People sometimes ask me when I knew soccer would become what it has to me.
I guess they wonder if I knew how my life would turn out --- as if it was predetermined. They are curious if there are certain decisions made on the path to professional soccer.
Frankly, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Unpredictability is an integral part of the process. However, I can say through my experience so far, I have been fortunate to learn that soccer, through success and failure, is a journey worth experiencing.
The truth is there was a point when I thought I could see the future, and it was beautiful.
It was probably around the end of my freshmen year at Wake Forest. We had just won the 2007 NCAA National Championship, the first in the school’s history, and my life hit a point of soccer euphoria that I would never get back.
I envisioned a clear path to stardom with unlimited success. My next two seasons at Wake Forest reinforced that theory. In my opinion, I was a member of the best college soccer team ever assembled and in a way it spoiled me.
The overwhelming success of my club and college soccer years somehow brainwashed me. I thought I had arrived at a place where nothing could affect my success.
It became my identity as a person and how I defined happiness. However, I was naïve and blinded by the current light shining all around me.
Things would change, not for the worst, not for the best, just change.
Unbeknownst to me, my myopic goals limited my self-worth and the ensuing years taught me that one’s expectations can be challenged. In reality, life will give you exactly what you need through patient perseverance.
Lets start from the beginning. I grew up in Plano, Texas, a suburb about 20 minutes north of Dallas.
At the time, Russell Creek Park was the soccer mecca in Plano. It housed at least 15 gated soccer fields and resided about 5 walking minutes away from my house.
The accessibility of that park played a major role in my youth development. It helped instill the passion, love and competiveness I have for soccer today, but most of all I remember the fun.
I think back to those days and truly relish how freeing soccer was then.
My foundation for soccer was built on that flat ground in Plano, and it’ll always be my centerpiece.
The transition from club soccer to college meant relocation and responsibility.
I moved from Plano, Texas, to Winston-Salem, N.C., and attended Wake Forest University. It was my first life experience out from under a parental umbrella, and soccer was my overarching priority.
I overlooked how lucky I was to be attending a school like Wake Forest. My intentions were strictly soccer and although my concentration on sport expedited my professional dream, it inhibited my true academic fulfillment.
I wasn’t a bad student, but I lacked ambition in the classroom. My eyes were attracted to future soccer glamor instead of certain scholarly openings. Desire eventually won over my heart, and I chose to forgo my senior year for the MLS Draft.
Leaving college was a tough decision. I was eager to start my professional career on the field, but I was abandoning a newfound family, and while I didn’t depart with a diploma, I left with an education in relationships, responsibility, and a small understanding of what life’s progressions can teach you.
As I would later learn more firmly, the decisions you make are yours -- as are the lessons that follow.
The Chicago Fire selected me as the 13th overall pick in the 2010 MLS draft. I wasn’t pleased. I thought I should have been higher. I put value in those numbers, and it was my first mistake as a pro.
I began my career as a professional athlete with much hubris. I believed there were certain obligations – playing time or favorability from coaches - because of my prior success. I was wrong. I realized very quickly that soccer had now transitioned from a university to a job. I was working for an organization dependent on results like any other business. The owner, the coach, the fans, they rewarded those who provided results. There was no time for handouts or charity.
I could throw out a number of excuses as to why my chances with Chicago or Philadelphia never came to fruition.
The situation wasn’t right. The coach didn’t like me.
I never actually played my position, but plainly those are just excuses.
Throughout my time with both clubs, I exhausted myself debating in my own head whether I should continue on or stop playing. After every year I would struggle with what to do. The best decision I ever made, and continued to make, was to keep going.
Following my spells with Philly and Chicago, I moved on to a couple more teams.
After a short stint with the Wilmington Hammerheads in North Carolina I finally found myself in the Queen City, signing as one of the first 11 in FC Cincinnati history.
How did I find my way? Relationships.
An old coach of mine, from Wake Forest, got the opportunity to coach for FC Cincinnati and was hired alongside John Harkes.
Meanwhile, another Wake Forest Alum was coaching my current team in Wilmington. And so, they came in to contact about a new opportunity for me, both agreeing I would fit in well in Cincinnati.
A month later I found myself on the 42nd floor of the Great American Insurance building being introduced as part of the first 11 in club history.
It was a moment I’ll always remember as a remarkable beginning.
However, I had no idea what was to truly come. I don’t think anyone did.
Sure, I was excited for a new challenge, but could I fathom playing in front of 20,000 fans? Or predict being named the team MVP and playing in every game, after all those disappointing years?
The answer is no. To this day I still can’t believe the joy that has entered my life since coming to Cincinnati.
I’m enjoying soccer again and doing it in front of the biggest crowd of my career.
I have started to explore interests like writing, real estate and botany.
The combination of career, personal life and experience seems to have found its place.
I’ve created more meaningful relationships, solidified roots in a growing neighborhood, married the woman of my dreams -- and in September will start raising a child with her.
I am grateful for my journey and its imperfections.
I learned so much about soccer and what it can inherently bring into life. The abundance of relationships, knowledge, travel, and most importantly patience has lead me to my wife, my first child, my first house and a resurgence of love for my childhood dream.
My story isn’t special. There are guys all over the country that deal with issues like mine, wondering if soccer was the right choice. Asking if they went wrong somewhere along the path? Asking if they deserved the hardship.
My answer: Appreciate it, embrace it, and don’t regret any of it because all of sudden you’ll be in a place where it all mattered.
Corben Bone is one of the first 11 FC Cincinnati players signed and was last year's team MVP. He will be writing occasional columns for WCPO about his second season with our popular soccer club.