April 9, 2012 – By Ben Roth
In mid-January, Krystian Witkowski, a Rochester native and former Marist standout, was drafted in the MLS Supplementary draft by the Philadelphia Union.
Witkowski, a Polish youth international, proved the proverb, “You never know who’s watching” correct. During Krystian’s junior year, the Marist Red Foxes were playing the national powerhouse Virginia Cavaliers, in what would turn out to be a pivotal moment in Krystian’s career. It just so happened, Philadelphia Union Director of Youth Coaching, Alecko Eskandarian, was at the match scouting a Cavalier player. Witkowski caught the eye of the former MLS Cup MVP, and when the MLS draft came around, Witkowski came off the board as the twenty-sixth pick in the second round of the MLS Supplemental Draft.
People may ask why such a talented athlete would choose a small school such as Marist? Krystian claims, “The coaching staff really impressed me and I just really liked the campus.” Another option for the playmaker was to play professionally in Poland. “I spent quite a bit of time in Poland, trained with a few teams. It was always an option, with a lot of family and my brother (Kamil) playing there, but I loved the growth of the MLS and wanted to begin here.”
It’s no wonder why Witkowski was drafted. Just look at the stats: three All-MAAC First-Team awards and a team high twenty-one goals and twelve assists. The more impressive thing about Witkowski is that he’s a two-way player; who can create as well as defend. According to the midfielder, the factor that helped him most during his four years in college was, “working off the ball playing both sides defending and attacking.”
Now-a-days we tend to see athletes barely getting through school, grade-wise, or taking the easy way out and leaving school after one year. Witkowski did neither of these things and excelled off the field. Nobody said it was easy balancing academics with athletics, and Krystian is the first to admit so. “It’s always difficult to balance athletics with scholastics, especially in season when you’re literally running to class to make it on time, or trying to complete homework assignments during road trips…it takes a lot of discipline and time management.” As a criminal justice major, he still accumulated a 3.43 GPA and was named to the MAAC All-Academic team multiple times, while being nominated for the LOWE’s Senior Class Award.
Last year, Witkowski didn’t produce the same numbers as he did during his junior year, but this doesn’t mean he wasn’t more effective. He managed to carry Marist to the MAAC Conference semi-finals in Florida, where they lost by a narrow margin to NCAA Tournament-bound Fairfield. Despite struggling with an ankle injury throughout his senior season, Witkowski fulfilled his main individual goal which was, “to get healthy and gain a good run of form,” while still leading the Red Foxes to a 9-7-4 record.
After this challenging year, it was time for one of the most exhilarating moments in many young soccer players’ careers; the MLS Draft. Krystian shared the same anxiety with his fellow seniors and he admitted, “It was a strange feeling not knowing who or if anyone was going to draft you. However, when it did happen, and especially to the Union, I never felt happier.”
Krystian wasn’t listed on many draft boards, but was always a top graduating senior in many people’s views. He proved the “experts” wrong by having a strong pre-season in Costa Rica and Florida, and impressing Union head coach Peter Nowak.
Witkowski noticed the biggest difference between the college game and professional as, “the speed of play increased a lot, and the overall speed and strength of the players.” Krystian still showed well enough that he made the game day roster by the second game of the season against Chicago. Witkowski traveled with the squad and made the eighteen man game day roster in the already bolstered Union midfield. He calls this “a moment I’ll never forget” and says, “To see your name on the back of your jersey, and walking through the tunnel onto the pitch with the thousands of fans watching, might have been the best feeling I have ever experienced in my life.”
The following week Krystian suffered a concussion, which has sidelined him since, and coach Nowak doesn’t want to push the rookie back into playing immediately. Witkowski has a bright future ahead of him and his main goal “is to develop and mature as a player…I have a lot of great players to learn from like Brian Carroll who has so much experience and knowledge to share. I’m constantly studying their movements and how they carry themselves to become a better professional myself.”
Some of the best advice Krystian has received has been from a fellow professional soccer player, his brother Kamil. “He told me just to keep my head down, work as hard as I can day in and day out, and try to have fun while you’re doing it.”
Krystian will no doubt take this advice. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is now without hard work and great coaching, especially from Marist head coach Matt Viggiano. Many players have either talent or determination, but this kid has both.
Remember his name, because he will continue to grow and climb the MLS ladder.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on twitter at Benrothpda16.