International Soccer Network

"Your Source for the Beautiful Game"

Nick Hagglund: Living the MLS Dream

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

Xavier defender Nick Hagglund found something quite unique over the holidays at his family’s home. It was a poster he created in the first grade, one that described what he wanted to do when he grew up.  On that list was to play in MLS.

Hagglund is now just days away from making that dream a reality. The athletic center back not only got an invite to the MLS Combine, but he is also likely to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft as a player with tremendous untapped potential.

“To me Nick might not be the best available center back, but without question is the most intriguing prospect with perhaps the best upside in the draft,” Xavier head coach Andy Fleming stated. “He came here as an athletic playmaker and left as an athletic soccer player.  His ability to connect the first pass, read the game, and organize have grown leaps and still have room for more growth.  His frame, pace and ability to time and win head balls is unlike anything I’ve seen at the college level.”

The Cincinnati native is part of a new breed of defenders that can shut down the opposing attack and start one of their own, connecting with midfielders and forwards. This attacking mentality is valuable as many MLS teams look for an edge or in this case, a European playing style along the lines of a FC Barcelona.

His whole career began in the Cincinnati United Premier system, where he starred as an attacking center midfielder.  This program is known for producing talent, talent that moves on to success in college and beyond.

“We are excited that Nick will be at the MLS Combine and has a good potential to be drafted into MLS,” Cincinnati United Soccer Club Executive Director Scott Rodgers added. “This would be our third straight year with a player drafted. Nick had a great youth career at our club and a successful collegiate career at Xavier.  We are very proud to call him a CUP alum and wish him the best of luck.”

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

A successful youth career gave him some options when it came to the collegiate game.  Hagglund chose Xavier when it was still a small and struggling program, one that was in desperate need of change.  That change came in the form of Fleming and a talented freshman class, a group that included Hagglund.

The new head coach allowed these talented underclassmen to set the tone, creating a new culture of excellence.

Hagglund’s first season as a Musketeer was one of adjustment as he was asked to be literally everywhere as injuries depleted the Xavier squad.  He played as a forward, midfielder, and eventually settled in as a defender on the backline.

He was a solid addition to Xavier’s back four and continued there for the next three seasons, excelling at center back and eventually earning a laundry list of honors that included BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.  His exceptional play leaves Xavier’s program in a better place than when he arrived.  Hagglund credits the “brotherhood of accountability,” a team-first mentality that allows success without superstars.

“I’m always willing to sacrifice for my teammates on and off the field,” Hagglund remarked. “It not about me. It’s about the team.”

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

His great attitude and personality would make him an asset for any MLS team. And he already has two seasons with the Columbus Crew Super-20 squad on his résumé.

The fact that he learned so much about the position in so little time is certainly intriguing.  Hagglund admits he has a lot to learn as a center back, but he is ready and willing to learn from veteran players and teammates.

But he has some work to do to make all of this happen.  A strong performance at the MLS Combine this weekend will push him up the draft charts, giving him a real chance to make an MLS squad.

One thing is for certain.  The first-grade version of Nick Hagglund would be proud of the man he has become.  And how close his dreams are to reality.

“This has been a dream I have been chasing,” Hagglund concluded. “I just never thought it would happen. ”

Let’s hope for a happy ending for the young defender from the great city of Cincinnati.  It seems only right for him to realize his dream as he is doing it for the right reason: for his love of the game.

The One and Only Tony Meola

This weekend’s MLS Cup isn’t the only game in town, thanks to the FIFA World Cup draw going down today.  We consulted the one and only Tony Meola to share his thoughts on both as he prepares for yet another soccer event supported by the insurance giant Allstate.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley

Meola didn’t expect an easy draw for the games in Brazil, but landing in the “Group of Death” doesn’t represent an impossible task.  Meola sees the positive in every difficulty and thinks the U.S. has a chance to make it through the group behind Germany.

“Germany is Germany,” Meola remarked. “They are the obvious favorites in the group.”

But he doesn’t see Portugal as being invincible despite having arguably the best player of the world in Cristiano Ronaldo.  He doesn’t believe that the 2014 Portuguese squad is better than the one that dominated in 2002.  He also thinks that it will be difficult for Ghana to beat the U.S. three times in a row , making that opening match against Ghana a must-win for the Americans.

Meola believes Klinsmann is “the right guy” when it comes to preparing for this World Cup and his native Germany.  He is also the right choice when it comes to choosing the squad.  This difficult draw may change how he chooses his team; that is surely a possibility at this point.

Several players have work to do to make this summer’s USMNT squad, but Meola predicts that two players from this weekend’s MLS Cup are not among them.  Matt Besler is a lock to make the squad, while Graham Zusi should make the squad, playing on the right.  Both should get opportunities to play in the opening three games of the World Cup.

Terrance Boyd and Sacha Kljestan are two players still “on the fringe.” Altidore is the only lock as a striker, while Eddie Johnson and Aron Jóhannsson seem to be favorites to fit into a 4-2-3-1 system that Klinsmann has found success with. Form and scoring goals at the time of selection are going to be key for Boyd, who is an absolute star in Austria.

Meola believes Kljestan must make the most of his remaining opportunities, but his selection depends on numbers.  The middle of the field is congested and it is unclear how many midfielders will be headed to Brazil.  It really is “a matter of need” for Klinsmann.

Meola is convinced that being flexible and changing lineups based on a deep bench is going to be crucial for any team to succeed in the World Cup.  He called Bruce Arena “a master” in this area, prompting a change in mentality for American managers.

The MLS Cup was the other major topic.  The former USMNT goalkeeper sees this weekend’s match as an ideal situation.

“The best two teams in MLS are playing right now. That’s exciting.”

Meola predicts the game will be a low scoring affair, one that will be won in the midfield.  RSL seems to have an edge in this area, benefitting from their vast experience in their midfield.  Veteran Ned Grabavoy will be the “X Factor” in tomorrow’s matchup.

Sporting KC will have a strong home crowd on their side, one that can pressure the opponent and give their team a confidence boost.  It really is a special situation, a true showcase for MLS.  It is also special for Meola, going back to a city and a club that has not forgot him.  He was part of the first Sporting Legends class, SKC’s Hall of Fame. His name will remain part of the stadium forever, a pretty cool honor.

Giving back is the biggest reason for Meola’s trip to Kansas City.  He participated in yet another Good Hands FC event, providing players with gear, MLS Cup tickets, signed merchandise, and some great training.  Meola even got some help from current MLS stars in Will Bruin and Will Johnson, who served as guest trainers.

Good Hands FC is always special and represents the best the beautiful game has to offer. Legends and stars giving back, thanks to a company that cares about their clients and sports in America. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

We would like to personally thank Allstate for their commitment to soccer over the years, helping grow the American game and supporting ISN along the way.

Also congratulations are in order for Brandon Ponchak, who won our Twitter contest and two MLS Cup tickets in the process!

Good Hands FC Event Photos