Standing on the sidelines at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in elementary school, Tyler Arnone could only imagine what it’d be like to step onto the field.
This wasn’t the Super Bowl or a New York Jets game. It was home to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of Major League Soccer, where Arnone served as a ball boy as a kid. His job was simple: If the ball went out of bounds, he had to get it back to the players as quickly as possible.
His job now is a little bit more difficult, but his goal is still attainable. This week, Arnone was invited to the 2015 Adidas MLS Player Combine.
His path to the professional stage has been far from straightforward. In the years since leaving his home in Hicksville, New York, a town on Long Island, Arnone made a big change. He originally went to play soccer at St. John’s in the city, but after redshirting a year without seeing any playing time, Arnone transferred to Michigan, finally moving away from home. The move worked out.
As a Wolverine, Arnone has accomplished more than he ever expected: He has been named to an All-Big Ten team in three different seasons and ranks in the top 10 in four different categories in Michigan soccer history: assists, shots attempted, games started and minutes played.
Though, what Arnone has done for himself on the stats sheet does little justice to who he truly is on the field. He hopes to display that at the combine.
Arnone, Michigan’s former captain, will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in January to play alongside the top 55 college prospects from around the country. The combine, an invite-only event, will host the coaching staffs from all 20 MLS franchises. The combine concludes on Jan. 13, after which the clubs will make their way up the coast to Philadelphia, where the MLS Draft is scheduled for Jan. 15.
Arnone’s transition to the MLS has already begun. Friday morning, he took his final college exam and then hit the road for Columbus, where he was invited by the Columbus Crew to be evaluated on a more private basis. After Columbus, Arnone will head east to have a similar evaluation with the Philadelphia Union. Once he is done there, he’ll finally go back home to New York, and despite the holiday break, Arnone’s training will continue. He’ll meet with past coaches and friends, as well as practice with the under-23 New York Red Bulls.
Playing professionally is something that Arnone has been thinking about since his days as a MetroStars ball boy. A fan of the New Jersey-based club, Arnone watched as the team changed sponsors, becoming the club now known as the New York Red Bulls, which features one of the most prominent names in the world of soccer, Thierry Henry.
As Arnone grew, so did the league. MLS has gone under immense expansion in the past few years as a result of the league’s growth in popularity.
“It’s been extremely special to be a part of the growth of the MLS in my lifetime,” Arnone said. “Just to be able to come full circle and play in the league, and after being developed here in the U.S. youth soccer system, I think it would just an absolute dream come true. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
If Arnone grew up wanting to play professionally for the MetroStars, he now has an option even closer to home.
In 2013, New York City FC was announced as the league’s 20th franchise. The team, which will play its first season this spring in Yankee Stadium, has plans to build a soccer-only venue in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, just 20 miles away from where Arnone grew up.
While Arnone made clear that he’s excited about every option, the chance to play near home would truly be something special.
“I mean, you’d have to pinch me every day,” Arnone said. “I would never believe that it was true. To be drafted by them, or signed by them, it would be, man, I wouldn’t believe it to be honest. That’d be so ideal. I’d be close to home, with all my family, my soccer friends, friends from high school. Everyone would be an arm’s distance away from me and could watch me grow at the professional level. For them to celebrate that with me, it would mean the absolute world. Plus, I’m a mama’s boy, to be close to home and have her come out to the games, that would be amazing.”
Arnone’s hopes of playing near home aren’t far-fetched, either. NYCFC has shown interest in Arnone, sending scouts to Ann Arbor for a few games this past fall. The head coach of NYCFC, Jason Kreis, would certainly be interested in a player of Arnone’s type.
Kreis was appointed the coach of the new club after spending six years building up Real Salt Lake, a team that won the MLS Championship in 2009. Of the 17 players Kreis has brought to NYCFC, five played for his former club. Kreis seems keen on continuing what he knows works best, which includes the development of top-notch midfielders.
Arnone hopes to prove he is of a similar mold.
“First and foremost, I want to showcase my fitness,” Arnone said. “Being a box-to-box midfielder and having the reputation I’ve built in the Big Ten, I’m known as a guy that gets around the field for the entire 90 minutes. I’m definitely someone that works hard offensively and equally defensively.”
To do well at the combine, Arnone will have to showcase his true game as a center midfielder. Arnone characterizes a traditional midfielder’s purpose. One of Arnone’s biggest assets is his ability to show up everywhere on the field. In one minute Arnone could be breaking down an opponent’s attack in his own half, and within seconds be storming down the field looking for outlets. For this reason, he has built a reputation in and around the Big Ten.
This fall, Arnone recorded a total of 33 shots, the third-highest on the team. His high shot count is a result of his ability to get into the right spaces at the right time. Watching Arnone play, a spectator wouldn’t find him making big runs down the sideline or sitting back as the offense takes control. He waits and watches as the play develops before putting himself into dangerous positions.
He doesn’t have fancy footwork or an incredible curving shot, but Arnone creates chances, a valuable, necessary quality for a team that needs to score goals. His goal of playing in Major League Soccer is right in front of him, and it starts at the combine.