A little over five years ago, Dan Donigan was where he spent most of his life — on a soccer field.
The head coach of the Rutgers men’s soccer team, then having finished his second season at the helm in Piscataway, was running a camp held by his program, scouting prospects as they went through drills and quick scrimmages to see if there were any he deemed worthy of playing under him and becoming a Scarlet Knight.
After 30 minutes, he had seen enough — he decided right then and there that he would offer the goalkeeper from Fairfield, New Jersey a scholarship to come play on the Banks.
“It didn’t take long for us to see his potential and his feet,” Donigan said of the prospect. “He had a great physical presence and his distribution was really good. It didn’t take us long at all to see that he was the kind of caliber keeper we wanted in our program, that we were very comfortable and step in and play right away and actually be that level goalkeeper that we needed.”
Four years, a program-record 372 saves, a second-team all-Big Ten team nomination and countless minutes logged later, that prospect’s time at Rutgers is now done — but his soccer career is far from over.
David Greczek will be playing within the Sporting Kansas City organization next season after the Major League Soccer club selected him 58th overall in the 2017 MLS Superdraft Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s an exciting day. It’s a goal I’ve always been trying to achieve,” Greczek told the Targum in a phone interview. “I’m just very excited to get drafted by Sporting Kansas City, for them to believe in me, to give me a chance and an opportunity that I know I won’t disappoint, that I’m going to execute and they’re going to see my work ethic just like coach Donigan saw me work at Rutgers.”
Greczek had signed with the club’s United Soccer League affiliate Swope Park Rangers, who is currently without a goalkeeper on its roster, prior to the draft but SKC drafted him to ensure no other club could negate the contract by selecting him in the draft.
There he will likely run into former teammate Mitchell Taintor, who had a goal and an assist in 22 appearances for Toronto FC II after getting drafted 59th overall by the parent club in last season’s draft.
Mitchell Lurie, the other Mitchell co-captaining the Knights in 2015, was drafted 44th overall by the Philadelphia Union last season. Cut by the Union, he was signed by Saint Louis F.C., playing in 15 games last season, but his option was not exercised at the end of the season, leaving him without a club since November.
Kene Eze, the first MLS Draft pick of the Donigan era, currently plays for North Geelong Warriors FC in the third division in Australia, where he penned a new deal in December after scoring 12 goals in 20 games in 2016. He was drafted by Toronto F.C. in 2014, but was never signed.
Having been a key part of that 2015 team with both Mitchell’s, Greczek sought their advice when his fourth and final season in Piscataway came to a merciful end and he began the process of entering the draft. They spoke of most aspects, from getting an agent to what to expect in the mini-combines Greczek was invited to.
“I spoke to them earlier in the stages like once the college season ended for us, that’s when I talked to them the most,” Greczek said. “Just to get the most amount of advice and detailed information of what’s ahead of me and how it would work … curveballs weren’t thrown at me.”
He credited everyone he worked with at Rutgers for reaching this point, from the players to the staff in creating the family atmosphere in which he thrived.
Greczek thanked the coaching staff for pushing him to further his development, naming every member of the staff from Donigan to assistants David Beck and Bryant Knibbs. He mentioned the work of Mike Romeo, his goalkeeper coach for his first three years at Rutgers, saying he’s indebted to him for the wisdom he shared and the leadership he provided him.
Greczek went on to speak of the smooth transition Tyler Stakiwicz had in taking over Romeo’s role as his position coach, saying he helped further his development, but Stakiwicz said it was Greczek himself who contributed the most to reaching this level.
“I think the thing that really stuck out for me for David was how hard he wanted to work all the time,” Stakiwicz said. “There were times we’d have a 7 p.m. game this year and he would want to train at 11 a.m. that morning even though it was gameday because he would want to get extra work … obviously a talented kid and played really well in the games, but I think what really stuck out ... was just his desire to work really hard away from formal training sessions.”
The hard work put forth through amounts to a collegiate career Greczek called a “roller-coaster ride.” Though he earned second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors his freshman year and ranked top in the Big Ten in saves in his sophomore season, it was his third season on the Banks where he and the Knights broke through the mediocrity.
They earned the first and only winning season of his time at Rutgers with a record of 12-7-2, finishing the regular season tied for third in the Big Ten standings after spending most of it in the thick of the title race. They took the momentum into the Big Ten tournament, where they were knocked out in the semi-finals by Ohio State, and the NCAA Tournament, where they suffered an emphatic loss to College Cup participants Akron.
From that peak, the Knights fell to the deepest valley of Greczek’s career, going from a preseason No. 25 to finishing with a record of 1-14-2, going winless in the Big Ten and at home, nabbing their only win in the final game of the regular season at Bradley.
Rutgers would be knocked out in the play-in game of the conference tournament by Michigan, ending one of the worst seasons in program history. Shortly thereafter, with his collegiate career complete, Greczek began working towards digging out of the valley and returning to the peak of his junior year by continuing his work towards reaching his lifelong dream of becoming a professional.
But just because it’s here now doesn’t mean the work is done.
“I wouldn’t say it’s like, ‘hey, we made it,’” Greczek said. “It’s more, it’s the beginning of a stepping stone, a path I want to continue and reach for a higher level and Sporting Kansas City and Swope Park Rangers is a team I want to compete with and I believe we’re going to have a great future ahead of ourselves."