Jon Dawson is the backup goalkeeper for Indy 11. After a stellar record while playing in the Developmental Academy, Dawson attended Butler then signed with Indy 11 in early 2014. Dawson talks about his thoughts on the DA vs High School issue, his time at Butler, and how he embraces the struggle.
Talk about your high school experience. What are some outstanding memories and where did you play?
I played four years of varsity soccer at Brebeuf Jesuit here in Indianapolis. My freshmen year was my first time playing seriously. I was a two year starter and sat my first two years behind one of the more influential players in my career, Matt McCain. He wasn't the best goalie I've played with but I was young and he showed me how straight up fun it is to be a goalie. To play varsity soccer and to just all around be a soccer player. He taught me how to handle certain shots. He gave me confidence but also kept me humble. A bunch of guys from the Indy scene were like that. Kelly Powers, Tyler Keever, Joe Mills, and Andrew Moor, just to name a few. They were good guys and we all worked hard together and learned from one another.
My junior and senior year I was the starter for my high school as well as Carmel United Soccer Club DA. (At that point you could play both and it wasn't an issue.) We won two national championships in the DA, the first ever U-16’s in 2008 and the following year 2009 for the U-18’s
[Carmel United was later re-named Indiana Fire Academy.]
The most fun times of my life were playing in high school games against teams with DA players on them. Not having DA and high school is a mistake, I think. The kids need to see what it is like to be on a bad team, as bluntly as that is. Our DA team only lost three games, I think, in two years. My highschool team? Well our game plan was hope we scored on a counter and let me make fifteen saves a night. Guys need to learn what it takes to be a leader for a group of players who aren't going to be playing at the next level. It keeps you grounded to know that losing happens and players make mistakes. The difference is how good of a teammate you can be to help them through it.
Winning sectionals and making it to regionals my senior year [with the high school team] was the furthest the team had been in twelve years or something. So that was super special. Obviously, winning back to back DA titles was cool too. *laughs*
You attended Butler University from 2009-2013. What stood out about Butler that made you want to attend that school?
Winning both [DA] championships and being highly decorated at Brebeuf gave me an opportunity to basically go anywhere I wanted. I knew the goalkeepers in my class so I stayed away from some of those schools, Georgetown, Boston College, UCLA, etc. The DA head coach for us [at Carmel], David Costa, was Butler’s assistant coach. He is another huge role model for me. So when he said come to Butler, I jumped at it. I committed in April of my junior year.
The coaching staff at Butler was everything I wanted. The environment was truly professional. Sometimes I wished I was at a Big-10 or an ACC school that had a lot of inflow of revenue from other sports. Or an early Under Armor school. That would have been cool *laughs*. But, no, if I did it all over I would have either stayed with Butler or picked a big school for the wrong reasons. Butler was a blessing. Plus a degree from the business school is pretty good so I am thankful for that opportunity.
You essentially sat for the entirety of the first two years at Butler, only playing one game. How does this affect a 18, 19 year old goalkeeper? Is sitting for two years different for a goalkeeper versus a field player?
I sat behind Fabian Knopler and he was super helpful. Very knowledgeable of the game and insightful. But my first year I broke my foot and two weeks later broke my hand. My second year I sat healthy and that was hard. Especially like I mentioned previously being so highly recruited and decorated, I thought I should play. But he was twenty-five and I was nineteen. He knew everything and was so clean and crisp. I can't blame them.
[Sitting] was hard and it made me tougher mentally and it literally has helped me today. But I don't think everyone can do it. It's hard for a goalkeeper. Only one of us can play. If I was a field player I would find my way into the field with fitness or changing positions or something. I wouldn't take no for an answer. But as a goalkeeper, what can I do except work hard? And that's what I did. Like I said, I think sitting made me tougher especially now in my professional career. I’m still waiting for my chance but I train as hard as I can every day. I learned that from a young age in the Academy and at Butler.
After redshirting your first year, you became a three year starter with Butler. What stands out looking back on your time with Butler?
The guys I played with were just good guys. Every day we went to battle together and we knew we were there for each other. In college, I showcased my shot stopping ability. We gave up a lot of shots, so that was a double edge sword, but I showed I could make plays. I look back with joy at how hard we fought as a team. Going from the Horizon League to the Atlantic-10 (2012) to the Big East (2013) was hard. But we held our own and competed every day. We were a tough team to play against.
What was the process like for you going from amateur to professional? Where did you look? What worked, what didn’t work?
I would say the process was just hard work. I put myself out there every summer and went to PDL teams in different parts of the country and that helped me create new connections. So when I needed a club to look for I had a bunch of different people who were able to help me. I didn't sign with an agent early on so having these connections was how I got my name out there.
I tried the open tryouts and the combines and they were decent but never worked for me. I need one-on-one time so that they can see close up how I train and how I move. So for me, going into training camps or places where I was there for multiple days worked best for me. But the biggest thing I did was just work hard and take risks. What was the worst that could happen? If someone said no, and I was in the same place I started.
What advice would you give to a young goalkeeper trying to become a professional?
After the DA, I had a few different opportunities to go overseas. Looking back, of course I wish I would have [gone overseas] since I sat out my first two years of school. But it all has worked out for me. I am not to the level I want to be at yet, but I see progress every day and that is what matters. So I would tell them keep every door open till the right one closes the others. Keep working hard and shake everyone's hand. Good things happen to those who are ready for it.
You’ve been with Indy 11 as a back up for two seasons now. How have the past two years helped you develop as a goalkeeper?
I’ve learned from Kris, Keith, Jurgen, Gary* and all the other coaches we have brought in. There have been other goalkeepers who have come in on trial or to train and I have learned from them. I just try to be a sponge and soak up all the information I can so that when my opportunity comes I’ll know what to do. Sitting has taught me to be a better teammate and to appreciate the struggle. I love the fight everyday. I love waking up and going to work and going as hard as I can every day for the whole day. Just knowing that when my time comes I have put myself in the position to succeed from working hard in training.
* - Goalkeepers Kristian Nicht, Keith Cardona, previous Head Coach Juergen Sommer, and Assistant Coach Gary Yohe
What’s your situation with Indy like now? Are you looking to return or eyeing another club?
I am fully committed to Indy. I want to be here and this is my hometown team. I am looking forward to the opportunities that are ahead.
Last three miscellaneous questions, who’s the best player you’ve played with or against?
Kleb. [Brazilian midfielder Kléberson] But that’s obvious. Andy Najar from DC Academy was special. To me, there are a bunch of good players in the NASL but Kleb and Andy are the two who stick out the most to me.
Do you have any pre-game superstitions?
I used to be very routine, but now it's changed to just whatever happens on that day. I guess that might revert to the old days if my playing time increases.
And lastly, three years from now, what’s your dream situation?
Lifting hardware somewhere. I work hard to win, and I want that to pay off!