The challenge of overseeing a sports team in the time of COVID-19 is a daunting task. You're accountable for 25-30 players of varying ages, in numerous locations, and with different needs. None of which you can have face-to-face contact with, let alone train in person.
Now make that 100 players. All different ages and in different locations as well. Also, they’re kids.
That’s the task of the LAFC Academy in this moment.
But taking a cue from the first team, LAFC Academy Director Todd Saldaña and his staff have found ways to keep everyone together even when they’re apart.
Using the video conferencing technology at their disposal, Saldaña and the coaches have stayed in close contact with players that range in age groups from under-12 to under-17. They’ve put together group workout programs and kept the players engaged.
Last week, they reached out to LAFC defender Jordan Harvey. The SoCal native agreed to a digital, interactive Q&A with the entire Academy, sharing insights from his 15-year career in MLS.
"He’s had a very successful, long career. And I want to make sure the boys understand that is no easy feat,” Saldaña said at the start of the video call. "To be able to get there is one thing. But to be able stay there is another. Jordan has worked very hard. He’s got talent but he also combined that with his work. I think to have this long of a career, he has the type of qualities that all of you guys would want to have.”
Over the course of an hour, Harvey took various questions directly from LAFC Academy players. He gave insight into his personal journey to MLS and advice to the young players. The full Q&A is below:
Who is the hardest player to defend in practice and why?
Jordan: I like this question and the most obvious answer is Carlos [Vela] for obvious reasons. For me as an outside back, I always had difficulty dealing with left-footed players coming inside. And I think fullbacks, you understand that, a player with the opposite foot coming inside and creating space that way. Carlos is probably the best player at that in the league. And I think worldwide, he’d be in the ranks as well. Going against him every day in practice is awesome and it helps me prepare for games. Definitely, I’ve gotten better at that aspect of my game defensive.
But a not so obvious answer is Adrien Perez. He hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes, so you might not know him that well. But he’s gotten into games and he’s really does as good as anybody in this preseason and leading into the season. He’s had some injuries. But he’s somebody that each and every practice, he’s giving 100 percent. And that’s something I want to get across to you guys. We had some [LAFC] Academy guys in training with us in preseason and that is something that is very evident. And I hope that trickles down to the rest of the Academy. It’s no surprise that they got their opportunity with the first team because each and every play, they were giving absolutely everything. And you might think that guys on our team only train and they don’t play that much but if you come and see our training session, each player is pushing the other. Adrien is one of the best at that as a No. 9, as a forward, at tracking down defenders. As a defender, it’s the worst when you always have a forward that is running at you endlessly after each and every play. It definitely wears on you. I guarantee you, each and every practice if we’re playing 11-a-side or anything where he’s up top, he’s going to nick one and score a goal. Adrien is probably my MVP in training every day.
What was the hardest game you ever played in your career? And why?
Jordan: There’s been some difficult games physically, where you’re playing in Dallas or Houston in the summer or New York. I played in Philly a couple of years and summer is gruesome. So, physically, it has to be a game in Dallas. It’s 100 degrees and a 1pm game. Physically, it would be something like that.
But all in all, mentally with preparation and everything, it would have to be, and I hope you guys watched this one, it would have to be the Galaxy game, the playoff game. All the Galaxy games have their own level of intensity and pressure. But this last one - thankfully we won - this playoff game, just the buildup and the pressure that was mounting. It was a playoff game. It was the biggest game that we’ve played against the Galaxy. And to just get that monkey off our back, that was one of the biggest games in my career given the magnitude of it – going against our rival at home, needing that monkey off our back. With the pressure and the buildup, that would be our hardest game. And thankfully, we succeeded in that.
What kind of work have you done on your own to become a professional?
Jordan: This kind of goes back to what I was talking to about each and every day giving everything you have. Whether that be focus, physically or mentally. On the field, working each and every day has to be a given. And like I said, the Academy guys that came in showed that. I hope everybody sees that. If you watch our training sessions, each and every day the coaches are pushing us to our limits. I’m not the fastest, the strongest, the tallest, but the thing that I pride myself on is being consistent and reliable. And that comes from holding myself accountable each and every day. I do my part to either maintain my levels or make them better, whether that be in the weight room or watching video. After each game, I watch the tape, I watch the game and I watch my touches, and I dissect those. After training, if I see something that I did or I’ll note it during training if it’s something I want to go back on and see if I did the right or the wrong thing. Trying to study and be a student. Listen to your coaches. Treat your craft and your job like it’s your profession.
You guys are in the Academy, you can do the same thing. You can watch video, I’m sure your coaches can get you videos of games. I always had my mom videotape my games growing up. Which is funny enough, but I’d watch those. Holding yourself accountable is definitely the key to that. That also trickles over to off the field. I think a major thing that doesn’t get highlighted enough is bonding with your teammates, creating a professional atmosphere. And it’s not always patting your teammates on the back. It’s getting the most out of them but doing it in the right way. And engaging them. Different teammates respond to different things. As a leader, you have to engage your teammates. That makes your whole atmosphere a little bit more professional. And you said professional player, becoming a professional player doesn’t just mean your team and playing on the field, it means engaging with fans in the right way. And trying to join in with the community and doing things off the field that if you become a professional are things you should like to do and really give you that connection with the fans. I think that is something with this LAFC culture, that was created before Day 1, before this team was brought in. That culture has brought the players in and really made it a family and brought the passion to the stadium each and every day.
How do you keep your focus with thousands of people watching your every move on the field?
Jordan: First off, you got to get that out of your head right away. As a defender, a lot of people worry about getting embarrassed, getting beat. Getting nutmegged and stuff like that. That’s going to happen. It’s going to happen so don’t put that in your head. I’ve had it happen to me numerous occasions. If you’re defending, if you are active and playing, you’re going to feel like something is going to go wrong each and every game. It’s how you respond to that. It’s connecting the next pass. For me each and every game, I try to connect that first pass. Whether it be simple or difficult, I try to connect that first pass and it gets my head in the game and doesn’t get me focused in anything other than the game.
I know with the younger generation, or even like basketball, I always watch these things where somebody crosses someone up and they fall over. And that’s all you see. But you don’t see the defensive play that guy has put in each and every day, you just see the highlight. And that’s something that is tough. Listen it’s going to happen, laugh it off and just worry about the next play.
What has been the toughest challenge you’ve overcome in your professional career?
Jordan: Thankfully, knock on wood, I haven’t had any difficult injuries that have kept me out for an extended period of time. But growing up, it was not making teams. Getting cut. Whether it be through the Olympic Development Program or being a part of a group and your friends make the team and you don’t. Having to deal with that mentally and trying to stay positive. As you get older and you move forward, you have a difficult time staying positive, in college or the pros, if you’re not playing. You have a difficult time staying positive, staying uplifting to your teammates who are playing. Dealing with that has probably been the most difficult thing.
Even today, you have to reinforce it for me. If I don’t get the nod from the manager, you have to get back in your head and stay positive. Focus on the right things. For me, it’s just controlling what you can and not worrying about the things you can’t control. Whether that be the manager picking someone over you, you can’t control that, but you can work on your game and try to be ready for the next opportunity. For me, it’s always been availability. I’ve always been ready regardless of the situation. So, if I’m not playing, I’ve always prided myself on being available. The best ability is availability. If I’m not in, that’s been the hardest thing in my career is dealing with not playing. But I’m ready and if I do get that opportunity to play then I’ll take it.
When things aren’t going right for you and the team on the pitch, what do you do?
Jordan: This goes back to different things that you overcome. If things aren’t going well for me. I focus on the next play, whether that be getting stuck in on a tackle or connecting a pass. Just doing something positive. And as far as the team goes, each game is different. If you feel the team is not up for and they need some sort of spark, try to be that spark. Whether it’s making a hard run for or just doing something that impacts the game. And with your teammates, it’s also about encouraging.
After we give up goals, it’s always difficult. Everyone has this blame game and it’s always easy to be like this guy messed up or it’s his fault that the ball went in. That blame game needs to stop, it needs to be more about encouraging or figuring out the problem. I’ve always said that if somebody is yelling things, we need to figure this out instead of just screaming. That’s not helpful. So, when things aren’t going well, it’s just about coming together.
I think we do a really good job of that. I think it starts with our captain’s demeanor. Carlos is never going to flail his arms, get frustrated, or give someone attitude. He’s always level-headed. Having somebody like that, everybody looks to that. That’s the standard. With each of your Academy teams, there are leaders. That leader has to lead the right way. Be leading by encouragement and constructive criticism. Talk to players the right way. You’re going to have tough times and I would focus on that.
What was your mindset when you were going to make your professional debut?
Jordan: I remember it like it was yesterday. And I’m sure you guys will if you’re fortunate enough to make your professional debut. It’s one of the most special days of my career. I was playing for Colorado against D.C. United. We won 2-0. The thing I remember initially is just the amount of nerves that I had. It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever been a part of. Walking out for national anthems, just butterflies and everything. But also, a level of excitement. My parents flew out. I felt like I was ready, which is a huge thing. I felt like I was ready for the debut and I deserved the opportunity.
My first year I wasn’t ready. My second year I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until mid to late in my second year that I thought I was ready to get the opportunity to play. That was the best feeling I’ve had up until that point in my career. Thankfully, I was playing against an old teammate, Santino Quaranta. I was playing left back, he was playing right midfield. I knew him really, which was great. I played with him all growing up with youth national teams. I was confident in that and I drew for that confidence. Had a decent game and we kept a clean sheet and won. So, that was a great debut.
How were you able to balance soccer and school at the highest level?
Jordan: Growing up, it was easy. My parents didn’t push me to do it, but I took it upon myself to do my schoolwork. And I knew, if I didn’t do my schoolwork then I wasn’t playing. That was the motivation right there. Looking back on my career now, I wish I took school more seriously. I. regret that part. And I hope you’re taking that from this.
I know all of you guys want to be professional athletes and you want to play for LAFC, but at the end of the day, you have to have your education. Going into college, I can’t say I was a great student. But I graduated with a sociology degree. I left school a little bit early to play professionally but I did finish. It took me about six years to finish after I left college. But I did get that degree. It’s difficult to do it at the highest level because the game is so demanding but it’s a necessity. You have to make time and you need to make it a priority. Because like I said, I’m going into the next chapter of my career and it’s not playing soccer.
You need that education to go further. You want to play professionally but your professional career isn’t going to last. I’m 15 years now and I’m towards the end of it. That’s a long career. But you have to be ready for the backend of it. I know you want to focus on the now and be ready to play professionally but also think about after soccer. And there’s going be an after soccer. That needs to be a reality and you need your education.
What is the most important life lesson that you learned while playing soccer professionally?
Jordan: That’s a good question. I’ve learned a lot. And I’m still learning. I think that’s one of the things that you can take from this. You’re never too old to learn, to continue learning new things. I think I said it early, it’s worrying about things in my control and not worry about things that I can’t control. So often, you want everything to be perfect and it’s not going to be. You have this career mapped out and there’s going to be bumps in the road. You just have to be ready for those and willing to adapt. If you hold yourself to a higher standard on and off the field, you’ll be ready for that.
To be completely honest, throughout my life, I’ve had moments where I’ve had bad attitudes. I’ve had to get out of that mindset. There are probably some players in the Academy that if you’re not playing and it’s not going your way, you have a bad attitude. But I’m telling you right now, it’s not the right way to go about things. You need to focus on trying to stay positive. I was there. Early on in my college career, I wasn’t playing. And I was coming off playing with the U20 youth national team but I wasn’t playing on my college team. Which is crazy for me to think about. I had to swallow some pride there. I had to really focus on being positive and worrying about the things that I have in my control and just keep working.
That’s something that I continue to practice each and every day. Honestly, there’s so much you learn throughout your professional career. Whether it’s on the soccer field, experiencing things, different plays, and nuances of the game. But I think your attitude and how you approach each day needs to be positive and you’ll have success, whether it be on the field or in relationships with your teammates.
If you were to give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Jordan: Be appreciative. Todd [Saldaña] said it at the beginning of this. Be appreciative of the people that are helping you. Trainers, coaches, everybody on the staff, your parents, say thank you and be nice to them. They’re the ones that are helping you and giving you these opportunities. I would just say, be appreciative of them each and every day and that will help you in the future. It will give you more opportunities.
In the long run, your reputation goes a long way. Being a good person really goes a long way. And that’s what I would preach to my younger self. Whether it’s the equipment manager or it’s the manager, treat each person the same. That really goes a long way within the group. Say thank you every once in a while.