For John Nelson, getting on a Major League Soccer field Saturday was progress toward accomplishing the goals he’s been working toward all his life.
Roughly two months after FC Dallas made the 2017 Medina High School graduate the first Medina County resident drafted into the MLS, Nelson made his debut against the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium.
“It’s always been my goal to play professional (soccer) and to make my professional debut and, luckily enough, I got to make it at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, in front of my family and great friends,” Nelson said in a phone interview Monday.
Nelson subbed in for fellow left back Marquinhos Pedroso in the 74th minute and was supported from the crowd by parents John and Michelle Nelson, two sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“I didn’t know if I was going to go in or not, but then I got the call to sub in,” Nelson said. “It was a great experience playing with my team and in front of my family and friends.”
The Crew defeated Dallas 1-0 on a first-half goal by Gaston Sauro, but experience against elite competition earlier in his career had Nelson confident he could step right in.
“I’ve played with the U.S. youth national teams and collegiate level at North Carolina, and those were both very fast levels, so I think that prepared me a lot for this professional level,” Nelson said. “When I subbed in, it didn’t feel any different. I was just having fun, enjoying it and doing the thing I love.”
Nelson competed at the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile. In two seasons at North Carolina, he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman Team choice, then a second-team
All-ACC pick as a sophomore. The Tar Heels won the ACC Coastal Division both years.
Nelson’s Dallas teammates helped him feel comfortable and fit into the game plan.
“My teammates throughout the preseason and the season have been very welcoming and have brought me into their family,” Nelson said. “Right when I subbed in, I felt like I was in a good place. I was very comfortable, and my teammates have been very helpful.”
With Dallas sitting at 1-1-1 after three games, Nelson is looking forward to helping his team attempt to make its fifth trip to the postseason in six years.
The next challenge is hosting the Colorado Rapids (0-1-2), who sit two points behind Dallas for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“Keep working hard and training, keep doing my thing,, and however I can get in have a good impact for the team,” Nelson said. “If I don’t start, that’s OK, just keep working hard and being that person that subs in and give the team a boost.”
Helping the team starts with continuing to work on becoming a well-rounded player.
“Me being a defender, obviously, I want to keep working on my 1-v-1 defending,” Nelson said. “Of course, (I also need to work on) getting forward and being the complete left back, getting up and down the field and being an outlet for your team when they are on the attack.”