Chris Korb isn’t sure when he first started playing soccer.
D.C. United’s second-year defender recalls attending an indoor match for the Cleveland Crunch of the now-defunct Major Indoor Soccer League when he was ‘three or four’, but doesn’t remember the exact age where he fell in love with the beautiful game.
Korb does, however, remember his first coach.
“My dad actually coached my first team,” said Korb while leaning up against a dugout wall beneath RFK’s lower bowl. “It was me and all my friends. I think we were pretty good, we went undefeated for three years. It’s my dad’s claim to fame.”
Korb’s father, Ken, can take credit for starting a career that has overcome tremendous odds.
An undersized defender, Korb is far from the prototype that college coaches salivate over on recruiting trips. He never played in the famed Olympic Development Program and wasn’t a candidate when youth national teams were being formed. Despite that, Korb landed a scholarship to play soccer at Xavier University.
Three hours from his home in Gateway Mills, Ohio, Korb found his first real taste of adversity.
“I knew it wasn’t right for me,” Korb explained of his freshman year at Xavier. “I missed home, and the soccer wasn’t great.”
After getting his release from the Musketeer program, Korb needed a landing spot. A family friend put him in touch with Caleb Porter. Destined to coach the U.S. Under-23 side, Porter was the well-known but not yet uber-hyped head of Akron University’s rapidly-rising program.
Porter’s recruiting pitch, which worked so well on some of Major League Soccer’s brightest young stars, did a number on Korb.
“He’s the most passionate guy,” Korb gleefully says of his college coach. “He wants to win more than anyone, and he’s got a competitive personality just like me. We kind of clicked. He was trying to do something special, everything just seemed right.”
Korb calls the move to Akron the ‘best decision of my life’. After taking a medical redshirt in 2007, he made 73 starts over the next three seasons while never missing a single match. In 2010, with Korb at left back, the Zips won their first national title.
“We see all the [Akron] guys around the league and the first thing we do is talk about ,” Korb says of the history making side. “We had a really unique team. Everyone was really close. It was actually more like a family.”
Team success meant more people were paying attention to Korb’s play than ever before. Despite earning an invite to the MLS combine, there were no guarantees Korb would be selected in the 2011 SuperDraft. Unsure of his status, the recent college grad made plans to stay home rather than anxiously wait for his name to be called in Baltimore.
Those plans changed the night before the draft, when Korb received a late phone call.
“Caleb called me,” says Korb with a smile. “He told me I needed to be there, that I would be drafted and not to worry. He actually bought my ticket and flew me out there. I’m so grateful for that.”
While there was celebrating to be done on draft day, Korb’s rookie campaign would be filled with the typical ups and downs that hinder most first-year professionals. The highs included twelve starts and the month of April, during which Korb was in Ben Olsen’s starting eleven for four out of five matches.
But like all rookies, Korb eventually hit a wall. Physically, the demands of a season twice the length of a college campaign drained Korb of some of his trademark speed. Emotionally, the constant barrage of information – from veterans and coaches alike – wore on Korb. Rock bottom came after being left off the travel roster for a September trip out west.
Frustrated with himself and his situation, Korb took the days off and left town.
“I hit that rookie wall and it got pretty bad,” acknowledges the 24-year-old. “I went home for a few days and spent some time with family and friends, and it really rejuvenated me.”
After clearing his head, Korb returned with a renewed sense of focus. With the club pushing for a postseason berth, he started each of D.C.’s final five matches of 2011. The stretch made Korb more confident, a trait he has clearly carried into this season.
“I definitely think he has more confidence,” says midfielder Perry Kitchen, who played alongside Korb at Akron. “I think he is has shown some great qualities and I think there is even another level that we can expect to see out of Chris.”
“He’s grown in a lot of ways,“Like all of our young guys, he still has a lot of growing to do, but he has really taken a step forward this year.”
This article was originally published on the August 22 issue of the Matchday Program