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The Angle

In His Own Words: Jamie Watson’s Open Letter on Retirement

by on 18 January 2017

Editor’s note: On Tuesday afternoon, Minnesota United FC confirmed a trio of rumors about its television broadcast team. The club announced Callum Williams and Kyndra de St. Aubin as its play-by-play commentator and color commentator, respectively. The announcement of the broadcast crew’s third member hit a little closer to home. United named former midfielder Jamie Watson — who had played for the club as recently as last year — as its sideline reporter for the coming season.

In this guest feature, Watson offers his own thoughts on the end of one career and the start of another.

Minnesota United FC Sideline Reporter

When I was in kindergarten and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was: a professional soccer player. I got to do that. Some would say that’s winning the lottery in and of itself.

I thought the day I got drafted was the moment I had made it. People say that getting drafted is a dream come true. Yes, that’s one dream. I think you deserve that evening to say thank you to the people who helped you get there and to appreciate what’s happened. The next morning is when that dream is done and over with. If I could go back to 2005 and speak to 18-year-old Jamie, I would make sure to say, “You haven’t made it.”

Whenever I get the chance to talk to a young pro, or someone who wants to make it as a professional, I make sure to tell them about the things I did wrong. “Let me be the one who makes the mistake, because I already did. You don’t need to do what I did and waste it away.”

I was good enough to get drafted at 18 with a Generation adidas contract. My next three years were in MLS and with each year my playing time declined. I didn’t do extra work to try to be better than other people were. I ate poorly, I didn’t sleep right. Basically, I didn’t understand, nor did I try to learn, what being a professional was about. I wanted to be a pro athlete, but I didn’t want to be a pro athlete — I wanted what came with it. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d do a million things differently.

A reality check

At 18 I had a Generation adidas contract and was able to buy my own house. Four months later, I had moved to the PDL and was sleeping on a couch as the fifth person in a two-bedroom apartment, living on unemployment checks. It wasn’t somebody else’s fault, it was my fault.

I hit rock bottom, essentially. If I wanted to keep playing, I had to sign a piece of paper to say I was registering with U.S. Soccer as an amateur player. A humbling moment. I didn’t want to admit to people that I was playing in the Premier Development League because I was so embarrassed. Then I realized there was only one way up from there.

I hit rock bottom, essentially. If I wanted to keep playing this game, I had to sign a piece of paper to say I was registering with U.S. Soccer as an amateur player. A humbling moment.

Being one of the few players to score in all four divisions of U.S. soccer is both a claim to fame and something you don’t really want to brag about. I’m not proud of some of the things in my career, but I’m proud of how I worked my way back up through the system. I always said I wanted to make it back into MLS. Maybe I didn’t put the caveat in that it wouldn’t be as a player, but I was able to make it back. It’s in a different role, but I understand now how hard I worked. It’s come full circle in a way.

A real mentor

I was in Seattle on trial with the Sounders in February, 2008. I thought for sure I was going to get picked up. It was the year before they went to MLS and I thought I’d move up with them. They let me go in preseason.

I was still in my hotel room when I got a call from an English number. I picked it up, and asked who it was. “Hi, Jamie? This is Adrian Heath.” Everyone knew who Adrian was from his playing days. He said he was going to be coming over to Austin and wanted to have me come down and play there. He offered to put in work with me, to stay before and after training, and really take me under his wing. So I said okay, packed up all of my stuff, and drove down to Austin to play that season in the PDL.

At the end of that year, I ended up signing on with FC Dallas ahead of the 2009 season. When Dallas didn’t work out, there was no longer a spot for me in Austin. I went to Wilmington and scored a lot of goals for the Hammerheads, thanks to the advice Adrian had given me in 2008. He picked me up and brought me to Orlando before the next season and I had the best run of my career with the Lions. Adrian has an ability to instill confidence in his players. We’ve kept a great relationship and look where we are now.

For more about Adrian Heath’s coaching style, click here.

I say this with 100 percent confidence: there is no person in the world who you would rather have leading your transition to MLS than Adrian Heath. He understands the importance of the fans, the team, the media, the people who support the club… He gets all of that. He’s the best coach in the country because of his community-building as well as his system. I didn’t feel like I knew how to play soccer until I learned his system. Once I learned it, I wondered why everyone else wasn’t using it. It’s simplistic, but it’s so difficult to defend against. As a player, it always provides you with options.

Hopefully, people here in Minnesota will see Adrian put his stamp on the team, both on the field and off. That’s going to help a lot of people fall in love with this club.

Finding my home

I still remember hearing “you dive like Jamie Watson” for the first time.

I was born in Texas, I lived in Texas. Salt Lake was the coldest place I’d ever lived. I like wearing shorts on Christmas. Then I found a place here in Minnesota that, strangely enough, I fell in love with. If you put it on paper and said, “It’s cold seven or eight months a year, with snow as tall as you for six of those months, but you’re going to love it,” I would’ve told you that you were crazy. But, it only took three months for me to realize that Minnesota felt like home.

My wife, my son, my soon-to-be second son, and I have found a home in Minnesota. Adrian and I had a very short talk about me playing with the team next year. When they figured out that it wouldn’t have worked out, my family had a decision: did we want to stay or did we want to leave? We really wanted to stay.

When the opportunity for me to be on the TV broadcasting side of things was presented to me, I was in Florida. It was seventy degrees without a cloud in the sky and I realized that I missed Minnesota. I absolutely wanted to be back.

For more on Jamie as a player and his comeback from an ACL tear, click here.

I had done enough in 2016 after recovering from my ACL injury to have multiple NASL teams interested in my services and they wanted me to play. I’m only 30. But when Minnesota offered me the role of sideline reporter, it was the only job in the world for which I would’ve quit playing soccer.

Hanging up the boots

Here’s my honest feeling about my life and career and why this transition makes sense: to put it bluntly, and I’m not being full of myself, I think I was a good player that had a good career. I look back on it and I’m proud of it, no matter the ups and downs.

Ultimately, I think I was a good soccer player. I think I can be a great broadcaster. If I can be better in this career than I was in my first career, I will be able to live up to the expectations I and others have for me. That was the one thing I kept telling myself when I decided to stop playing soccer.

I was asked in the interview process if I’d miss playing once the ball starts rolling in preseason. Of course I’m going to miss it. I’ll still miss it when I’m 60 years old as well. Playing soccer was the one job that I always wanted in my life. Broadcasting is the only other job that I would’ve wanted. I’m not going to miss it as much knowing that I can do TV broadcasting. It’ll be the next thing to give me that fix. As crazy as it sounds, I think I can be much better at this than at being a player.

Coming to terms

Strangely enough, as this offseason was playing out and this job offer came in, I found myself less motivated to get ready as a player and more excited about being a reporter. I’m excited to do pieces for the club and represent Minnesota United in and around the Twin Cities. It’ll be interesting when I get to practice and I’m standing on the other side of the sidelines instead of where I was just 12 months before.

I want both avid soccer fans and newcomers to the sport to say they like how I draw them into the match. When you feel like you can relate to a player, you watch more closely. My experience provides a knowledge of what players want to talk about. Hopefully, that reduces the number of clichés provided as answers to questions and offers a different approach. I won’t reinvent the wheel, but I’ll try to do things a little bit differently. My aim is that people will enjoy it and feel a connection.

Being a parent now, I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me. They helped me foster my love for the game, took me to practice, and paid ridiculous amounts for shoes. I appreciate that now more than ever. This game has given me an identity as a person. The good, the bad, the curved road — all of it. Everyone along the way has made me so thankful to be a part of this game.

A new start

No shame to admit it, a part of me is nostalgic about my career as a player. When it came to an end, I cried. Twelve years seemed to go by so quickly. You want to fight Father Time, but Father Time remains undefeated. Until it actually ends, it doesn’t hit you like the ton of bricks that it is. It was a hell of a ride.

There’s no feeling like scoring a goal and hearing the fans. This broadcast career is the next best thing to playing. I’ll get that fix on gameday. That’s what turned those tears from sadness into joy. I want to thank Minnesota United wholeheartedly for giving me this opportunity and letting me get my foot in the door. There are a million other people who want this job. Every day, I’ll make sure that I show my appreciation and that I want to be the best at what I do.

I’m a rookie all over again. This time, I’m going to do it right.

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