Former MSU student signs to play in Major League Soccer

Jessalyn Castro

Kalen Ryden, former student, heads the ball towards the Midwestern State University goalie at a match against West Texas A&M University Oct. 11, 2014 at the soccer field. Photo by Lauren Roberts
Kalen Ryden, former student, heads the ball towards the Midwestern State University goalie at a match against West Texas A&M University Oct. 11, 2014 at the soccer field. Photo by Lauren Roberts

Kalen Ryden was just a mass communication senior and a defender on the soccer team last semester when his life threw him a surprise. Ryden was drafted to play in the Major League Soccer on January 20.

“I didn’t really know what to think,” Ryden said.

Ryden was selected in the fourth round, 69th overall, of the 2015 MLS Super Draft by Columbus Crew SC.

After finishing his last season playing for MSU, Ryden had high hopes to play professionally, but he had no idea just how quickly that would become a reality.

“I didn’t know going into it that I was going to be selected. It was kind of one of those things where you expect the worst but hope for the best,” Ryden said. “I went into it with a simple mentality.”

Players in the MLS Super Draft have to be invited to attend the draft, and Ryden was not invited but was able to compete in the supplemental third and fourth rounds by getting on a secondary recommendation list.

“I got on that list from a recommendation by a coach that I knew that was trying to help me out and get my career started professionally. He made a phone call for me and recommended me and they accepted me and put me on the list and that’s how I ultimately got drafted,” Ryden said.

Ryden was with MSU’s mens soccer assistant coach Michael Meachum in the coach’s office watching the draft when he first found out he had been selected by a major league soccer team.

“They were updating it on the MLS website name by name, so I’m just clicking refresh every 10 seconds just trying to see if my name is going to pop up, and sure enough, it did when Columbus had one of their picks,” Ryden said. “I hit refresh and it said ‘Columbus Crew select defender Kalen Ryden from MSU,’ and I saw it and kind of froze for a bit and I turned to Meach, and we just started jumping for joy. It was a pretty cool moment to experience with Meachum.”

Ryden said arriving in Columbus, Ohio, with his new team was a surreal experience.

“Even though I was in Columbus it really hadn’t sat in yet, even meeting all the players, but it was quite a humbling experience just seeing all these players,” he said. “I’ve watched the MLS in the past and I knew who some of these players were. I knew who a majority of the players were on the Crew team, some who have very decorated careers so far, so I was a little starstruck as well.”

Ryden said he felt excited and blessed to have the opportunity to be on the same team as some of the players he looked up to.

“For example, Michael Parker is a defender on the team and he’s been with the national team for a very long time and it was just very surreal to be in the same league as those players and on the same team. It was really incredible,” Ryden said.

Two weeks into Columbus Crew SC’s season, after traveling to Florida and Texas for a six-week preseason, the coaches of the team decided to loan Ryden to its affiliate team, the Austin Aztex, to get more game time and experience as a professional.

Austin Aztex is a soccer team based out of Austin which plays in the United Soccer League. However, Ryden is familiar with the Aztex because he played for them when the team competed in the Premier Development League. He also played for Des Moines Menace and Midland/Odessa Sockers in the PDL.

“I’m happy to be down in Austin playing and developing and getting experience,” Ryden said. “I’m sure I will be here for a decent amount of time just so that I can get games and experience and develop over a long period of time.”

Ryden said MSU prepared him well for where he is now, from head coach Doug Elder and Meachum’s guidance and support from teammates.

“Couch Elder was always hard on us,” Ryden said. “He gave me a thicker skin. He was always pushing us to the limits.”

Meachum recruited Ryden to play soccer for MSU when he was in high school. Ryden said Meachum worked with him more on the tactical side of soccer.

“I learned a lot from Meachum,” Ryden said. “Both of them together really brought the best out of me and that helped me to get where I am today.”

For now, Ryden said he thinks it is important that he knows he hasn’t done anything at the next level yet. And still having a lot to prove, he said he can’t grow complacent.

“I need to do more than just be here at this level. I need to make a name for myself and improve everyday and keep working hard and never be accepting of what’s in front of you, always strive for better,” he said. “I think that will keep me motivated and keep me striving to be the best that I can be.”

With high hopes for the future, Ryden said he sees himself playing and starting in the MLS and having a successful career as a major league soccer player.

“I think right now that’s an attainable goal for me, but like I said, it’s just my first year as a professional so I have to somewhat sit back and learn from these older players and hopefully develop enough to where I’ll be able to play at the major league soccer level and have a great career,” Ryden said.

Having just been a senior with about 18-21 credit hours left to go in his college career, Ryden has put his studies on pause to take the opportunity of a lifetime. He said after talking it over with his parents he decided he wasn’t going to turn it down.

“It’s something I’ve worked for, ever since I started playing soccer it was always a dream to play as a professional, and I was lucky enough to get drafted into the MLS and I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity,” Ryden said. “I will finish school. It’s just a matter of time of when I’ll be able to do that. I don’t have much left, so when I come back it shouldn’t take me too long to finish.”

For now, all of Ryden’s time is being spent on the field.

“It’s kind of crazy when people ask me because they forget that this is a profession, it’s a career,” Ryden said. “You put all your time and effort into it.”

Ryden said a day in his cleats consists of waking up and meeting the team for team meetings, practice, or to hit the weight room.

“Majority of the time it’s just soccer and relaxation and that’s pretty much my day,” he said. “I’m definitely living my dream here, so I’m happy.”