Training with the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues was supposed to lay the groundwork for Tyler Witmer’s career as he continued the pursuit of his dream of playing professional soccer.
Getting invited to play on the team during their preseason was supposed to be an even further step toward that goal he has worked for most of his life – until he got cut.
The former Temple star forward had suddenly hit a bump in the road, not long after his collegiate soccer career ended this past November.
“Trying to go pro is not easy,” Witmer said. “I’ve learned that pretty quickly. There are a lot of kids who are trying to go pro just like I am, and not everyone makes it.”
In the wake of his release from Harrisburg City, he started working two jobs with his dream in the back of his mind, waiting for an opportunity to arise.
Now, that opportunity has appeared in the form of the Panama City Beach Pirates of the U.S. Premier Development League, a team based out of Panama City, Fla.
“I went to the USL combine in Bradenton, Fla., over the winter, and that’s how I started training with Harrisburg City,” Witmer said. “But I got a few looks from a few other teams, and the Pirates were one of them. They contacted me soon after I got released.”
Playing in Panama City Beach is yet another chapter in the pursuit of the pros for Witmer. Although Harrisburg City apparently didn’t see it, Witmer’s former high school coach, Chris Arthur, said Witmer had a special quality about him.
“There was definitely something special about him,” Arthur said. “He was by far the best player on the team by his sophomore year. That says something right there.”
Witmer hails from Wernersville, Pa., a small town near Reading, Pa. He went to Conrad Weiser High, where he played and became a standout under Arthur during his final three high school years.
“He was our center midfielder and he created plays,” Arthur said. “Everything really flowed through him, and if there was ever a goal scored, it usually had something to do with him. His technical ability and his ability to score whenever we needed him to score made him a special player.”
The combination of his time at high school and also playing club soccer throughout much of his childhood helped Witmer develop as a young and upcoming player.
“One thing about high school is you’re playing with your friends,” Witmer said. “That was one of the best parts about high school, but playing club soccer was influential to me as a player. That’s where I really developed and built a résumé that was worthy of getting looks from Division I schools.”
Before he knew it, Temple came calling. Coach Dave MacWilliams saw something in Witmer, a midfielder upon his arrival, and converted him to a forward.
“He handled that transition well,” MacWilliams said. “There were times we played him as a withdrawn forward where he could kind of play both ways, and sometimes we played him up top as an all-out attacking forward.
Although Witmer’s ability on the field solidified his place in MacWilliams’ starting 11, it was his personality and attitude that quickly made him a favorite of MacWilliams.
“[Witmer] was a guy who always worked hard,” MacWilliams said. “He was very coachable. He always had a great attitude and was one of those guys who made our team click.”
“It’s funny because in my freshman year I had a standout year, and then my numbers dropped each year after that,” Witmer said. “But I became a smarter player as I went on at college. [MacWilliams] helped me a lot and he was really good at bringing me up. Even if my numbers weren’t as good, I became a better all-around player at Temple.”
Today, as a younger soccer player looking for his big break, Witmer will try to use those same qualities he displayed over those many years playing high school and college soccer as he attempts to move up the soccer ranks. Although he is just embarking on a possible professional career, the reality of it all is that it won’t last forever.
“As much as I would like to, I know I’m not going to play soccer forever,” Witmer said. “It’s going to be hard to hang it up, and it’s going to take me a while. I’m trying to go pro now because I don’t want to wait and then run out of time.”
“I don’t want to have any regrets,” Witmer added. “I want to be able to say with confidence that I tried as hard as I could and took risks and made sacrifices to go to the next level and live the pro dream.”
Drew Parent can be reached at email@example.com.