to ask. Anything we didn’t get to? Any closing thoughts?
TD: You know I’m just really excited and taking this as it comes. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I’m just blessed to have this opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it.
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Tyler. Best of luck in the combine and of course we’ll be looking for your name during the draft!
You can follow Tyler on Twitter at @T_David25. For more coverage of Minnesota’s next generation of professionals, check out our earlier interview with Cody Cropper and our two part series on Mukwelle Akale!