Thursday, November 5, 2015
One year ago, all Ken Tribbett was looking for was a chance in the pro ranks.
Now, after a standout season with the Harrisburg City Islanders that concluded with him being named a Finalist for the USL’s Rookie of the Year award, and a two-week training stint with the Philadelphia Union, the 23-year-old defender is making the most of his opportunity.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tribbett said by phone. “Last year, I didn’t even make a USL club coming out of college. That’s why I went to Michigan to play PDL. Until then, it wasn’t a very good life, but I had to keep my head high. I knew I was good enough, I just needed to be given a chance. This year I was fortunate that Harrisburg wanted me, picked me up, and I played. I knew I was good enough. I went out and played, and things just happened.”
Tribbett starred for the Michigan Bucks in the 2014 PDL season, and earned All-Central Conference honors as the side first won the Great Lakes Division, and then the league championship with a 1-0 victory against the Kitsap Pumas.
It was Tribbett’s second consecutive trip to the PDL Championship, after having won the Eastern Conference Championship with the Ocean City Nor’easters the previous season. Ocean City fell to eventual champions the Austin Aztex in the national semifinals, but the Nor’easters’ connections with Harrisburg ended up paying off as he joined up for a trial in preseason this year, and earned a place on the team.
“At that level, in the PDL, everyone wants to be a professional,” Tribbett said. “Everyone’s giving their all 100 percent of the time to get better, and to make the jump. Once I got the opportunity to make the jump, I still wanted to keep the same level of mentality and commitment to get better and make the team. Being around that professional mindset is the biggest part of the PDL.”
After reaching the USL Championship last year, the new season brought about a number of changes to Bill Becher’s squad, as Tribbett was joined by a large contingent of young players on City Island to team with a handful of returning veterans. The youth on the side led to an almost “Jeckyll-and-Hyde” personality on the field, where at times the City Islanders appeared able to compete with the best of the USL, and at others fell flat in defeat.
The two contests that might have best exhibited the nature of the City Islanders’ season both came against their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. They certainly were two of the most memorable games of the 2015 USL season, as on May 30 Harrisburg held a two-goal lead at Highmark Stadium going into the 90th minute, only for the Riverhounds to score three times to claim a 6-5 win.
Two months later, on July 26, the City Islanders turned the tables, as they found themselves down by two goals and down a man with 20 minutes to go at Skyline Sports Complex. This time it was Harrisburg that notched three successive goals, including a stoppage-time finish from Jason Plumhoff that earned a 4-3 victory.
“[That game] at Pittsburgh, I’m still upset about that game,” Tribbett said. “We conceded six goals in one half, three goals in stoppage time. It’s a nightmare, but it’s the game. It happens and we moved on. The next time we played them, down 3-1, down a man with 20 minutes left and we score three goals to come back and win it, those games were some of the craziest I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”
For Tribbett, finding a path to greater consistency, and fewer highs and lows, will be key if the City Islanders are to return to the playoffs next season. The team appears set to bring back a number of players for 2016, and after gaining a year of experience Tribbett thinks the strong personal chemistry within the group will help the side find the results it needs.
“If you have a good locker room where the guys get along, it correlates to the field,” Tribbett said. “This year, even, our locker room was good. We were just young and inexperienced for the most part, and so next year [when] I think we will have a good core of young guys coming back with a year of experience together under our belts, we should be able to make a deeper run, get into the playoffs. Anything can happen when you’re in the playoffs, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Of course, there remains the chance Tribbett’s future might not lie with the City Islanders, who have had a strong track record of their own in helping players reach MLS, particularly through their former partnership with the Union.
Whether on City Island or elsewhere, Tribbett is happy to be forging forward with the opportunities he has earned.
“It’s awesome,” Tribbett said of the chance to reach MLS. “For me, it’s been my goal. It’s been my dream since I was a young boy. To be able to get the opportunity to play at the next level, it’s awesome. It’s what I’ve always wanted to get the chance to do, and after my first year in USL, it’s a dream come true.“I’m blessed. It’s been a very, very good year for me so far.”