Nate Shultz worked the Ohio soccer system to perfection.
The Mayfield, Ohio-native competed for Cleveland Internationals on the academy level, before making his mark at Akron and spending time in the NPSL. The defender now finds himself in Major League Soccer as a member of the LA Galaxy after being selected in the third round last month.
“It was a dream come true, it was incredible,” Shultz said. “After the first two rounds, I had to wait two more days to figure out where I would end up and it was an incredible feeling to get that call.”
There was a time during Shultz’ collegiate junior year when a call during the MLS draft seemed like a long shot. The defender was benched by Akron Head Coach Jared Embick due to problems with the mental side of the game and a lack of confidence.
Shultz considers Embick to be the most influential mentor of his long soccer career. Taking Nate off the pitch was the right move. While watching from the sidelines was difficult, the move forced Shultz to become more determined and put in the extra work, and it ultimately landed him in MLS.
“It pushed me,” Schultz said. “I really needed that. I don’t think I would’ve made it to where I am today if that didn’t happen. I would’ve just stuck to my old habits and not formed new ones that pushed me even harder.”
After the benching, Embick found himself with a senior leader in 2017 that had a new level of maturity. While there were still bumps, Shultz was a new player on and off the pitch. The Akron head coach cited a two-game stretch where Shultz received a red card in a disappointing draw before coming back and scoring two goals in the next match.
“For me, that kind of showed, he’s getting it,” Embick said. “He’s maturing. He’s understanding what it takes to be consistent and play at a high level and stay there and how to regroup. That, for me, is probably a special memory.”
Embick has kept in touch with Shultz through what has been a whirlwind of a two weeks for the defender. Just last week, Shultz confided in Embick that he won the fitness test among the rest of the young Galaxy players. Shultz is encouraged, but he understands the weight of the task at hand. He now plays behind former Champions Leaguer Ashley Cole.
Cole has made a point to reach out and give a few tips to Shultz. Galaxy Assistant Coach Dominic Kinnear has given extra time to Shultz as well. The change is going to take time, even with Akron’s pro-style being part of Shultz’ pedigree. He’s now marking attackers like former Crew SC member Ola Kamara, who scored 18 goals last season, and rumor has it that Shultz may even be seeing prolific Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in training soon.
“You’re going to get beat a couple of times, but, you’ve got to just learn from it, adjust and keep going,” Shultz said. “The speed of play is a little bit quicker, so that’s something I think I can improve on. As the days go on, I’m just trying to get better and better.”
The opportunity in front of Shultz is a product of years of work on many different levels. He spent time in the NPSL, playing between collegiate seasons. Carter Poe, Shultz’ coach during his time in the NPSL, saw even in 2015 that the defender trained like a pro and showed a desire to improve.
“As a result, his game is sharp and polished,” Poe said. “He is an intelligent player with a good first touch and excellent ability to get into the attack from his outside back position. I know he’ll make a good pro.”
Coletun Long played alongside Shultz in the NPSL. Both defensive stalwarts, Long saw Shultz lead by example on a team that fielded nearly 30 starting-caliber college talents from all over the Buckeye State. Shultz doesn’t consistently speak in the locker room. His consistency comes on the field.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen many people get by him in the amount of time I’ve played with him,” Long said.
Shultz is the one that put in the work. But, he is undeniably the product of Northeast Ohio soccer and the game in the state as a whole. When he was younger, he often watched Akron locally and saw the level he needed to ultimately reach. He did just that, by playing in his hometown of Mayfield and in and around Cleveland.
“It pushed me and it’s just an area that loves soccer and there’s just great talent everywhere,” Shultz said. “I thought it was very beneficial in a lot of ways.”