From San Diego, to Akron, to the NCAA College Cup, to the Pro Soccer world
Welcome to Week 3 of Jake Fenlason’s Alumni Corner series. Catch up on all of the Alumni Corner features HERE.
Deep into his senior year, Fenlason didn’t have any NCAA D1 offers. He did, however, have an unwavering faith that he was going to play top-level college soccer. His club coach, Brian Quinn, shared that same belief. Quinn believed in Fenlason so much, in fact, that he sent the keeper’s highlight video to the coaching staff at Akron University. At the time, Caleb Porter was the head coach for the Zips, and Akron was consistently ranked among the top college soccer programs in the nation.
Caleb Porter saw what Brian Quinn did and invited Fenlason to an official campus visit. A “preferred walk on” spot was offered, meaning Fenlason would have a spot on the roster, but no athletic scholarship money. Fenlason didn’t care. He had made it onto a D1 roster, like he always knew he would.
The Akron Years of Ups and Downs
While I was talking with Fenlason, he described his time at Akron in refreshing detail. “We had five goalkeepers. My first year, I was on the roster, but our top keeper was set. I never even travelled with the team. But I kept working hard. I knew I’d have a fighting chance for the top spot my second year.”
Strong Incoming Recruiting Class Behind Him
“Then, they announced that a keeper was in the incoming recruiting class. He was THE NATIONAL TEAM [emphasis his] goalie. He was amazing. My heart sank a bit, I’m not going to lie. But I knew I would control what I could control: how hard I work and my attitude. And that’s just what I did. Did I think about quitting? Maybe for a second, but the thought was gone as fast as it came in. I loved the school and I loved my team, and I knew I’d still have a shot at playing time. My coaches told me they wanted me to stay. Honestly [laughing], they wanted me for my GPA. I had really good grades, and I lifted the team GPA. That’s really important to college coaches. Plus, I was a great locker room guy.”
“My third year of eligibility, that National Team guy was still the top keeper. I was right there with him. We pushed each other every day in training. The goalkeeper coach at Akron told me that I needed to keep working hard because my chance would come. Later in the season, our offense was clearly carrying the team into the post season.” Darren Mattocks was a forward at Akron that year. So, yeah, Akron had an offense that could take the weight off a sometimes-shaky defense. Mattocks went on to be drafted #1 in the MLS Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Starting Spot: EARNED
Fenlason continued, “We were heading towards the post season, but our top keeper had some rough outings. Our keeper coach came to us at the beginning of a training week, and he laid it out. He said, ‘Look. The depth chart is out the window. Whichever of you has the better week of training will be the starting goalkeeper for the post season.’ And that was it. I earned it.”
PKs against Stanford & Jordan Morris
“That year, we made it all the way to the College Cup [NCAA National Semi-Finals]. We played Stanford and went all the way through regular time, extra time, all the way to PKs. I took a PK against Jordan Morris. He made it, but I dove the right way. Stanford won the shootout, but I had a few saves. Our guys just didn’t finish as many as they should have. Stanford and Morris went on to win the National Championship.”
“After that post-season, I never lost the starting spot, even with that other keeper on the roster. I was the starting keeper for the entire next season, my last year at Akron. It was everything I had worked for ever since I was a little kid — really a dream come true.”
Pro Time, at an expansion club (but not San Diego)
After Akron, Fenlason was signed by Orlando City B in 2016. He described, “Yeah, I was signed by Orlando City B during Orlando’s first year in MLS. So I was part of an expansion program. That really helped me prepare for being a part of San Diego Loyal.”
After a few years in Orlando, Jake went to Saint Louis FC in 2018. He was very much beloved in Saint Louis:
He’s now in San Diego, where he tended goal for the full 90 minutes of San Diego Loyal’s inaugural USL match against Las Vegas lights.
Next week will conclude Fenlason’s Alumni Corner series. Stay tuned to hear all about how Jake describes his outlook on soccer and the character traits he uses on and off the field.
Akron Soccer images courtesy of Jake Fenlason — thank you, Jake!