Ryan Reid has watched his older brother rise to the top in America’s traditional brand of football, and it’s convinced him that he can follow in those footsteps, sort of.
The 21-year-old Louisianan dreams of a pro soccer career, and his shift from a spot up top to the backline might just get him there, with a prod from lessons gained from watching his brother.
Eric Reid, two years older than Ryan, was an All-America safety at LSU and an All-Pro in his rookie NFL season with the San Francisco 49ers.
“The fact that he made it gives me hope,” said Ryan, who’s enjoying a superb campaign this year with the National Premier Soccer League’s New Orleans Jesters. “I want to push hard, grind harder, because I know that it’s actually, really possible.”
Reid’s coaches agree. He’s got all the required tools — blistering speed, good feet, the ability to physically best his foes — and, with the change of position (and a change of college, to go with it), there seems no limit to the possibilities.
“He has the ability to go on to the next level,” Jesters head coach Kenny Farrell said. “But it’s going to be a lot of hard work over the next two years. He’s got to really stand out and make a huge difference in games that he plays in. And I think he’ll have to opportunity to do that.”
More so at Coastal Carolina University, which has a tradition of developing players for the pros, than at NCAA powerhouse Maryland, where he spent the past two autumns mostly sitting on the bench and waiting for scarce playing time. He made just six appearances for the Terrapins, with one start and one goal, against Marshall his freshman year.
Farrell recommended that Reid make a shift to left back, and Reid has found that “it’s what best suits my strengths going up to the next level.”
“At left back, I’m really able to use my physicality to wear down outside midfielders and forwards who try to come down my side,” Reid said. “My speed is another great thing I rely on, so I’ll be able to make track-back runs or, if there’s a diagonal ball, I can clean up the weak side, help my center backs. I’m good in the air, too.
“I just feel that [left back] was more up my alley than forward, because when I played forward and I would get the ball, I don’t think I had as much creativity to get to goal. But at left back, I have the time to read the game, react to it, and make the best decision.”
Reid grew up in a sports-oriented family in Baton Rouge, La. His father, Eric Sr., ran track and LSU, his mother, Sharon, played in a full-contact women’s football league in her 30s, and all three of their sons played every sport they could.
Eric and Justin, a highly rated safety who will be a freshman at Stanford in the fall, played soccer into their teens and then concentrated on football. Ryan, who followed his older brother everywhere, focused on soccer as soon as he got to high school.
“No matter what Eric did, I tried to be as good as him, if not better,” Ryan Reid said. “It just turns out that soccer is one of the thing that I actually was better than him at, so I definitely prided myself in that when I was younger.”
He starred at Baton Rouge SC and led Dutchtown High School to two state championships, and Maryland recruited him as a forward. He redshirted his first year, then battled without much success for a role in coach Sasho Cirovski’s rotation.
“The way it works at Maryland is Sasho grabs the most talented guys he can find and just lets them fight for positions,” Reid said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t come out on top as much as I would like, but playing with a group of guys that had so much competitive nature — there wasn’t one guy on the field that wasn’t trying to get to the next level — every training session was sharp. Every training session, you felt like you were getting better. …
“I just wasn’t getting the playing time that I needed if I want to get to the next level.”
Reid, with Farrell’s guidance, made the move to the backline during the NPSL Combine a few months ago, and he transferred to Coastal Carolina as a defender and will play his first season with the Chanticleers this fall. He found the spring sessions with coach Shaun Docking most illuminating.
“What Shaun Docking does that I really like is that he really focuses on individual player development and being a two-way player,” Reid said. “When I played at Maryland, we did more team training, a couple of passing drills and full-field scrimmage. In the spring at Coastal, they really broke down the game, and they personally develop each player instead of focusing on the team as a whole.”
Docking worked with Reid on many of the fundamentals of his new position.
“I have all the physical tools to be a great left back, hut with every position comes experience and with experience comes knowledge,” Reid said. “Shaun was able to break down some of the defensive strategies that I need to master in order to be a good left back.”
Reid had developed an understanding of the game under Farrell, an Irishman in his seventh season as Jesters head coach.
“Ryan played for a high school and a club that were completely dependent on him, and what happens often in youth soccer is the game is built around the most powerful athletes, and it’s really not developing proper soccer play or a proper understanding of the game,” Farrell said. “And to be honest, he hadn’t really learned the game. It was ‘give the ball to Ryan, Ryan blows past everybody, scores the goal, and we win the game.’
“He was so powerful at youth soccer, but he really didn’t understand the game. He did what he was asked to do in a game, and that was win it for his local youth team or his high school. He really didn’t understand the game, and I think over the last two years, his education has been excellent. I think that was the most important thing for him.”
Farrell loved the tools possessed by Reid, whom has coached for three years, but didn’t see the progress he was seeking.
“We were looking at him and wondering why, with everything that he has, he does not stand out as a player who can go to the next level [as a forward],” Farrell said. “And then we shifted him to left back, and he really shined, and it changed everything in his game. I think the main thing is his belief in himself. Right now he certainly is on the right path, and if he continues on the path that he’s on, I think he’s going to follow in the footsteps of [New York City FC and former Jesters forward] Patrick Mullins [to MLS].”
The Jesters have struggled this year — they’re 1-4-1 and sit fourth in the South Region’s Southeast Conference — but Reid has been “an absolute standout,” Farrell said.
“He’s done phenomenally well,” he added. “The change has been so good for him, and his confidence and his level of play has increased. He has been a powerhouse at left back. I certainly wouldn’t want to go up against him. He’d done really, really phenomenal.
“He can be an excellent defender. I don’t think that there’s anybody that can beat him for speed, that’s for sure. Or strength. In the air, he’s powerful. His recovery when the ball gets in behind is lightning fast. And it’s one thing being a good defender, but it’s what he adds to the game over and above that, I think that’s where he’s probably going to separate himself, if he keeps working at that.”
Reid plans to do the work. He wants to be a pro, and his brother’s experiences have given him the faith that he can do so.
“The biggest deal with any aspiring athlete is ‘am I doing enough, am I going to get noticed, will I make it that next level, am I going to make it,’ ” Reid said. “To have my brother actually succeed and being able to be right net to him and see what he did to ensure his future really impacted me and let me know that I’m doing what he’s doing.
“I’m putting in the effort. I’m putting in the work. My time will come.”