When Travis Ward went down to Greenville, South Carolina last November to attend an open tryout for a new professional team, he knew that the odds were stacked against him breaking through.
The Rowan University grad from New Egypt, N.J. who starred at the South Jersey Division III program from 2014-2017, was not lacking in confidence coming off a 29-goal, 16 assist college career and a season with the Philadelphia Fury but was one of 75 guys at the tryout hoping to impress the technical staff of the Greenville Triumph.
“It really was a shot in the dark,” said Ward, who only found out about the tryout a week earlier. “Just being called back for another tryout was a blessing.”
Ward not only stood out among the group of hopefuls, but ended up impressing head coach John Harkes and his technical staff enough in subsequent tryouts to be given a spot on the team’s first roster.
“I still get butterflies thinking about it,” he says of the phone call Harkes, a former USMNT midfielder originally from New Jersey, placed inviting him to officially join the team. “Just to have a legend of the game like that who believes in you and thinks you have what it takes to play at the next level, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Greenville will not only kick off its inaugural season tonight but the entire league when they play at Tormenta FC in Statesboro, Georgia in the league’s inaugural game. USL League One is a third tier professional league in the U.S. with 10 current teams, including reserve teams for MLS teams Toronto FC, Orlando City and FC Dallas. Penn FC is currently on hiatus but slated to join the league next season.
“The experience has been unforgettable and absolutely unbelievable,” Ward said of his introduction to his new team. “I’m really just looking forward to the competition. There’s a lot of unknowns coming into this league obviously nobody knows how teams are going to play, but the competition should be extremely high.”
Ward said his experience at Rowan, the 18,000-student state school based in Glassboro, N.J. — where head coach Scott Baker’s pushes players to train like future soccer pros on the field and study like future pros off it — was critical in preparing him for this new chapter.
“They expect a lot from you (at Rowan) physically and mentally; they hold you accountable just like they do here at the professional level,” Ward said. “Having that mindset there helped me when I went to the open trial blindly; it brought those true colors out and really helped me get through that type of situation.”
Four months later, Ward is no longer a long shot hopeful but a Greenville Triumph original ready to put the 45-day grind of preseason behind him and get the season going at last. Tonight’s game will be broadcast live tonight at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN+.