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Canadian prospect Matt Greer impresses with Philadelphia Union academy

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WAYNE, PA. — You wonder if Pele started out this way. Or perhaps other greats playing the Beautiful Game,” Maradona, Beckham and now Messi.

That’s not to suggest that Matt Greer, the 17-year-old midfielder born in the U.S.A. but with Canadian citizenship as well due to his parents, is ticketed for the same kind of soccer immortality. If showing skills at a young age — then diligently training under the watchful tutelage of men who know what it takes to make it — is the trick to having a successful career, he’s on the right track.

“I think there are two to three kids on our team that have a real chance to play at the next level,” said Peter Fuller, head coach of the Philadelphia Union’s Academy 18-year-old team where Greer plays. “He’s one of them.

“One of the reasons I like Matt is that he’s real different than most others you’d see play. He’s willing to try things. He’s great at beating people off the dribble and he has a knack for scoring goals out of midfield.

Matt Greer: Born in the United States, but his parents and family are from Manitoba.
Matt Greer: Born in the United States, but his parents and family are from Manitoba.

“First off, he has an innate ability you either have or don’t have. The other thing is he’s not afraid of making a mistake or afraid of failure.

“That’s allowed him to do things other kids can do but won’t even bother to try.”

Exactly what that might mean in terms of a potential pro career or earning a spot on the Canadian national team is too far off to say. Much can happen between now and what might be in a couple of years.

But as far as Greer is concerned, he’s thrilled with how far he’s already come. “I think I’ve improved a lot,” said the five-foot-nine, 150 lb. Greer, who’s scored one goal so far in six games for the Academy team. “The program’s real good.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for kids to train up with first team. I got to play against U-21 Chelsea team, which was a good experience. A couple of couple years ago with the 18s I went to the Generation Adidas Cup.

“You’re exposed to lot more things than you are at other places in an MLS academy.”

Every day Greer attends Unionville High, where he constantly takes a ribbing from friends about not playing for the school. After school, it’s a 30-minute drive to the Academy, where many of the players are actually students. Following a 90-minute or so training session it’s back home, where it’s time to do homework.

That’s going to be the routine until next September when he leaves for Dartmouth. “I loved the campus (Hanover, N.H.),’’ explained Matt, whose parents, Ken and Val, come from Manitoba, where his grandparents and cousins still live. “They recruited me and I committed real early.

“I decided I didn’t want to pursue a crazy soccer school, because I could maybe play a fair amount my first year. I expect to get some good time.

“I definitely still need to work defensively. I’m playing attacking midfielder. And, defensively, you’re pretty high up the field so don’t see as much in terms of awareness of your guy and making it too easy for them to play out. I’ve gotten better at that, but that’s still an area where I need the most work.

“I force it forward whenever possible. Sometimes it’s better to slow the game down and lately I’ve been a little too anxious. I like trying to find the gaps and I’m pretty good at them, but at the better levels the defenders are better reading the ball.

“So I need to learn how to play out wide.’’

Those “deficiencies” aside, Greer impressed Team Canada U-17 team coach Sean Fleming enough to earn an invitation to tryout camp in Florida. “I was hoping to possibly get invited to the U-17 World Cup, but they kind of had their team set,” said Greer, who became friends with Jordan Haynes, Jordan Hamilton and Daniel Milton from the national program. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play my preferred position.

“I was put out wide. I’d played it few years ago. But they play it slightly differently, and it took a couple of days to get used to it.

“But I’d love to play for the national team.”

That will have to wait, though, as Greer first will play out his stint with the Union academy team, before heading off to Dartmouth. He’s also hoping to perhaps go over for a trial in Wigan, England to get a taste of European soccer.

Beyond that, he’s content to wait and see. “I don’t really have a solid game plan for getting there,’’ admits Matt, whose younger brother, 14-year-old Eric, is currently playing for Greer’s old Penn Fusion team. “I’m more set on going to college and making sure I get my degree first.

“I’ll obviously continue to improve my soccer while I’m there.”

And perhaps he’s not as far away as you might think.

“The information we’ve gotten from Canada is he did well, but they were fairly well set in what they had,” said Fuller, who’ll have a few months to work with Matt, before the teen moves on to Dartmouth. “One of the reasons they brought him in is because they saw something in him they didn’t feel they had, which bodes well for him in the future.

“Obviously, it’s never an exact science. But if you look at it and ask `Does he have the potential to play pro soccer?’ he certainly does. There’s no question of that.”

For now, though, Matt Greer is content to bide his time, believing one day his chance will come. There’s good reason to believe then he’ll make the most of it.

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