Matt Bersano is one of the best collegiate goalkeepers heading into this next fall. After a successful and historic run with Oregon State last year, Bersano declined a professional contract and is transferring for graduate school for his final year of eligibility. Bersano opens up about the late switch and his ties with Real Salt Lake.
Oregon State returned to the postseason for the first time since 2003. What worked this last season?
The biggest thing we had this year compared to prior years was an overall understanding amongst the squad that we were going to get the job done. This started with the leaders we had as seniors and went as far as the talented freshman who pulled well above their anticipated weight. In past years we had great runs before conference then hit the Pac-12 schedule and struggled. This last year we didn't care who we were playing, we were going to give them a run, no matter what their rank was.
What makes Oregon State a good program?
I think one of the biggest facets to being a member of Oregon State is how undervalued the program has been in the past years; it definitely gives you a chip on your shoulder heading into matchups with the perennial programs in the Pac-12. Apart from that mindset, the facilities and care put into the sessions by staff and strength coaches definitely puts the program on the map.
After graduating from Oregon State, you're transferring to Penn State for grad school with one year of eligibility left. Talk about the process of transferring and why you chose Penn State.
I graduated from Oregon State with a Speech Communication degree and am currently in the application process for the School of International Affairs at Penn State. After graduating, I felt it was time to get out of Corvallis and see what soccer was like on the East Coast. I knew the criteria of program I wanted to step into and had coaches talking to other coaches, trying to spread the word of my release. My final choice was between Penn State and Indiana. I know what it's like to live in a college town and I want to win a College Cup. I’m very confident in Penn State’s program for the fall and can't wait to be a part of the team.
Most players transfer because of lack of playing time but you're transferring for grad school. So how does this affect your allegiance to the two schools? Are you more Beaver than Nittany Lion? Or some hybrid now?
I have definitely heard how unique my situation is. I know going from captain of one school to wanting to lead another is not the most common, but I’m not terribly surprised of this route. After finishing high school and college early, I haven't been known to follow suit with traditional routes.
I told the coaches earlier in my career that after my senior (4th) year I was going to pursue a professional career with Real Salt Lake or somewhere in Europe. As the situation worked itself out I received a lot of advice encouraging me to head back to school while I still can, but never was I going back to OSU. The coaches and I were in a mutual understanding that I was not going back to OSU and therefore were able to plan for the future and get a very good player in Nolan [Wirth]. It was very good for him to get some games when I hurt my knee in the first game of the season last year so they will have no issues in the goalkeeper position next year.
Early on I knew that even if things didn't work with my homegrown option, if I went back to school I would have wanted it to be a different school. I enjoyed my time in Oregon and loved being a captain of the team, but I also wanted to test myself and see if I could walk into a high profile team like Penn State and be a leader from the start. I came in with my freshman class from OSU and left with them, which is something I take a lot of pride in. I will always have an allegiance to OSU but I am very excited to begin supporting Penn State athletics. I'm looking forward to a new environment for my next five months and I'm very happy that place is State College, PA.
You've spent some time with Real Salt Lake academy and recently trained with Sporting Kansas City. What sticks out about the two organizations?
While I didn't get to see much of how Sporting Kansas City handles their youth academy, I think they both have put themselves in a very good position when it comes to development. One of the benefits to Sporting is that the youth and professional teams share a location for practice therefore you can easily have some of the academy players play with the first team in sessions whenever [Sporting head coach Peter] Vermes wants. Real Salt Lake had the first academy with a residency, which I was very lucky to be a part of their first ever team. The facilities in Casa Grande were amazing and it definitely helped contribute to the mindset of being a professional. Overall, there is a reason both of these first teams are consistently at the top of MLS: they develop great players from a young age.
How much of a possibility is there of a future homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake?
After graduating in December, the original plan was to link into a contract with the first team at Salt Lake. They already had three signed goalkeepers for the first team and the only talk of contract came from first year Real Monarchs, their USL affiliate. Having a fifth year in my back pocket, there wasn’t any point in leaving college early unless it was on MLS money.
By not offering a first team contract, I am no longer a homegrown option for RSL and am now draft-eligible, which is a change from last year where I was a senior and was unable to be drafted due to my ties with RSL. I was invited to preseason with SKC, RSL, and Seattle, and chose SKC since I had enjoyed my ten day stint with them in July of last year. [SKC goalkeeper coach John] Pascarella is a great coach and I enjoyed being a part of every session for the last month out in Tucson. I had already done two MLS preseasons with RSL beginning when I was 17, then the next year at the academy. It’s pretty cool that I have three preseasons under my belt before actually signing a contract so I’ll be prepared when the opportunity comes knocking.
How are you spending your college off-season this spring?
I am keeping myself very busy, to say the least. I was in preseason from January 25th through March 1st, and am currently writing this in an airport in Madrid where I will be spending the next month with a couple third division clubs outside of Valencia, Spain. I will get the month of April to be home with the family -- a pleasant change -- then head to Oregon on May 5th to be a part of [PDL club] Lane United. I will end July with Camp Shutout in Stevens Point, Wisconsin before heading into preseason in Pennsylvania in August. Add in a few trips here and there to San Diego with the girlfriend and a trip out to New York to visit my college roommate Khiry Shelton with NYCFC and you could say I'll be doing a good amount of travel this offseason.
Looking ahead, what's the perfect situation you'd like to have for yourself in five years?
Thinking of a five year plan is so crazy in this sport. You never know where you'll end up landing in the future. If I had a choice, I'd love to play domestically first and make a name for myself in MLS before heading to Europe for a couple years. Five years down the road, I want to be a starter for an MLS side with a couple years already under my belt.
Do you have any pregame rituals or superstitions?
I tried to take superstitions out of my game ever since I was young because of one horror story. When I was younger I loved to do the same exact warm up for every game. Then there was one tournament in California where I didn't have enough field space to do my routine and I had a rough game mentally. Since then, I just show up wanting to play my game. The rest will show itself. The closest thing I have to superstition would be having MT17 written on every single glove or cleat I own. MT17 stands for my friend Matt Tilton. He was a friend of mine from one of my early soccer playing days, and the first close friend where I've had to mourn their death. He passed in April of last year, and I struggled with it last spring. So every time I touch a ball, I'm honoring him in someway because he was always my biggest fan.
What’s the most important game you've played in your career thus far?
I think the most important game of my career thus far would have to be our 2-0 win at University of Washington to clinch a spot in the postseason. I think it is just ahead of the most rewarding game I've ever played which was the next game, the first round of the NCAA tournament hosting Denver. Being the first team to make it to the postseason since 2003 was amazing but being the team to go the farthest in school history was even better. I've known what the second round feels like, now I want to head into Penn State and see what the Final Four can be like.
Who has helped you get as far as you have gotten?
Obviously, apart from the family who have been there for me every step of the way in any way I needed, I owe a lot of my development and current situation to Stan Anderson and John Galas. Stan is the creator of Camp Shutout and tried recruiting me to Marquette back when he was a goalkeeper coach there. We have stayed very good friends and I definitely look to him as a mentor as we continue to work together in finding me a home at the next level and even working the Camp Shutout Big Show in the summer. He's there if you need a phone call about soccer or even just a tip with how to handle a life situation.
John Galas and his brother created the PDL team Lane United and I've known John since he was my goalkeeper coach back in the RSL academy. Similar to Stan, John will break his back for you in any way he can help. Most recently, he was incredibly helpful in getting in touch with coaches, letting them know I had my release from OSU, and was looking around or helping work this Spain trip out. Both of these guys have contacts around the world and if they see something in your play, they are not afraid to put their name on the line to promote you to the next level. And they’re good guys, so that's a definite plus.
Cover photo belongs to Scobel Wiggins of Oregon State Athletics.