By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 7, 2016
A little more than a decade after he departed his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz. to attend IMG Academy in Florida, Blair Gavin is excited to be home as part of Arizona United SC.
“It’s just a hotbed for talent, to be honest,” Gavin said recently. “There’s a lot of very good talent here, a lot of kids growing up playing soccer, and unfortunately there’s really no avenue, there’s no Division I schools, so people have to leave, and not many people leave, unfortunately.
“I was lucky enough to go somewhere else and work my way around, and now I get to come back here, and so now kids can see there is a professional team here, there is something to aspire to. That’s what’s really exciting for me is that these kids now have the opportunity to play and become a professional in their back yard.”
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A former MLS SuperDraft first-round selection in 2010 after starring at the University of Akron and for IMG Academy’s PDL side, Gavin’s career had its ups and down over the past six seasons. Last year he contributed positively to the Portland Timbers 2’s inaugural season in the USL as he recorded four goals and three assists in 24 appearances for the side.
When new United Head Coach Frank Yallop and Owner Kyle Eng approached him to become part of Arizona’s rebuilding effort, however, it wasn’t a difficult decision for the 27-year-old.
“It made a lot of sense, and where I was in my career, I just thought, ‘why not?’” Gavin said. “Go here, go for it, make the leap with Frank and the ownership with Kyle. They’re trying to do big things, and that’s exciting, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
United enters its third season in the USL looking to make a strong move up the Western Conference standings. While on paper the club appeared to be a contender last preseason, and then opened the season with three consecutive wins, the side’s playoff aspirations dissolved as inconsistency plagued its performances.
With Yallop now at the helm, and a few new faces added to the lineup, Gavin believes there is a common sense of purpose that can drive Arizona forward this season.
“I think we all have something in common, and it’s a hunger to do well,” Gavin said. “We all have a big chip on our shoulder, and we all want to progress this club and our careers. We’ve come together with this huge chip on our shoulder and the work ethic we’ve been bringing into training has been superb, and so if we can continue this throughout the year, with the guidance of Frank and Marc [Bircham] and the staff that we have, the sky’s the limit.”
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The sky also appears to be the limit for the club itself, which made some major offseason moves off the field with the addition of local businessman Brett M. Johnson and Grammy-winning musician Diplo to the club’s ownership group.
Eng remains at the forefront, and his vision for what Arizona United SC will be in the future was another exciting aspect as Gavin signed with the club.
“It’s great,” Gavin said. “He personally called me and was excited for me to be here, and laid out his idea of what he wants it to be, and of what he wants this club to become, and it was very exciting. He’s aspiring to do big things, he’s got a lot of good contacts, and he’s just very passionate about the team.
“He came down to Casa Grande to watch us play. He didn’t have to do that, but he’s got the scarf around his neck, cheering on the team, greeting us at the bus, everything like that. When you’ve got an owner like that, who’s all in, it boosts the morale of the team, and we just want to do everything we can for him on the field.”
As he returns home, Gavin is ready to do what it takes on the field to help the club’s vision become a reality.“I’m very excited to put on the jersey and put everything on the line for this team, and for this state and the ownership,” Gavin said. “I haven’t been this excited about a club in a very long time, if ever, so it’s going to be a very fun year.”